How to tether a Canon camera to your PC for real-time, on-screen, remote operation

Sometimes we need to photograph items, instead of just scanning them. These items might be small, they might be very fragile, or they might be damaged if we put them on a flat-bed scanner. Options include hand-held shots, standing on a small ladder (to get “overhead” shots), using a tripod, or building a dedicated station. But what would an ideal station look like?

Larger archives are buying amazing all-in-one scanner stations called KIC stands, but these are out of the budget for many operations. My challenge: could we build something similar?

Mounted Camera

My goals for this project:

  1. Use our existing Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera
  2. Tether it to a PC workstation
  3. Remote-trigger set-up, to avoid unnecessary motion jiggle
  4. Live, real-time, on-screen preview, to allow for ideal placement and focusing

A few technical steps are needed. The following tutorial represents my current best-working solution, and I’m always interested in constructive comments if you can help us improve.

HARDWARE Set-up:

Copy Stand Setup

We have a used copy stand that might have originally been used as an enlarger, but it works neatly as a mount for the camera. There’s a crank to raise or lower the camera, and the lights can be operated individually if needed. (They’re quite bright but were included with the copy stand. We might upgrade them later to a cooler source, but for limited use, they work.)

Underneath the copy stand, I placed a microfiber dish drying mat. It helped to stabilize the feet and provide insulation against vibrations.

We also have a small tripod and can convert the set-up into more of a lightbox when needed.

My inspiration was to build something like a KIC stand:

 

And here is a 6 foot USB cable attached to the camera. The other end plugs into the USB port on the Windows PC. In the first photo of the stand, you might have noticed a blue and yellow  hardware clamp. This helps keep the cord off the imaging bed and away from the lights. Move around as needed.

USB Cable Plugged into Camera

SOFTWARE Setup:

We are using the Canon EOS Utility Software (version 2.13.25.1) , which came on an installation DVD with purchase of the camera. The internet has a lot of discussions about this program and its updates. Depending on your camera model, remember to check the Canon website for updates and proceed as needed.

The installation was straight-forward. Once installed, power ON your camera while it is tethered with the USB cable.

ON SCREEN Experience:

When you first plug-in the camera in a Windows 7 environment, here’s what you will see. We have Adobe Bridge, so it showed up automatically as an option:

Initial Opening Window Here is the main control screen for the EOS Utility. If the first three options are greyed out, then make sure you have the power turned on for the camera. The USB cable must be LIVE for some of the settings to be adjusted.

EOS Opening Screen

Next, open the Preferences screen. Make sure the button is selected for “Start EOS Utility automatically when the camera is connected”

EOS Preferences Screen

Adjust the Destination folder as needed. Naming conventions can also be changed for larger projects (under “File Name”).

Once configured, close the Preferences, and on the main screen, click on Camera Settings / Remote Shooting to Start Session.

Here is where the fun starts. You are now seeing an on-screen representation of your camera. Put everything on automatic over on the physical camera (the mode dial is on the green rectangle on this model).

Shooting Menu

Now move the camera to Manual mode, if you want to start experimenting.

You can click on almost everything in this menu! You can change your shutter speed, your F-stop, file size, and more. Here’s the Canon handbook on how to use the settings. (It’s version 2.7 but close enough to help you decide if this could be a solution for you.)

Frame your Subject using the “Live View Shoot” setting. It opens as a new window:Live Shoot Preview

  1. Drag the Image Focus Bars around with your mouse, to ensure that the focus is where it needs to be for the item. Double click to change the focus.
  2.  PRESS THE SPACEBAR TO TRIGGER THE CAMERA

This should then launch the QuickView (depending on settings) and the Canon Digital Photo Professional Program. Glance at your work and keep shooting, if things look OK.

Digital Photo Professional

To save battery power, IMMEDIATELY close “Live View” when finished shooting.

Here is an example of the kind of photograph you can get using this setup. Remember, this is only using ambient fluorescent lighting. You can always add lighting to eliminate shadows.

Headphones

At this point, I usually move into Adobe Bridge to edit the metadata for the items. A few notes about editing the resulting files:

A big difference between a flatbed scanner (like our giant Epson) and this camera is that you will shoot all images in 72 ppi. This is not the same as DPI.  When making an access copy, the ppi will stay the same, but you will be updating the dimensions of the virtual canvas, meaning that the image will get smaller but will have just same PPI (pixels per inch). Make sure you do not re-sample the image when you change the size, as this can reduce the number of PPI, thus dropping information out of the image and resulting in grainy-ness.

This system has proven very useful for photographing artifacts, framed portraits, and even books on cradles. It isn’t quite the right design for “digitizing” a book’s pages, but can be used to photograph out a small section when requested. The ability to actively preview shifts in exposure and to have immediate calibration is stunning, and much better than squinting through a tiny viewfinder when working on a large number of items.

Want to learn a LOT more? I really like the Canon tutorials, especially the second video (“Quick Start”) on their learning site.

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