Last modified 2022-12-21.
Time to read: 9 minutes.
av_studiocollection, categorized under Camera, Camera Tethering, Lumix, Sony Camera, Studio.
Controlling a camera via an external device, such as a computer or smartphone, is called tethered operation. Several products enable tethered operation; some require special hardware.
I am specifically interested in Windows-based tethered video control and transfer of 4K video at 30fps or better. 8-bit depth is a minimum, but 10-bit video is of course better.
Why Tether Cameras?
Tethering is useful even for controlling just one camera. In my case, I work alone, so I must act as the camera person, the audio engineer, and the talent. Most often I find myself holding an instrument while I fiddle with equipment.
Each music video is just a few minutes long. However, multiple takes are usually required, perhaps dozens of takes. For each take, which lasts up to 5 minutes, I must:
- Prepare Pro Tools to record on another track or make another playlist take.
- Focus the camera(s) using camera remote(s).
- Start the camera(s) recording using camera remote(s).
- Start Pro Tools recording.
- Play something to be recorded.
- Stop Pro Tools recording.
- Stop the camera(s) recording.
It is difficult for one person to do all of the above manually, let alone efficiently, and mistakes happen more often than not. The challenge is to be able to do all of this without moving around, and without having to put down the instrument I am holding.
Resulting videos are much improved when recording with 2 cameras simultaneously: one camera with a 50 mm prime lens, and one camera with a 35 mm prime lens. Having more than one camera to control does not change my requirements, it just intensifies the need for an integrated solution.
In addition, after several takes, I must:
- Go to the camera(s), remove the SD card(s)
- Bring the SD card(s) to the computer
- Import the contents of the SD card(s) to the appropriate directory
- Put the SD cards back in the camera(s)
- Drag the videos onto a Davinci Resove sequence
Essential Types of Camera Tethering
At a high level, camera tethering systems can be classified into the following types. The types of camera tethering are listed in descending desirability (the most desirable type of tethering is described first):
- Record and store – Record video on the camera(s) on demand and automagically deliver it to a connected computer.
- Stream video continuously from each camera at full quality via USB or wireless. All mirrorless cameras manufactured in 2022 can output clean HDMI; HDMI 2.0b or HDMI 2.1 is required for 4Kp30 @ 8 or 10 bits. Software such as OBS Studio would capture and record the streams at full quality.
Camera tethering brings out a major feature that is shunned by camera manufacturers: interoperability. Just like the computer industry, before the IBM PC was introduced, camera manufacturers today equate proprietary interfaces with customer lock-in. The PC phenomenon showed how the personal computer market exploded once standard interfaces allowed competition.
All the major camera manufacturers provide a Software Development Kit (SDK). An SDK is the first step towards interoperability, especially for tethering. Unfortunately, the value of those SDKs is limited because of the vendor’s failure to properly support them.
Third-Party Developer Support
To be considered for use by software professionals, camera SDKs must have the following characteristics:
- Provide versions for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. This is important because in order for an SDK to be considered for use by a third-party software vendor, versions of the SDK be available for all the platforms that the vendor wishes to address. Those versions must be released together, with a common baseline of functionality.
- Have good documentation: accurate, complete, and publicly updated on the same day that new SDK versions are released.
- Have a beta period no longer than 2 or 3 months.
- Have a support forum, staffed by responsive and knowledgeable people.
- Provide a public issue tracker, so programmers that use the SDK can report bugs and dialog with the vendor's programmers.
- Push out new versions of the software on a regular basis, with bug fixes and new features.
Open-source SDKs with the above characteristics are most desirable for software developers to work with. This is because developers are able to debug problems with open-source software and fix them with minimal interaction with others.
Timecode is useful when using multiple cameras:
Cameras that do not support timecode (like the Canon EOS RP), or require users to hammer in timecode manually (like the Sony A7iii and A7iv) are not good candidates for multi-camera tethering.
Camera Tethering Integration Levels
I define the following levels of integrated tethering systems:
Master/client applications –
A master application would allow the tethering software to start and stop recording video and initiate Pro Tools audio recording.
It would be most desirable to transfer the video files as they are created; this function might be performed by the tethering software, or another program might be necessary.
Bome MIDI Translator Pro could be used as a master application to control both Pro Tools and the tethering software. Alternatively, a custom Pro Tools plugin could allow Pro Tools to act as a master app.
Client software could include OBS Studio (for a streaming setup) or a capture/file transfer program (discussed below) such as Panasonic Lumix Tethering or Tether Tools Smart Shooter 4 Pro,
- Manual Control with file transfer – This would require me to start the video recording separately from starting Pro Tools recording. A tethering program would be controlled manually, and files would be automagically transferred to the computer. Getting this to work takes effort, and might cost money – how much effort and money varies widely between camera manufacturers. Sony cameras are less capable than other cameras in this regard. For some cameras, for example Sony, this method would provide better quality than capturing streaming video from the camera's HDMI output. For other cameras, for example Panasonic, this method does not provide better video quality, since video is streamed at full quality.
Capture multiple streams –
This is the simplest method, since the cameras are always on and streaming.
However, the quality of the stream varies depending on the cameras used.
Sony cameras stream video at lower quality, while Panasonic cameras stream video at high quality.
An app like OBS Studio captures the video stream(s) from the camera(s) when recording. When the app records, all the video and audio streams are saved. OBS Studio's Source Record plugin saves the original video and audio streams.
Capture devices include Elgato Cam Link 4K or a Blackmagic DeckLink Quad HDMI Recorder. The DeckLink Quad supports 4 inputs, each with resolutions up to 4K, at 8, 10 and 12 bits deep. Several Cam Link 4K devices can be used to capture multiple video streams.
Davinci Resolve does not recognize the Elgato Cam Link 4K and can only capture one stream from the DeckLink Quad HDMI Recorder.
- Control cameras but manually copy videos – For some cameras, for example Sony, this method might provide better quality than capturing streaming video from the camera's HDMI output port, but the memory card in each camera must be manually copied to the computer. This gets tiresome quickly.
Working With the Audio Mix
Just a quick aside, to indicate that I have already handled this important issue. Having audio, even low-quality audio, embedded in videos is helpful for synchronizing the audio and video clips in a video editor like Davinci Resolve. Syncing video files is sometimes best done with audio for short video files; timecode is not helpful in this scenario.
I have already set up an independent audio stream of the live mix from Pro Tools to OBS Studio using RME TotalMix loopback. This allows the live monitor mix, complete with all effects, to be captured by OBS Studio, or any other application. RME TotalMix loopback also provides an easy way to send the mix from Pro Tools to each camera’s microphone input via audio cables.
Panasonic Lumix Tethering
This now lives on its own page.
LUMIX Sync is an app for Android/iOS devices to operate Panasonic digital cameras via wireless control. It looks like this app only controls one camera at a time.
Other Lumix Software
- Panasonic’s LUMIX Webcam Software never came out of beta. Linux, Android and iOS are not supported. Also, Tether Tool's version of that program (LUMIX Tether for Streaming) never came out of beta. The note for the Lumix S5 says: “Please note that operation and user support is not guarantees due to beta version.” This software has been in beta two years, which is unforgivable. Panasonic’s apology is not accepted.
- Lumix SDK. The note for the Lumix S5 says: “Please note that operation and user support is not guarantees due to beta version.” This software has been in beta two years, which is unforgivable. Panasonic’s apology is again not accepted. Furthermore, Linux, Android and iOS are not supported.
- Simplistic REST-based LUMIX camera control
- Panasonic support.
Nikon NX Tether
Nikon NX Tether v1.0.3 was most recently released 2022-10-26. Online manual (2022 edition).
Nikon NX Tether does not support videos, just still images. This makes it useless for my purposes.
Using a compatible Nikon camera with built-in wireless transmitter or camera that utilizes an optional wireless transmitter1, you can shoot wirelessly2 with NX Tether as if you were physically tethered. Z 7II/Z 7, Z 6II/Z 6, Z 5, Z fc, Z 50 and D780 use the optional WT-7 wireless transmitter. Tethered connectivity to cameras utilizes USB cable. See the user’s manual for NX Tether for more information. – From Nikon NX Tether Page
Tether Tools Smart Shooter 4 Pro
Smart Shooter 4 Pro provides tethered shooting, remote capture, and advanced camera control. Supports Canon, Sony and Nikon Cameras.
Smart Shooter 4 has an API. Other vendors, please take note. APIs allow for interoperability, which is crucial for tethered operation.
Smart Shooter 4 is proprietary software, so it cannot be modified or debugged effectively.
Unfortunately, Smart Shooter 4 does not support any Panasonic cameras.
The Nikon Z6 appears to be fully supported, but after a week of back and forth with tech support, all they were able to tell me was:
I am not going to buy a camera to see if it works with Tether Tools.
I have previously written about how disappointing Sony Imaging Edge is.
Sony announced a new Camera Remote SDK on Feb 11, 2020. This SDK provides one way to make tethered operation possible. Mac, Windows and Linux versions are supported. The SDKs are free. The Windows version is written in C++.
Adobe Lightroom does not support Sony camera tethering. It is proprietary software, and operates slowly.
digiCamControl is open-source tethering software. It only runs on Windows. Many models of Nikon, Canon Sony and GoPro cameras are supported. This project does not use the Sony SDK, and has issues controlling some features on some cameras as a result. There is a product forum. The developer is Duka Istvan.
qDslrDashboard is a free (but not open-source) program for Sony, Canon and Nikon cameras. It is available for Windows, macOS, Linux and Android. The Android version is not free. It can work wirelessly or over USB. There is a Facebook group. The developer is Zoltan Hubai in Serbia.
Capture One Pro
Capture One Pro is an expensive program, which does many things, including tethering. Here is a review, and here is another. If money is no object, this option should be considered. Capture One is proprietary software.
Camranger 2 is an expensive hardware solution.