Wireless tethering. The coolest oxymoron ever!!!

Wireless tethering.  The coolest oxymoron ever!!!

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/

The Backstory

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.

Lame motion shot to show excessive blur and camera shake.

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. ;)

The idea…

…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.

How I built it

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.

Mounting it

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.

So how well does it work?

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.

Can I build you one?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Stay tuned…

34 Comments

  1. Very nice. I’m tempted to do a Canon version…

    I’ve been looking for a while for a nice battery powered screen that I could hook up to my camera for image previewing, but this with a laptop would serve just as well!

    Reply
  2. Wow Wow and doble WOW. Who is a clever boy then? You blow my mind with all this stuff. Congratulations. Fantastic.

    Reply
  3. Just a silly question but by mounting this into the flash hot-shoe you pretty much disabled the possibility to use and control studio flash, right? Either way a great idea and neat execution… way to go mate!

    Reply
    • For now, yes, but only because that’s not what I intended to use it for. But it would be a simple modification to make it mountable to the tripod base mount of the camera.

      Reply
  4. Congratulations for this well writen article. I hope that camera manufacturers will soon have a build in Wireless USB solution in their next releases of new cameras.

    Reply
  5. This is probably a stupid question but why cant you use a dongle that gets the power straight from the camera? I have a 802.11N wifi dongle that gets its power from my computer and it runs fine.
    Great work anyways, keep it up. :)

    Reply
    • That’s because it’s the device end. If it was the host side, then sure, which is why the one that plugs into a computer doesn’t require external power. The device end is supposed to SUPPLY power to the device itself (ie: the camera), which is why a battery pack is needed.

      Reply
    • I actually looked at both of those, and they ‘should’ work. I didn’t look into them too deeply because, as you mentioned, they are too bulky for my application. It would be cool to see someone give them a go though.

      Reply
  6. Wonderful project. I’ve quickly become addicted to tethered shooting once I saw the effect it has on my clients: immediate results they can see…big.
    The wireless solution would be wonderful.
    I was wondering if you could provide a few more details on what you used for your battery pack. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Thanks you for the great project. I just completed my setup for Canon. It works great with Canon Utility and DSLR Remote. One note of caution. If your camera battery is low, transmission will be slow and it may hang the application. Canon utility informs you that your battery charge is low and will not allow you to continue.

    thanks again for the great project.

    Reply
  8. I wish they made an OSX driver this is really great as it is though

    Reply
  9. nice idea, i make same , copy your awesome idea..
    im very happy finish now i living in brazil my cousin bring for me the trulink , i made same your wireless for my d300 keep invention thanks …donarbe

    Reply
  10. this is amanzing , i have win vista in my macbook pro , yep, i like ..and support the trulink , i get a few hours ago , my concentration 100% now , i use more jpeg for workflow only in my job birth photography , this system in brazil is a $1400 dollars wt-4 nikon , thank you my lord.

    Reply
  11. It’s so awesome – I’ve had no luck hanging my camera out the window and always freak people out – this is so much better and safer.

    Reply
  12. Wow, this looks like the answer I’ve been looking for. I was just about to pull the trigger and buy the eye-fi pro X2. I’m not a tech guy, so perhaps someone could explain why I’d go with this method over the eye-fi method. I’ll be shooting tourist photo’s on a pier in San Diego. I plan to roam the pier, shoot couples with my Nikon D3, and then send them to the computer to print on my Sony Snaplab.

    thanks,
    Joey

    Reply
    • Hi Joey. The Eye-fi would definitely do what you’re after, and probably a bit cheaper. They reason you would want something like this over the Eye-fi is if, like me, you want to control the camera. If you just want to take photos and shoot them off to a computer over the air, then an Eye-fi is probably the simplest solution. I’m not sure what the range on them is though, but I’m sure the Eye-fi website has that info.

      Hope that helps, and good luck!

      Jamie

      Reply
  13. I also just realized that I will need more than 30ft of range. If I were to use a portable wireless router stuffed in my backpack, would that extend the range so I can roam the pier?

    thanks again,
    Joey

    Reply
  14. Great site! Awesome story. 2 quick questions.

    Have you ever measured the speed of the file transfer? Compared to a real USB tether situation? Say you take 5-10 quick RAW pictures.. How long does it take for them to transfer to the PC?

    Can you provide more info on how you configured the battery park to connect to the adapter? The model of the battery pack as well please?

    Reply
  15. Jamie, without seeing your page, I am working on this exact project, I received my Trulink kit a couple of days ago.

    Could you please tell me, how you pried open the dongle? Are there any screws hidden by the rubber pieces at the four corners or what? Also, what batteries are you using? Rechargeable or Alkalines? I guess rechargeable since they provide 4.8V close to the 5V required by the dongle.

    Would it be possible to explain to me in more details (with possibly a picture) how you mounted the hot-shoe leg on the box?

    I am currently waiting for the mail man to deliver my battery box to check how the dongle works with batteries.

    Many thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi John. Prying open the Trulink is simple. The base just clips on so just get a small flat-head screwdriver and use some force. I’m using Ni-mH batteries.

      Reply
  16. Jamie,

    Thanks much appreciated. So 4.8V are enough to power the dongle?

    I did some tests using a 8.4V battery with a drop-down regulater (input 8-40V output 5V) and it works like a charm, but the whole thing is kind of large and has to be carried in a pouch on your belt. I am waiting for a four AA battery box, so that I can replicate your set up. I’ve a flash hotshoe from an old Vivitar flash that I plan to screw on the bottom of the battery box, to mount the whole thing on the camera hotshoe and I’ve even found an angled power-plug that I plan to use.

    One more question, if you do not mind: have you found any other software for Windows that allows you to (a) transfer the picture to your computer and (b) allow to instantly view the shot picture? For a “low budget” project like that, I do not want to spend money for Nikon’s Camera Control Pro.

    Again, excellent work and many thanks for you coming back to me.

    Reply
    • As stated in the post, I use Breeze System’s NKRemote which is much cheaper and works nicer on smaller screens.

      Reply
  17. Jamie,
    You mentioned upgrading the antennas to increase the range. Where could I find these? Or is there other options to increase the range?
    Thanks,
    Bernie

    Reply
  18. Hi Jamie,
    Wonderful project! Really cool stuff….would love to have one!
    Would like to ask you one question, cam I use Cables To Go 29570 TruLink 4-Port Wireless USB Hub instead of Cables To Go 29571 Wireless USB Device Adapter 29571? Thanks in advance!
    It’s seems that the only advantage for 29571 is more compact but the 29570 is more cheaper!

    Best Regards

    Dan Law

    Reply
    • Of course you can use it. The only difference is you will need a lot more batteries!

      Reply
  19. is it better than using x2 eyefi card??

    Reply
    • You can’t control the camera with an eyefi card. I have also found the Eyefi cards to be quirky in their operation and difficult to get to them to just send the photos to a computer without going via the Internet and the Eye-fi website. That could just be me being retarded though.

      Reply
  20. Where can I find the container for the batteries? Thanks

    Reply
  21. Hi Jamie, tank you for your suggestions and guideline about trulink 29570.
    I bought it and I often used it with my PC Windows XP.
    Now I’d like to use my trulink 29570 with my Apple iMac OS Lion, but in the installation CD there isn’t the driver for OS.
    Do you know how to do to find the right drivers?
    Thank you in advance.
    Best regards,

    Giuseppe
    Milan, Italy

    Reply
    • 1. The dongles come with drivers only for Windows, no drivers for Mac OS-X, at least not yet. While I am a Mac user, I managed to solve the problem by using Parallel’s Desktop 6, which recognizes the dongles fine. From then on, the pictures can be imported into Aperture or whatever other program you are using for processing.

      Reply
  22. Where do you get the short 90 degree angle nikon camera wire? What name would I use to search for it? Thanks!!

    Reply
    • eBay.

      Reply

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