Shooting Tethered to a computer
This is an often overlooked but extremely useful solution for static set-ups. Practically all DSLRs and a good number of compact and bridge digital cameras are capable of shooting tethered to a computer. This article is about shooting tethered with DSLRs with an emphasis on Nikon and Fuji cameras which I use.
The hard working photographers using digital backs and medium format digital cameras use this solution all the time so they are already very familiar with it. The Canon DSLRs work in a similar way with the notable difference that the shooting software comes free with the camera as opposed to Nikon and Fuji solutions.
There are four elements needed for tethered shooting: the camera, a connection cable (or wireless setup), the special shooting software usually provided by the camera maker and of course, a compatible computer.
Between the camera and the computer may be either Firewire (also known as IEEE 1394 or iLink) or USB.
Firewire is usually found on professional cameras like the Kodak DSLRs, Nikon D1 series and Fuji S2 and S3. Lately most professional cameras went to USB, including Nikon D2 and D3 series, Fuji S5 Pro, etc.
USB is much more widely used, in part because on the PCs the USB is almost a standard. The USB may be either 1.1 or 2.0. Those standards are quite compatible, the main difference is the maximum theoretical speed: 15 Mb/sec for the USB 1.1 and 480 Mb/sec for the USB 2.0. Most modern cameras use USB 2.0 because the large files generated by high megapixel cameras would take too long to transfer over a slow connection, but there may be still in use cameras with USB 1.1
You should keep in mind that 1 Mb (megabit) is 1/8 of a MB (megabyte) so the speeds above translates to almost 2 MB/sec, respectively 60 MB/sec and those are the ideal, theoretical speeds which are never seen in practice.
Also, the USB 2.0 has two designations: Full Speed means in fact USB 1.1 speed and High Speed which is the real USB 2.0 speed. One well known example is the Nikon D70 which has USB 2.0 but only Full Speed which acts at the USB 1 speed.
The shooting software
Is supplied by the camera manufacturer, usually in the professional package which is not usually free. There are some third party software solutions available for shooting tethered with some better known cameras, the most notable being Bibble and more recently Aperture.
The shooting software allows the transfer of the images shot directly from the camera’s buffer into the computer, bypassing the card inside the camera.
Also, the software may allow changing of camera settings, including the Custom Functions, editing the User Comment and loading user defined Curves (if available).
If the connection is USB 2.0 High Speed or Firewire, the shooting performance can be almost as good, and in some cases better than shooting normally on a card in camera.
The buffer limitations still apply for shooting tethered but there are a lot of advantages which will be detailed below.
Can be done in two ways: controlling the camera from the computer and shooting from the camera, but directly in the computer.
Controlling the camera from the computer can be interesting in some remote shooting situations because apart from triggering the shutter you can change all the usual settings: aperture, speed, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation.
Also, you will have very fast feedback in the form of the images downloaded which will allow you to make further refinements.
Typical set-ups are all the remote shooting situations but with the added benefits above.
Nikon gave this remote shooting a whole new dimension with the D2X and D2Hs cameras which can be controlled from the computer over a wireless network if the cameras are fitted with the optional WT-2 transmitter. The new Nikon D200 has it’s own dedicated transmitter.
Also, the top of the line Canon cameras, the 1D and 1Ds Mark II can do this, using their wireless transmitter.
Shooting into the computer is more useful in studio or static situations because you can quickly assess the quality of the images on a big computer screen as opposed to the tiny, un calibrated LCD monitor on the back on the camera.
Also, shooting tethered allows the client to see and approve the images taken which cuts both on the time and the number of shots.
When working with models this will provide almost real time feedback for them and you will know when you’ve got the images you were after.
Product shots are much faster when shooting tethered because you will be able to see any unwanted reflections or misplaced shadows on the computer’s screen and correct them during the shooting.
Last but not least, you will not have to change and download any cards during long photo sessions, providing that your computer’s HDD have enough space.
Location shooting can be done tethered as well using a laptop. There are a lot of portrait, fashion and even product shootings which are done in a static enough location to allow shooting tethered.
Shooting tethered conclusion:
If you find yourself shooting in pretty static setups anything from portraits to fashion to product shots you should certainly try it.
Most “advanced” camera manufacturers software which include shooting modules have trial versions (except for Fuji) so you can try it “for free”.
I do all static shootings tethered to a computer and my clients are really happy and most of them became addicted to the computer on the set. I wonder what did they do in the good old film days …