Real-Time Photo Reviewing (Tethered Shooting)

I recently did a shoot where I was shooting macro shots of precious gems. Each shot needed to be reviewed for focus, clarity, dust spots, etc before moving on to the next gem. The preview screen at the  back of my Canon EOS 5D Mark II is normally a great screen, but just didnt cut it in this situation, when more than one person needs to look at an image to approve it or bin it. I needed to be able to get the images onto a full screen device quickly for preview. So, I looked into various forms of previewing images on a full screen device (PC, laptop) as they are being taken, from card swapping to usb tethering, to wireless tethering. Here’s the list, followed by a description of each method with the pros and cons of each.

  1. Card Swapping – The manual method of taking the card out of the camera, etc.
  2. USB (as external drive) – plugging in a usb cable to download images
  3. USB (using EOS Utility) – Automatic download and preview of images as they are taken
  4. Eye-Fi – (Not currently supported for Compact Flash based cameras, but worth mentioning)
  5. Canon WFT-E4 Wireless Grip – Full wireless tethering with WiFi

1. Card Swapping This option is not really tethering at all, and simply involves taking the Compact Flash card out of the camera, inserting it into a Card reader on the PC, uploading the images, and reviewing them that way. Pros: No cost. (apart from when you wear out your CF slot in your camera) 🙂 Cons: Slow and work intensive. Lots of interruptions to workflow.

2. USB (as external drive). This option is not much better than option 1. It involves plugging a usb cable into the camera, and downloading the images onto a PC, where they can then be previewed. Also not a good option when you consider option 3 is enabled by installing some free software that comes with the camera.

Pros: Cheap, only USB cable needed. Only camera drivers needed on the PC

Cons: Repeated insertions of the usb cable into the camera. Camera cannot be used while it’s mounted as an external drive on the PC.

3. USB (using EOS Utility)

Now we’re getting into the useful area of genuine tethering. This method uses the EOS Utility that comes with the camera, and allows the camera to be used while taking images, and each image is sent to the PC as it is taken, allowing full-screen viewing of the image as they arrive at the PC. The EOS utility can be configured to open each image as it is received. I’ve set up my PC to open up Adone Bridge CS5 upon receipt of a new image, and we quickly zoom into 100% and scroll around the image to see if it’s ok or not. A full RAW file transfers and opens in Bridge in about 3 seconds. To be honest, I don’t see why anyone would use any of the previous options, when this software comes free with the Camera.

Pros: Cheap, fast.

Cons: Cable permanently attached from camera to PC.

4. Eye-Fi

This is a cheap method of wireless tethering. The Eye-Fi is a SD card that has embedded Wifi functionality, and can be configured to send all files written to the card to an external PC. By inserting this SD card into a SD to Compact Flash adapter, some success has been had in using one of these devices in some cameras. The pro’s and con’s are based on the assumption that it does actually work, but currently, these cards are not supported on Compact Flash based cameras, according to the website.

Pros: Full wireless tethering, no bulky cables.  Cheaper than a WFT-E4 (covered in next section)

Cons: Limited range due to SD-CF adapter, Slow (30-60 seconds for each raw file to get to the PC). Not supported on CF based cameras.

5. Canon WFT-E4 Wireless Grip

The Pros choice. Full wireless tethering with a range of extra options.  Full raws transferred in about 15 seconds. There are two versions, with the mark II version having extra features. Both are compatible with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It can also be configured to transfer only the JPEG files, so if you set the camera to capure small JPEGS, they should transfer in about a second, or a medium JPEG in a few seconds. It’s about 1.5MB/sec transfer rate over an optimal WiFi connection.

Pros: Full wireless tethering, allows JPEG only option, files stored on card as well as PC. Also functions as a grip, with shutter button, etc. USB connection for external drive.

Cons: Price, about €500 -€900 depending on model.

Conclusions USB tethered using the EOS Utility is my current preferred option, as I can’t justify spending €500 on a WFT-E4, and certainly not €900 on a WFT-E4 II. And in the situations where I need to do real-time previewing of images, I can usually get away with a long USB cable attached to my camera. Where I can’t use a cable, I’m stuck with the swapping of the cards, until I splash out and get me a WFT-E4. 🙂 Oh, and I’ve an iPad on order, which I’ll have in a few weeks, so I’ll be looking into a reasonably cheap way to preview images on that once I get it.


Review of WFT-E4 –

Eye-Fi website –

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