Tethered shooting is not just something for the big studios to show images to their clients during a shoot. It is practical for some types of photography at home. Here are some tips on tools for photographers interested into trying this technique.
Shooting tethered lets you see the images your taking directly on your computer screen.
Shooting tethered is a good idea if you're working with images that need to be fine tuned for focusing. When tethered, your camera is connected to your computer via USB cable, so each image is immediately available on the computer screen for you to look at. I use it for some macro work at home inside Adobe Lightroom 3 and 4.
Recently, I got a new EOS 600D to pair with my APS-C Canon 50D and much to my surprise found that Adobe Lightroom 4 does not recognize the EOS 600D, although it recognizes older models. I must admit that I have not used Canon's software for some time, but I decided I wanted to try it.
I was in for some surprises. Following that, I felt it would make sense to write some notes to make things easier for others by pointing to some tools and software that can help you try tethered shooting.
Lightroom "talks" with my EOS 50D, but does not work with the EOS 600D.
Since Lightroom 3 that, when I need to shoot tethered, I use Adobe's solution. I just connect my EOS 50D to the computer and program using a USB cable and I am good to go. It works fine and for a lot of time I have not had to look at other options. I even forgot the Canon EOS Utility, that includes a way to shoot tethered.
EOS Utility: Free for Canon
I remember using Canon software previously and I am aware that it gives you more control than Lightroom. While in Adobe's offering you can see your exposure values and other info but can only press the shutter. With the EOS Utility, you can control everything in camera. It's like a command bridge for your camera. You can control almost everything, from exposure to the type of file in use. That's how I remember the program.
Canons software is freely available for Canon users and let's you shoot tethered offering lots of functions.
So when I recently got a Canon EOS 600D, I was in for a surprise. I knew Lightroom's tether did not recognize many cameras in the early days, but more recently all the EOS xxxD cameras, along with cameras from other brands, work.
So I was expecting some "plug and play" with my EOS 600D, but got nowhere. Lightroom recognizes the camera, but does not go beyond that.
I had just set up everything for a macro photography session and I did not want to give up. I could easily just use my EOS 50D and start shooting, but I decided to do something else.
I downloaded the latest version of Canon's software, a package including Digital Photo Professional, ZoomBrowser/ImageBrowser, Photo Stitch and some other software, including the EOS utility. The successive updates to these programs are only available to Canon users that have the original software.
From the interface on your computer, you can control most of the camera's functions, from exposure to AWB, ISO and even the metering pattern or the quality of files.
EOS Utility makes it easy to transfer images from Canon's cameras to the computer. But it also allows you to remotely operate the camera from your computer using the supplied interface cable, and that's what I was looking for.
After having installed the program, I was in for some surprises. As expected, my EOS 600D worked fine. But not having used the program for some time, I was amazed to find new options on the interface. You can control everything you can think of from your computer, and you can also control the external flashes connected to your EOS 600D, as the camera can trigger flashes wirelessly. Suddenly, my macro photography sessions are easier and funnier.
If you're using flashes you can also control them through EOS Utility, defining the power for different groups and any exposure compensation you want to use.
In fact, working with Canon's EOS Utility is great, even more so now. With flashes placed away from the camera, you can control everything from your computer monitor, from exposure to flash power, and even press the shutter. And the best of it is that this software is completely free to Canon users, so there's no reason to not use it.
The setup is easy to understand, and in minutes you'll be able to shoot your first images. There are some good reasons to shoot tethered. Let me mention two: you don't need to wait for the file to be written to the card, as it is transferred directly to the computer.
You can also preview your images on a big screen, probably the most interesting option if you're working with macro and are also using flashes. It lets you see exactly what each shot looks like. You can then adjust the settings accordingly.
With a camera like the EOS 600D that can control external flashes wirelessly, you can also control the mode to use and how each flash behaves.
One word of advice: when faced with the option to shoot only directly to the computer or to the computer and a memory card, choose to write to both. It will create duplicates, just in case something goes wrong. Or you can automatically delete images at the end of a shoot. It will probably slow your workflow a bit, but if you're working on your own it will make no difference most of the time.
If you decide to shoot tethered, even for macro work, you'll find that the USB cable provided with the camera is usually too short to work safely. You can buy USB cables up to five meters and they will work fine if they're of good quality. I use a three meter cable that is enough for my needs, even if I want to do a portrait session at home.
Remember that USB cables are fragile and also that if you need longer working distances you must to look for active extension cables to not worry about signal errors and corrupt data transfers. There are USB extension cables up to 20 meters if you need them. And you can use them together too!
If you use EOS Utility, but want to transfer images to Lightroom immediately you just have to activate Auto Import in Lightroom and tell the program which folder to watch, previously defined in EOS Utility.
I mainly use tethered shooting with the camera on a tripod but if you're moving on the set with your camera and a long cable, you better beware of the possibility of the cable being dislodged from your camera.
There is one solution. The JerkStopper cable retention is a device that provides an anchor point allowing slack in the cord preventing damage or dislodging.
Together with Lightroom
Using a computer screen to check your images is also a great way to understand how the small screen on your camera can make miss mistakes. Checking focusing on macro shoots gives is a new experience when you see the images on the big screen.
It makes it easier to place lights, define framings and correct things because you see each flaw in your technique. If you're using RAW expect for some delay for the images to appear on screen.
If you use the Canon Utility, but want to transfer images to Lightroom immediately, you just have to activate Auto Import in LR and tell the program which folder to watch, previously defined in Canon Utility.
Canon users have the best deal, as they get their software for free, and it is a good package, that lets you do everything: index, edit and even shoot tethered. But there are options for everybody else that want to try this way of shooting, although some of them are commercial.
If you decide to shoot tethered, you will need to buy a longer USB cable to work safely.
Software: Some Tethering Solutions
Adobe Lightroom, which offers tethered options since version 3, and Canon's software distributed with the cameras are the programs I use to shoot tethered. But there are others to choose from. Here is a list of some options.
Aperture 3 is the choice for Mac users. Additional details can be found at the Apple Store.
Breeze Systems offers a wide range of commercial tethering software options for Canon and Nikon cameras on either a Mac or Windows. More info and prices at Breeze Systems.
Camera RC is another tethering solution for Nikon DSLR cameras. It's free. To download the software and read about it go to the Camera RC website.
Capture One Pro 6 is a tethering software and RAW converter for ultimate image quality. It contains all the essential tools and high-end performance in one package to enable you to capture, organize, edit, share and print images in a fast, flexible and efficient workflow. Head to the Capture One Pro 6 website to find out more.
Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 does not come with Nikon cameras, but is a full-feature tethering software package allowing full control of all compatible camera settings. It costs $145.95. Available for Windows or Mac. Check out the Nikon-Camera-Control-Pro-2 website for more.
PK_Tether allows connecting and controlling Pentax cameras from the PC. It's a free software. Find more info at PK_Tether's website.
SofortBild is a free tethering software for Mac users working with Nikon cameras. More details can be found from the Sofortbild website.