A little while ago I had an automotive photo shoot out at Bathurst, the home of the V8 Supercars Bathurst 1000 car race held every year. It’s a pretty big race that has been going on for many MANY years (since 1960). Back in the day, there was this unbeatable Nissan Skyline which had a controversial win in 1992 and subsequently caused a change in the rules which effectively banned the Skylines from the Bathurst series.
So when this photo shoot came up, and it was an Nissan R33 Skyline GTR, and it was located in Bathurst, how could I pass it up? The problems though were that the race track is a public road, which means there would be traffic, and to make it worse there was also a push bike race in progress that meant we couldn’t use the (out of the way) pit lane as planned.
What’s this got to do with “wireless tethering”? Read on to find out…
UPDATE: There is now a new version of the Wireless Tether device. Have a read about it in the blog post here: http://blog.jamiecarl.com.au/wireless-tethering-the-next-level/
With most of the standard shooting out of the way it was time to do the motion shots. So I did a few standard rig shots and got some stuff I was happy with, but the whole point I drove the 3 hours out there was so that I could get some photos of this 430kw Nissan Skyline on the track and sort of page homage to the Richards/Skaife Skyline of the early 90′s.
I decided to attach the camera to the car using just a 2 point support beam on the back window and then pointed the camera down the left side of the car. I then took some readings and set the exposure on the camera to something that would give some nice motion blur. We then hopped in the car and did a lap of the track with me in the passenger seat tapping away on my radio remote shutter release whenever we passed something that looked interesting.
Sounds pretty tricky? Well, it wasn’t tricky enough and all the photos I got were pretty much crap. A sample of what I got is to the right.
The reason was because of the shutter duration. To get motion blur I had to use a long shutter speed and a small aperture. The problem was that I had no idea how fast the car would be moving which meant I had no idea how long to set the shutter. So with a guess I was completely off and had the shutter open too long which not only gave me too much blur (so much that the scene was unrecognizable) but it also introduced a fair amount of camera shake from the rig. Given the speed the car was travelling i could have easily opened up the aperture and decreased the shutter duration to control the motion blur and reduce the chance of camera shake. But how was I to know what would be a good setting to get the look I wanted? I was in the car and the camera was on the outside of the car.
Then I had an idea…..
A while back I stumbled across an article on “Wireless Tethering” by a guy named Pete. His solution was pretty damn cool and since seeing it I had always wanted to do it myself. Thing is I had never had a use for it which pretty much meant there was no motivation to build one…… until now.
…was that with wireless tethering I could rig the camera to the outside of the car, then sit inside the car with my $500 Asus Eeepc 901 netbook and control the camera. That way I could see the photos that the camera is taking immediately, adjust the settings if needed, and then take another shot. Rinse… dry… repeat…
The issue with Pete’s wireless solution was with how it was mounted. It was quite awkward and I really didn’t think that it would handle being strapped to the outside of the car too well. Also, the wireless USB extenders that he used were no longer available and even though replacements could be found, it was unclear exactly what I needed to get this to work. Essentially I wanted a ‘kit’ that had both the computer end and device end in one box.
So I did some searching and found the Trulink Wireless USB Device Adapter Kit. It was a little bit more expensive but I really liked the look of it with the removable antennas. The next problem was actually getting them as I could find absolutely no where in Australia that sold these and Amazon would not ship these international. That meant I had to go through eBay to get them and I found a dealer on there who had some. (You might have to search though.) It took them 14 days just to post them, and then another week and a half for delivery, but it was well worth the wait.
Once I had received the kit I hooked it up to my D300s and tested that they would work. Which they did. And very well, I might add.
The next problem was power. The device end of the wireless kit was different to the one that Pete used in that it had an external power pack to supply it the 5-volts necessary to run. My original plan was to rip the guts out of the Trulink device and mount it inside a jiffy box with 4xAA batteries. Then I found out that the only AA battery holder I could get was an enclosed one with an ON/OFF switch and it was too big to fit inside the jiffy box I wanted to use. So again it was time to think outside the box.
What I ended up doing was pulling the bottom plate off the Trulink device and super-gluing the Trulink device to the removable cover of the battery holder. I then re-soldered the wires in the battery cover using the power cable that came with the Trulink device and was cut to size. What this gave me was a pretty small and lightweight solution.
The next thing I wanted to do was make it so I could mount this to the camera and make it ultra-portable. To do this, I found a 1/4″ Hotshoe adapter on eBay from Belcanto Digital Tech. I’ll plug them here so that I don’t feel bad about stealing borrowing their photo.
I then drilled a hole in the bottom of the battery case and used a flat piece of steel with a hole in it as a very thin bolt to bolt the whole thing together. The end result, as you can see, is a very slim lightweight easily portable wireless device.
In a word: Brilliantly. I have absolutely no complaints. The device has about 35ft range which is greater than the advertised 30ft. This is of course line of sight but should be plenty for my purposes regardless. I also have the option to upgrade the antenna which could also increase the range.
So what can it do?
I think the question should be, what can’t it do? I can take photos with the camera and they are beamed straight onto the netbook/laptop screen which I can check focus, colour balance, clarity and the histogram. I can also control the camera from the netbook computer including focus, release, all camera settings and even start up Live View which streams perfectly. Yup. Wireless Live View. How cool is that!?
How much did it cost?
All up it only cost me about AU$224. It was $206 for the Trulink kit, $10 for the mounting bracket and about $8 for the battery pack. This is a bit more expensive than Pete’s solution so this isn’t for people on a tight budget. It is for people who really think that the Nikon solution (the WT-4) which goes for $800-1000 is just ridiculously expensive. It’s not even capable of controlling the camera as far as I’m aware (could be wrong). Either way, $224 trumps $1000.
In a word. No. It’s easy so build your own.
What software did I use?
I was originally using Nikon Camera Control Pro 2.0 in trial mode but it had a few short-comings when operating on such a small screen. The netbook I use is an Asus EeePC 901 which has a 9″ screen at a resolution of 1024×600. Kinda tiny. The problem with Nikon’s software is that it uses multiple windows to display things and I found it difficult to switch between the ones I wanted easily. My EeePC has also been modified to be touchscreen and Camera Control Pro didn’t work too well with that either.
Enter, Breeze System’s nkRemote. It’s a nice tidy and small piece of software that does everything Camera Control Pro does except it does it in one screen. It has a few extra features too like photo booth (which I’ll never use) and full screen photo viewing of captured photos (which I use ALL the time). nkRemote is for Nikon cameras although Breeze have a version called DSLRRemote which is for Canon cameras.
I’ve been playing with it for the last few days since building it and I can’t fault it. It is reliable and I have never lost a photo. This is because when the signal is lost then the camera switches back to storing photos on the card. It’s light, fast and best of all it kinda looks cool.
I’m really looking forward to my next automotive gig so that I can mount this thing up and take it for a real test drive. I might have to harass one of my many performance car owning friends and see who wants to lend me their car for a few hours.