About two weeks ago I got a phone call from a really excited Jody Grober at Roberts Camera here in Indianapolis about a new piece of gear they just got in called: The CamRanger. With a name like that I was instantly interested, but had absolutely no idea what this thing did so after getting it I had to do some research. Turns out this is a third party solution for Nikon and Canon cameras to replace Nikon and Canon’s own wireless camera solutions. Well, that was a mouthful. Ok lets try this. Basically it makes any DSLR wireless without being brand specific. Nikon, or Canon can be done from the same unit. Same third party unit. Whattttt?
(Photo Courtesy CamRanger)
Whoa. Ok so it’s a third party. Before I get into it all, I should mention that I”m not paid for this. I am not being paid by Nikon, Canon, Roberts Camera or Cam Ranger. What I say on here is my opinion, and I am prone to miss things or aggravate someone while I’m at it. If you have any questions or comments, you can always feel free to email me or leave it in the comments. Now, ONWARD!
Why would you buy this $299 third party unit vs the Nikon and Canon units? Lets face it CamRanger realizes there is a price point thing here for functionality. Exactly like when I’ve bought the Generic Ebay SB-900 battery packs for $20 vs the $200 Nikon versions. The $20 chinese versions are junk though, and I know I get what I pay for. Both the Canon and Nikon units depending on your level of camera can be found from $500-$1,000. The Pro cameras are obviously the more expensive wireless units, but the CamRanger works with the D3, D4, 1Dx, 5D Mark II and almost every other camera in both manufacturers lineup. I say almost every other camera because my Canon 1D Mark II is not officially supported because the makers of the CamRanger wanted to stick with the latest and greatest, and that makes sense. Their website says that even though the camera isn’t on the official list, doesn’t mean it won’t work; you just won’t have some functionality that the camera itself doesn’t have like live view or video. That being said, My 1D Mark II doesn’t register at all, and I’m not surprised; nor do I care. Here’s the list of supported cameras via their website. So, this is a third party device that’s cheaper than the name brand deal, does it work? Absofrigginlutely!
OK so lets go straight to the sports part of this review. I shot that at the beginning of the Naptown Tornado Sirens Roller Derby bout last Saturday night. I had my Canon 5D Mark II up on a I beam in turn 3 (as a reference for what you can see from the photo) with a 16mm lens. I was curious as to how the CamRanger would work with 3,000 people using cell phones floating around inside of a giant metal structure. The Box says it’s good to 50 meters, but I was using easily as far away as 70 meters while I was playing around and getting people to say how cool having a live birds eye view of the arena was from my cell phone. I shot that frame with my iPhone from just about in my shooting position towards the end of turn 1. Not much more to be said or done there since lets face it, once you get a wide remote set up like that you really only get one kind of photo unless you’re shooting with long glass; which I wasn’t. I did notice that if you have a bunch of stuff between you and the cam ranger the range is affected, but how often are you going to be shooting something not in the same room as yourself? (more on that shortly) Shot a little bit of video with the 5D2, but otherwise the camera in that corner was meant only for this shot, and for that it greatly succeeded. I experimented with different camera settings while the camera was on the post, but none of them really mattered, either the shot was flat, too dark, or just had uninteresting subject matter. Not the CamRanger’s fault, my own for not putting it in a more interesting place.
(Screenshot of my original placement test and test shot, This was great because I saw I had to rotate the camera about an inch to the left.)
The functionality of the cam ranger is pretty awesome. I was able to control the Focus, aperture, shutterspeed, file format (RAW, TIFF, jpeg ect) along with the size of the image, I could decide if I wanted to shoot in live view, or shoot video and what video settings to do so at, as well as I could watch what the camera was recording in almost real time. All on my iPhone or iPad. How was connectivity? Lets just say the biggest problem I had was the Superfan next to me taking my phone to play with it. You should also take note, that the Canon 5D had a Pocket Wizard on it firing my lights. So unlike Canon’s 6D’s built in WiFi Ability, the CamRanger can trigger a Pocket Wizard via the Wifi. Bad. Ass. It’s also worth noting that I wasn’t using just any Pocket Wizard, but one of my Nikon Pocket Wizard TT5’s on this particular Canon 5D Mark II. You would figure that as a dummy trigger it would work, and it did flawlessly. It also was able to give my Canon a sync above 1/160th, meaning the Hypersync functionality was preserved somehow. Don’t know how, but like I said; it’s worth nothing. Also, I shoot in RAW almost always. For the CamRanger if you are using it as a remote it obviously takes a few minutes for the 30mb RAW files to flow through so I would recommend shooting RAW+Small Jpeg which makes the files appear on the iPad or iPhone almost instantly while keeping the RAW files safe on the card in the camera. This is not something that I did while using the CamRanger as a remote, however I could have set the camera to do this at any time from my phone. Honestly though once I had everything set up I didn’t really need to view lots of the images as I knew what I was getting at that point. One thing that I was missing though was a battery indicator for the CamRanger. I had the thing powered up on this Canon 5D Mark II from around 3:30pm until about 10pm and the battery lasted without a problem. Would it have died 10 minutes later? I have no idea. It’s great that CamRanger designed the thing with a replaceable battery so you can carry extras, but there’s really no way to tell how much juice the thing has left in it at any given time.
My only complaint on the actual connectivity has nothing to do with the CamRanger but the iPhone itself. Unfortunately when you are connected to the CamRanger network don’t expect to get any kind of data in or out of your phone. The phone thinks it’s connected to WiFi, but really its connected to a dead end network, so picture texts, email, and web browsing is unavailable when you re connected to the CamRanger. Not the end of the world, but kind of annoying depending on what you’re doing.
For the people that care about the sports aspect of this device, here’s a video showing it at work during setup:
Ok now for the Studio folks out there. Being able to control the camera is great, but that really isn’t what you want when you’re shooting in a studio sometimes. Giving the clients control of your camera in the middle of a shoot isn’t high on my to do list of ideas, so I’m guessing it probably isn’t on yours either. The CamRanger App has a mode that allows you to remove everything from the screen except for the images popping up, and a rating system so that the person/people/art directors watching the shoot can select stuff on the fly. Cool. Basically it’s like shooting tethered, except your art director can only see the images as opposed to a tech pulling them in and cataloging them. The images can be automatically downloaded to your device but that sounds like a wonderful way to fill up an iPad or iPhone now doesn’t it? Again, this is an occasion where you would want to shoot RAW + Small Jpeg so that the images appear and can download instantly while protecting the precious RAW files on the card in the camera.
If shooting in a studio for people isn’t your cup o tea, then maybe the Focus stacking and HDR Bracketing is? This is where I feel as though I was finally led a little a stray by the CamRanger (at my own fault). The cam ranger app is capable of allowing you to set up increments of focus for an automated focus stacking. (taking photos of something at different focal points to put them into another image software creating an image with multiple items in focus, or a deeper focus, that would not be possible in camera). When I first tried this on my Fiancee’s engagement ring I was sort of assuming that it would layer the images together for me. Unfortunately I gave it too much credit because lets face it, this was a 5D Mark II shooting RAW files via an iOS app on my iPad. Did I really think it was going to do the work for me? Sheesh, I must have been high on how well this thing works at that point or something. It automatically shot the images at a predefined change in focus, but no it did not stack them for me automatically which shouldn’t be surprising to anybody. When I went to do the HDR Bracketing, it bracketed the images beautifully, and I was under no impression that my iPad would layer them together for me (which it didn’t). All that work needs to be done in the computer still which by far isn’t the end of the world. You need to keep in mind what I didn’t, and that’s that this is a tool for shooting, not post processing. As a tool for shooting, this thing is very, very solid.
For a more complete idea of how the CamRanger works overall, as well as a bit of studio related stuff, check out this next video below where I set up a ridiculous shooting scenerio. I set up Shannon’s ring with the camera on a tripod in the livingroom, and then proceeded to do the photoshoot from out in my car in the driveway. If that doesn’t give you an idea what this little device is capable of, I don’t have any idea what will. The Ruby ended up a little pink since my Speedlight ended up shooting through it, but for demonstration purposes it does it’s just perfectly. Also, the original idea was to do the video in one cut, but as luck would have it I ended up getting called by my dad during recording, and you’ll see where it breaks. For the future if I record something on my phone, I need to remember to turn it into Airplanae mode to keep our photo/video conversation from being interrupted.
Is the CamRanger perfect? No. It’s damn close though. For $299 you can get a device that provides just about all the functionality of the Nikon or Canon Counterparts; direct to your phone or iPad. For a lot of people I’m sure it will be a dream come true. For sports photographers that use a lot of Remotes this could be really great because they can look at their take from the sidelines without needing to get out their laptop. Select an image, download it, and send it from your phone (after disconnecting from the CamRanger network of course). You can even check the focus of your images in the app, without needing to download them and put them into photoshop touch, or snapspeed to check them. The in studio client mode is fantastic, giving people the ability to see their photos but not touch them if you know what I mean. Really I feel like the CamRanger fits into a spot that Nikon and Canon have attempted to get into many times but failed honestly due to price point. I’d have bought a Nikon or Canon wireless transmitter years ago if the one I needed wasn’t $700 with reports all over the internet about being incredibly inconsistent…
I do however feel like I would like to see some things added/changed. As far as I can tell, you can only use one CamRanger at a time on one device at a time. Not a problem if you’re triggering your remote with a pocket wizard because the editor can still look at stuff, but if I wanted to trigger the cam ranger from a phone and have someone editing on an iPad I couldn’t do it. It would probably be too hard on the WiFi signal that way, but I’d still like to see it as an option. I’d also love to see you be able to set up your rangers all on one network and be able to manage several of them in a single running app on a phone or iPad. Not sure if it’s possible or what it would take, but for the really hardcore sports folks, or folks that do a lot of remotes like my pal Andy Hancock being able to only use one at a time is kind of a bummer. Maybe a CamRanger PRO or something in the future that allows you to name and specify parameters on your own network allowing you to put them all together as one? Then you could just select which one you want to use and view from a menu in the App; or even to fire all of them at once. Not sure, I will have to see what the CamRanger people say about something like that, I’m not a WiFi engineer so I could be breaking the laws of physics with that suggestion.
In order to use your ranger for the first time you need to pair it to your device which is pretty simple, but seems like it’s 2 steps longer than it needs to be. Once its paired it’s a function of turning it on and waiting for it to start up before you can use it. Stupid easy, and I like that. Every time you want to use a new device (iPad, or iPhone) to control your ranger you have to register your device online, so unless you have a WiFi hotspot, or 3/4G ipad, make sure you try to set it up at home first to make sure you can even use it once you get into the field. Once it’s registered on one device, it should just be registered and you should be able to pair it with whatever device you have. Not that I have a ton of iOS devices and would run into the problem of wanting to pair a device in the field regularly, but I hadn’t paired my iPhone to the CamRanger before the Roller Derby bout and it was annoying to have to connect, disconnect, and reconnect the CamRanger in order to get it to work.
Honestly. Any of the things that bugged me about the CamRanger are minor, and none of them prevent the device from doing what it is supposed to do. You plug it into your camera via USB and it works. No joke. I really was curious as to how this third party device would stack up, but honestly I’d be much more inclined to buy this than the Nikon or Canon counterparts, for quite a few reason other than the price. The ONLY thing that the CamRanger doesn’t do (to my knowledge) is allow you to access the files via a Computer. If they had an App that allowed you to connect your laptop to the cam ranger (CamRanger Pro?) I could see them totally dominating the market in terms of Wireless Camera interactions. There would be no reason for someone wanting that functionality to not buy one because lets face it, half the price of the competition for a product that works just as well if not better is tough to beat.
So to make a long story even longer; I dig it. I dig it a lot. I don’t know what the price increase might be for some of the features I suggested for a CamRanger Pro (or if a price increase is even required for my suggestions), but even if they had it at $400 for the Pro version I’d see it as a very reasonable price for what you get. I feel like CamRanger really nailed it with this product and I really look forward to seeing what they do in the future. The CamRanger I have will be going back to Roberts Camera for people to play with in the showroom so if you’re curious go check it out in person. It’ll be there for anyone to play with, so just go in and ask Phil about it. If you’ve ever thought about adding wireless functionality to your camera this is the product without a doubt. Roberts Camera here in Indy has them in stock, so check them out online, or go visit the guys in the store. Good people there. Happy Shooting, and More soon.