4 Ways to Wirelessly Control a DSLR Camera With a Phone or PC
Ever wanted to leave your camera somewhere so it was set up, ready for the perfect moment to take a shot? Maybe you wanted to place it really close to some food scraps so you could get a photo of a fox, or just leave it outside on a cold day waiting for sunset while you sit inside in the warm. Well, now you can.
In the last few years, it’s become a lot easier to control your camera from afar. Previously, it required cables, computers, and a lot of hassle, but now wireless is becoming more common. Let’s look at the options available.
1. Get a Camera With Wireless Built In
The simplest way to wirelessly control your camera is to get one that already has Wi-Fi built-in. You can control many of the most recent cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony from a smartphone app or computer over wireless. In most cases, you’re able to change settings, trigger the camera, use Liveview to focus, transfer pictures, and generally just use your camera without touching it, or standing near it.
While this is all well and good if you’ve got a brand new camera, the problem is that, unlike most gadgets, manufacturers update their line relatively infrequently . A three-year-old iPhone is well out of date; a three-year-old camera can be the most recent model. This means that consumers update their cameras even less often. A 4-year-old Canon 5D MKIII (without Wi-Fi) is only marginally worse at taking pictures than the brand new 5D MKIV. Unless you’re a professional who absolutely needs the latest gear, a new camera isn’t normally a great investment.
If your current camera has wireless and you don’t need the advanced features of some of the other solutions we’ll look at, then it’s the best way to go. There’s no extra cost or dongles hanging off your camera. If your current camera doesn’t have Wi-Fi and you’re not in the market for a new one, you need to turn to one of the other solutions.
The CamRanger burst onto the scene a couple of years ago. It’s a small, $300 device that connects to your camera and adds wireless control, Liveview, and data transfer. It was one of the first devices that was affordable, or at least not incredibly expensive, that could be used outside of the studio to add wireless tethering to a DSLR.
The CamRanger also adds a lot of advanced features. You can use it to take complex time-lapses , custom-bracketed HDR images , and macro images with focus stacking. It’s a great solution if your camera doesn’t already have wireless, or if you need the extra control.
The only thing that really lets it down is the cost. While $300 is cheap by professional standards, it’s still a lot of money for a hobbyist. If you can justify the cost, it’s the best way to wirelessly control your camera, but otherwise, try one of the other options.
3. Use TriggerTrap (UK)
TriggerTrap Mobile connects your smartphone (or tablet) directly to your phone. I’m a huge fan. I’ve even given them out as gifts to a few other photographers .
Normally, you tether your phone directly to the camera with the cable and then use the app to take photos, time-lapses, HDR images, and so on. You get a lot more control over the shutter speeds and how many images are taken this way.
If, however, you’ve got a second phone or tablet, you can set the first one up as a wireless slave, and the second one as a wireless master. That way, you can control your camera from afar.
Although great on paper, there are a few issues with the TriggerTrap solution.
First, strapping your smartphone or tablet to your camera and leaving it unattended out in the elements is a recipe for disaster. Although you can try it, you’ll need to keep a closer eye on things than you would with some of the other wireless options.
Second, although you can wirelessly control your camera with TriggerTrap and two smart-devices, you can’t transfer data over wifi or use Liveview while you’re shooting. It’s nowhere near as fully featured as the other solution.
I’m not saying the TriggerTrap mobile dongle isn’t awesome (it is), it’s just not a great wireless solution. Wireless control is more of an extra feature than something it’s properly designed to do. If you have one lying around and want to experiment with wireless camera control, give it a shot. But if you’re looking for a way to really control your camera from a distance, go with something else.
4. Build Your Own Wireless Control Unit
If you want to save a lot of money and are prepared to go down a hacky route, Alan Lawrence of DIY Photography has found a way to make a $40 CamRanger-esque device. Lawrence has a full walkthrough of the setup process at the link above. I followed it myself and it works great.
You need an OpenWRT router (the wireless router he recommends appears to be the base of the CamRanger), the DSLRDashboard server software installed on it, and the QDSLRDashboard app, available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac. It’s $9 on mobile platforms but free on Windows and Mac.
Although DSLRDashboard has most of the same features as CamRanger (and some unique ones), it’s very clearly an open source hobby project. It’s functional, but it lacks the polish of CamRanger. The apps, in particular, feel like you’re using a touchscreen port of a Linux GUI. I’ve also had mine crash occasionally when I’m using it, or even refuse to connect.
If you’re looking for the best bang-for-your-buck way to wirelessly control your camera, DSLRDashboard is the best option. It’s just let down by this lack of polish. If you’re a hobbyist, you can probably accept the occasional bug or crash, but if you’re a professional who has to get the shot, don’t take the chance.
Picking a Wireless Solution
The best wireless solution depends on what you need. If you need a professional solution, get a CamRanger. If your camera has Wi-Fi, use that. If you’re comfortable hacking one together, roll your own. And if you’ve got one lying around, try TriggerTrap. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Do you use any of these options to wirelessly control your camera? What about something else? Let us know in the comments.