How Tethered Shooting Made My Life Easier

For some time I had been wanting adopt tethered shooting into my photography workflow. To provide a short explanation: tethered shooting is where you your camera is hooked up to a computer and your shots are transferred while shooting. Tether Tools has a really good series of articles here that goes over the benefits of tethered shooting. My main point for bring this kind of shooting was primarily for being able to check my pictures as I'm shooting them. Yeah you can always review images on the camera LCD but it's not a 100% accurate representation of what you get when compared to the actual image files. And this is important especially when it comes to lighting... even more so if you're using speedlites or strobes.

Finding The Right Computer Hardware

While I was researching what computer I should get for this there was one thing I kept noticing was missing from a lot of articles was any discussion about system performance within this kind of workflow. There would be some rather general talk about things like RAM and SSD but no real info on comparisons of CPU and GPU choices, laptop versus desktop, etc. For someone who has built multiple systems over the years with an aim for certain performance levels the lack of data out there was a bit frustrating. Since I was hoping to get a laptop for this I needed to get a reasonable idea of what would work. It would be a bit annoying to purchase a system and then figure out it would end up slowing me down.

There were a few different things I was looking for with regards to purchasing a system for tethered shooting:

* Decent amount of RAM (8GB or so)
* Decent storage space, perferably on SSD
* Good CPU performance
* Portability
* $1,000 or less

Originally I was looking at getting some form of a Microsoft Surface Pro for this. But as I was researching I kept noticing that as I was bumping things up to my desired specs the pricing was going into the territory of where I should really start considering full on laptops. But then the idea of portability came into question.

Then I just randomly happened to run into the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-n-1 laptop. What it had to offer ticked a lot of the boxes for me:

CPU: Intel Core i7-8550U
RAM: 8GB DDR4
Hard Drive: 256GB

Let's just say I did get it for significantly less than MSRP thanks to some holiday sales. And I was able to take it home that day.

I went to one of the local camera stores to pick up the USB cable I would need along with a couple of accessories. I know I wanted to go with Tether Tools here because they have quality gear designed for people like me. But there was one obstacle: the store only had the USB2.0 cables plus I would need to add a cable to connect to my FujiFilm X-T2. And they were not sure when they would have the USB3 cables in. A less than ideal solution but I figured it could be workable for the time being. Given that I had a shoot in a couple of days that I wanted to try this out on I decided to run with it. Of course I would test things out beforehand.

Figuring Out The Software Solution

With this particular setup I knew that for my particular use case of using this to verify my lighting and focus. So sneding over JPG files would be fine. With the size of those files utilizing a USB2.0 cable should be fine. Right now the only app that can capture images from the X-T2 natively is the X-Acquire app from FujiFilm themselves. It does work for the capture... but it doesn't have an integrated image viewer. So I would have to use another application in order to view things as they came in. X-Acquire was pulling over images within three seconds so now the concern would be overhead from the other application. There is a plug-in you can purchase specifically for Lightroom but I decided to pass on that for the time being.

A number of different applications have 'hot folder' options. So once a new file came into a given directory the application could detect it and display on screen. With JPGs being sent over there shouldn't be much processing needed by my image viewer.

I already had Adobe's Creative Cloud Photography plan so I could easily setup Lightroom to perform a 'hot folder' function. It would just be a matter of how fast the images could be displayed to me.

Using Lightroom it took eight seconds from shutter click to display. Which was... okay, I suppose. But I wanted to see if there were other options that might be faster.

On a lark I decided to try IrfanView since it's my non-editing image viewer of choice. Plus it was free.

Eleven seconds from shutter to display. Not really usable.

Then I remembered CaptureOne from PhaseOne. I hadn't used it since I had tested it out some time ago on another system. With the brand new Inspiron it meant I could test out the trial version to see if it would work for me.

Installed CaptureOne, set it up, and tested. Five seconds from pressing the shutter to image display.

Okay... this could definitely work.

Real World Use

So how did all of this go?

Swimmingly.

I used this setup during the recent Love Live and Dragon Maid shoots and it helped a ton. Being able to verify things in close to real time really helped me do a lot less work in post production. So that alone means it was a good investment. Being able to show the people you're working with how everything is coming out is also helpful when it comes to collborating on creative direction. And sometimes you get those moments where other people in the room have that "OMG THAT PHOTO" reaction while you're shooting. Much more difficult when you can only view things on the back of a camera.

Some Points To Consider

* I'm very curious to see how much if anything would change once I get one of the USB3 cables from Tether Tools. Especially in terms of delivery speed to the applications. I may also invest in the TetherBlock as it may work better for me when shooting handheld compared to the thread mounted JerkStopper. Once I get the USB3 cables I may do an update.

* When going this route you may want to think through your workflow especially when it comes to battery life if you're using a portable system. Sending over RAW files takes up more CPU time within CaptureOne which in turn increases battery consumption. If you know you're going to be shooting and wall outlet availability cannot be guarenteed you may want to see if other considerations for power are needed.

* It would be interesting to see how things might change if FujiFilm opened up their SDK to PhaseOne and Tether Tools for native capturing and control. I'd love to try out the Case Air system since I tend to move around a lot when I shoot.

Final Thoughts

The first best investment I made this year was moving over to the FujiFilm X system of cameras. Investing in a tethered shooting setup was the second.

The idea of doing this may sound daunting but in terms of set up and use it's actually quite simple. The main bit of research I would recommended doing is with regards to adding a new system. Think through your typical shooting situations and use those to guide what equipment you will purchase. And even consider if tethered shooting will work depending on what you're doing.

But if you do figure out it can work for you... you'll be so glad you did.

Rob Swackhamer
Decemeber 27, 2017