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Scott's Column
WiFi Control of Canon Camera - CamRanger vs. dslrDashboard and TP-Link TL-MR3040

December 1, 2015
By Scott Lewis

I heard about the CamRanger as a way to remotely control a DSLR camera. I do not have any experience with the product. It costs $300 and it is available on Amazon and B&H Photo. I have not really heard anything bad about the product... except it is a bit pricey at $300.

Pricey is a weird term. When I first heard about the device I thought $300 was pretty reasonable. I have been spending the profits from my part-time photography business faster than it comes in. I was getting worried that I might not make a profit for 2015. Granted, since I do it as a business to let the hobby pay for itself, this is not a bad thing either.

I had relegated buying this device until after the new year, so the cost would come out of 2016's profits, and not 2015's. Simple enough. But I wanted to see if more people had experience with it than the one photographer that I heard about it from.

In doing research online and looking at a couple of reviews... the reviews said the product was good, but expensive for what it is. So, what is it. It is a portable wireless router that has been customized to work as a USB to WiFi adapter, and works with the CamRanger software on a tablet or phone. Now when I say it is a portable wireless router... I mean it seems to be a TP-Link TL-MR3040 portable router. At least this is what some reviews have said... and the pictures on Amazon of both products look an awful lot alike. The problem is that the TP-Link TL-MR3040 only costs about $30. That means you are paying $270 for a little R&D and an iPad/iPhone app.

So I bought a TP-Link TL-MR3040 on Amazon.

What follows in my attempt to use the TP-Link TL-MR3040 to control my Canon T2i dSLR camera. My goals were simple (compared to may others trying to do this). I wanted these features:

1) Show the LIVE view from the camera on my iPad (and iPhone too, but iPad is more important).
2) Be able to select the focus point from my iPad.
3) Be able to trigger the camera from my iPad
4) Be able to see the shot after it is taken on my iPad.

Optionally I would like to be able to adjust the Aperture, shutter & ISO from my iPad, but these are much less important for the type of work I do. I mostly want to be able to see the results of when I use flash and if I need to move the lighting or not.

With my requirements set... I was hoping to do what CamRanger does for $300, but do it for less than $50.

First step was to flash the TP-Link router with custom firmware that allows you to connect your camera to its USB port. This tricks the camera into thinking it is connected to a computer or similar device, so your camera does not know it is connected via WiFi. You can find the instruction to do this here. Please note... these instruction are from the site for an app called dslr Controller. Unfortunately dlsr Controller is an Android only app. However, the instructions for updating the TP-Link router still apply.

Since my computer is Ethernet, I had to disconnect myself from the Internet to do this part. Also the TP-Link TL-MR3040 used the same IP Address as my main router, so that would have been a conflict.

Once connected, and finished flashing the TP-Link, I let it reboot and the TP-Link showed up on my iPad as a WiFi hotspot and I could connect to it.

Next up was to get the dlsrDashboard software. This is in the App Store for Apple.

Now its time to get my camera out. I hooked my camera to the TP-Link and followed the startup procedures on this page.

Unfortunately... I could not get it to work. dsqlDashboard just showed a blank screen. Pushing the Canon WiFi button did nothing. Then I learned that is ONLY for Canon cameras with built-in WiFi). Pressing the connect button is the correct thing to do. But it did nothing, but did flash the light on the TP-Link. I saw somewhere someone said to press and hold the connect button to bring up a pop up that allows you to enter the IP Address. Doing that (even though the IP Address listed was the same as the TP-Link) didn't work either... but it did flash the lights on the TP-Link for a LOT longer.

Granted, this is NOT approved in any way. I used dslr Controller's software to flash the TP-Link. So it should not be expected to work with someone else's software. But I was hoping.

A little more digging... there is a different firmware to flash the TP-Link. Going to the download page for dslrDashboard (I did not go to that page because I bought their app from the Apple App Store) has a download for the TP-Link MR3040 firmware update. I used that and re-flashed the TP-Link.

Once up and running the dslrDashboard would start up. It did not connect when I pressed the connect button, but when I pressed and held the button it connected. The main screen was black, but the controls were there. I pressed the Live View button and the camera went into Live View and the app crashed.

And it crashed repeatedly.

Onto the dslrDashboard forums. I saw someone had a crashing problem with the 0.3.0/0.3.1 version. However, they say it worked when they had the camera lens set to manual focus. Hey... that worked!!! Well, working without focus from the iPad means 1 of 4 of my criteria above is missing. The forum post mentioned that 0.3.1 was available in the app store. Well, it says version 0.3.1 in the app store... which I have. But it says version 0.3.0 in the app in the lower right. Yikes!!!!

Following that thread I saw that it is the same problem I am having and the posts were only a week old. I logged onto the site and told them my results... which were the same for my iPad and my iPhone. Hopefully the next version will not have the problem.

All is not lost. When I do my main photography of automobiles I manually focus as I setup the camera on the tripod. I can then use dslrDashboard to fire the camera while I am holding the flash by the car. My main goal is to insure focus (I can do that with the camera itself before turning on the flash) and to check the lighting without touching the camera. Any touching can move it slightly and the photos that I blend together in Photoshop will not be perfectly aligned. Being able to see the photos on a big screen to see how the flash looks is the most important thing.

Ideally I will get a C-Stand (maybe with wheels), and put my flash with the strip soft box on that. Then with this app I can make sure that the shots will work well for blending in Photoshop later.

UPDATE: Just before going to press... the dlsrDashboard has been updated to 0.3.2 and is still doing the crashing. I tried playing around with the app while the camera was in manual focus, just to get familiar with it. It was extremely slow. This was due to my having the camera in RAW, which takes a long time to pass a raw file to my iPad to be conversed by the software. The solution to this is supposed to be shoot in RAW+JPG and then teh JPG comes over much quicker. It does, but I can't seem to be able to easily review photos on my camera from the app.

It may be me. I have not spent enough time with it. But when I tried the RAW+JPG it was only good for the initial view. It would require me to go forward and back through RAW as well as JPG images. I even found a setting in the app for JPG Only, but that did not have an effect.

I will have to spend more time with this. As it is I have $40 invested and it so not working satisfactorily. I very well may buy the CamRanger. But at its price it had better work or i would return it. So I will be looking at it with very close eyes.

I'll let you know what happens.

And... hopefully by next month I will have found the time to clone my 240 SSD onto my 500 SSD, and install Windows 10. I need a reasonably free weekend to do that.
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