Killer Apps – Cascable Wi-Fi Camera Remote
November 17th, 2015
I’m launching a new column here called “Killer Apps”. These days photography is about more than just gear; competitive photographers also need to know their way around computers, software, and apps. In this column I will be sharing pieces of software that have made life easier for me as a photographer.
Several years ago I reviewed the Canon EOS 6D, which was Canon’s first Wi-Fi enabled camera. Since then the Wi-Fi standard has been implemented into a number of other bodies, from the EOS M3 to recent Rebel/xxxD bodies to higher level APS-C bodies like the 70D/7DII. I wrote an article about the value of the built-in Wi-Fi of the 6D (the EOS M3 and EOS 70D that I own are also Wi-Fi enabled). When I wrote that article in 2013 I noted that the build of the Canon app (EOS Remote) for accessing the cameras was somewhat primitive and I expressed hope that it would improve with further development. Fast forward to the end of 2015 and we are reminded that Canon is most certainly NOT a software company – there has been basically no further development on the platform since it was introduced. This has been a bit of an irritation to me, as the interface has remained clunky and the functionality limited. But then I discovered Cascable – the Professional Camera Remote.
Cascable is a third party app developed specifically to dramatically improve the Wi-Fi functionality of Canon Wi-fi enabled cameras. It opens up all kinds of highly customizable options for capture through its “Shutter Robot”, including:
- Intervalometer control for shooting time-lapses
- Exposure bracketing (AEB) for HDR
- Setting a bulb exposure for however long you want
- Fully customizable self-timer
In another thoughtful addition the app even includes a couple of calculators (with easy to use sliders) for helping you to determine appropriate exposure lengths for when using neutral density filters and another for determining maximum exposure length when shooting stars before movement affects your shot. The latter is directly affected by your focal length, and the slider lets you select the focal length (and crop factor) of the camera you will be using. The brilliance of using the app for shooting long exposures or AEB (bracketed) shots is that you won’t be touching the camera at all, which eliminates the chance for vibration to be introduced.
What’s even better is how intuitively everything is laid out – you just select what kind of shot you are shooting at the top of the shutter robot (Self Timer, Bulb Timer, Intervalometer, or Exposure Bracketing) and the menu changes accordingly. Selecting time duration, for example, uses the familiar iOS side by side selection with the ability to scroll minutes on the left side and seconds on the right. Bulb Timer allows you to select up to 59 minutes and 59 seconds – a far cry from the maximum of 30 seconds you can select in camera! You can also program how many shots will be taken as well in appropriate modes. Helpfully the app will also point out if there are any conflicts with your settings on the camera itself (not being in Bulb mode, for example) instead of leaving you frustrated when something isn’t working and you don’t know why. Once you have programmed what you want to happen when the shutter is released you select “Engaged”, you return to the main screen and from there can set up your shot. When you press the shutter button, the app will do whatever you have programmed it to do. The shutter button will add information during capture; if you programmed a long exposure, for example, there will be a status bar that shows how far into the exposure you are.
This added functionality has already proved very helpful in the real world. I wouldn’t have gotten the shot below without Cascable. This shot came by grabbing a very narrow window of opportunity. I had only about 15 minutes before my evening church service when I noticed the deep color in the sky after sundown yesterday and saw a great shooting opportunity. I grabbed my tripod and camera/lens combo and quickly ran out the door. The light was dropping fast, though, and I needed a longer exposure than what the camera natively allowed for. I didn’t have a remote release with me, but then I remembered the Bulb Timer on Cascable. I switched on my phone and connected wirelessly to the camera and used the “Shutter Robot” to program the length of exposure I wanted (over three minutes). While the camera fired I used my phone’s flash to do some light painting of the building. I went right up to it and painted over it, but then I turned to move away and the camera caught the moving light in the scene – which created the ghost. I liked the “exorcism” in the shot (plus the awesome scene), but it just wouldn’t have been possible with the native 30 second exposure limit. The great thing about Cascable is that I always have my phone with me, so now I always have access to these extras.
I’ve also never previously shot a time lapse with one of my 6D bodies. It’s a great landscape camera, but of course has no intervalometer (only the 5Ds/R and 7DII have this feature). Yes, you could hook it up to a laptop to shoot time lapse, but that requires a whole new dimension of planning and execution. You could also purchase a separate intervalometer, but that is not only an additional cost but represents one more thing you have to pack into the field. My phone, however, I am going to have with me, and with Cascable, that means I now also always have an intervalometer. I haven’t had the optimum circumstance for a time lapse yet, but just this morning I shot this sequence by just grabbing my tripod and camera and quickly programming what I wanted into the Shutter Robot.
A couple of things to note when shooting like this: you don’t want your phone or tablet to go to sleep during capture, as this will result in a disconnect from the camera. When the app is disconnected, the camera will either end the current exposure or won’t continue shooting in the sequence (interval) because it is relying on input from the device to remotely trigger the shutter. I discovered this the hard way. Also be careful if you are wandering while the camera does its work to not get out of range of the camera’s WiFi as this will also cause a disconnect.
Another helpful bit is that a question mark up in the right corner of the screen gives you quick access to reasonably spelled out answers.
The app gives control over the basic attributes like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation (in appropriate shooting modes), but this is also true of the Canon app. What is improved, however, is the simplicity of setting these controls, with a quick selection of the appropriate icon bringing up a slider that allows you to more quickly make changes. Those changes will be reflected in the Live View image on your iOS devices screen. Cascable also adds some functionality, however, with the ability to turn Live View on/off (to preserve battery life), the ability to add overlays like the Histogram and grids (you can selected how many vertical and horizontal lines you want up to 9 of each). These can aid with composition. You can also select the autofocus method (based on modes available through the camera) and also the Shutter Drive mode. All of this adds up to a lot more options for how you capture the image and setting up your controls the way you like instead of the very limited options on the native Canon app.
On top of all of this Cascable also adds more control over download/viewing options. The Canon app only allows for minimal jpeg download over Wi-Fi, even if your images are in RAW. Cascable gives you the ability to download full resolution images – even the RAW files themselves. You can then choose to share the image as a RAW or JPEG image. It further gives you the option to share those photos via Apple AirPlay or through an adapter onto a second screen so that you can show off images to clients or family. I found that downloading a 21MB RAW files took only seconds.
On the page for the app (see it here) the developers vow that they are just getting started. They state that they have a road map for further development and will be regularly adding features via update. They’ve already demonstrated they are serious about that commitment: Shutter Robot (the feature I’m probably most excited about) was added via update already, and they have also added Apple Watch support. You can have a shutter on your wrist along with the ability to preview your photo.
I have found very little to complain about. I had one instance where after an inadvertent disconnect (the phone had moved out of range) I had a quirk where the camera and phone played a little dance where they repeatedly connected then disconnected. I solved this by closing the app (swipe up) then launched it again.
This app demonstrates just how behind the native Canon app is. The app isn’t cheap by app standards, but at right under $25 it adds a ton of usability to the Wi-fi ability of your camera with a very small 14MB footprint on your iOS device. This app has really refueled my interest in this aspect of my cameras, and I feel it is well worth the money. As winter arrives I look forward to shooting some long exposures and time lapses while sitting in the comfort of my heated car. I’ll let the camera brave the elements!
If you have a WiFi enabled Canon camera (other manufacturers will be added soon) and an iOS device, do yourself a favor and download this app. It will save you from ever having to use the horrid Canon app again and will open up a number of new shooting options for you. It’s a Killer App!