The folks at CamFi asked me if I wanted to review their new WiFi product for Canon and Nikon DSLRs. I’ve dabbled with WiFi on cameras over the years and I thought it would be fun to test. I was also hoping that the CamFi would get around a limitation that I was having, which it did, I’m happy to report. How did the CamFi help? Read on and find out.
WiFi is handy on cameras two big reasons:
1. It allows you to transfer photos wirelessly from your camera to your smartphone or computer.
2. It allows you to control the camera wirelessly.
However, WiFi support on cameras, for the most part, is fairly limited, especially on DSLRs. Canon makes a few models that allow you to both transfer photos and control your camera, albeit with a cumbersome smartphone application. Nikon makes more WiFi compatible models but with even more limitations. They can only view and transfer photos but they can not control the camera’s exposure.
You might have heard of EyeFi, an SD card with built-in WiFi. I’ve used these before and they are great for wirelessly transfering photos, but again, lack the ability to wirelessly control your camera. That’s were the CamFi comes in.
The CamFi box uses WiFi to communicate with your smartphones as well as PCs and Macs. It uses a USB connection to directly control the DSLR which makes it more capable than EyeFi or Nikon’s implementation. I tested the CamFi on my Canon 6D and the Nikon D3300. It worked on both, as advertised, but with a few glitches.
Design and Packaging
The CamFi is a small plastic box measuring 2.54” x 1.73” x 1.02”, with several LEDs and ports. There’s a built-in lithium battery which charges via micro USB cable. You can see its size relative to a mid-sized DSLR, the Canon 6D, on the right and a small DSLR, the Nikon D3300 on the left. While I attached the CamFi to the hot shoe, with the included metal connector, this is optional. All you really need is a cable that connects between the CamFi and the USB port on the camera.
The box and packaging were nicely done, certainly better than expected. While made in China by a Chinese company, there’s no hint of “cheapness” that have plagued some low-cost imports. I get the sense that the company cares about design and you can tell from the consistency of the packaging, the website and YouTube videos.
The CamFi unit itself seems adequate, neither cheap nor robust. There’s a lot of exposed ports so it’s not designed for inclement weather. It looks like it will stand up to regular outdoor or studio use.
Note: while testing, I accidentally broke off the female connector on the CamFi which mounts the device onto the hot shoe. I don’t think I over tightened the connection, but I found the metal connector fiddly — it didn’t seem very secure. Perhaps, I turn the connector once too many times, which pulled the metal thread out of the plastic box.
An email to the manufacturer revealved that they have a new unit which improves on the design — I guess I wasn’t the only one to have this problem. The new unit has a black foam gasket on the male connector, which creates a tighter connection. I don’t know if the female connector has changed but I was cautious about over tightening. However, with the foam gasket, the connection was noticeably snug and comfortably secure. Certainly an improvement over the original design.
Instructions and Cables
You need to identify the two included cables and their intended function. The longer micro USB cable is used to charge the CamFi and the “micro” end gets pugged into the port labeled 5V 1A. Be warned that the CamFi doesn’t come with a wall plug so you need to attach the USB connector to any standard USB charger. It’s probably not a big deal since most people can either use their computer’s USB port or a USB Smartphone charger.
The shorter USB cable is used to connect the CamFi box to the camera. The cable worked perfectly on my Canon 6D but not on my Nikon D3300. This confused me, since many of these ports look similar but have slightly different shapes. It turned out that I was able to use the USB cable that came with the D3300 for my CamFi. Keep this in mind if you have certain Nikon models or newer models with a USB 3 port.
Follow the instructions to download the CamFi software for iOS, Android, Windows or Mac OS. I tested the unit from my iPhone and Macintosh.
Like all WiFi connections, you need to first go into the WiFi settings and select the proper WiFi hotspot. Look for and select CamFi XXXX, then launch the CamFi app. If you’re not properly connected to the CamFi hotspot, the app confusingly asks for the IP address. Outside, away from other Wifi hotspots, the phone defaulted to my CamFi connection, once it was setup.
The app allows you to control exposure, shoot images and transfer photographs to your iPhone. It’s full featured and with a better interface than Canon and Nikon’s offering. Also, according to CamFi, it supports a larger number of Canon and Nikon models.
For many people, the ability to transfer photos to their smartphone or tablet, in the field, maybe the most desirable feature. This is especially handy for quick posts to social media. CamFi will certainly work for these purposes, though if you have a lot of photos on your camera, you will have to wait a while for the thumbnail previews to transfer to your smart device via WiFi.
You can shoot images with or without “Live View”, though seeing a live feed gives more versatility. You get to precisely frame compositions and to do a touch focus on the CamFi app which commands the camera to focus on the selected area. Live view focusing on DSLRs are typically slow, so this is best used for landscapes instead of sports.
The CamFi app includes advanced features such as bracketing and focus stacking. I didn’t test the focus stacking, which is often used for macros. I did however, extensively test the bracketing, which is what I’m really excited about. I explain why below under “CamFi to the Rescue”.
The app worked a little differently between the two cameras, no doubt due to the difference in camera hardware, rather than the CamFi system itself. On the Canon, for example, I can review photos and change controls while the USB connector is attached. On the Nikon, the controls are locked with the “Connected to PC” message. The Nikon, however, allows me to change the mode dial settings, while in Live View, from the CamFi iOS software. On the Canon, I need to physically move the mode dial on the camera, to change the exposure mode.
OS X Software
I also connected to the CamFi from my Macintosh. It uses WiFi to connect the CamFi box in the same way the iPhone app does and, from what I can tell, supports the same features. The biggest benefit of iPhone support maybe portability and connecting to social media in the field. With the Mac, however, the biggest benefit may be wireless tethering in studios.
I’ve been to demos and have seen studio shoots where the camera is connected to the computer via a cable, so that each shot can be previewed on a large screen. Something similar to this can be done with the free CamFi application running on the Mac. The connection is wireless, which makes it convenient, though the image transfer speed is probably slower that cabled tethering.
I’ve done minimal testing, and indeed I was able to display the images on my Mac. But the Mac application was more buggy than the iOS implementation and would crash on occasion or become non-responsive. The application defaults to controlling the camera, where you can change settings and shoot photos. Select the Auto View button on the bottom left to use tethering. In this mode, you shoot the camera directly and the images are pushed automatically to the Macintosh.
While tethered wireless shooting maybe the key feature on Macs (and Windows PCs), I wouldn’t use it for high volume shooting. Shoot quickly and the connection bogs down and does not keep up with displaying the most current image. This maybe more of a limitation of WiFi than the hardware.
CamFi to the Rescue
You might have wondered why I’ve included these urban landscapes in this post — I created them with the Nikon D3300 and the CamFi. They are HDRs that combine 3 images blended together, which surprisingly, the D3300 makes it difficult to do. The D3300 is Nikon’s entry level camera, and they must have taken out features to differentiate it from higher priced models. The CamFi allows me to take bracketed photos which, when combined together on a computer in post processing, makes these dramatic images.
I explained in a previous post that I bought the entry-level D3300 primarily for sports. It’s a versatile camera with nice image quality, using a 24MP Sony sensor, which should work well for my urban HDR landscapes. Unfortunately, the D3300 does not come with exposure bracketing, which is strongly preferred for creating HDRs. I can manually adjust the exposure settings on the camera, but this is far from ideal since all that fiddling moves the camera, even when on a tripod. When creating HDR brackets, you want to minimize any camera movement from shot to shot.
Disappointingly, Nikon’s optional WiFi adapter can’t wirelessly change exposure. It’s really an anemic implementation. One that really shows how Nikon (and, for that matter, Canon) are behind the top mirrorless players like Olympus, which gives me full control over exposure from my smartphone app.
The CamFi allows me to change exposure settings remotely. The software can be a little clumsy for bracketing but I’ve found a workable way to create HDR brackets. Quite possibly, CamFi may be the only way to remotely set and control bracketing on the Nikon D3300. For HDR fans with this camera, this feature alone may be a reason to get the CamFi.
Advanced Bracketing is cumbersome
I mentioned above that the CamFi iPhone application has an advanced bracketing feature. Unfortunately, while it does work, it doesn’t work in the way I had hoped. While you can select bracketing by Aperture, Shutter and ISO, you must be in Manual exposure mode. I picked shutter, which is what I always use when creating HDRs. You have to pick a starting shutter speed, a step size and shooting count. Having to manually select a starting shutter speed is cumbersome, it requires me to explicitly meter separately to determine the correct starting shutter speed.
A bigger headache is the step size, which does not correspond to the standard EV values. When I started at 1/10 of a second with a step size of one, I got 1/10, 1/13 and 1/15 of a second. A step size of 2 yielded 1/10, 1/15 and 1/25. Finally a step size of 3 gave me 1/10, 1/20 and 1/40. That corresponds to step 1=1/3ev, step 2=2/3ev and step 3=1ev brackets. I prefer to bracket at 2ev intervals, so I would need to increase my shot count to 5 if I wanted 3 images, 2ev apart.
While the CamFi bracketing interface was the same on my D3300 and 6D, the cameras responded differently. I got a “Connected to PC” message on the back of the Nikon and I couldn’t review the images unless I remove the USB cable attached to the camera. Most curiously, when starting the bracketing at 1/10 of second, the subsequent shutter speeds were 1/8 and 1/6. On the Canon shutter speeds increased.
Also, turn off Auto ISO on both the Canon or Nikon, or the ISO will change even when set to Shutter bracketing. I typically use the native ISO for the highest quality, which is 100 on both cameras.
After playing with the CamFi for a while, I’ve come up with a better way to bracket.
My preferred way to take HDR brackets
Instead of the Advanced Bracketing option, I prefer to manually change the exposure settings via the CamFi app. That allows me to use Aperture priority and use the built-in metering on the camera. I simply set the desired Aperture and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed. Then I use the exposure compensation slider on the CamFi app and start at 0 ev, then move it to 2 ev and -2 ev.
That’s the way I usually shoot my HDR brackets, on other cameras. While I have to manually move the slider between shots, the camera stays rock steady since I’m adjusting all settings via the iPhone application. No need to touch the camera.
It’s not a particularly fast process compared to in-camera bracketing, but it works. And, in a way, the deliberate, leisurely pace makes me double-check the compositions — making sure everything was correct before manually taking the 3 photos. During my actual tests outside, it started out slow and felt cumbersome. But as I got used to the application and the pace, I was able to create nice images.
The results were outstanding and the 24MP D3300 really did a great job. Keep in mind that I used Nikon’s least expensive DSLR with the humble 18-55mm kit lens to create these. Not bad at all. All possible through the CamFi hardware and application.
I did some rudimentary tests with WiFi range. It seemed to be slightly better than the built-in WiFi on the Olympus Air camera, but not by much. The signal seems to make it through one wall successfully. I was able to shoot the camera on my back porch, from inside the house, for example. Or from a bed room to the living room. I was not able to shoot the camera from my office, located on the second floor.
Outside, I was able to shoot the camera from around the corner, on the other side of the house. Line of sight, I was able to communicate at least 30 feet. But WiFi, as a technology, is not consistent. A noisy room with lots of WiFi signals can significantly degrade performance. I think it’s best to consider this WiFi as a short-range implementation, ideally using it a few feet from the camera, for the best performance. That’s the way I used it to shoot my HDRs outside.
1. Enables remote WiFi shooting for a number of Canon and Nikon DSLR models
2. A full featured implementation that controls exposure compensation and many other camera settings
3. An easy to use iPhone App and more sophisticated than Canon and Nikon offerings
4. Support for iPhone, Android, Macintosh and Windows PC
5. Enables exposure bracketing on cameras, like on the Nikon D3300, which does not natively support bracketing
6. Reasonable price for features offered
7. Uses standard USB cables for interface and charging
1. The CamFi hardware can be bulky especially on smaller DSLRs
2. The connector to the hot shoe, while improved, doesn’t seem bullet proof
3. Software on the Macintosh, not as solid as the iOS implementation
4. No way to check battery level on the CamFi
CamFi is a hardware and software system that enables remote WiFi control of many Canon and Nikon DSLR models. Its iPhone App has a better interface and more features than the Canon and Nikon equivalent. Critically, it allows you to change exposure settings as well as other key camera settings like ISO and metering. For the many DSLRs that do not have WiFi capability, it could be an important tool for remote shooting and grabbing photos for posting to social media.
The plastic box is reasonably built and can optionally be attached to the hot shoe. While the box is light, it can appear a bit bulky on smaller DSLRs. In practice, the size did not impede usage, especially when used on a tripod for landscapes. There is an included metal connector that attaches the CamFi hardware to the hot shoe and they have improve on the connector which makes a snug connection. That said, I’m still a bit concerned about the ultimate robustness of the connection.
The CamFi box is light and does not add any appreciable weight to the camera, so handholding the camera is no problem. But I worry more about accidental knocks which might break the hot shoe connector. It’s not that the connection is flimsy, it’s just that the CamFi sits on top, unprotected. I might be overly concerned, however, since an external flash can potentially suffer the same fate.
I was pleasantly surprised with the level of control the iPhone App gave over the camera. The interface is also easy to use. Performance can be sluggish but that maybe due to the WiFi connection rather than the CamFi hardware. When commanded to take a picture, the camera responds quickly. It’s the transferring of the photos, back to the smartphone, which can take some time.
Also, on my Canon and Nikon, live view focusing is not very fast, which effects the perception of the CamFi. The speed of focus is determined by the camera and there’s nothing CamFi can do to speed that up. That’s where modern mirrorless cameras have the edge over the DSLRs. Because the focus in live view is faster, the WiFi implementation seems perkier on the Olympus, for example. Given the hardware limitation of DSLRs and WiFi speeds, CamFi is actually a nice implementation.
Ironically, the Canon 6D has built-in WiFi. But after using the Canon’s Camera Connect app, I prefer the CamFi implementation. Also, CamFi works the same on both Canon and Nikon. I’m quite amazed that a small 3rd party company has come up with a better implementation than the actual camera manufacturers.
Ultimately, for me, CamFi enables me to create HDR brackets on the Nikon D3300, which I can’t do in any other way. The urban landscapes I’ve included in this post, would not be possible without the CamFi, and that to me is telling. Whether you want to create HDRs, take remote photos or post images to social media, CamFi adds WiFi capability, in a solid way, to cameras that weren’t originally designed do so.
Here’s the link on Amazon, if you are interested in getting a CamFi
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