Wireless Connections

Most of us will have seen television football games with a long row of cameras lined up behind each of the goals.  The cameras are equipped with wide angle lenses to record the action across the full width of the goal areas.  The cameras are also fitted with a wireless file transmitter so that the photographer in charge of the camera can press the shutter and control all the camera settings from a remote location using a laptop, tablet or phone.  And as the photographs are taken, the image files are sent via a Wi-Fi network from the camera to the photographer and usually to a remote computer on a press editor’s desk so that the pictures are available for publication immediately.   

This technology provides wonderful opportunities for wildlife photographers.  It is possible to photograph animals wild and free and in their natural habitat with the camera located close to the animals and the photographer controlling it from a temporary hide or similar structure.  There is no human disturbance to the wildlife.  The camera is controlled from the computer (laptop, tablet or phone) and all of the relevant parameters such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus etc can be altered via the computer.

Some years ago I set up a project to use this technology to photograph large flocks of birds as they roosted.  The camera was submerged in the ground and disguised with camouflaged scrim before the birds arrived.  By the time they came to the roost I was equipped with a laptop and located in a hide about eighty metres away from the camera.  I really enjoyed that project and learned a lot. 

Wireless Connections Between Camera And Computer

In order to for the camera and the computer to communicate with each other it is necessary to set up a Wi-Fi network to which both can connect.  There are two different types of network which can be used: these are called infrastructure and ad hoc networks.

Ad Hoc Network

An ad hoc network connects the camera directly to the computer through a local network created by the computer.  Most DSLR cameras have menu settings to enable an ad hoc local network.  For the ad hoc network to function, the camera and the computer need to be in close proximity (a few metres) and the appropriate software from the camera manufacturer needs to be installed on the computer.

For example, to connect my Canon camera to a computer via an ad hoc network I need to access the Menu:

Menu > Communication Settings > Enable > Network Settings > ConnectionSettings EOSUtility > Connection Wizard > Wireless > Select a Network > Camera Access Mode Point > Easy Connection > 

Then on the computer, I select the camera name from the list of available wireless networks.  This generates a dialogue box which requests a password (Encryption Key) which is shown in the camera window.  When the password is typed into the computer the camera enables Pairing Devices and asks that the EOS Utility Software is started on the computer.   Then to control the camera remotely by the computer I access the main page on the Canon EOS Utility software and select the EOS Utility Remote Shooting section. The camera and the laptop can now communicate and I can take pictures, receive the resulting images and control all the camera settings from the laptop.  However, an ad hoc network connection is limited to 11Mbps and therefore slow.  And because it requires close proximity between the camera and the laptop, it has in my view somewhat limited use for wildlife photography. 

Infrastructure Network 

An infrastructure network connects the camera and computer together via a wireless router.  We routinely use wireless routers at home to distribute the signal from our internet provider to our computers and other wireless devices.  DSLR cameras are able to communicate with wireless routers.  When the camera joins the local Wi-Fi network image files may be sent directly from the camera to a computer on the same network and, if the network is connected to the internet, it can be sent to other computers located anywhere in the world.  

To use this system in the field, away from any mains electricity supply the wireless router needs to be powered by a battery source (usually 12V, 1.5A).  For this purpose I use a rechargeable Powergorrila battery (Lithium Polymer, 24000mAh, 88Wh) which provides electricity at 5V, 12V, 16V, 19V or 24V. It has numerousf connectors and charges a wide range of devices. Even though the wireless router is isolated and not connected to the internet, it will emit its own wireless signal which will be detected by both the camera and the computer.  This creates a local area network (LAN) which can be joined by both the camera and the computer.  This enables the camera and the computer to communicate with each other through the router.  In doors wireless routers transmits over a range of up to 50m but outside without obstructions the maximum range is about 100m.  

Some DSLRs cameras have an internal wireless file transmitter (WFT) fitted by the manufacturer (eg Canon EOS 6D) and Canon also has a Wi-Fi adapter which is inserted into the SD card slot of some cameras to enable wireless capabilities.  Other cameras use an external WFT device which attaches to the camera.  The range of the WFT is usually about 100m.  

In the field the wireless router, along with its battery source, is best placed in between the camera/WFT and the laptop.  Thus the distance from camera to router is c100m and the distance from the router to the computer is c100m, giving a total working distance from camera to laptop of about 200m.  The connection speed is usually up to 300Mbps.  

Once the router is powered up by the battery source it will begin to transmit a Wi-Fi signal.  Use your camera menu (with Canon usually under ‘Communication Setting’) instructions to join the router network.  The router has a name (SSID) and a password and both of these are usually identified by the manufacturer on the router label.  You will need to input this information into both your camera and your computer to enable each to join the router’s local network.

Canon camera with WFT, a laptop and a router with an attached  Powergorilla  battery for wireless file transmission using an infrastructure network.

Canon camera with WFT, a laptop and a router with an attached Powergorilla battery for wireless file transmission using an infrastructure network.

Normally after setting up your network it will not be possible to have access to the camera or router without disturbing the wildlife. Consequently, it is advisable to ensure that:

  • the camera that Auto power Off is set to Disable otherwise the camera will turn itself off and be removed from the local area network

  • the computer is prevented from going to sleep

  • the computer firewall is turned off.

  • set up the network connections between the camera and computer close to the wireless router (all three devices within a few metres of each other).

Many DSLRs allow the recording of two separate image files for each photograph.  If your camera has such a facility then it is advisable to record your images in raw or large JPEG format and also to record the images as small jpeg files so that the sJPEG can be transmitted quickly and will be available on your computer screen immediately after you take the photograph via your computer.  You can then review your images on the computer and make any necessary adjustments to the camera settings via the computer.

Since that initial bird roost project I have used wireless technology in a variety of places including indoors at home while photographing the activity around the bird feeders in the back garden; great fun!