Roaming with the CamRanger

CamRanger


PM’s resident wildlife and nature expert Simon Booth tests the new wireless Live View device for Apple iOS smartphones and tablets

When the latest photography gadget from America landed on my doorstep what a treat it promised to be. The CamRanger is a wireless device that provides Live View connectivity between your camera and iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. At just under £300, when you consider the cost of the Nikon or Canon equivalent, this little device will certainly raise a few eyebrows. Measuring just 100mm x 65mm x 15mm and weighing in at an incredible 100gms, the CamRanger is so small that you would never know it was even in your camera bag. However looks can be deceiving and these flash gadgets always need putting to the test…

What is it?
The Camranger allows wireless control of a Nikon or Canon DSLR via your iPad iPhone or iPod Touch. So really, a tethering solution, useful for live view, remotely changing camera settings and focus stacking for effective depth-of-field.

Setting up and operation
During the initial set up the App caused me a few problems, even though the registration process all went smoothly. In the end I had to call the support line to get things moving. It turned out to be a simple oversight in that I hadn’t switched my Apple device over from the wireless network in my office to the CamRanger’s own network, which is changed via the iPad or iPhone settings. It does state this in the instructions but it’s a bit sketchy when setting up for the first time. I think it could be explained in more depth. After that, the CamRanger is a doddle to use, being fairly self explanatory if you are familiar with camera controls. The neoprene pouch provided could give complete weatherproofing had it not been for the poorly designed zipper, which doesn’t close properly with the cable attached to the camera.

CamRanger attached to camera - The cam ranger can be clipped under the tripod with a karabiner and protected is protected from knock with the neoprene pouch.

In the field
My initial thoughts when I was asked to test the CamRanger were how this could benefit me as a nature photographer? Being able to take pictures of mammals and birds without the need to be in a hide can, on occasions, be a big plus with species that require long periods of waiting, without having to sit in the cold.

With this in mind I set up a Canon 5D Mark II on a tripod and focused the lens on a bird feeder in the garden. I switched on the Live View on the camera and then turned on the CamRanger upon which the Live View on the camera is instantly disabled (saving camera battery power) and the image is transmitted wirelessly to your viewing device using the ad-hoc Wi-Fi network. You then have complete control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focusing and exposure compensation. You can even check your histogram. The App also allows you to take time lapse images and advanced bracketed images for HDR merging.

It is not possible to frame the image using the camera’s pentaprism as the camera mirror is maintained in the up position, as it is with regular Live View shooting. Framing is either done beforehand or using the Live View facility, which isn’t the best way in my opinion. Once it was all set up I retreated indoors, made a cuppa and waited for something to arrive.

CamRanger at workstation - Being able to edit pictures on the PC whilst at the same time taking new ones is something of a novelty, but you never know when the need might arise.

I used my iPhone for this test and have to say, the image area on the phone is small when both the camera controls and the image view are visible on the App at the same time, which is roughly 55/45 in favour of the image. It’s still manageable but an iPad would provide a much better experience. My first impression was this is great, and I wanted one, but then after a few minutes I became suspicious when birds appeared on the screen as if from nowhere, rather than flying in fluidly, as in real-time. This it seems is either due to the distance between the CamRanger and the receiving device, or the frame rate of the CamRanger being too slow. Either way the result is a delayed image transfer from real time, to what you see on your screen.

Disappearing act
The manufacturers claim that 7–18 frames per second are possible as a screen fresh rate, and the online promotional video seems to back this up with smooth motion pictures. However, my experience is somewhat different. To test this further I asked my partner to hold the bird feeder at regular intervals for a second at a time to see if I could capture a picture of her hand as it moved in and out of shot. However, on every occasion I failed to see anything at all on the screen. On investigating this I found that whilst standing by the side of the connected CamRanger with my phone in my hand, there was between a one and two second time lag between real time and what I was seeing on the phone. This was disappointing! With nature photography, this can be a huge disadvantage making the difference between a picture of a bird or mammal posed exactly as you wanted under conventional methods, to one that is worthy of the recycle bin using this system. A frame rate of 30fps would provide more fluidity in the image but I’m not sure whether distance would still cause time lag issues.

Usable distance
To test the useable distance of the unit from the viewing device I walked away from the CamRanger and viewed the image on my iPhone until the connection was lost. I walked approximately 15m in line of site and then turned and walked behind a row of houses. The total distance before connection was lost was only 30m as the crow flies. Again, not great!

Success at last
All that said I did manage to take a few shots of birds that were nice and sharp when they hung around long enough for me to see them, but luck played a big part. When the camera is not in Live View it is possible to use the App to trigger the camera as if it was a standard remote release, which is instant and problem free, but of course you do have to be watching the camera... which does defeat the object!

 

CamRanger wireless image - This is one of the images that I managed to take whilst working in the office with no view at all of the feeding station. It’s not foolproof, but it is possible to get the right shot with a little luck, if you can afford to chance it.

On a positive note, the CamRanger does allow you to change the camera’s settings, view histogram, fine tune focus and download images straight to your Apple device without any internet connection. Images can be downloaded automatically during shooting or reviewed singly with the ‘Auto Save’ function switched off. Aside from the small niggle that I discovered, it’s a great little device that does what it says on the tin. I imagine it would be ideally suited to photographers’ specialising in weddings, events or those working commercially allowing them to review images with clients on a large screen as soon as the images have been downloaded, which was around 10 seconds per image with Raw files produced on the Canon 5D Mark II.

Focus adjust and histogram modes

Devices
At the time of release, the CamRanger is only suited to iOS devices, but compatibility with Android devices is anticipated. Supported cameras are Nikon and Canon cameras and more specifically, those with Live View functionality, which are as follows:
Canon
450D, 550D, 600D, 40D, 50D, 60D, 5D II, 7D, 5D III, 1Ds III & 1Dx

Nikon
D5000, D5100, D90, D7000, D300, D300S, D700, D600, D800/D800E, D3, D3s, Nikon D3x & D4

Metering and standard modes

The verdict
• Do I want one – I’d have to say yes.
• Would I buy one – Nearly but not for nature work yet.