Like so many of my photographic explorations, my foray into tethered shooting probably lacks scientific methodology or testing. I pretty much jumped into it just because an opportunity arose and, since it was working, stuck with it long enough to figure out some pros and cons. I referenced this in a post a little while back and prosed to expand on it. Here it is.
Tethered shooting is not for everybody, or every situation. Obviously. This is a technique best applied to relatively static setups. I used to to shoot products and still lifes in a tabletop setting. It’s definitely good for that. I watched Scott Kelby shoot teathered during his “Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it” workshop, working with a model in a studio setting (and using a wireless transmitter, but same theory). It worked well for that, too. But on location, or in a very dynamic scene, it’s probably not the right tool for the job.
Since I’m just edging into this, I started simple and cheap, with the Canon EOS Utility, installed from the disk that came with my 7D. If you’re like me, you probably left the disk in the box and never looked at it. Canon provides a range of software with its EOS cameras, but since the programs are “free,” they’re a little…lacking. Especially compared to the more mainstream options. But in this instance I remembered that the Utility was included and managed to find the disk and install it, via a download from Canon’s website.
EOS Utility may not win many awards for being especially pretty, or feature-filled, but it definitely gets the job done, letting you control the vast majority of camera settings directly from the computer, as well as engage the autofocus and shoot frames. The files are transferred (or copied) to the computer’s hard drive, generally bypassing the CF card. With the 7D, each image is displayed as it’s loaded to the computer, giving you a better-than-LCD look at what you’re getting.
Of course, for this to work your camera is connected to the computer via USB cord. This is an immediate issue for many people, as the included cord is only a foot or so long, at best. I had a 6’ extension cord left over from an old project that I was able to use, but even then it was barely able to reach from my desktop in the corner of the office. (Note: I had initially wanted to use my netbook, as it seemed to be perfectly sized and portable for this application. Unfortunately, the small screen size once again defeated it, as the EOS Utility software won’t install, or if hacked, properly display on netbooks.)
With a full-sized laptop this wouldn’t be a problem, and as I mentioned before, a wireless transfer accessory would negate both this and the USB limitations.
Working with products and still life sets, my initial instinct was to shoot from a tripod. This seems reasonable, but in practice it can become frustrating. Unless you’re shooting a series of items and need each to be pictured from the exact same distance and angle, I’d suggest forgoing the tripod and simply shooting hand-held. It’s both faster and easier. (Although I do keep the tripod on-hand by my desk as a “docking port” for the camera, when I’m reviewing photos – seems safer than just setting the tethered camera down somewhere.)
I’ve shot tethered several times now and intend to keep doing so, as the situation calls for it. It’s nice to get a big, detailed look at the images as you shoot them. And it will be equally helpful to be able to show them to a model and give direction, instead of trying to explain something while pointing at the tiny LCD on-camera. Definitely some perks. But there are some drawbacks, too. Here’s the list:
- quick, full-res views of each photo
- ability to instantly launch a photo with other software
- ability to change camera settings without touching the camera (great for static situations)
- simplified workflow
- no histogram anywhere in EOS Utilities or Bridge
- Utilities preview isn’t exposure/color balanced
- long USB cords are a PITA
- software is lacking with older camera models
Let me expand on a few of those, in both categories. In the pros, I mention the ability to quickly change settings from the computer. It’s as easy as clicking on the setting you want to change, and rolling the mouse scroller up or down. Which is nice, and sometimes easier than using the camera controls. This is especially true for any of the menu options that Utilities is able to control.
And being able to instantly review a photo at full-res in Bridge, or even open it in ACR is very helpful. Especially since there’s no histogram in either Utilities or Bridge. Seriously. I cannot for the life of me figure out why that was left out of either program, but it was. Which is the one major shortfall of tethering this way.
I also mentioned the software in older cameras. Whereas my 7D has a pretty spiffy interface, with image previews after each shot, my old 400D doesn’t. No previews at all, and the interface is…older. With far fewer control options. After using the 7D tethered, the tethered 400D’s limitations are frustrating.
So what’s the overall scoop here? If you bought an EOS camera, you have the ability to shoot tethered out of the box, using EOS Utilities and the (very short) included USB cable. Depending on the kinds of shooting you do, it’s probably worth trying out. Even if it’s just for kicks. You might find that it works for you, and it’s worth investing in some upgraded components. Or you might find that you hate it.
On a closing note, I will throw this out: when Scott Kelby was shooting tethered at his workshop, he was using Lightroom. This combination was less about command and control options, and more about getting the photos instantly onto the computer, where the software could analyze and work with them. If I were shooting in a studio all the time, I’d definitely be looking into this setup.