swarbrick | Traveling Light Part III

Traveling Light Part III

August 07, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

When I interview Graham Watson a couple of years ago, he talked about how his Tour de France workflow had changed from taking pockets full of film on the ferry home after the race to uploading pictures during the race from the back of a motorbike using his iPad and a 3G dongle.

At the time I didn’t think too much about it but over the years I’ve had a couple of experiments at using EyeFi cards – with varying degrees of success. Varying from none to very little. The technology so nearly works, but not nearly enough to persist with – and it’s SD only. I have a couple of CF adaptors that theoretically allow it to work in the D4 and D4S, but it mostly doesn’t.

What’s supposed to happen is that EyeFi uses a WiFi adapter built in to an SD card to transfer either every shot you take or, more sensibly, the ones you select to upload by protecting them in-camera – via WiFi to either an app on your phone or to a PC over a WiFi network. From there you can also have it send pics to a cloud photo service of your choice – I’ve used Flickr and Facebook with equal success – and to a PC running EyeFi Center [sic]. You can, of course, also share the copies that were stored on the phone to share with whatever service you choose. In theory, you publish and backup every shot you want to. You can even transfer RAW files if you have the Pro cards and a lot of patience.

And it sort of works. Sometimes. I’ve tried it and every shot I’ve tagged has gone where I wanted it, when I wanted it. Usually when I’ve tried it at home before an event. On other occasions, nothing goes up at all and then photos start appearing every couple of hours, days – or even weeks later.

It still works better (in theory, at least) than most of the in-camera WiFi implementations I’ve seen, but there’s a long way to go and you certainly can’t rely on it. (It’s also getting worse, from a pro photographer’s perspective, with key features being removed from later versions of the cards. 

Then in Cali in 2014 I saw a lot of the local photographers using SD card readers and OTG cables to transfer pictures to Android phones. That, I thought, could work. Not always – they were typically shooting just the Colombians, so usually had plenty of time between events to upload a couple of shots – while  was shooting everyone, so could only do it on occasion. Still, I decided it was worth investigating further – so I bought an OTG connector and... did nothing with it.

Heading up to Ampleforth this year for the Junior Road Nationals, I decided that a race with 30 minute laps was the ideal opportunity to try it again, but with a tablet, rather than a phone. The screen on the HTC Nexus 9 is superb and Photo Mate R2 is a superb editing package that works a lot like Lightroom and can handle RAW files.

So, after the race had passed me for the first time, I plugged the Lexar CF radar – sans hub – into the OTG adapter and stuck a card in. It worked fine. PMR2 found the card without a problem and I was able to find and edit a dozen pictures before the race came back. The process worked perfectly... apart from the fact that there was no 2G data signal, let alone 3G or 4G.

Still, it would save me work in the evening, so I persevered. I edited pictures after each pass and exported them at the size the client wanted. The idea was to leave straight after the podium and drive to the hotel – stopping as soon as I saw a decent signal and sending the earlier pictures while I edited the finish and podium shots.

I got to the hotel without ever seeing a signal and, although there was WiFi at the hotel, it didn’t reach my hotel room – so I headed to the pub. For the WiFi, obviously.

With a pint of cider and a WiFi connection, I got a flash report and a finish line shot through, then posted the rest to Flickr and edited the rest of the finish and podium shots. My tablet battery was getting low by then, so I returned to the hotel, wrote the report and grabbed a battery pack. While I was there, I used PM5 to import all the pics – RAW and JPG – to the laptop and back them up to SSD. Purely out of it interest, I took the SSD and the tablet back to the pub while I had dinner and edited a few extra pics on the tablet, from the RAW files. It’s not quick, but it works.

It isn’t perfect. The 8.9” screen on the tablet is good – hi-res, hi-contrast and good colour fidelity – but it’s no match for a 15.4” laptop. Some of the shots I uploaded on the spot weren’t perfect and I did do a few more in the hotel room on the big screen – but, most of the time, it was more than good enough.

I was rather pleased. As a test it had done everything I expected – I didn’t expect to get a data connection  - and I was finished by 9.30 instead of 2am. The real test will be the Youth Circuit Series Finale in Scarborough in August when I have seven races to cover in the day, not just one – but I think it might work. There’s a 3G mast on the top of Oliver’s Mount, too. The only one in Yorkshire, as far as I can tell.

In between, I was off round the world (literally) on holiday and determined to travel light. I had always intended to leave the laptop behind and had always expected to do the digital equivalent of Graham Watson’s early Tour de France workflow – returning to the UK with four weeks worth of photos I hadn’t been able to edit on a dozen SD cards. In Part IV, we’ll see how I pulled everything I’ve learned from Parts I, II and III to make it work – mostly – and I get to moan about a few things that still don’t work as well as they might. 

If you’ve been shooting mirrorless and using OTG or the Apple equivalent for a while, there may not be too many surprises If you’re shooting DSLR and lugging a laptop around, there just might. 



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