I have to say, I’m really pretty excited about this post. I love really smart solutions that are fairly low cost and elegant, and the combination of my iPhone 6+, t4i and the Flashair Wireless SD card and Flashair Software is pretty close to all three. What it lacks in elegance it makes up for in its minimal cost.
Early in January, I got an iPhone 6+. I hemmed and hawed over the decision between the 6 and 6+, but finally decided I’d give the chunky version a try. And, while I wasn’t disappointed (yes, it fits in my pocket very well), it wasn’t quite as life-changing as I had hoped. A lot of people call it an iPad Mini-mini, or something like that, but I still find the line between what I can do with the 6+ and my iPad to be pretty clear.
In any case, one use that seemed super obvious was somehow connecting it with my Canon t4i to preview images. Sure, we have larger and larger LCDs on the backs of our cameras, but frankly, none of them are as big or anywhere near the quality of the 6+’s retina screen. This seemed so obvious, that…well, I figured there had to be an app for that.
So, I went to a forum to ask the question that I knew there had to be an easy answer to: Tethering to an iOS device? The one response was to “get a 6D.” Right, thanks, guy. Helpful.
Ok. After some research…there’s a few different options, and they’re of varying quality/cost, and those parameters are further constrained by the fact that the DSLRs offered by Canon with wifi are fairly limited. (Which is kind of infuriating, since wifi is much more accessible on their compact and mirrorless camera ranges.)
EyeFi: These guys are pretty common; essentially, they’re SD cards with wifi built in. Pretty awesome, but I encountered a lot of dissonance in what I was reading about the different models of Eyefi cards. Seems that there’s one generation of the SD card that works well for Canon cameras, and one that does not, and there are all sorts of hacky ways to get them to work. I was nervous about dropping $50-$70 on an item that I wasn’t really sure would work for what I wanted.
CamRanger: So, this thing’s pretty cool because it’s an all-in-one solution that allows you to see the image you just took and adjust some camera settings on the fly from the iPad or iPhone. It’s got some great reviews on Amazon. Sweet! $300. Hah.
HyperDrive iUSBportCAMERA2: Basically, a more advanced, elegant version of the Camranger. With something called “Hyperdrive.” It costs $180, and has ok reviews. Let’s be honest; my decision here isn’t about the reviews; it’s about the fact I’m not dropping more than $50 on a solution I’m not 100% sure of and that I don’t know how often I’ll use. You guys, if you want me to have one of these and tell you all about on this blog, you’re really going to have to pick up the pace on my Etsy store purchases.
Toshiba FlashAir 8GB Wireless Memory Card: Ok, so it’s kind of a the Target-store-brand EyeFi. But here’s the thing: it’s cheap, and I found half a dozen reports of it working flawlessly for this task. I’m not trying to get live Live View or exposure controls on my iPhone. I just want to see the damn image. I got the 8gig version.
Annnd…that’s about it. There’s a lot fewer options that I had really thought. I did look into tethered options (all I want here is to see these images on a bigger screen…is that so hard?), but there were even fewer possibilities of even less repute.
So, on to how does it work… Great! I mean, in so far as it’s a solution that is a couple orders of magnitude cheaper than either of the devices it’s actually connecting.
Setup is a little awkward, but I’m not sure there’s a way around it. You have to turn on the camera, then turn on your i-Device and go to Settings-WiFi. The Flashair device name will come up and you want to switch to that network. If you don’t do that in, like, 5 minutes after turning on the camera, the Flashair will shut off to save battery power.
You can then go to the Flashair app that you’ve downloaded on your iPad or iPhone. Save yourself a mind-boggling annoyance and go ahead and tap the menu icon on the left side of the screen and turn on the Auto-Reload option. I nearly bought a companion app for $5 that promised auto-reloading because I didn’t realize this feature is built in and for some reason off by default.
One more step before taking a picture: Go to your image quality settings on the camera and select either .jpg or RAW + .jpg. The app can’t read RAW files, and you don’t want to wait while the teeny-tiny transmitter on your compact SD card chug-chugs through 30mb of information just to check your focus.
Now…go take a picture. Once your camera finishing processing (the red light goes off), the app will refresh. Tap on the image and give it a few seconds to load (this is the most annoying part) and, boom, you’ve got a great view of the image and you can check focus, exposure and all the other details using the ultra-familiar tap and swipe interface. Take enough shots to get used to the workflow and you’ll probably end up pretty excited about how well it works. I was very pleased, especially considering it was a $25 investment. The image on this post isn’t the greatest, since I was testing the thing, but it was a lot easier to use my 6+ to get focus and timing down when firing some quick shots at the dog.
Between shooting in RAW + .jpg, the card’s small size and the additional heft of an iOS device, this method is obviously going to work best in pretty specific circumstances. I was actually anticipating using it this weekend for an astrophotography shoot, but the trip got cancelled. The concept is the same, though–shooting from a tripod in minimally forgiving conditions, where my hands are mostly free but I’m heavily reliant on the small LCD screen makes using the Toshiba Flashair a no-brainer. Despite the trip getting cancelled (because of this stupid snow), I actually used it today to help setup the camera to do a time-lapse. It was really useful for that!
If you’re looking for a low-cost upgrade to your back-of-camera LCD screen for some specific shooting situations, the Toshiba Flashair card deserves a good look.