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Wireless photography with an iPad and ShutterSnitch - Continued
ShutterSnitch FAQ: Selecting a transmitter

Q: What transmitters are available for Canon and Nikon digital SLRs?

Canon Dedicated wireless transmitters are available for several current and recent midrange and pro Canon digital SLRs. There are two variants for each transmitter, a worldwide version and a North American "A" version. They differ only in the number of Wi-Fi channels supported (North America: 11, world: 13). The Canon transmitters currently on the market and the cameras they support are:
All of these models are capable of FTP transfers to an iPad and ShutterSnitch, as are all earlier Canon WFT-series transmitters. Canon has stated that no wireless transmitter accessory for the EOS 60D is planned and that none of the existing WFT units are compatible.

The wireless protocols supported and other features differ somewhat between the oldest transmitter still available, the WFT-E3/WFT-E3A, and the newer three. Here is a partial feature list that reveals the main differences.
  • WFT-E2 II/WFT-E2 II A 802.11a/b/g, FTP, GPS, USB storage, EOS Utility, WFT Server, LinkedShot
  • WFT-E3/WFT-E3A 802.11b/g, FTP, GPS, USB storage, PTP (similar to EOS Utility mode), HTTP
  • WFT-E4 II/WFT-E4 II A 802.11a/b/g, FTP, GPS,USB storage, EOS Utility, WFT Server, LinkedShot
  • WFT-E5/WFT-E5A 802.11a/b/g, FTP, GPS, USB storage, EOS Utility, WFT Server, LinkedShot
None of these differences impact each transmitter's ability to send photos to ShutterSnitch. They all can do it.

Nikon Nikon has taken a different approach in recent years. Since 2007 it has offered a single transmitter that works with several of its digital SLRs. As with Canon, it comes in two flavours, the 13-channel WT-4 world version and the 11-channel WT-4A North American one. The WT-4/WT-4A  is compatible with the following cameras:
  • Nikon D7000
  • Nikon D300
  • Nikon D300s
  • Nikon D700
  • Nikon D3
  • Nikon D3X
  • Nikon D3S
The WT-4/WT-4A's FTP transfer mode is capable of transmitting pictures to ShutterSnitch. Earlier Nikon digital SLR transmitters offer FTP as well.

Canon or Nikon The Eye-Fi X2 series of wireless/memory SD combo cards are compatible with a number of Canon, Nikon and other makes of digital SLR and can transmit direct to an iPad and ShutterSnitch. They're not as versatile as the camera maker transmitters, but the main thing they're designed to do and are good at doing - transmitting JPEGs - is the only thing you require to get pictures to ShutterSnitch.

An Eye-Fi X2-series card should work well in most or all current and recent Canon or Nikon digital SLRs with an SD slot. This includes midrange models such as the D300S and upcoming EOS 60D, as well as pro models like the EOS-1D Mark IV.

An Eye-Fi X2 will also operate in some CompactFlash-only cameras, including the D3X, with the help of an adapter. There are limitations, however, depending on the brand and model of camera.

Unwired: The Canon WFT-E2 II A, Eye-Fi Pro X2 8GB and Nikon WT-4A wireless transmitters. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Another option might be a device from Wi-Pics, but we've not tested this.

Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of each transmitter?

Eye-Fi benefits An Eye-Fi X2 SD card is small (and therefore easy to always have with you), inexpensive, simple to configure, reliable and fast enough to build a ShutterSnitch workflow around. In fact, an X2-series card's wireless transmit speed is slightly faster in our testing, at typical location portrait and small studio distances, than Canon's or Nikon's transmitters.

An Eye-Fi X2 is also not a quitter. Should the connection to ShutterSnitch go down for a time, it has been our experience that the card will get any unsent pictures through once the connection comes back and a new picture is taken.

No question, the newest generation of Eye-Fi card is a solid wireless product.

Eye-Fi drawbacks It doesn't work in all midrange and pro cameras, even in an adapter. A CompactFlash version of the Eye-Fi card is sorely needed, though unlikely to happen anytime soon, if ever, given Eye-Fi's focus on the mass market. And while camera makers are including more Eye-Fi features all the time, it's not yet possible to configure an Eye-Fi card when it's inside a Canon or Nikon camera. Wireless remote adjustment of camera settings is also not an option. Finally, none of the Eye-Fi cards, even the ad hoc-capable Pro, can effectively do ad hoc networking with the iPad specifically. (Please see the answer to Do I need a wireless router? for more on Eye-Fi ad hoc.)

Canon WFT transmitter benefits In addition to FTP transfers, Canon's current crop of wireless transmitters offer in-camera configuration, remote camera control from EOS Utility on a computer or from a web browser on almost any computing device, support for GPS units and external USB storage, excellent battery power management, both wired and wireless operation and good integration with the model they're intended for, either as a battery grip or sideriding accessory.

Note: Browser remote control isn't possible with the WFT-E3/WFT-E3A and other older Canon transmitters.

Canon's WFT transmitters can also both create and join an ad hoc network, which means you don't need a router to set up a wireless link between the transmitter and an iPad. As you might recall from the previous page, though, there are several advantages that come from having a router in the mix. (Please see the answer to Do I need a wireless router? for more.)

The sequence below shows the WFT-E2 II/WFT-E2 II A's web browser remote control functionality, which is called WFT Server mode. You'll find the same functionality in the WFT-E4 II/WFT-E4 II A and WFT-E5/WFT-E5A.


WFTServer
Entry
Control
Change shutter
Change aperture
Live View
Viewer
Note: The Live View screenshot is a composite in which the portrait has been added.

Canon WFT transmitter drawbacks In comparison to an Eye-Fi card, Canon's transmitters are expensive and bulky (well, with the exception of the compact WFT-E2 II/WFT-E2 II A), plus the transmitter you buy today might not work with the camera you upgrade to next year. They also lack support for the 802.11n wireless protocol, and also push data relatively slowly through their wired Ethernet port as well as to connected USB drives.

Adjusting a Canon camera remotely from a web browser is super cool. But while the transmitter is set to WFT Server it's painful to navigate, preview and download what you've already shot and it's not possible to view CR2 files at all (a question mark graphic appears in place of the photo). A workaround for this mode's terrible Viewer features could be to funnel pictures to ShutterSnitch, but WFT Server won't do that.

In FTP mode, when a picture doesn't transfer because of a temporary problem, the transmitter won't automatically send the picture once the link is restored. Because of this, we've ruled out using Canon transmitters in FTP mode for remote camera installations.

Nikon WT-4/WT-4A benefits Nikon's WT-4 Setup Utility makes light work of configuring a camera for use with this transmitter, and once configured it offers decent speed and the best range of any of the wireless options discussed in this article. Its range can be extended even further by connecting an accessory antenna.

After a temporary network or other problem, the WT-4/WT-4A will transmit any unsent pictures, rather than placing them in a failed transfer list like the Canons do. Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 for Mac and Windows enables a extensive list of camera settings to be changed remotely.

Nikon's WT-4/WT-4A can both create and join an ad hoc network, which means you don't need a router to set up a wireless link between it and an iPad. As you might recall from the previous page, though, there are several advantages that come from having a router in the mix. (Please see the answer to Do I need a wireless router? for more.)

The WT-4/WT-4A is compatible with all midrange and higher digital SLRs that Nikon has shipped since the fall of 2007, so you're not tied to using it with a single camera model.

Nikon WT-4/WT-4A drawbacks It's a battery gobbler, in part because it lacks any sort of useful power management features other than an adjustable power off timer. And once the timer goes off, the WT-4/WT-4A is truly off. It can't be turned back on remotely or by the camera, the only way is by engaging the power switch on the transmitter itself. So, plan to bring extra batteries.

If you have a remote camera usage in mind, this transmitter either needs to be hooked up to a big battery or plugged into AC (through the optional AC Adapter EH-6), because when it's automatic power off function is disabled, as it must be to keep the transmitter going in a remote setup, it uses heaps of power for a device of this type.

The price for the WT-4/WT-4A's compatibility with multiple cameras is a form factor that meshes well with none of them. This transmitter is really meant to hang at the end of a shoulder strap, tethered to the camera's USB port.

The WT-4/WT-4A lacks the equivalent of Canon's awesome WFT Server mode for remote camera adjustment using only a web browser.

Despite some shortcomings, this is still a solid transmitter and is in fact the one we used throughout 2009 to take in pictures from remotes, which it does reliably. As long as you keep feeding it an ample supply of electricity.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to each transmitter option. Ultimately, the retail price of the Canon and Nikon offerings will, as much as any other factor, steer many of you towards a much less expensive Eye-Fi X2 card.

Q: Which Canon and Nikon digital SLRs will take an Eye-Fi card?

Eye-Fi has found most SD-capable Canon and Nikon digital SLRs to be compatible, and has also collaborated with the two camera makers to ensure that certain models are both compatible and Eye-Fi Connected. Eye-Fi assigns this term to specific cameras that incorporate Eye-Fi-related features, including the camera keeping power to the card slot - and ignoring its own automatic power down setting - when it detects an Eye-Fi card is actively transmitting.

If your camera doesn't have an SD slot then things can get messy. Eye-Fi does not support the use of SDHC-to-CompactFlash adapters with their cards. Ziv Gillat, Eye-Fi's vice president of business development and one of the company's founders, says that's because using a classic Eye-Fi card inside one of these adapters will lead to sporadic file corruption in pictures captured.

While this corruption may not always be visible in a JPEG or prevent a RAW file from being converted, it does mean the data being passed from the camera to the adapter isn't always 100% the same as what's being written by the adapter to the card. For Eye-Fi, this means it's not possible for SDHC-to-CompactFlash adapters to be given their stamp of approval.

We've confirmed the corruption can occur, using one of the same procedures as Eye-Fi: checking the integrity of written files using MD5 for Mac. Out of 151 JPEG, CR2 and NEF files, totaling about 1.5GB, a handful were red-flagged by MD5 almost every time we did the test. And it wasn't always the same photos, it varied from run to run. This test was of an Eye-Fi Pro 4GB, one of the company's classic cards.

Gillat says that X2-series cards fare better, a fact we've also been able to confirm. In the same MD5 test, run upwards of 40 times, no corrupted files ended up on an Eye-Fi Pro X2 8GB. As long as you can steer clear of the classic Eye-Fi+adapter combo you should be able to avoid the corruption risk.

But, certain Eye-Fi X2 card, adapter and camera combinations are off-limits altogether since the camera will refuse to recognize the combo as a functioning memory card. The solution with the cameras in question - the 5D Mark II and two other popular models from Canon - is to use an Eye-Fi classic card in the adapter instead, since that does work with the three affected models. Oh, except for the fact you're then risking file corruption.

Also, the available adapters are too thick to fit in some cameras, including the D700 and D3S in Nikon's lineup. If the camera doesn't have a CompactFlash Type II slot the adapter won't go in.

They also put the brakes on in-camera write speed, limiting it to about 4MB/s or so, which can be too slow to continuously capture video with some digital SLRs. An adapter, or more specifically the multiple layers of metal within, also significantly reduces the strength of an Eye-Fi card's wireless signal. This last problem, however, can be almost entirely alleviated by purchasing a particular adapter design and then performing an easy modification to it. More on this a little later.

So, adapters can be used, but not with all CompactFlash cameras, not without risking file corruption in some cameras and not without accepting slow in-camera write speeds. Bringing Eye-Fi into your life through an SDHC-to-CompactFlash adapter can be complicated.

The table below lists the compatibility of Eye-Fi cards with a selection of Canon and Nikon cameras. The data is a blending of Eye-Fi's published information and our own testing. The notes section indicates whether the camera will automatically keep power to the card slot when an Eye-Fi card is sending, but for the most part doesn't describe other Eye-Fi features the camera might have, such as an enable/disable menu or a rear LCD icon indicating that a transfer is underway.

eyefi_table.jpg

For CompactFlash cameras, the experience of using an Eye-Fi card inside an adapter varies, beyond what you can determine from the table.

For instance, put a classic Eye-Fi Pro 4GB card into an adapter inside a 5D Mark II, set it to capture RAW+JPEG (S) and shoot a frame. The card won't start to transmit until the camera is done writing (this is normal Eye-Fi behaviour), but even though the card+adapter writes slowly it's only a few seconds before the Eye-Fi card gets its chance to start sending to ShutterSnitch. The whole process isn't as snappy as the D300S video demo on the first page of this article, but it's tolerable.

Shoot three or four pictures in quick succession, however, and two things happen. First, it takes a whole lot longer for the pictures to write, which means it's that much longer before the Eye-Fi card can begin transmitting the first picture. Then, there can be a 10+ second pause between transmissions at times, even though the camera is awake, idle and not accessing the card itself. So, the actual transmit portion of the process is reasonably quick, but other delays contribute to it taking too long for a group of pictures to get over to ShutterSnitch. As a result, 5D Mark II shooters will be much better served by the WFT-E4 II/WFT-E4 II A transmitter. It just doesn't get bogged down like this.

By comparison, an Eye-Fi Pro X2 8GB inside the same adapter, but this time in a Nikon D3X, acts quite differently. With the camera set, for example, to capture NEFs to a fast CompactFlash card in the first slot, and Small Normal JPEGs to the X2+adapter in the second slot, there isn't the same feeling of sluggishness that you get in the 5D Mark II example. Even when shooting a handful of pics in a row. This wireless workflow is almost as snappy as when an X2 card is used inside a camera with an actual SD slot. For us, the pairing of a D3X and Eye-Fi Pro X2+adapter, transmitting pictures to ShutterSnitch, is viable.

Q: Is an Eye-Fi X2 card better than an Eye-Fi classic?

Yes. Thanks to big changes in the underlying architecture, X2 cards offer faster read and write speeds, faster transmit speeds and better range. That description doesn't properly convey the experience of using an X2 vs a classic in the same SD slot camera, Canon or Nikon. Or a card reader. The X2 simply puts more zip into the business of writing, connecting, transmitting one file or a group of files to ShutterSnitch as well as copying files into the computer later.

We've also had zero transmit problems that we could pin on the Pro X2 8GB, not a single one, whereas our experience with the classic Pro 4GB is that every once in awhile, for no reason we can discern, it will stop transmitting (turning the camera off and on gets things back on track).

If your camera is compatible with both classic and X2, get the X2.

Q: If I do decide to go with an Eye-Fi card, is it worth it to pay extra for the Pro version?

For use with ShutterSnitch, probably not. The main features that set the Eye-Fi Pro X2 8GB card apart from the rest of the X2 line are its ability to transmit RAW files and connect to ad hoc networks. Because there are no hardware differences between any of the X2 cards, other than the amount of memory they contain, you can expect the same transmit speed and overall performance, regardless of the X2 card you choose.

So, unless you anticipate wanting to transmit RAW files to ShutterSnitch in the future or know of a way you could fall back on ad hoc networking if your wireless router doesn't show up for the job, any of the three lower cost cards will work fine. In fact, the US$49.99 Eye-Fi Connect X2 4GB will do all that you need in a ShutterSnitch workflow today. Consider stepping up to the US$99.99 Eye-Fi Explore X2 8GB if you need more memory capacity.

The Eye-Fi site lists other feature differences between the cheapest and priciest X2 models.
 
If your camera is a 50D, 7D or 5D Mark II, remember that only the classic Eye-Fi series is capable of functioning at all inside an adapter inside these cameras. X2 is not an option. We won't use an SD card inside an adapter with these three Canons anyway, whether it's a card from Eye-Fi or another maker, because of the risk of file corruption. But if you're braver than we are then grab an Eye-Fi classic. As of this writing, three of the five classic cards are still available direct from Eye-Fi.

Q: My camera takes CompactFlash only and I'd like to get an adapter, which adapter should I buy?

Though there are many brand name SDHC-to-CompactFlash adapters, and a few no name ones as well, Eye-Fi's Gillat indicates that all of them you can buy today use the same controller from KTC and are manufactured by one company, C-Ming Technology. This has been true for several years.

The only difference between the adapters these days, other than the label on the front, is the card eject method. One variation includes a spring-loaded insert/eject mechanism, the other has no mechanism at all. The difference is important, because the number of layers of metal covering the Eye-Fi card inside the adapter impacts its wireless speed and range, and the spring-loaded adapter has a metal internal sleeve to hold the card in place. By comparison, the no-mechanism version uses a wireless-friendly plastic frame to do the same thing.

Less metal equals more range, so it's the no-mechanism version you want. The strength of an Eye-Fi card's wireless signal is measurably higher, the working distance longer and throughput measurably faster in this variant of the adapter. Plus, a do-it-yourself modification, to get rid of one more metal layer, will reduce to almost nil this adapter's impact on Eye-Fi signal strength. The modification is simple: pry off the metal top cover and leave it off.

The photos below illustrate what we're talking about. The Jobo adapter on the left is shown unmodified, and is the spring-loaded kind. The same spring-loaded adapter, this time from Delkin, is shown in the middle photo, with both top and bottom covers removed. You can see the metal card slot sleeve that's exposed when the top cover isn't there. This sleeve is a wireless signal killer, but it can't be removed because it's responsible for holding the card in position within the adapter.

On the right is an adapter from PhotoFast, with the metal top cover pulled off. It has the same electronics as the first two adapters shown, but it's plastic instead of metal over the card slot. This is the adapter version to get, and this is how you must modify it if you want the adapter to have minimal impact on Eye-Fi wireless range and speed. We used the thin blade of a box cutter to pull up a corner of the top cover (it lifts up easily), then slowly wiggled its metal fingers free of the adapter's plastic body.

Don't bother removing the bottom cover also, as it makes little to no difference in Eye-Fi card performance. It does protect the card's circuit board, however, so there's a benefit to leaving it on.

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Adaptation: SDHC-to-CompactFlash adapters from Jobo, Delkin and PhotoFast, the latter two with covers removed. The plastic frame kind at right is the one best-suited for use with an Eye-Fi card. Click each photo to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

PhotoFast's adapter, the CR-7000, is identical to a blue label no name adapter that's widely available on the web, including from Amazon and various eBay stores. As of this writing, these adapters are the good, no-mechanism kind, so if you want to be reasonably confident you're buying the right one, order the CR-7000 or the blue label. A picture of the blue label adapter is on the C-Ming website. One of the many places you can order it from is here.

Update, October 25, 2010: An adapter with all-new electronics may soon be available for purchase, and we're trying to obtain one now. Called the PhotoFast GM-7300 , it could potentially provide a faster and more compatible way to use an Eye-Fi X2 (or any SD) card inside a CompactFlash-only digital SLR. Or not: we won't know until we can test it. If and when that happens, and we also know when it's going to ship worldwide, we'll update this section of the story.

Update, October 26, 2010: PhotoFast indicates that development of the GM-7300 is not yet complete and that no ship date has been set.

Update, December 18, 2010: DeLOCK, a German accessory maker, has recently begun shipping a new-design adapter from C-Ming Technology that is reported to be compatible with the combo of an Eye-Fi X2 card and Canon EOS 5D Mark II (and perhaps the EOS 7D and EOS 50D as well). We have not tested this adapter yet but hope to soon.

Because the adapters are cheap, and there's a small risk of damaging them when prying off its cover, considering buying one more than you think you'll need.

You can confirm you've received the right adapter before you start surgery on the top cover. If the adapter has a springy ejector, one that requires you to push the card in slightly and then the card is slid part way out automatically, it's the wrong one. With the right adapter, your thumbnail is responsible for manually pulling the card out far enough for your fingers to be able to grab it.

Q: Once again, the last half dozen answers have been way too geeky. Please just tell me, what transmitter should I get for my camera so that I can send pictures to ShutterSnitch?

Our first choice is an X2-series card from Eye-Fi. Get the Eye-Fi Connect X2 4GB, an Aluratek CDM530AM router, snare ShutterSnitch from Apple's App Store and for less than US$150 you can give this wireless workflow a go at your next location job. You'll have all that you need other than an iPad of course, but we're guessing that, like so many shooters, you've budgeted (or been begging) for one already.

About the worst that can happen is you get your feet wet with the Eye-Fi Connect X2, then decide at a later date to graduate to one of the higher level X2 cards, perhaps to transmit RAW files on occasion or because you need more than 4GB of card space. Or, one of the features of the camera maker transmitters becomes a must-have, such as Canon's WFT Server mode or the longer range of the Nikon WT-4/WT-4A.

transmitter_recommendations_table.jpg
That sounds simple. If your camera has an SD slot and is Eye-Fi compatible, you're off to the races. The same is true if your camera can't take an Eye-Fi card. In that case, the decision becomes about whether to pony up for the camera maker's transmitter, or not.

Where it gets tough is if your camera falls into the almost-but-not-quite-Eye-Fi-friendly category, like the 5D Mark II, 7D and 50D.

The table at right summarizes what we would purchase for a given camera model. Note that we've tried an Eye-Fi Pro X2 8GB card in many but not all these cameras, so the recommendation for certain ones is based on Eye-Fi's published information regarding compatibility.

Most notably, this is true of the EOS-1D class: in this group, we've only put an X2 in the EOS-1D Mark II N and EOS-1D Mark IV.

Maybe this is obvious, but just in case it's not: in all instances where the camera has both CompactFlash and SD slots, our testing and subsequent recommendations are based on the Eye-Fi card going in the SD slot.

Now that we've tried to make things a little simpler, we'll complicate them again by pointing out some interesting setup variations.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1Ds Mark III, EOS-1D Mark IV If you want pictures to go automatically to the iPad and ShutterSnitch, but you also want to adjust camera settings remotely from a web browser, you can't do it with one transmitter. You can however, do it with two: an Eye-Fi card to send photos to ShutterSnitch and the WFT-E2 II/WFT-E2 II A in WFT Server mode to handle remote camera settings adjustments.

This isn't a theoretical discussion, it does work, and work well, at least with the EOS-1D Mark IV. Regular readers of this site know we're none to keen on the autofocus capabilities of Canon's flagship news and sports camera, but that doesn't keep it from being an excellent remote. We're stoked about being able to use it, outfitted with both an Eye-Fi card and WFT-E2 II A, starting later this month, and based on testing so far we're optimistic it'll work great.

We haven't tried the EOS-1D Mark III or EOS-1Ds Mark III, two other double transmitter candidates. But they are officially compatible with both the WFT-E2 II/WFT-E2 II A and Eye-Fi cards.

The EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 7D are sort of eligible too, since the Canon transmitters for each support WFT Server mode. But as you might recall from a few answers back, these are two of the Canons that are at risk of file corruption with the classic Eye-Fi+adapter combo, so we don't recommend the double transmitter trick for these camera models.

Nikon WT-4/WT-4A In theory, Nikon shooters should be able to do something similar to the above, but it would require a computer running Camera Control Pro 2 to communicate settings changes to the WT-4/WT-4A while the Eye-Fi card sends pictures to ShutterSnitch on the iPad. We haven't tested this.

Q: Do I need to beef up the transmitter in some way if I want its wireless signal to travel quickly even when 100ft/30.5m - 200ft/61m away from the iPad?

This is one of the potential benefits of the Nikon WT-4/WT-4A, since its standard antenna can be removed and a higher gain one put in its place. Nikon makes the WA-E1 Extended Range Antenna, we have one, and it does improve range somewhat. The transmitter's antenna connector is RP-SMA, a common type that opens you to a world of Wi-Fi antennas beyond Nikon's WA-E1 as well.

But, the relatively weak transmit power of the Eye-Fi cards as well as the camera maker transmitters, including the WT-4/WT-4A, means there's only so much that can be done at the camera itself to improve wireless speed and range.

picostation.jpg
Just arrived here is a Ubiquiti Networks PicoStation M2-HP (shown at right), an 802.11b/g/n wireless access point, router and client whose transmit power is far higher than any portable router or most desktop routers and is designed to carry wireless signals greater distances than typical consumer products. Positioned closer to the camera transmitter, it should be able to fling pictures to a distant iPad and do so quickly.

Or that's the hope, since we're counting on the PicoStation M2-HP to handle outdoor remotes that may be 100ft/30.5m - 200ft/61m or more away. We've only just begun testing, but so far it appears to have incredible range, excellent signal-receiving sensitivity and more than enough speediness for the camera transmitters, but lacks support for DHCP Reservations.

We'll update this article once we've completed testing and a couple of real world trials of the PicoStation M2-HP.

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