Canon Wireless WFT-E4A Review

Update 9/8/09: See the bottom of this article for an update! For all of you looking today for some cool pics - sorry - today is all about getting your geek on, and this post is how I spent a few hours understanding the new Canon WFT-E4A wireless system for the Canon 5d Mark II.

WFT-E4A Image

I mentioned a few posts ago that I picked up the new 5D and absolutely love it! The images and video are great. Lately, I've been shooting tethered on location shoots. This means that I have a laptop there, and each image from the camera is copied to the laptop. The images can be copied wirelessly or through a cable (ethernet or USB). This has a couple of benefits:

  1. Images exist in two locations (the memory card in the camera and the laptop). A little extra piece-of-mind.
  2. Instant review. The clients can see the images as we take them and we can adjust as necessary.

Not every shoot lends itself to tethered shooting. For me, weddings are out, and so are most cramped-quarters or short-on-time shoots.

With my original 5D, I would shoot tethered with a long USB cable, and this worked pretty well. However, with the new 5D Mark II, I picked up the WFT-E4A wireless transmitter to do the heavy lifting. The process is pretty straightforward. You set up a wireless network with your laptop (either on its own, or using a 3rd party wireless router). You connect to it with your camera, and (depending on how you have it configured), it copies every image over that you take.

That's the idea, at least. The implementation, however, is quite finicky.

You have 2 main ways to connect the camera with the network for wireless image transfer:

  1. PTP (Peer-To-Peer): This method will transfer every image you shoot when you shoot it - small JPEGS up to 21 MP RAWS. It's also the only way to make use of Live View - the technology that allows you to see what the camera sees on your laptop.
  2. FTP (File Transfer Protocol): The method requires a FTP service to be running on your computer. You don't get to use Live View, but you can specify on your camera what to send to the computer.

Start off thinking about transfer speeds. If you are shooting 21 MP images, they will be slow to transfer across any network. On-location portrait photography with large file sizes just doesn't lend itself well to 802.11 a/b/g speeds. For me, I had to find another option, and it was the FTP method.

With FTP, you can specify which images get transferred, and which stay on the memory card in the camera. So, you can have the large RAW files stay on the card and medium JPEG images transferred across the network. This is a great solution, because clients can still review your images while you're shooting, and you're not hung up waiting on images to transfer. You do lose Live View, however, with this method. But it's worth the result!

So, in the end it comes down to a simple decision: do you need Live View, or do you need to control what images are sent to the computer?

I haven't touched on the ethernet option yet. The WFT-E4A allows you to do all of the above with an ethernet cable (PTP and FTP). At first, you might discount using this option once you have the wireless thing working. However, it has a place too:

  1. It's the fastest option for transferring any type of image, and much faster than wireless transfer.
  2. It's a great backup option.

I keep a 50 foot ethernet cable with me on location shoots as a backup just in case the wireless thing totally freaks out (and everything being a 'Version 1.0' release with this system, it has happened).

012009-2

Overall, the technology is good when it works once you configure it the way you need it. In the future I expect there will be new gear that will allow faster transfer speeds and easier set-up (hopefully!).

In a future post I'll share my location setup for the laptop and how it all works!

Update: I just did a rebuild of my location laptop, deciding not to install the Canon tethered shooting software. It turns out that you don't need it if you are going to be using the FTP option listed above. Just run your FTP service, and the camera will connect to it whether there is Canon software running on the laptop or not. I hadn't seen this tip in any of the wft-e4a reviews out there, so I thought it was worth mentioning here.