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|| News Item: Posted 2005-03-05

First look: Canon WFT-E1a Wireless File Transmitter
By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage

Photo by Kevin Mazur / WireImage

USA Today Contract Photographer Dan MacMedan shooting with the Canon 28-300 and the WFT-E1A device on the Red Carpet at the Kodak Theatre for the 77th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, CA.
Over the last 2 weeks or so I have had the opportunity to play with the new Canon WiFi transmitter, and although I have not had a chance to put it through it's paces in an arena setting, I thought it would be useful to describe the features, uses, and gotchas that I've seen so far.

The "WFT-E1a" (the "a" version is for USA use ... the "E1" is for Europe and has allows a slightly wider channel selection) lets you send images from the EOS1DMarkII or 1DsMarkII to any FTP server via either wireless (802.11b or g) or via Ethernet on a wired LAN. The firmware must be upgraded to use the E1a, using v 1.1 on the 1DMark II for example. It connects via Firewire cable, supplied. Remember, you must have a functioning FTP server of some sort running on the receiving end to send the files.

You can elect to send all images automatically, or you can edit the images in camera and designate which to send. And you can send to a nearby Mac laptop, for example, (again, either via wifi or via Ethernet), or you can send to an FTP server back at your office over the internet.

One example would be to mount a remote camera at basketball, and have all images automatically sent to the editor on site, or you can send all images to your office for editing back home. You need to have a card in the camera, so you are limited to the cards capacity. Use the biggest, fastest card you can. If on a remote, you won't be able to shoot after the card is full, and you won't be able to remove and change a card if the E1a is still transmitting files.

Battery life is listed as 3 hours for wifi use, 4 for Ethernet (at room temp, continuous transfer time, you mileage will vary). The E1a uses rechargeable BP-511a, BP511, BO512, or BP514 batteries (like the D30, G5, etc), but the E1a does NOT come with a battery or charger, so plan ahead here. You can use the ac adapter from those cameras also, such as the ACK-e2.

You could also have the E1a attached to your main shooting camera, and edit in camera and have the E1a send just the edits. Your choice.

The range listed is 60m (297 feet) with normal antenna, and 150m (492 feet) with the (not included) extended range antenna. These figures are best case, I'm sure operation in a heavy RF signal and steel filled arena will lower the range. I plan to look for a high gain, directional antenna for remote use.

Shooting JPGs full throttle up to the buffer and sending over wifi or Ethernet did not appreciably slow down my shooting... images just queued up and moved and left me free to shoot more. That works great. You can send jpg and raw, or just jpg. So in practice, the system works very well.

Getting the correct settings into the camera (all settings reside in camera, not in the E1a unit) can be easy IF you know exactly what is needed. But since there are many combinations of environments and uses, that part becomes tricky.

You can enter them directly into the camera, but it is much easier to use the supplied wizard to fill out the various settings in the computer, save to a CF or SD card, and load into the camera, just like a firmware update. The settings have to be saved to the specific file name, and at the cards root level, not within a folder, like "DCIM". You can save different settings combinations on the laptop, for example, and load up to 5 different settings files into the camera for differing uses.

You tell the camera whether to use Ethernet or wireless LAN, and all the ftp and wifi settings needed. Errors (and you will have errors, trust me) are clearly reported on the camera.
The issues I have encountered so far that caused us grief are:

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

MacMedan's setup on the Red Carpet with the Canon WFT-E1A device at the Kodak Theatre for the 77th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, CA.
• The E1a sends files inside a folder structure (/A/DCIM/EOD1001D/then the files). If your ftp site cannot accept files within a folder structure like this (and USA Today's FTP site cannot, for now, do that), you will get FTP errors that are hard to pin down.

• Getting the right network and wifi settings down, such as the correct IP address, whether you are using static IP or DHCP server, logon name, passwords, etc etc etc

• Firewalls must be off

• Sound files are NOT sent if sending automatically as shot. If you enter sound captions after shooting, and then transmit over the E1a, the sound files do get sent and appear correctly.

None of this is particularly difficult, but all the settings must be correct or error messages are what you get.

One way to use the E1a is to send direct to a Mac Laptop using OS X since it has a built in FTP server in the OS. You go to System Prefs, Sharing, and in the "services" tab you check "FTP Access" and "start". If you enter into the E1a's setup (using the wizard) the Mac's IP address, the main admin user's login name as the FTP login name, and the Mac's login password as the FTP password, you can send the files direct to the Mac over Ethernet or a WiFi access point connected to the Laptop.

WiFi directly to the Mac, without the access point, gave me trouble, and, as an "ad-hoc" connection, it can only be done over 802.11b, with less range and speed.) In this setup, files are sent to the Mac's "user" folder, in the /A/DCIM/EOS1001D/ folder.

At the Oscars, we did just that: sending the red carpet photos back to the edit room as they were shot using the E1a. It was connected via 250 feet of Ethernet, which was extended to the edit room using a fiber line with media converters on both ends, then connected to the LAN and the Mac laptops, a distance of over 1500 feet.

Dan MacMedan shot over 2100 images in a short period of time, and all were sent immediately back to the room without losing a frame. The cards were available as backup, and they have any sound files included that are not sent by the E1a. And when the connection is interrupted, by changing batteries, kicked cords, etc, it starts right up again without having any laptop to reboot, as in previous solutions.

Photo by Bob Deutsch / USA TODAY

Photo by Bob Deutsch / USA TODAY

Send files via WiFi on the E1a to a Pocket PC running Idruna's Pocket Phojo and Tom Sapiano's Pocket ITP, an FTP server for the PPC specifically written for the Canon and Nikon cameras.
Another use would be to send the files via WiFi on the E1a to a Pocket PC running Idruna's wonderful Pocket Phojo and Tom Sapiano's Pocket ITP, an FTP server for the PPC specifically written for the Canon and Nikon cameras. It assists in configuring the camera to allow sending from the E1a to the pocket PC over Wifi.

You can shoot, and the files will go to the PPC in your pocket with no cord, and with Pocket Phojo running, get captioned, resized, recompressed, and retransmitted by FTP or Email via mobile phone, WiFi, etc. The result is that a single click of the shutter can deliver images in near real-time with nothing done on your part....all automatically! That is way cool, and it works. Or you can edit in camera, and just send the tagged images, again, no cord, and no user intervention.

So the bottom line on this first look is that the WFT-E1a looks to be a great, versatile tool for getting files back to an editor either locally or over the internet, but care (and time) must be given to the setup. In a repeating scenario, the setup files can be saved and next usage will be a snap. I'm really looking forward to using the E1a in places that I could never get cards out during the game, etc.

Just remember to buy batteries and chargers...

(Bob Deutsch is a staff photographer and resident techno-geek with USA TODAY and a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter.)

Related Links:
Deutsch's member page

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