Creating a Wi-Fi Access Point on OS X

With Kuuvik Capture 2.2 around the corner, I’m going to post a few short tutorials on wireless “tethering” setups. Yes, the wireless connection option will make a return in version 2.2!

So let’s start with a solution to one of the most aching issues.

Imagine the following situation: you are out in the field, photographing an old castle. You want to place the camera on a crane to photograph from a high vantage point. The crane is higher than your longest USB cable can reach, so wireless connection would be the most appropriate solution.

First obstacle: all Canon Wireless File Transmitters (both built-in ones and external bricks) require an existing network to connect to in EOS Utility mode. Yes, it’s utterly stupid, since in other modes they can operate as an access point and create their own network. But other modes simply suck in terms of remote control features.

Back to our example: there’s no phone coverage (for the Personal Hotspot trick), there are no nearby networks of any kind to connect to. You could create an ad-hoc wireless network on your Mac, but setup is complicated and error prone (needs manual TCP/IP configuration on both the computer an on the camera), and in the last few versions of OS X there’s no way to create a secure Wi-Fi network (another utter stupidity). The lack of security is a total showstopper, so this isn’t the appropriate way to make the connection work.

There’s a neat trick, however. OS X has a built-in Internet Sharing feature that practically creates a Wi-Fi access point to share an existing network connection. The next obstacle is that you need the network you want to share to be in the “connected” state (think cable plugged in both to the computer and into a router). Unfortunately the built-in loopback interface (which is always connected and provides access to the local computer only) is not accessible from the Network preference pane in System Preferences (one more stupidity).

The key to the trick is to make the loopback interface appear in the Network pane. Actually, it’s pretty straightforward: launch the Terminal app and copy & paste the following two commands (working on both Yosemite and El Capitan):

sudo networksetup -createnetworkservice Loopback lo0
sudo networksetup -setmanual Loopback 172.20.42.42 255.255.255.255

Enter your password to allow these modifications if OS X asks for it.

Now your Network preference pane should list the brand new Loopback service:

network-loopback

It’s still listed as “not connected”, but don’t worry, that’s just a bug.

Side note: if you use multiple “network locations”, you need to repeat the above commands for each location. If you just use the Automatic location, then you can move to the next step.

Go to the Sharing preference pane, and on the list of services click Internet Sharing. If the service is already on, turn it off. Choose the Loopback service as the one you want to share your connection from. And share to computers using Wi-Fi.

sharing-1

You can set up the shared Wi-Fi network (the network we’ll connect the camera to) by clicking the Wi-Fi Options button. Here is the Wi-Fi Options screen:

sharing-2

The network name is your computer’s name by default, but I’d recommend to enter a simple alphanumeric name (containing no special characters), as Canon cameras have issues with displaying characters outside of the simple letters and numbers range.

All other options are the usual Wi-Fi setup options. A few notes though. Channels 1-11 use the 2.4 GHz band, while 36-48 use the 5 GHz band. Transmitters in the 70D and 6D only operate on the 2.4 GHz band, while the external WFT-E7 brick operates on both. The 5 GHz band is faster and generally has less interference from other networks and appliances operating in the crowded 2.4 GHz band. For security, choose WPA2 Personal (the other option is None, which is unacceptable).

Once the Wi-Fi options are entered, you can start the sharing service. To do it, click the check box in front of its name in the list. OS X may ask to turn on your Wi-Fi radio if it was off, and will ask your confirmation to start the sharing service. After the service has been successfully started you’ll see a screen similar to the one below:

sharing-3

IMPORTANT: due to an OS X bug, your selection in the share from list may change to another (random) network service. So you must check whether it still shows the Loopback service after each start!

The Wi-Fi icon on the menu bar will change to the sharing icon once the sharing service is ready to accept connections.

sharing-on

And that’s it! Your personal access point is now ready. The steps to configure your camera will be discusses in an upcoming post.

Canon WFT-E7 First Impressions

There are situations when you need remote camera control. No, I’m not speaking about the “let’s control the camera from an iPad two meters away” kind of pointless exercises, I’m talking about real needs. Think about cameras mounted on the roof of the stadium, situations where you would scare wildlife away with your presence, or downright dangerous places where you don’t want to spend more time than absolutely necessary.

I bought Canon’s Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7(B) to assist in implementing some of my photographic ideas, and also to develop network (both wired and wireless) tethering support for Kuuvik Capture. While it’s clear that Canon’s transmitters are not standing in the forefront of today’s technology, if you could live with their quirks and limitations, then they could do the job well.

The Pricing Issue

Well, I paid 520 EUR (roughly $675, excluding taxes) for the WFT. Although this is some $175 less than the list price, it is pretty expensive. The bill of materials for this device is hardly more than $50, so this asking price is a bit irritating. As a comparison: an Apple Airport Extreme base station that packs comparable amount of software costs $179. Considering the functionality of the WFT, my opinion is that Canon could sell huge amounts of these at $199 or even at $299. But the $849 list price is simply unrealistic.

The bad news is if you need full, 100% USB-equivalent remote control functionality, then you have to swallow the price, and buy the device. There are some products, such as Camranger, that offer partial solutions, but you need a WFT for the whole thing.

Integrated Wi-Fi (and WFT software) on the 6D certainly points to a good direction, and I hope more cameras with integrated WFTs will follow. This is how it should be done in 2013.

The Hardware

When the first wireless transmitters had appeared for Canons, they were ugly bricks that connected to the camera with a cable, but in exchange they supported multiple cameras. Then Canon made their mind, and started to sell dedicated transmitters for each camera model (think 5D2 and 7D). With the WFT-E7, the ugly brick returns. In theory it will support future cameras, but I found no sign on the Net whether it works with anything except the 5D3. I plan to investigate this in the near future.

Its exterior finish acts like a dust magnet, and also files off small skin particles of your hand, so it’s a challenge to keep it clean.

Mounting the WFT is another challenge. I’m using Arca-Swiss compatible tripod heads/plates, so screwing the WFT under my camera is not an option. As a short term solution I simply attached a keyring to the supplied neoprene case, and hung the device on my tripod hook. In the long term the keyring will be replaced with a carabiner that will attach to that hole on the tripod base. Canon packages two cables with the device: one is too short and the other one is too long for me. This is why I reel up and velcro the longer cable to the case.

The good news is that the WFT is powered by the same LP-E6 battery that powers the 5D3.

Operating Modes

You can choose from the following operating modes (which are mutually exclusive):

  • Remote camera control (EOS Utility).
  • WFT Server, which is a web-based remote control facility.
  • You can upload your shots to an FTP server.
  • Show your images on a DLNA compatible TV set.
  • Can sync time between cameras.

The only mode that gives you full remote control is the EOS Utility mode. This is what I’m using, so will skip the others.

Network Configuration

This is the first quirk. For some unknown reason, the device can’t operate as an access point. So you either connect it to an existing network; bring your own access point (another box, batteries, etc); or create and use an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network (which can work only in “g” speed, and its WEP encryption isn’t something considered secure). This is a major oversight on a $675 device.

I won’t talk about basic network configuration, because you can find pretty good and detailed guides at Canon’s Digital Learning Center. I will, however, talk about another quirk: pairing.

Pairing

To control a WFT-equipped camera, you have to pair it to the computer and application you plan to use it from (I’ll call this computer/application pair an endpoint).

You must configure your networks settings on the 5D3 using the Connection wizard. No matter how experienced you are in IP network configuration, this is the only way you can get your WFT to do the pairing at the end.

Below is a screenshot of the network camera manager in the private beta version of Kuuvik Capture 1.1 showing my paired (and connected) 5D Mark III.

Network camera manger in Kuuvik Capture 1.1 beta

Network camera manager in Kuuvik Capture 1.1 beta

Working with the WFT

This is the best part: once paired and connected, you can forget about the WFT. Everything looks and works as if your camera was connected via USB. Yes, Wi-Fi can be slow (especially ad-hoc “g” speed networks), so large RAW file downloads can take a while. But otherwise the functionality is completely identical.

You only have to pair your WFT to Kuuvik Capture once, but you must watch for the connection sequence later on. WFTs advertise themselves on the network using Bonjour. When you turn on a paired WFT, it will advertise itself for a minute. During this time Kuuvik Capture (or another software) must connect to it. If the camera does not receive a connection request within a minute, it will shut down the WFT! From this point on things become pretty stochastic. Sometimes after a while the camera turn the WFT on again, sometimes you have to disable and re-enable EOS Utility mode on the camera to retry the connection.

The recommended sequence is:

  • Start Kuuvik Capture.
  • Turn on the paired camera. It might need half a minute or so to start advertising itself. When it appears in Bonjour, Kuuvik Capture will automatically connect to it.

Conclusion

During the last few weeks of testing the WFT-E7 worked as expected – offering stable, completely USB-equivalent connection. I don’t have a reason no to be satisfied with it. I just try not to think about its price.

Oh, I’m sure 6D owners will break into a smile seeing the ugly brick hanging under my tripod…