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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-02-27

On deadline? No computer? No problem.
George Bridges offers tips on getting pictures back to the office using new technology.

By George Bridges, McClatchy - Tribune Photo Service

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

From left: Canon 1D Mark III with WFT-E2a attached, the Cradlepoint PHS300 with USB modem attached and Nikon D3 with WT-4a attached.
So you're on the sidelines covering the game when the big moment happens 10 minutes before your front-page deadline but your computer is up in the press box or off in your car -- or your laptop battery died sending those halftime photos.

You're shooting a big protest and you know you will be walking many miles and there will be clashes between the demonstrators and police. It's no place for lugging a computer.

So how do you get those images back to your office?

One part of the answer would be with the wireless transmitters made for Canon and Nikon's top cameras: The WFT-E2a for the Mark III and the WT-4 for the D3.

But, if you don't have a Wi-Fi connection to the Internet then having the transmitter on the camera does you no good.

My company, McClatchy Tribune Photo Service, invests heavily in the camera transmitters for use at events like the Final Four. In Atlanta last year we used the units on 10 cameras to hard wire via Ethernet back to the editors' station. But why use them for only big events with lots of planning time.

I started looking for a solution to using the WFT while covering deadline events such as the annual State of the Union address where we do not have a Wi-Fi connection available. Unfortunately, the answer came after this year's speech, but it is such a great solution that MCT has employed it at sports events and hearings on Capitol Hill.

I first looked at a Wi-Fi router made by Kyocera that uses the Express Card slot wireless cards as the broadband access. The Kyocera model available at the time did not accept the USB EVDO modems, which is what we at MCT are outfitted with in our kits.

But while looking at the Kyocera I came across the Cradlepoint PHS300 - a battery-powered Wi-Fi router that uses the USB modems or a cell phone connected via USB cable. Being free from AC power and the fact it is only a tiny bit larger than an iPhone got me really interested, as this was a truly portable solution for the on-the-go photographer.

The unit worked as promised with a computer: I could use my USB modem to surf the web from my computer and even connect my iPhone to it to download music (you must have a Wi-Fi connection for the iPhone to get to the iTunes store). And with a battery life of about two hours it is enough to get through most assignments and you can turn it off during breaks when you're not sending for all-day events, so all that was perfect.

But then I set up my WFT-E2a and started trying to send directly from the camera. And got nowhere. I kept getting a server error message that was driving me crazy as I could send through the Internet using DSL and Cable modems on Apple Airport Extreme and Express units. So why couldn't I get the Cradlepoint to work?

This is where the crew at Cradlepoint went above regular customer service and came to the rescue. My first contact with tech support was bumped up the chain until I was put in touch with the engineers who actually design and program the device. They made a lot of suggestions but we still got nowhere. I even got Cradlepoint and Canon CPS on a conference call to discuss solutions.

Cradlepoint was also kind enough to send me a test unit of their CTR350, which requires AC power, but besides the USB modem port it has an Ethernet port for DSL or Cable modems so I could test their firmware in the same conditions as my successful attempts on an Airport Express -- but I still ran into errors.

(The CTR makes a versatile replacement on the road for my Airport Express because not only can I plug it into the hotel Ethernet when available, but when there is none or you have to pay I can then plug in my USB modem.)

I shipped a WFT off to Cradlepoint's engineers who are located in Boise, Idaho - home of the Idaho Statesmen, owned by the McClatchy side of McClatchy-Tribune. The Statesman kindly loaned a Mark III for an afternoon of testing by Cradlepoint who put the unit through the paces and checked logs for every action taken by the computers.

The WFT is known to work with some routers and not others, so when they got it working with another brand they started trying to figure out why their unit would not work. Without going into too much techno speak about what caused the error, the engineers found a simple IP addressing change should clear up the conflicts. They called the Statesman again to borrow the Mark III and found their solution worked.

They contacted me the night before I headed out to Phoenix for Super Bowl XVII. So I ran by the office on the way to my flight to grab a WFT as we had not planned on using them at the game.

I got to Phoenix, grabbed a Mark III, plugged in the new numbers and next thing I know I'm sending images back to my office in Washington directly from the camera. Perfect.

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Cradlepoint PHS300 with USB modem attached sits ready to transmit rinkside before an NHL game.
We were able to immediately put it into limited use (we only had the one transmitter I grabbed at 3 am after all) at the Super Bowl using it for pre-game features from a roaming photographer who was out of contact with our runners.

In Phoenix the PHS300 also paid off in the hotel room where Internet access was $10-a- day. I hate paying for access in hotels so I set up my PHS300 with my USB modem and not only could I surf, but two other photographers at the Super Bowl for MCT connected to it and used it for their Internet as well.

Back in Washington we began testing it on daily sports events. My boss tried it at a Washington Wizards game and was successful and then I gave it a shot at the Georgetown-Villanova match up.

This ended up being a tight game -- the situation where this system really shines. I did not have my computer courtside with me so there were no issues with space or chance of a ball or player landing on my laptop. I had the PHS300 in the pouch on the back of my floor seat and would hit send on the camera when I had a nice image. During the game, if the players' numbers were not easily readable to the editor at the office, I would send them an e-mail from my phone with the information.

It really paid off at the end of the game. With the score tied, Villanova was called for a foul with less than one second left. I had a shot of the foul so I immediately hit send and the image started moving back to the MCT Photo Desk. With Villanova calling a timeout and then the free throws, that final second took several minutes to play out and the image was back at the office being edited before the final buzzer sounded.

When Georgetown began celebrating, I saw a nice jubilation image and zipped it to the office. The team (and other photographers) had barely left the floor before my image was already transmitted. This gave MCT a big jump on competitors and in the next day's Philadelphia Inquirer I was happy to see both of my the end-of-game photos displayed and no photos from other wire services. Since Philly is home to Villanova this was the client I was most interested in getting the photos.

A couple days later came hearings on Capitol Hill with Roger Clemens and the use of steroids in baseball. Because of the number of media attending, laptops were not allowed in the hearing room for space issues. At hearings like this everyone waits until the witnesses are sworn in to head out and send pictures -- which in the case of Clemens and his former trainer occurred about 30 minutes after they arrived in the room because the Representatives had to make their opening statements.

Using two PHS300 units MCT was able to send images out of the room without leaving well before Clemens stood up to take the oath. Also rigged with a WFT was a remote camera MCT handled as the pool camera behind the committee chairman, so we were able to get images out hours before the disk could be physically removed from the camera.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
Testing shows it works with Canon's WFT-E2a for the Mark III and Nikon's WT-4 for the D3. There is no reason to doubt it would also work for the transmitters from the same manufacturers. (I've done more extensive testing on the Canon but a quick test on a loaner D3 from NPS was successful).

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Photo by George Bridges / MCT

Villanova was called for a foul on this play with 0.01 on the clock. Using the Cradlepoint PHS300 and a Canon WFT-E2a transmitter this image was at the office being edited before the ensuing timeout and free throws were completed and the buzzer sounded.
You can send images on the go from breaking news or sports without stopping your shooting and without pulling a card from your camera or even carrying a computer.

Images can be filed from places you are not allowed to carry a laptop: a courtroom, company meeting rooms, the photo well at a concert. This also goes for places you don't want to carry a laptop: marches through the streets, in pouring rain, etc.

The better the cell connection the faster the transmission, but even on slower service you can send an image in a couple of minutes - faster than pulling the card and opening it on your computer while missing other images in the process.

You can continue to shoot while the image is transmitted so you don't miss a moment.

Images can be sent from hard-to-reach remotes. For example at a shuttle launch, you may not be able to get to a remote for a couple hours afterwards. Not a problem on a 10 am launch but a big problem for a night launch that pushes deadline times (note you would need to externally power the PHS if it stays on for longer than it's battery is rated).

This is an off-the-shelf solution. It is not as sophisticated as systems such as Shoot Live or Reuters' proprietary system that sends thumbnails for editors to pour over and then recall the high-res of images they want. However, those systems also require a computer on the transmitting end where this solution eliminates it. Using the PHS to send high-res images from the camera takes more time, but for a photographer getting a few images out on deadline it works well.

In arenas a newspaper has wired with DSL and you have a good signal courtside, you can put the camera transmitters into use for even faster transmissions, but where you don't have existing Wi-Fi you can carry it in with you.

You don't necessarily have to have the camera transmitters. One photographer I showed this system to has used the PHS300 as his Internet connection for his Pocket PhoJo workflow.

Cons:
Your must have an editor back at the office to crop, tone and caption the images. This is probably not something your desk wants handle all the time, but in deadline situations it is the quickest way to get those images out early to the web and make page deadlines.

This can only be used where you get a good EVDO cell signal. The good news is the cell companies are constantly expanding their broadband networks.

In crowded situations where there is a lot of radio interference and tons of fans on their cell phones, you can find the signal degraded and possibly you cannot connect to the Internet. (We've all tried to make cell calls at a big event and gotten a "no service" message).

Tips:
To send to a server through the Internet you need to have the numeric address of the server as the camera transmitters can have trouble with the word names of servers. (example: your ftp server may be ftp.mypaper.com but the actual address is something like 10.100.10.1)

In your Wi-Fi router you should set the IP addressing as the 192 sequencing. Some manufacturers, Apple included, us a 10 system which creates conflicts in routing. (The Cradlepoint default is 192)

On Mark III cameras set your camera to "Send with Set" When you have the image you want to send up on the display you hit the "Set" button in the center of the control dial to start the transmission. It is as fast as tagging images but you're transmitting them instead.

Oh, and the issue that solved my server conflicts: Change the default IP address series from 192.168.0.1 to 192.168.3.1 Yep, one number difference is all it took.


(George Bridges is the managing editor of the McClatchy - Tribune Photo Service based in Washington D.C. You can see his work on his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/gbridges. McClatchy - Tribune Information Services website: http://www.mctdirect.com)

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