A Few Nifty Gadgets
Once in a while, you simply need to trigger your camera from another spot. And, there are times, as in Focus Stacking or Capturing Videos, where you don’t want to touch the camera. These devices save the day! Almost all cameras have some sort of self timer—and we’ve all used them—but you have a variety of additional options. These are two I chose.
I purchased a RFN-4s following a friend’s recommendation— and after a lot of frustrating previous purchases. Most of the earlier transmitter/receivers were unreliable, sometimes bulky, and not well made. My little RFN-4s turned out to be just the opposite! For around $70, it has performed flawlessly. Better yet, the receiver screws into the 10 pin connector on either my D4 or D800 bodies, and since it is so small and unobtrusive, I leave it on all the time. Both the receiver and trigger have an easy to adjust bank of four dip switches for 16 selectable channels. (No need to worry about someone else triggering my camera with that many channels). The receiver draws power from the camera and the transmitter uses AAA batteries. I use Sanyo Enloop rechargeable batteries in mine. The transmitter has a handy strap and is comfortably small! Specs suggest you can trigger the camera from over 100 yards. All it takes is a quick press on the button on the receiver and the two parts sync up. From there, start shooting! There is a “bulb” mode, and the pair work well for continuous shooting. I plan on adding the second one for the other body. The RFN-4 works similarly from what I can tell. It looks like it uses a universal receiver unit, then you purchase the correct cable to connect it to your camera. Again, the name changed recently, but I left the old name throughout the article. Check the B&H web site for more specs. I just ordered a second unit.
- In the “old days”, people used a cable release instead of having to press the shutter button on the camera. This is cleaner, but the reasons for using it are still the same.
- Once focused, you can set back and just wait for the action to happen, then click. I can scout for another shooting location or go back to the truck, all the time taking shots as desired.
- Light painting: I like the idea of moving to a good spot, trigger the camera, and then start shining my light instead of having to run to the spot after the shutter is pressed on the camera.
- Selfies: You have much more control over when the camera is going to trigger versus just relying on the 10 second timer. You can trigger the camera from long distances. The trigger is very small, so you seldom see it in the final shots.
- Lightning Storms: Set up, then get back to the vehicle to trigger the camera. (I also use a Lightning Trigger, but that’s a different gadget).
A few months ago, I posted a page called Get Down—and sometimes dirty! Most people take most of their photos from about shoulder height, but sometimes the more dramatic angle is closer to the ground. For a few of the photos on the post, the camera was actually resting on a bean bag on the ground. But when doing so, it is difficult to compose and focus the camera unless lying down on the ground. Hence, the “and Sometimes Dirty” part of the title for the post. Someone suggested getting a CamRanger to solve the problems, and at about the same time, I saw an ad in Photoshop User Magazine. I did some research online and read a bunch of favorable reviews. I placed my order. In the photo above, I am using my iPhone to view and compose a flower shot. It had been raining prior to the shot, so being able to stay off the ground was a big plus.
In short, a CamRanger connects to a DSLR camera and then creates a Wi-Fi signal that can communicate with an iPhone, iPad, or most Android devices. After installing the app on the device, it is possible to control most features on the camera from the device in much the same manner you would if actually behind the camera. I can’t control the zoom on my cameras remotely, but most other controls like White Balance, ISO, Modes (Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority) and Focus can be controlled on the remote device. In LiveView, I can see everything I might normally see. The CamRanger has a built-in battery and recharges using a USB power source and the supplied cable. The package included on cable with a mini-USB cable which worked with my D4, but I needed to purchase a USB3 connecting cable for my D800.
A very low angle can expose unique opportunities. The CamRanger made this shot easy.
Features: (from their web site):
- Live View:Wirelessly stream live view to your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android device, or Mac or Windows computer. Complete focusing control with touch focus, incremental adjustments, and focus stacking.
- Capture & View Images: Capture images in all drive modes. Then view full resolution images in JPG or Canon RAW and optionally save to an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android device, or Mac or Windows computer. CamRanger is a great wireless tethering solution.
- View and Edit Camera Settings: Remotely change and view camera settings: Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, White Balance, Drive/Shooting Mode (Single, Continuous, etc.), AF, Metering Mode, Image Format, Auto Exposure Mode, and Exposure Compensation and Bracketing.
- Record Movies: Wirelessly record movies to view and edit later. CamRanger supports touch focusing during movie recording for many Nikon and Canon cameras.
- Intervalomater / HDR: Setup intervalometer (time lapse) or HDR on your CamRanger. No need for your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android device, or Mac or Windows computer to remain connected after the initial setup.
- Macro & Focus Stacking: Perfect for macro photography where your camera is in awkward locations or very precise focus control is needed. Use automatic focus stacking for enhanced depth of field.
Optional Motorized Tripod Head: I don’t own one (yet), but the CamRanger can also control a motorized tripod head (MP 360). Yes, I want one! Check it out on their site.
For this simple shot, I set the camera on a tripod and hooked up the CamRanger. I was able to touch my iPhone’s screen to set the focus on the big flower before taking the shot. I could have taken several other shots, focusing slightly farther into the scene each time. Later, in post processing, it is possible to combine all of the different images into one image with tons of depth of field.
Combining the Two!
Besides the obvious uses of getting low, or high, or away from the camera, I had a vision of something like the photo above in my mind’s eye as I was placing the order for my CamRanger. I already had the RFN-4s and had tried a similar shot on numerous occasions. The two “gadgets” work remarkably well together!
The Parameters: A lot of my favorite shots are taken just as the sun starts to light the clouds or landscape. It is usually calm in the early morning, so getting reflections is more likely. That period of great light can be terribly early and it sometimes lasts for only a few minutes. Photographers understand the issues of morning light. In a nutshell, it is difficult to convince a fisherman friend to get up long before dawn to pose in a river when the fish aren’t biting. Not that many people are out that early, other than photographers, so accidentally finding a fisherman in the water doesn’t happen (often). Then, throw in the variables of bad weather, wind and socked in clouds. I decided to take photos of myself in some of the more picturesque spots in the valley. I’m going to be there anyway, so this way I get a chance at the normal landscape shots and the more unique versions with a fisherman in it. Admittedly, taking a photo of someone else fishing in a scene like this would be a piece of cake. I wouldn’t need remote triggers or CamRanger equipment. It’s not always easy, nor should it be, I guess!
On Site Issues: In the past, I had to walk up on a scene like this and envision where I might need to stand, then pull back or zoom in at the camera, focus on a spot I anticipated being, and do a few test shots. I’d set the focus to manual and walk from behind the camera to the spot and fire away using a remote trigger. I had a pair of Pocket Wizards, but the transmitter was so large it was obvious I had it in my hand, and I always had problems with the camera going to “sleep”. The RFN-4s solved both problems. After a few dozen photos, I’d have to walk from my spot back to the camera where I’d review the images on the back of the camera. Sometimes, I wasn’t even in the photo! Sometimes, I’d be cropped off at the edge or at my feet or head. Other times, I wished I had been to the left or right a foot. I’d repeat the steps over and over and eventually “stumble” into a good one.
CamRanger to the Rescue! With a CamRanger, the same shots became much easier! Once the CamRanger is connected and communicating with my iPhone, I am able to “self direct” my location in the scene. I can tell I need to move left or right, up or back and I can tell if my rod tip will be out of the picture on most shots, or not. For the shots where it looks like I am picking a new fly out of a fly box, similar to the test image above, I could initiate the capture directly from the iPhone. That’s a classic shot for a fisherman because we’re always searching through the box looking for THE fly for that moment. In very low light conditions, it is difficult to stop action of a fly rod. So, a static shot is easy, via a CamRanger. This kind of pose is also worthwhile against a waterfall or moving water, allowing the water to “flow” during a longer exposure. As with any of the images on this page, I can review recent images while still standing in the stream by clicking on any of the recent thumbnails. In the case of the flowers, I can review the shots while standing up, versus having to get down to view them from the screen on the back of the camera. The option to do image review is significant, though the download time to the remote device can seem like a long time.
For the action shots, I need a faster shutter speed, but essentially the rest of the compositional issues are the same. Instead of triggering the camera using the iPhone, I need to switch to the RFN-4s’ small trigger. The iPhone is too large and the “Capture” button is not in a great place to trigger while casting and stripping line. For the casting style shots, I usually to use the Nikon D4 because of the 10 FPS speed and roughly 90 images I can take before filling the buffer. Some people call this the “spray and pray” method—shoot a lot and pick “the one” from an action sequence. To do this technique, I take the CamRanger out of Live View mode, but that is after I am satisfied with my location in the scene. Once CamRanger releases the camera from Live View, the camera focuses wherever the focus point is located. This is one time I have to pre-visualize my location prior to shooting and focus roughly on that spot. Switching to Manual Mode to works fine, too.
One Shot: The image above was actually taken with a Nikon D800, set to single shot (S) mode instead of CF (continuous). Besides the CamRanger and RFN-4s, I added some strobes to add some fill light on my face. There was no need to burst a lot of images in a single cast. Instead, I tried to time the triggering to when I thought the line would be in a good location in the scene. Needless to say, I had a lot of shots to throw away, but I did get some I liked. These kinds of single shots take a little practice to hit the sweet spot.
The Wrap Up: If you are thinking this is a lot of trouble to get a shot…you’d be correct! For myself, much of this is purely a self imposed challenge to improve, and in this case, it means getting a better handle on how to take advantage of some of the newer technology. Before I went out to the Tetons for my morning session, I spent a couple of days practicing with the gadgets in the stream next door. Those practice sessions yielded invaluable information and exposed some issues I will need to work around. When I need these gadgets, I’ll be much more prepared! The more I use the CamRanger, the more shooting possibilities come to mind. I think it will work great for fireworks on the 4th, too.