Remote control birds – major geek warning!!!

First, let me apologize for a post I put up yesterday titled “A bright spot”. It was done in haste and neither the image or text was well thought out. By the time I deleted it from this blog and my Facebook timeline the post had been delivered to everyone tied to FB as a friend. Let’s just say it isn’t my best work. I hope this post makes up for it.

I’m a geek. No real question about that if you know me. My older grandkids don’t hestitate to call me “gadget man”. It’s an aflliction. So, you can probably guess where this is going. Yup, new gear to mess around with and learn. Let me explain (it will be good for my recovery). I was reading a recent edition of Outdoor Photography magazine and found a reference to a device called a CamRanger in an article by George Lepp. He described it as allowing him to see his real-time image composition on an iPad and to trigger the camera from the iPad. That alone is pretty neat but the free iPad app that CamRanger provides does MUCH more. Once the camera is set up and the CamRanger device is plugged into the camera’s USB port the device builds its own ad hoc wifi network. You select the CamRanger network on the iPad and then fire up the app to access the camera. You can turn on Live View, adjust exposure, change WB, shutter speed, ISO, aperture, metering mode, camera program mode and see results real time on the screen and a live histogram. They say that the network will hold up to 150 feet if it is line of sight and no real barriers between the iPad and the camera. My experience so far says that the presence of windows and walls drops the network strength down pretty quickly. I can still sit in our living room and trigger the device outside on our patio.

Yes, it is a pretty cool device but you’re probably wondering “why” or “what the heck?” Can’t blame you, really. But picture this (pun intended). The camera and CamRanger device are placed about 15-20 yards from a Burrowing owl nest site. I am sitting in a blind about 150 feet away from the camera holding my little iPad. I wait. The owl pops up and I tap the bird’s head on the iPad to gain focus and then tap “capture”. Done deal. The owl is spared my harrassment and I get more than one shot (hopefully) of the bird acting normally. Or picture a camera mounted high in a wedding reception room. I program the CamRanger to fire off a shot every 15 seconds and it goes about its business. Or, one more, there is a dinky flower about 2 inches off the ground. Now I and many others have gotten on our bellies to frame the shot. Now think about putting the camera on a ground based support and hooked to the CamRanger. Now I can sit or stand comfortably, compose on the iPad screen, hit focus on the front of the composition and tell the CamRanger to take a series of shots as it incrementally shifts focus backwards. This allows me to stack images in Photoshop to get a totally sharp composite while holding the background blurry. I’ve done this a number of times manualy and met with mixed success. Today I shot 20 frames of a small statue (about 1 inch tall) and put them togther perfectly. I just stood there and drank coffee and listened to the camera fire off the 20 shots.

Then I thought about all the birds outside at our feeders. OK, I’d thought about this application a bit but I needed to learn the device and app well enough to make a beginner’s effort. I mounted the 300 mm lens, put the rig on the tripod and set it out in the rain (covered with a plastic grocery bag) and composed a scene on some some perching material I placed out there months ago. Then I went inside and got comfortable on the couch. I had the iPad near and could watch the scene and all the boring time when there were no birds on the perch. One landed and I hit “capture”. There is s bit of hesitation as the wifi network transfers the command but a second or two later I had the image on the iPad and zoomed in to find that the bird was not in focus totally. Not rare for me. I tapped the “focus” icon on the app and began experimenting. I proved I could focus way in the distance or very near just by tapping the back or forward buttons on the app. Cool. I picked a spot that seemed to be on the plane of focus for the bird’s size (they are all small) and waited again. Next bird in the zone was better. I grabbed a capture then tapped the screen on the bird’s head. Focus caught milliseconds later and I hit capture again. It works. I missed a few as the bird flew off “mid-process” but the ones I got are remarkably sharp. I could adjust exposure as needed as the rain clouds moved around and the light went from dark to lighter gray. I was shooting in manual mode but could have as easily switched to aperture or shutter control.

Now the batteries for the camera, iPad and CamRanger are recharging. I played for about 3 hours on one camera battery, 40% of an iPad mini battery and an unknown amount of CamRanger battery. I can see a great number of situations that this device will come in handy in the future. It will allow me to do things with a camera that were not possible before (or at least were really obtrusive and ungainly). Pretty exciting… if you are a geek.

Some photos from the bird station…

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2 thoughts on “Remote control birds – major geek warning!!!

  1. Based on your commentary, I may need to give up bird photography, Bruce! Too bad! It’s been fun! I am amazed that you (or anyone!) has the patience to learn all this stuff. I wish I could leave it there, but the problem (for me) is that you get terrific results!!

  2. Pretty sweet looking toy Bruce! There is no such thing as too geek of a blog post. NOt geeky enough, perhaps, but never too geeky! And, nice shots of course!

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