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DSLR Camera Remote for iPhone comes to life in v1.1  
Friday, July 17, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
When onOne Software's DLSR Camera Remote 1.0 emerged in May, we saw the iPhone app for controlling Canon digital SLR cameras as an interesting proof of concept that wasn't quite ready for the sorts of remote work we do. From klunky handling of image pairs shot on RAW+JPEG to difficulties triggering Canons using certain PocketWizard configurations, not to mention a lack of support for the Nikon gear I personally use for most remote installations these days, the initial version of DSLR Camera Remote was something to keep an eye on, but not yet something to build into a workflow here.

Version 1.1 of DSLR Camera Remote changes that. onOne has previously said the next version would support Nikon cameras, and it does. But the upcoming free update is about more than just bringing Nikon users in from the cold. It also introduces just enough vital changes - including smarter RAW+JPEG handling, burst shooting, a slick Auto Bracketing feature and a more responsive Fire button - to transform DSLR Camera Remote from a curiosity into a useful tool.

In addition, the effort put into this new version suggests that onOne is serious about DSLR Camera Remote, which bodes well for the future of this app. It's early days still, but DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 shows the software is headed in the right direction.

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Nikonized: A beta of onOne Software's DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 controlling a Nikon D700 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

New in DSLR Camera Remote 1.1

Here's a rundown of what's new in DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 (Pro Edition) for iPhone, as well as its companion Mac/Windows application, DSLR Camera Remote Server 1.1.

Note: DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 is not yet officially released; this article is based on the testing of a private beta copy made available to us by onOne Software. Please see the end of the article for information on when the final version of 1.1 is expected to be ready for download from Apple's App Store.

Compatibility with Nikon digital SLRs, in addition to Canon Most Nikon digital SLRs back to the D200, and all Canon digital SLRs back to the EOS-1D Mark II (including the EOS Rebel T1i/500D with this release), can be controlled with v1.1. The exact level of remote control capability varies by camera model, with newer cameras being capable of more tricks than older ones.

At minimum, DSLR Camera Remote can adjust camera settings such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance and file format, trip the shutter, use the app's Intervalometer and new Auto Bracketing features as well as view both JPEG and RAW format photos.

The full list of compatible cameras:

Canon
  • Canon EOS Rebel XT/350D
  • Canon EOS Rebel XTi/400D
  • Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D
  • Canon EOS Rebel XSi/450D
  • Canon EOS Rebel T1i/500D
  • Canon EOS 20D
  • Canon EOS 30D
  • Canon EOS 40D
  • Canon EOS 50D
  • Canon EOS 5D
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark II
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark II N
  • Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark III
  • Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
Nikon
  • Nikon D40
  • Nikon D40X
  • Nikon D60
  • Nikon D80
  • Nikon D90
  • Nikon D5000
  • Nikon D200
  • Nikon D300
  • Nikon D700
  • Nikon D3
  • Nikon D3X


Notably absent are any D2-series Nikons, including the D2Xs, which exited the marketplace less than two years ago. Nikon's software development kit (SDK), which onOne relies upon for the communication and control of Nikon cameras in DSLR Camera Remote, does not include support for models other than the ones listed, says onOne Senior Product Manager Dan Harlacher.

If you've also installed Camera Control Pro 2.x, which uses similar underlying camera control modules to those bundled with the SDK and does include modules for many older Nikon digital SLRs, then DSLR Camera Remote might be able to control the D2Xs and others not on the Nikon list above. If it does, says Harlacher, it's important to note that this configuration won't be supported officially by onOne Software and therefore any bug fixes or other tweaks are unlikely.

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Point of Entry: onOne Software's DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 (highlighted in blue) on the home screen of an iPhone 3GS
RAW: Viewing a Nikon D700 NEF. Note that when a Nikon camera is connected, the Preset WB icon will be more Nikon-centric in appearance in the official release version of DSLR Camera Remote 1.1, plus the frame counter will display the space remaining on the destination computer

Burst Mode With certain cameras and certain limitations, it's now possible to fire off a burst of photos in succession, up to the camera's maximum frame rate. Three Canon models are burst-friendly: the EOS 50D, EOS 5D Mark II and EOS Rebel T1i/500D. With this trio, holding down DSLR Camera Remote's Fire button causes the camera to shoot continuously for as long as the button is pressed, until the buffer fills. Other Canons remain limited to one-frame-at-a-time shooting.

All supported Nikons can shoot bursts, but with a twist: you set the number of frames to capture in a continuous sequence, then a single press of the app's fire button causes the camera to fire off that number of frames in a row. DSLR Camera Remote automatically limits the number of shots you can select so that it matches the camera's burst depth, based on its current settings.

The Fire button will trigger a burst each time it's pressed, until Burst Mode is disabled in the app's options, so it's not necessary to re-enable burst shooting after each sequence.

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Choosy: The options screen in DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 when a Nikon D700 is being controlled. Tapping Burst Mode brings up the screen shown at right
Buffered: Entering the number of frames to capture in Burst Mode with a Nikon camera connected

The way that burst mode is implemented, says onOne's Harlacher, has been dictated by the features and restrictions of the software development kits (SDKs) provided by Canon and Nikon. It's not possible, for example, to enable burst shooting for Canon cameras other than the three listed, because there is no provision within the Canon SDK to do so.

Autofocus during Canon Live View or Nikon LiveView With each makers' live viewing mode engaged, it's possible in v1.1 to activate AF (if the camera supports this function). Activating AF while in live viewing mode is easy: just tap within the frame area.

The camera will use whatever live viewing AF mode and AF point/area is selected on the camera at that moment. As of v1.1, DSLR Camera Remote has no provision for showing or changing where in the frame the camera will autofocus.

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Blurry: A single tap within the live viewing frame area starts the camera's AF (assuming the connected camera is capable of autofocusing in this mode)
Crispy: The focused end result

The table below shows whether live viewing AF, burst mode shooting and also Bulb exposures are possible in DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 for the camera listed:

dslr_remote_compatibility.jpg

Note: As described earlier in the article, Nikon burst shooting requires that you set the number of frames that will be captured in each burst, then each press of DSLR Camera Remote 1.1's Fire button will trigger the camera to capture the set number of frames.

RAW+JPEG are paired as one Previously, DSLR Camera Remote would treat the RAW and the JPEG in a RAW+JPEG pair as two separate pictures. This not only doubled the number of pictures to browse through on the iPhone, it also contributed to the app's sluggish feel when capturing short RAW+JPEG bursts.

In v1.1, DSLR Camera Remote cues up the JPEG only for viewing in a RAW+JPEG pair, while the RAW is treated as its silent partner. This should bring about a noticeable improvement in efficiency. Earlier this week, onOne armed us with a beta release of DSLR Camera Remote 1.1, but this particular change wasn't yet wired up so it's too soon to say for certain that pushing the RAW file backstage in a RAW+JPEG pair will give the efficiency boost we expect.

dslr_remote_canon_11.jpg
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Canon: Choosing a file format when a Canon EOS 5D Mark II is connected
Nikon: Choosing a file format when a Nikon D700 is connected

Auto Bracketing This new feature enables you to automatically capture a series of bracketed pictures, within a five-stop range at 1/3-stop to full-stop intervals. You can select whether you want to lock shutter speed, aperture, or ISO, and you can dial in a pause between bracketed frames, if desired, to allow strobes to recycle.

Like the Intervalometer (which gets a facelift in v1.1), the new Auto Bracketing feature is simple to configure and use. It also invokes some clever logic when adjusting the two parameters that you haven't locked. For example, if you choose the aperture to stay the same throughout the bracketing sequence, DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 will change the shutter speed exclusively as it steps through the creation of the sequence, unless the sequence bumps up against the camera's shutter speed limit. Then, the app will begin to adjust ISO to allow the bracketing sequence to complete properly. Similar thinking is applied regardless of which parameter you lock.

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Trigger Happy: The new Intervalometer screen in v1.1
Exposť: Auto Bracketing

New user interface The new look of DSLR Camera Remote is a nice improvement. In addition to making the app appear more camera brand-neutral (v1.0's interface elements are reminiscent of Canon's EOS Utility), the Fire button has been made larger and relocated to a position that's easier to find when not looking at the iPhone's screen, at least if you hold the device in your left hand. In addition, the app's shooting options are now accessed via a dedicated button.

That covers the vertical orientation. When the iPhone is turned horizontally the Fire and options buttons remain visible, but the control panel portion of the interface disappears, leaving more room to display the photo. onOne calls this Big View, and it isn't fully operational in the current beta, but the photo below will give you a sense of what its controls look like.

dslr_remote_canon_15.jpg
On the Horizon: The preliminary layout for Big View in DSLR Camera Remote 1.1

New DSLR Camera Remote Server Accompanying DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 for iPhone is the Mac/Windows software it links to, DSLR Camera Remote Server 1.1. In addition to supporting new cameras, onOne has implemented several changes in its functionality, including:
  • Support for Photoshop Lightroom Auto Import When enabled, the program will create a new folder, called Lightroom, within the download folder, then place a copy of each arriving photo into it. As the name suggests, it's intended to allow Adobe Photoshop Lightroom's import function to slurp up files automatically, and it does that. Camera Bits Photo Mechanic's Live Ingest feature also grabs JPEGs from that location without any problems, and it also works just fine as the source location for folder-watching Automator Actions on the Mac.

  • Automatic file renaming to prevent file overwrites In v1.1, new files will automatically be renamed if there is a file of the same name already in the download folder (v1.0 would simply overwrite).

  • Reveal button Version 1.1 of the program includes a shortcut button to open the download folder. (This button is not shown in the screenshot below.)
dslr_remote_nikon_17.jpg
Mission Control: A beta version of DSLR Camera Remote Server 1.1 for Mac

Observations

This section puts forth some observations gleaned from using a not-quite-finished beta of DSLR Camera Remote 1.1, with an emphasis on whether it's now viable for keeping tabs on sports remote cameras (like the Nikon D3X used for the photo below), or indeed any sort of remote use that requires minimal trigger delay and also involves leaving the remote camera in place for perhaps hours at a time.

Location, location, location: Nikon D3X + AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED mounted to the shot clock, 1/250, ISO 400, f/9, Dyna-Lite Arena strobes. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Using the app on an iPhone 3GS, linking over Wi-Fi to a beta version of DSLR Camera Remote Server 1.1 running on a MacBook Pro 17 inch laptop, we've been able to give the Nikon support an initial going over, as well as check out some of the new features available for Canon and Nikon users alike.

The observations below are based on testing with USB-tethered Nikon D700, Nikon D3, Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EOS 50D cameras. We have not yet tried cameras other than these four, nor have we attempted to test v1.1 with either of the camera maker's wireless transmitter units substituting for a wired USB connection.
  • In v1.1, the remote camera's shutter is tripped when the app's Fire button is pressed, rather than when it's released, which was the 1.0 behaviour. This make camera triggering feel noticeably more responsive. Now, there is only a slight additional lag when the remote camera is one of the tested Canons, which is impressive given that the trigger signal has to wend its way from the iPhone over Wi-Fi to the computer, then over USB to the camera. The lag is slightly longer with the Nikons.

    The above is true when pressing the Fire button and DSLR Camera Remote Server and the camera aren't busy juggling just-shot photos. If you shoot a single frame or short burst, then immediately try to trigger the camera again using the Fire button, there is often a noticeable pause before the shutter trips. This particular delay can be avoided by using a PocketWizard setup to do the triggering; more on that is below.

  • The two Canon models offload even 15-20MB+ files to the computer at a blistering pace. DSLR Camera Remote Server in turn quickly queues them up for display on the iPhone. The shoot-to-view time, even with a 21.03 million image pixel 5D Mark II set to capture RAW CR2s, is quite short. Both tested Nikon models lagged somewhat in shoot-to-view quickness when compared to the Canons, but the speed is still reasonable. And, says Harlacher, viewing of NEFs in the current beta is less sprightly than it will be when v1.1 is finalized.

  • When a Canon camera is connected, you have the option of saving photos to the camera's memory card and to the computer, or to the computer only. When a Nikon camera is connected, the photo is saved to the computer alone, there is no option to also drop the photo onto the card inside the camera. As with most such operational differences in DSLR Camera Remote 1.1, the reason lies in the SDKs from each camera company and the capabilities they do (or don't) provide, says Harlacher.

  • With either tested Canon linked up via USB to the computer, it's not possible to reliably trigger them with a set of LPA Design PocketWizards if the PocketWizard configuration attempts to keep the camera fully awake. onOne's software and the PocketWizards will duke it out for control, and the loser will be the photographer.

    While things will appear to work at first, after a time one of several errors will occur, including a loss of communication between the camera and the computer that causes pictures to be lost and forces the battery to be pulled from the camera to set things right.

    If the PocketWizard setup doesn't try to keep the camera fully awake, then DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 and LPA Design's camera trigger seem to happily coexist, but at the expense of an additional shooting delay (relative to a PocketWizard configuration that keeps the camera fully ready to fire).

    This particular form of happy coexistence may well be a new feature of v1.1, since we couldn't make DSLR Camera Remote 1.0 and PocketWizards cooperate at all, but that was with an EOS-1Ds Mark III rather than either of the two Canons we've looked at for this article.

    The Nikon situation is much simpler. Whether the PocketWizard configuration keeps the camera awake or lets the camera sleep, triggering occurs reliably and without incident from either the transmitter PocketWizard or the Fire button in DSLR Camera Remote.

    As mentioned, we tested this with both a D700 and D3; with the D700 we went further, remotely firing over 600 frames in about a seven hour period. Nothing we did on the iPhone brought the link down, including putting the iPhone to sleep as DSLR Camera Remote was showing a sequence of incoming pictures, quitting and relaunching the app, restarting the iPhone, switching back and forth between apps and more. As long as the computer was kept awake things hummed along nicely: the camera always fired and the photos always ended up where they should in the download folder.
Based on our experience so far with v1.1, two Canon and two Nikon digital SLRs, we're thinking the following about the integration of the new version of DSLR Camera Remote into sports remote photography:
  • On the Canon side, the Fire button's responsiveness is pretty good, as long as the system isn't busy handling pictures that have just been captured. If you're not shooting more than one frame every few seconds, then DSLR Camera Remote 1.1's trigger delay is surprisingly minimal and may be acceptable for some users and some sports.

    That said, a PocketWizard configuration is still the better overall choice, since it offers effectively zero additional trigger delay and triggering doesn't get bogged down if the camera has just shot several frames. Plus, you're likely to achieve much greater triggering range with a pair of PocketWizards than a typical iPhone-to-computer Wi-Fi link, and the trigger button to fire the remote can be placed right on the local camera - that is, the camera you're holding - making it easier to manage the firing of both.

    onOne Software has pitched DSLR Camera Remote as a replacement for camera triggering devices like PocketWizards, and for certain situations, like in a not-too-hectic studio environment, it absolutely can do that. For sports remotes, however, a symbiotic relationship with PocketWizards is a must, and because of the difficulties with DSLR Camera Remote we experienced when the PocketWizard was keeping the Canons fully awake, it appears necessary to let the camera sleep if you want to use PocketWizards to trip the shutter while also using DSLR Camera Remote to adjust camera settings and view photos. This means living with additional shutter lag, since the reason for keeping the camera fully awake is to avoid having to wait for the camera's meter to come on before the picture is taken.

    With the 5D Mark II, for example, its shutter lag tests (using the PocketWizard MultiMAX's lag tester) at about 98ms when fully awake. This extends to about 171ms when its meter is allowed to sleep. Adding over 70ms of additional lag can and usually will make it more difficult to fire the shutter at the moment of peak action. It's not impossible by any means to use a remote camera this way, but the additional lag is a factor to consider, one that makes the marrying up of DSLR Camera Remote, the tested Canons and PocketWizards viable but not ideal for this purpose. (In case it's not clear, the overall delay with DSLR Camera Remote and no PocketWizards is even longer, because it's the sum of the 5D Mark II's 171ms lag + the time it takes for the trigger signal to make it from the iPhone to the camera.)

  • On the Nikon side it has been smooth sailing. Using the D700 as an example, its shutter lag measures about 43ms when fully awake, and it can be kept fully awake in a PocketWizard configuration while the camera is actively linked up to DSLR Camera Remote Server and in turn to DSLR Camera Remote. For my own purposes this was the configuration I'd hoped would show promise, and so far there's every reason to believe it will work darn near perfectly when v1.1 emerges from beta and reaches official release status.

  • Whether a Canon or Nikon camera is in use, onOne's software seems to handle abrupt disconnection of the camera without a problem. DSLR Camera Remote Server 1.1 keeps on ticking, and a brief moment after the camera is reconnected, DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 can again view pictures and fire the shutter. The reestablishment of the link was faster with the two Canons tested than the two Nikons, but it was still quick enough in both cases.
Conclusion

At only two months old, DSLR Camera Remote is still very much in its infancy. Several of the app's features need filling out, and there's plenty of useful additional stuff that DSLR Camera Remote Server could be doing with arriving photos too.

For instance, in v1.1, zooming is still limited to double-tapping the screen and seeing the tapped area enlarged, there's no way to pan around the zoomed view. To see a different area enlarged, you first have to return to the non-magnified view, then double-tap again.

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Full Length: Double-tapping within a picture brings up a magnified view of the tapped area, as shown in the screen at right
Closeup: To exit from the magnified view shown, double-tap again

Also, while the app can show you the pictures you're capturing, there's no provision for sharing those pictures, either by attaching them to an email, uploading to an FTP server or some other method. It's also not possible to use DSLR Camera Remote as a folder monitor, since it can't browse the contents of the download folder unless a camera is connected to the computer and it effectively ignores photos that have arrived from other sources.

And finally, DSLR Camera Remote can't communicate directly with the camera, it requires DSLR Camera Remote Server running on a computer to act as intermediary. (Admittedly, a netbook like our Dell Mini 9 is straightforward enough to deploy alongside the camera in all but the most cramped or complicated remote camera setups.)

For us, v1.1's feature tweaks, combined with support for Nikon digital SLRs alongside Canon, make this the first real version of DSLR Camera Remote, and a darned useful version at that. At the same time, there's so much more the software could be doing, but doesn't yet. onOne Software has only just begun to mine the potential of the remote camera control system they've created.

Availability

DSLR Camera Remote 1.1 is compatible with both the iPhone and iPod touch, and is slated for submission to Apple's App Store before the end of July 2009. Harlacher anticipates that it will come available on the store no more than a few days after that. As before, it will ship in both Lite and Pro editions; existing owners will be eligible for a free update to the edition they own now. New purchases are US$1.99 for DSLR Camera Remote Lite Edition and US$19.99 for DSLR Camera Remote Pro Edition through the U.S. App Store. Pricing for other countries varies.

DSLR Camera Remote Server 1.1 for Mac and Windows will come available for download from onOne Software's website at about the same time that Apple releases DSLR Camera Remote v1.1.
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