It’s been quite a while since I’d stumbled across the CamRanger; a small and relatively economical piece of gear that at its core turns any device (such as your iPad, iPhone, Android, PC or Mac) into a remote control for your camera, complete with its own live view LCD panel. For at least a year it has had a rather permanent place in my camera bag. It goes beyond that with a wide range of features, including complex intervelometer settings for bracketing, HDR, time lapse, bulb ramping (changing exposures over time) and more. The unit has the ability to remotely focus and focus stack stack your camera, and can also control mobile heads for pan and tilt as well as macro rails. This little unit is the full package.
When we talk about economics, all really is quite relative. Even a single remote LCD would be much more expensive, as would a bulb-ramper or professional wireless remote. This unit goes beyond each of these in many ways (except in some ways than a wireless trigger) and is more economical than any one item. So for its price of $299 (or so), you get it all. This would be an invaluable investment for many photographers even if it were at a far greater cost.
How Does It Work
The CamRanger works, if I may speak as a photographer rather than an engineer, by connecting your camera to your device or computer by a kind of wireless USB connection which transmits over wifi. The CamRanger plugs into your camera (almost all camera brands are supported) via its USB port and creates its own ad hoc network or joins an existing wireless network. Your device/computer connects to that same network and magically the device becomes a very powerful controller and external LCD for the camera.
To make things even more impressive, because the connection is made via this wireless group hug, other devices can join, allowing multiple devices to view the camera’s LCD and images/videos/live feeds.
Unlimited Possible Uses
When we consider possible uses for the CamRanger, things get really impressive. You can now tether wirelessly where ever you are — home, studio or on location. Now you can move, set lighting, take test or actual shots and make adjustments without ever having to return to the camera. Work with your subject or model and stop running around wasting time, energy and the risk of bumping into something. Simply craft your shot while looking at your shot – all without the need of an extra set of hands.
Clients, art directors and models can now see what you are shooting or discussing in real time, and even in other rooms. Set them up and work with them in real time without complex setups. Just give them the link to the free downloadable software and connect them to the shoot. There is even a client mode to limit their involvement to view-only.
Outside of the studio the uses are plentiful as well. With complete remote control, control your camera from a distance to shoot nature, wildlife, sports, architecture, etc. Place your camera in hard to reach locations and still maintain complete control. With the motion head (which I don’t own), you can even change the direction of your camera. Pretty awesome. Place it high or low and stop the straining. Just this past weekend, I used the CamRanger as a remote camera behind the backboard of a basketball game, and I was able to aim, focus and adjust the camera completely from the floor without ever having to return to the camera. Oh – and you can shoot video as well. Very cool!
Like all pieces of gear, we can find flaws and possible improvements, and there are some in the case of the CamRanger — not many. I’ve had the occasional problem with the wifi signal and in the past the particular version of the free CamRanger client-side software was a bit unstable. That problem seems to be fixed. As a software solution as well, we never know what Apple, Google or others will do to throw a wrench into our workflow.
The device is built for wireless tethering, so I must admit that my needs are not entirely normal. Personally, my most nagging problem is that I cannot always look at the device screen to trigger the CamRanger. It does require some attention to hit the location of the screen to trigger an exposure and a misstep can open a menu or do something to damage the flow of shooting. CamRanger indicates that this is manageable on the iDevice side by allowing a side button to trigger the exposure (this feature is not yet included on Android). This is, however, not satisfactory to me as the screen is still active. I’d prefer a mode to allow a substantial amount of the screen to be used as a trigger to avoid any mis-hits.
The CamRanger lacks some of the old-school certainty and reliability of dedicated hardware solutions such as the PocketWizard triggers, nor was it designed to connect the shutters of multiple cameras, etc., something embraced in sports shooting. Still, I found the CamRanger fantastic at doing what it does best–brilliantly allowing wireless tethering with even more control than on the camera itself.
UPDATE: CamRanger has offered an important reminder regarding sports shooting that is worth keeping in mind. The problem with hardware-based solutions is that with their fast, reliable shooting and ability to do multi-camera sync triggering comes the significant disadvantage that images cannot be reviewed and camera settings adjusted. Using the CamRanger in conjunction with the hardware solutions is that the images can be reviewed periodically and camera settings (including exposure and focus) can be adjusted. This is remarkably important as in many events the camera, once set, is no longer accessible throughout the duration of the event.
Brilliant. From a service perspective, Dave at CamRanger is super nice and really into creating an awesome piece of gear with the working shooter in mind. I am completely sold on the product and would probably not shoot anything professionally without the device at my fingertips (sports is still up in the air). This is an innovative and helpful product. If you work with product photography, commercial shoots, models, portraiture, wildlife and, possibly sports (iffy on sports), than the CamRanger is something that you should find infinitely useful.
In a later review I’ll pick up the subject of control a pan/tilt head. Once I’ve had a chance to completely test this, I’ll share my thoughts.
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