One of the things I like to do during workshop is show students the images as I take them. So far this has been achieved by taking a Mac mini and NEC Spectraview screen to the location and shooting tethered with a long USB cable in to Phase One Capture One. This set-up works great but getting it to and from the location is a pain (literally!) and the USB cable is quite limiting. I’m considering doing some workshops outside in the near futre and this set-up would be unworkable there and I didn’t fancy forking out for a Macbook Pro just yet.
Enter the iPad. The iPad is a device that’s simple and intuitive to use, has a great screen and battery life and is therefore, ostensibly, ideal for tethered shooting. There is a major problem though in that tethering to cameras over USB is not supported even with the camera connection kit (which is great for normal transfer of images off cards by the way).
A new piece of software is available in the app store though called Shuttersnitch which allows you to transfer images to the iPad wirelessly either by using the proprietary wi-fi adapters from the likes of Canon and Nikon or the increasingly popular Eye-fi SD cards. This is where I hit another ‘gotcha’. Eye-fi cards are available in SD format only and I shoot with a Nikon D3 which has 2 CF card slots. I did some research and discovered many tales of woe about users not being able to get the cards to work, especially the new X2 models with Canon cameras although many seemed to struggle with the D3 also. The cards aren’t very expensive though so I persevered and obtained an SD to CF adapter from ebay which stated it had been tested with the Eye-fi card and a 8GB Pro Eye-Fi card. I went with the pro version in the end because although RAW and ad-hoc connections are not supported in this setup at the moment they may be in the future.
The lack of support for ad-hoc connections is the next gotcha. This means you have to connect from the camera to the iPad via a router and is a limitation of the iPad at present. Fortunately though I have a Three MiFi device which acts as a battery powered router and I decided to put this in my pocket to allow location shooting.
With more than a little pessimism I started to configure the card by connecting the supplied SD card reader containing the card to a spare USB port on my Mac. I’ll not go through the full set-up process here as it’s covered in detail elsewhere on the web but it’s fair to say it took a reasonable amount of patience with the software, firmware and Adobe Air all demanding updates and the software refused to register my account stating that the password could not be used. As it turned out the actual issue was with my email address which, to prevent spam, I prefer to use a slightly unusual format for. It would have been nice for the software to let me know that this was the issue though rather than complain about the password.
I then took the card out of the reader, inserted it in to the adapter and then put the adapter in to the D3. Before shooting I changed my settings so that the second card slot (where I put the Eye-fi) only received a basic jpeg with the raw being stored on the card in slot 1. I also changed the settings so the meter didn’t go to sleep and the camera monitor kept on for as long as possible (many of the issues reported online were due to the camera going in to sleep mode).
I then took a photograph. Much to my surprise it transfered to my Mac first time! After a couple of more tests I followed the instructions here and sent the upload key to the iPad via email, copied and pasted the code in to the Shuttersnitch settings, opened the application and took a photograph. Nothing happened. I quickly realised my mistake, I needed to open a new collection and after I did so I tried again. Still nothing. However closing the application and opening it again resolved all connection problems and it’s worked every time since.
One of the frustrations in traditional tethered shooting with Nikon cameras is that you can’t also use the cameras LCD and images are only stored on the connected computer with no option to also store them on the camera. The eye-fi card overcomes these limitations but in doing so introduces a slight delay in to the process which is the time it takes to download the image to the card, it then initiates a connection to the iPad and sends the file across. This means there is a slight delay from taking the image before Shuttersnitch starts to download the image. In testing though, other than the first shot, I found it took about 7 seconds for a basic jpeg if the previous image had been full downloaded. If I shot a series of images in quick succession they took longer, obviously, but all did get downloaded and each appeared on the iPad as it was received. Sending RAW files is supported by the card and Shuttersnitch will receive (but not display) raw files. In my view though this is pretty much a waste of time, at least for my purposes. The download time is in the region of 30 seconds and, even if I could get the iPad to display the image, I believe it only renders the embedded jpeg. I will therefore be shooting with just basic jpegs at the moment, but for more critical work jpeg fine only takes 12 seconds or so.
Overal I’m very pleased with the set-up. It’s very unintuitive compared to pretty much everything else about the iPad. It’s more like going back to Windows XP (or even Linux) in some ways as you have to bring several things together to get it to work but work it does! Please put any questions in the comment section and I’ll try my best to answer them.