The following is a quick summary of my approach to tethered capture and my brief tests of the new “Tethered Capture” function in the recently released Adobe Lightroom 3.0. It is not intended as a full review or tutorial. Also described are some faults I have found with Lightroom in my limited environment. I cannot say with certainty that these issues exist outside of my bubble. All of my experiences below are Mac based. I have not used any of these applications on a PC. There are of course different ways to do things, but here’s what I have learned from my personal experience. This article assumes that the reader is already familiar with general operation of Lightroom and Bridge and their Canon camera. Much of this may apply to Nikon users. I am using EOS Utility 2.7.2
When shooting with strobes I almost always shoot tethered or connected to a computer. I find it difficult to really judge light on a camera’s LCD. It’s much easier to make judgements on a calibrated computer monitor than a 3″ camera screen. That said, it is NOT easy to get a computer and camera to communicate reliably.
There are a couple of different methods of shooting tethered. A lot of people like to use Phase One’s Capture One software. Capture One was originally made for digital backs and added support for various DSLRs a few years ago. Although I never liked the workflow in Capture One, I used it for tethering. After the shoot I would make a Lightroom catalog to do all of my editing and raw processing. Capture One is an expensive program. I have heard from friends that the newer versions are buggy with Canon DSLRs. The Capture One workflow used to be geared toward processing all of your raws to tiffs or jpegs for delivery which is something I rarely do. I usually leave all but my final selects in the raw format because there is no reason to process them. Once you process to a tiff, for example, your file size about triples. I have been using Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw to process my raw files since I began shooting digital. I find them much more intuitive. The workflow is great too. You can make great web galleries, print, edit and more, directly from Lightroom. And for the past year I have been tethering, via Canon’s Eos Utility, into Lightroom or Bridge. This is only recently viable thanks to improvements in both the Adobe and Canon softwares. I assume the same is possible with Nikon Capture software but I can’t say first hand as I am currently a Canon user.
Shooting tethered with Eos Utility and Bridge or Lightroom is not ideal. There are often problems with Eos Utility and its communication with the camera. This has improved greatly in the past year. Sometimes Eos Utility just crashes.
Lightroom is slower to render previews than Bridge. So, on my laptop, I shoot to Bridge, and on my desktop I shoot to Lightroom since the processing speed is adequate. The programs have to be set up properly which I will describe in detail below.
One benefit of using EOS Utility over Capture One is that it enables photographers to shoot to card and computer simultaneously. So, after a location shoot, you can pocket the memory cards, leave your laptop in the car and be confident knowing you have a back up on your person. This can also be done with the new “Thethered Capture” feature added to Lightroom 3.
Shooting in Thethered Capture Mode in Lightroom 3
I was very interested and hopeful when I first played with the “Tethered Capture” feature in the Lightroom 3 Beta. In concept, it’s a very convenient and welcomed addition to LR. However, in practice, I don’t think it’s ready for serious shooting. I have only tested it in one configuration: a MacPro 2×2.26GHz Quad-Core (8core) Intel Xeon with 16 GB of RAM and a Canon 5D Mark II.
To activate tethered capture, on the menu bar select File-Tethered Capture-Start Tethered Capture. Doing so will bring up the “Tethered Capture Settings” dialog box to set up the capture. The first thing you have to choose is a “Session Name”. This is a bit misleading and I suspect Adobe took the wording from Capture One. What is actually designates is the name of a folder LR will create for your captures to go into. Next you have a naming section where you can rename the files as they come in from the camera. I leave mine set to “Filename”. The reason why is if you lose your connection while shooting and you need to import files from your memory card into your catalog, if LR has renamed the files, you will end up reimporting images from the camera that already exist in the catalog. If you leave the name alone, LR will see that the files already exist in the catalog and will not re-import them. It will only import the files that were lost during the connection failure. This is also true using Eos Utility with LR or Bridge. Next you have a “Destination” option which is where LR will place the folder you’ve named in the “Session Name” box. Then you have the option to apply a Metadata preset, which is great, and keywords. Once you hit OK, a small strip will come up on the screen with your camera settings and a big round button you can click that will fire your camera remotely. The only important option here is “Develop Settings” which allows you to apply a develop preset. There is in “transferring files from camera” process indication at the top left of the LR window. If you close the small strip it will stop Tethered
While the interface is really simple and seems to have all the right functions, there are a couple of fatal flaws.
The camera can go to sleep when used with LR . When this happens, there is about a 10 second delay before the software can detect the camera again. Conversely, Eos Utility can be set to keep the camera awake. Alternatively, you can set your camera to never sleep, but then you must remember to change the setting back to where you would like it to be after tethering.
The biggest problems I’m having with direct tether in LR is when the connection gets interrupted. Let’s say you are shooting and some files have yet to transfer to the computer when your cable pops out. LR gets locked in a “Transferring files from camera” process and tether cannot be re-established: “cannot locate camera.” The only way I found to re-connect is to restart LR.
A small bug is that the tiny Tethered Capture control strip can get lost behind the second monitor LR window. This happens with other dialog boxes too. Most often, when I am importing in LR2 and I get the message that LR did not import certain files because they already exist in the catalog, I cannot see the dialog because it “pops up” behind the LR view on the second monitor. The only way to see the dialog is to go to another application and then return to LR, or to blindly hit return to answer OK to the dialog. Depending on the dialog, escape may also do the trick.
I recently tethered my first shoot using EOS Utility and LR3. During the shoot, there was a brief period where the cord was disconnected from the computer. I shot 15 frames before I realized it. So, we made a note and set the memory card aside to import into the catalog during a break. With LR2, we would just stick the card in a reader and import the whole card with the “Don’t re-import suspected duplicates” option selected. LR2 would read the whole card but just import the files that were note already in the catalog via Auto Import and the tether (provided the files had not been renamed during the auto import!). But, much to my dismay,LR3 re-imported all of the files again giving the hundreds of duplicates a unique file name (-2). I repeated this over and over again and was never able to get LR3 to recognize the duplicates. I’m not sure if this is a bug or if I am just missing something but if it is a bug, it is a big one. Also, LR3 locked up on us once. Maybe just a fluke but LR2 never did that during a tethered shoot.
How to set up EOS Utility (and Image Capture) for Tethered Shooting
There are some settings that I recommend for tethering to either Lightroom or Bridge.
Because the tether is often interrupted, I prefer EOS Utility to open automatically when a camera is detected. Unfortunately, in OS 10.5 (Leopard) this has to be set in the preferences for an OS X system application, Image Capture. Open Image Capture’s preferences and set it to open EOS Utility when a camera is connected. While this may be a minor irritant because whenever you connect a memory card in a card reader EOS Utility will pop up. I think the pros outweigh the cons though because when you are trying to re-establish your connection under pressure, it is easiest if the application launches automatically.
I recommend setting EOS Utility’s preferences as follows:
Startup Action- select “Show [Camera settings/Remote shooting] screen”.
Auto power off- do not select this option. This will allow the camera to go to sleep. If it does, EOS Utility will shut down. Then, when you are ready to shoot again, you will have to wait for Utility to restart and reconnect. The downside to this is that your camera will not go to sleep. So if you are connected to the computer for 5 or 6 hours, your battery will be depleted. I usually try to remember to turn off the camera during lunch and have an extra battery on charge. The good thing is that the setting only effects the camera when it’s connected to the computer. The camera defaults to your menu settings when it’s not tethered.
Destination Folder- I like to set this to a folder in my pictures folder called “TETHER”. If you are using Lightroom, do not allow Utility to create a subfolder when Remote Shooting.
File Name- select “Do not modify(Download Images)”. Otherwise, it will be difficult to import images from a memory card if you have lost your connection without creating duplicates.
Remote Shooting – select “Save also on the camera’s memory card”. I like to turn this option on so I have an instant back up as I’m shooting. Also, this allows me to see images on the camera LCD, I don’t have to wait to see them on the screen (sometimes I can’t see the screen either). Capture One does not allow this, as far as I know. There are also some Live View options which I have not really used. Probably very useful though while tethering.
Linked Software- “Software to link”: select None if you are using Lightroom, select Bridge if you are using Bridge.
It is worth noting that the settings are dependent on the camera connected. For example, when I connect my back up 1DS Mark II, a completely different set of preferences are accessed by EOS Utility. Therefore, if you have more than one EOS, you must set preferences with each camera connected. Once this is done, they should be retained for future use.
How to shoot with EOS Utility and LR
I will continue to tether with EOS Utility and LR until the the “Tethered Capture” feature in LR matures. It is a pretty reliable method and is the same with LR2 or LR3. Here’s how I do it.
Be sure to set Utility with no linked sofware and no subfolder created during remote capture (as described in the above section).
Create a catalog for your shoot, or open an existing one that you want your photos to import to as you’re shooting. I create a new catalog for each shoot. Then, in Lightroom, go to File-Enable Auto Import.
Then open the File-Auto Import Settings. Set the “Watched Folder” to your Eos Utility “Destination Folder” you set above. In my case, it’s Pictures/TETHER. LR will remember this location next time so you never have to change it. Unfortunately, the Watched Folder must be empty prior to using auto import. If it’s not, you will get an error message. If you have a file in there you have to take it out manually, then start the auto import. The next setting is “Move to”. Unfortunately, LR insists on moving the folder to a new directory. This may be one of the reasons LR is slower to render than Bridge. I have experimented with keeping the “Move to” directory on the same drive as the “Watched Folder”. That way, LR does not have to actually re-write the file to a new drive, it just changes it’s location on the same drive, which should be faster. Sometimes that is not how you want to organize your files though. Next, you have to create a sub folder for the files to be Moved to. This is a bit annoying and confusing. LR will create this folder once you name it here. There is another opportunity to rename your files, but you should continue to resist doing so for reasons already explained. You also have the chance to apply your metadata, develop preset & keywords as you like.
Once these settings are made, you should be ready to shoot. Connect the camera, fire a frame, and you should see the image in your LR catalog. I like to leave room to see the EOS Utility Remote Shooting window so I can watch the files transferring on the blue status bar. I also have Utility’s quick preview window open on my second monitor because it updates much quicker. That way, clients can refer to it for the latest picture’s content, but look to LR for correct color and contrast.
To theoretically speed up LR during tether, try capturing to a folder on the same drive as the “Watched Folder”. Also, in Catalog Settings, turn off “Automatically write changes to XMP”. I generally like to have that on when I am editing but it does slightly slow down operation while tethering.
One maddening thing is that the only way you will see the new images big on the screen as they come in is in Loupe View (quick key- E). If you are in develop or survey, your new images will not be automatically selected to appear. This is constantly a problem when reviewing photos during a break and then resuming shooting.
Another thing to be aware of is that each time the connection is re-established (battery chance, card change, cable reconnect, etc) and there are pictures on the card in the camera, the import window of LR will open. Just hit escape and it will exit the import dialog. Incidentally, the new import dialog looks just like the rest of LR and is very confusing at first. Also, refrain from messing with the camera until connection is established. If you are looking at images on the camera LCD while Utility connects, it will put the camera into a “Direct Transfer” mode. The best way out is to turn the camera off and back on again. It’s also best to let EOS Utility open automatically. Don’t try to open it manually because most likely it wont establish the connection properly.
How to shoot with EOS Utility and Bridge
You can also shoot to Bridge instead of Lightroom. I do this on my laptop because bridge renders the images much faster when processing power is less than desirable. Tethering is almost the only thing I use Bridge for as I do not find it to be a reliable tool for serious editing or image processing. It does have it’s place as a file browser when you want to quickly look at a folder full of images, etc.
The key thing you have to do in the EOS Utility Preferences is to link the Utility to Bridge. Go to the “Linked Software” panel in Utility and register it to link to Bridge and check the CR2 box (I hope you’re shooting raw). This will open Bridge every time Utility detects a CR2 file and miraculously Bridge will go to the appropriate directory and advance to each new photo. I’m not sure if this worked in earlier versions but I spent about a year advancing the frames manually as they came in by hitting the right arrow key. I also like to set the Utility preference ”Destination Folder” to create a “Shooting Date” subfolder the next time “Remote Shooting” (check it) is used. That way today’s job goes into a separate folder than yesterday’s. Don’t worry, Bridge will find the folder automatically!
You will want to set your Bridge interface up in a way that gives you thumbnails and the preview window. I like the preview to be as big as possible. I also set it to generate high quality previews. Otherwise the color will not be accurately rendered. I also like to see the metadata panel that shows my shutterspeed and aperature. I wish I could find a way to show a histogram in Bridge. You can save all of this as a workspace but it doesn’t really seem to work right in Brigde my experience. The panels do not always open as where you want them too. Bridge is often frustrating.
So, theoretically, you connect the camera, Utility detects it and starts up. Then you fire a frame and Bridge opens up to the directory where today’s picture is. In practice, I have found that the first shot will launch Bridge but it takes a second shot to get it to the right directory.
I once timed Utility to Bridge versus Capture One 4 and Utility and Bridge rendered images faster while shooting.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it isn’t easy. Tethering is invaluable when collaborating with art directors on a shoot and when trying to set up complex lighting arrangements. There are a few ways to make it happen. They will each drive you crazy and are best left to a digital tech. My preferred method is EOS Utility and Lightroom. I am just one user and it’s quite possible I have missed some things so please let me know your experiences via the comments link below.
I was very intrigued by a new feature offered in Canon’s latest version of EOS Utility, 2.10.4, which allows the user to transfer only the jpegs to the computer when shooting Raw + Jpeg. The jpegs are rendered much quicker in Bridge than the raws. You have to check EOS Utility’s link to Bridge to make sure the jpeg format is checked (mine wasn’t). You have to re-register Bridge to access the file format setting. To do so, open preferences and go to Linked Software. Then click Register. There you will see the options for file formats. The formats that are checked will link to the software (Bridge), otherwise they will not link. I see no reason not to select all of the formats here.
I also tried to Auto Import the jpegs into Lightroom. While they did render 1:1 previews faster, there was no improvement to the time it took to bring new captures into the catalog. I’m not sure why LR has such delays with importing. It evidently has little to do with file size.
I also tested tethering onto an SSD (solid state drive). Bridge is faster in this configuration. I have yet to see any change in Lightroom. I am still testing this.
There is a great but discouraging article about Lightroom and SSDs here
One interesting thing about the new EOS 1DX is it’s connection to the computer by way of Ethernet 1000 Base-T network port. It promises longer cable lengths and faster transfer speeds. I don’t think it will help Lightroom much but it could speed things up in Bridge.