WT-3/4 Alternative ... or ... How to Save a Lot of Money


 

Background

The Nikon WT-4 wireless remote control for use with the Nikon D300 is an excellent product providing either wired (Ethernet) or wireless (802) remote control of select Nikon cameras in conjunction with Camera Control Pro software. BUT ... the WT-4 is close to $900 and then you must purchase the software - Camera Control Pro (CCP) - at $200 (well, not necessarily - see later recommendations). IMO $900 is way too much for what amounts to a USB extender and the software really should be free. The products work perfectly and are easy to use but you shouldn't have to pay a premium just to get something that works.

You then discover, if you did not read the fine print first, that although CCP will control any remote-capable Nikon DSLR on a USB wired interface, the WT-4 will recognize only the D300 and other high-end models such as the D3. If you also have a D80 (my case) or similar lower cost body you must shell out $800+ for the WT-3 wireless hardware as well. This is ludicrous.

 What Doesn't Work

Attempted the following to avoid having to purchase another "WT" unit ...

  1. Tried hanging the D80 off a WDTV LIVE media server ($120) wired to the LAN. The server works fine with the camera. On the host computer you can see the D80 via the media server and even access images from the memory card. The plan was eventually to put the media server on a wireless access port ($60) and power the two units remotely (they don't take much juice so a simple battery pack would work well), thereby getting a $180 wireless remote that would work with any Nikon but, CCP will not recognize a networked camera unless it is communicating via the WT-4/3 so, you are out of luck..
  2. Next tried defining the D80 as a "mapped network drive" on the host (Win XP) - still using the media server as remote interface. This causes the D80 to appear on your host as a local device. I was 90% sure I had now outwitted Nikon and the scheme envisioned in Step 1 would now work but no - Nikon thought of that too and CCP ignores a network mapped device even though every other piece of software on the system now sees the remote D80 as local. Very ingeneous of Nikon to lock you out this way.
  3. Investigated commercially available USB wireless port extenders. There are surprisingly few and they are expensive ... in some cases more than the WT-4. Furthermore, there are worrisome performance limitations with some of these. All-in-all this is probably the future but I'm not sure now is the best time. Not tried was one of the many wired USB extenders available. So long as you can live with a wired connection one of these should work well over considerable distance but my objective was to obtain wireless connectivity without having to purchase another WT unit. If you are OK with wired connection though, you might also consider simply running a long USB cable by means of patching a couple of them together. In my experience you can double the standard specification length of 5 meters but this will depend up cable quality, interface tolerances, etc. Your best bet with the long cable approach is to use a proper active extender. It's very inexpensive and guarantees freedom from problems. Distances rival standard wireless setup.

The Answer

There may be other, better ways but here's my approach for now.

  1. Dig out that old laptop you replaced years ago. Almost anything will do so long as it has networking and runs Win XP or Vista (Mac/Apple should also work).  Alternatively, buy one of the ultra compacts you see now for $300 or so.
  2. Set up your camera and the laptop remotely, plugging the camera into a USB port on the laptop. You can power the laptop off a cheap UPS or an outboard power pack although the newer mini-PCs will manage several hours on their own. UPS's and outboard packs are both inexpensive and readily available. One or the other will greatly extend operating time if that's what you need.
  3. Install CCP or one of the OxfordEye packages on the laptop. This will control any communications enabled Nikon DSLR via wired USB connection to the PC.
  4. Install VNC (Virtual Network Computer ... www.uVNC.com)) on both the laptop and your base-station (host) PC. This is the key technology enabling you to avoid the costly Nikon hardware. You can now control the remote computer from the base-station as if you were actually using it directly. UltraVNC is free and works great but there are alternatives. Works on Mac too. VNC is easy to install and use. It gives complete, transparent control. Latency used to be an irritant with this sort of product but things have improved. UltraVNC is quite adequate these days.
  5. Configure the laptop so it is accessible on your LAN via your wireless access point (you do have a router with WAP ?? If not, you can find one for $60 or so).
  6. Launch the VNC Server on the laptop and the Viewer on the controlling machine. I won't go into VNC use which is very easy. You simply log-in to the remote with a password and that's about it. You can ignore most of the VNC setup options but some might prove useful depending on your needs.

Too easy. You can now sit in the comfort of your home at the host console, working as if at the remote laptop while taking shots of that bird's nest using any remote-capable Nikon DSLR. Of course, without "Live View" you are flying blind but if you need direct surveillance, a cheap USB webcam added to the remote PC will do the trick (impossible with the WT-3/4 which has only one USB port). The usual wireless range applies. 100 meters or so is easy but you can get a lot more with careful setup. Your cost?

  • Nikon CCP - $200 or, consider "TetherPro" ($49.99 / $24.99 temporarily as of June 2012) or "Master" ($9.99) available here: http://www.oxfordeye.co.uk/
  • Laptop - $300 (or nothing if you have an existing unit)
  • UPS - $50 (optional, depending on expectations)
  • Router with wireless access point for your controlling system - $60 (hard to believe you wouldn't have this already). You need this anyway even if using the Nikon hardware.

So ... anywhere from $10 to $390 (using OxfordEye software) or $200 to $600 with CCP and you can connect anything Nikon has with USB remote control. You have saved potentially close to $1800 if you would have needed both WT-4's.

I am using this setup and it works perfectly.

Added bonuses ... you can connect more than one camera to the remote laptop. Think of the possibilities. Try that with the WT-3/4. If you have to buy a mini-laptop ($300) it's useful for other purposes, unlike a WT-3/4 (which will remotely connect only Nikon cameras, not other USB devices). If the camera you are remotely controlling doesn't have "Live View" (such as the D80) you can add a remote webcam (USB or wireless) to the laptop ... something impossible using the WT unit. Webcams cover a huge price range. For simple real-time monitoring of a subject you can get by for $30 or less while some very nice video capable H/D units come in at just under $100 if you want to splurge. You are still saving a pile of money while having a more flexible, useful remote photography system.

 

About TetherPro/Master

http://www.oxfordeye.co.uk/

I was alerted to these products some time after preparing the original version of this article but am using both since then. They provide inexpensive remote control of a camera having a USB control interface. The principle difference between them is that "TetherPro" incorporates extensive image project support ... file renaming, image data base, image review etc. It would seem highly useful to the commercial or studio photographer generating high volumes of pictures and liable to benefit from automated image management. "Master" sticks to the basics, offering the same level of camera control but providing only straightforward transfer of camera images to a folder on the computer. After that, you are on your own. You will have to find another way to review images with "Master" but it is trivially easy to have a viewing application of your choice launch when double-clicking an image file (if not there already).

This is robust, well-thought-out software and easy to use. The user interface is attractive and intuitive in operation.

It was formerly the case that Live View was not available with with this product but the author has alerted me (June, 2012) LV is now supported.

Furtheremore, as of approximately that date, the price of Tetherpro has been temporarily reduced to $24.99.

I use an inexpensive webcam at the remote camera location to estimate when a shooting opportunity occurs (such as a bird arriving on-scene). This is perfectly satisfactory and in some ways more flexible and useful than remote Live View. Consider also that when using Live View the camera will switch to contrast-detect AF which is not as fast as the usual phase-detect method. That is, there may be good photographic reasons in some situations to avoid Live View anyway. Just the same, it is very nice now having this available.


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