The promise of technology is that it makes our lives easier and new things possible. Both of these things are true of the CamRanger, a wireless DSLR remote control tether for iPad and iPhone. With the CamRanger, you can remotely control your Canon or Nikon DSLR as if it were in your hands. At its heart, it's a mobile wifi hotspot with custom firmware, but it's that firmware which makes all kinds of exciting things possible. Once you've got the free sister app installed on your iOS device, you can fire the shutter, change settings like shutter speed/aperture/iso/mode/etc., all from a great distance away from your camera. Not only that, but you can use live view to see what the camera sees and even tap on the live view image to focus, just like it was the camera on your phone!
What's happening here is that the pack of cards-sized CanRanger box plugs into your camera via USB. You then connect your iOS device to the CamRanger's own WiFi Network. The network is protected by a password printed on the back of the unit. Personally, I think it could do without this feature, or just use the password 'camranger' or something. I can't imagine too many situations where people are going to be trying to hack into your camera, but maybe I'm too trusting. Once the network is set up, just open the app on your phone and it takes control of the camera. In the past I've used both the Canon software and Lightroom to tether my camera, and I've always had a hard time getting it connected without locking up (both my 5D2, 5D3, and 1Ds3). It typically takes a few tries. I've had none of these problems with the CamRanger. Somehow it's a more solid connection than Canon's own software.
So why would you want this? Well, I can think of a few scenarios. You can use it in a 'client' mode, so that as you snap away on your camera the pictures you take show up on the screen for immediate client review (personally my nightmare situation, but I know people who do it). If you are a landscape photographer, you could control the camera from the superior screen of your retina iPad to compose the shot, zoom in and check focus, and review. Personally, it doesn't do much for me as a one-on-one portrait photographer, but it was VERY handy when I recently shot a bunch of my friends making snow angels in Prospect Park. I had the camera at the end of an extended tripod, cantilevered over the subjects with a wide-angle lens. Using the CamRanger (taped the the legs of the tripod), I was able to compose and shoot using live view from my iPhone. It worked perfectly and I'll have to admit, it was pretty cool. Additionally, the software shows you a live histogram, has a built-in intervalometer, and will even program HDR image sequences when the camera is in Manual mode. The CamRanger does everything you could expect of it and does it well.
That's a lot of 'pros', so what about the 'cons'? I can only think of a few. First, it has its own battery, so that is yet another thing to remember to charge. I know this is somewhat unfair because the thing has to power itself, but it did cross my mind. I never had the battery run out while I was using it, and my guess is that it lasts awhile, hours at least. Second, and more importantly is that there's nowhere to put it when it's connected. You've got this little box pig-tailed off your camera. I would suggest that they create a hotshoe mount for it, but then how would you trigger strobes? You might be able to figure out a way to mount it on the tripod socket, but sitting your camera down on top of an expensive plastic box doesn't sound like a good idea. So that's another problem. Next, there is the subject of cost: $299. Not crazy expensive, and if it fills a need you have, it's downright reasonable. That said, it's not at the price point where you'd buy it to have around just in case you need it. Lastly, the app, while fairly responsive and easy to understand, could benefit from a makeover by a talented designer. Right now it looks like it was designed by engineers (no offense to engineers), which is fine by me, but generally folks like slick-looking things.
So to wrap up, the CamRanger is a wonderful little piece of tech. While it isn't cheap, it delivers as promised with little hassle once you get your head wrapped around how to get all the pieces talking to each other. For those of you out there who need to remote control your camera, I highly suggest you consider adding this to your kit.
Note: Dave at CamRanger was nice enough to send me a loaner unit to review.