Friday, May 22, 2009

Petebay Deal alert!

Hey there, 
  For the experimenters and Tether fans, here's a great chance to some neglected (NOT WORKING) pocket wizards for cheap!  I bought some on ebay and they should be here soon.  We'll see how many of the 5 pair I got I can resurrect. (New note:  I got mine and have 3 working so far, the rest will require more work)  At $40 shipped for a Receiver and Transmitter it might be worth the gamble.  Heck, if you can fix one you'll be ahead and you can use the other case to house your PeteTether!  I'll be trying to integrate the tether inside a working transmitter myself.  I could probably build a few and market them!  Pocket Wizard, good....   WUSB tether..   Good... All in one case that fits on the hot shoe...  Great!   

I did test my own pocket wizards with the Tether against the back of the Pocket wizard transmitter to see if it caused any interference with the WUSB.  I noticed no interference at all.  Which is a good thing since a lot of people might be using both simultaneously.

Anyway, they have a bunch of them, so have it guys!  (I have no affiliation with the seller, just saw the deal and thought I'd pass it on)

Talk to ya ltrz...

Monday, May 18, 2009

PeteTether 1.1 - A Wireless Portable USB tether

Quick update: Readers have reported this working with Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. An Olympus reader is having issues, I'll keep you guys updated

Since My last blog things have really exploded with people wanting to know more about what I had done. I decided to name this and give it a new version name even though the first one was really an alpha, not even a beta type job. I never intended for the last post to be a how-to or a step-by-step, more of an overview of what I did, and what I came up against in building it. As there have been so many questions for more details, I figured I'd help out and do a full dissection and build, this time in a more proper working configuration (I never intended to keep it hanging out there like that long term, it was more the proof of concept) Also for anyone building this, all risks are yours and your mileage may vary.

So after everyone flooded me with questions I ordered another new set to disassemble from Amazon.

Here's the link where I got it.

A few days later this arrived.

here are the contents, all laid out.

The two problems for making this device portable are the docking station and the power brick that it requires. So to remedy this I built a 4AAA power pack that fed it all the power it needed. To do this can be trivial if you want to keep that docking base as-is. You would simple create your own 5v power source, cut the plug off your brick, and wire it up with the correct polarity. I'd recommend a switch as well, unless you want to literally pull the plug every time you're done.

A better simple DIY way would be this, the Energizer Energi-to-go.

Here a link to what I'm talking about if you want to go this route.

I got mine for dirt cheap on clearance at an office supply store. I actually bought 6 of them as they come with 2 Lithium Energizer AA batteries and an enclosure that holds the two AAs and has a tiny circuit built in that takes 3 volts and ups it to 5-6volts. If I tried to built a 3v - 5v circuit with a battery holder it would cost me more then price I paid for the whole device with the two lithium AAs. They alone usually sell for about $5.
The version I linked to is the nicest one, it comes with 3 different adapters, if you click on the link and look at the second image, you'll see bottom cable looks very similar to the plug on the USB dock.
It is really close to the right size, I simple used an awl and bored the plastic hole out a tiny bit. It now fit the docking station and the polarity is even correct! So if you're not very technically proficient, The Wireless USB adapter set and the Energizer power pack, with the power cord plug widened is all you'll need! No Soldering, and no opening up anything scary!
Its not under $50, but close and you get batteries. The Energizer pack auto senses to turn on and off, so to use it you'll have to unplug it physically when not in use. It does have cool blinking LEDs to let you know when it is in use, that is a plus in my book. It will be a somewhat bulky mess though, so I leave that up to you how well it may or may not work for you.

For those that are more adventurous and want to see whats inside that dock, continue on!

Here is the base being opened up.

The circuit board in itself is very small, and has a simple circuit on it. See the red wire too? Thats the 5th Beatle, I mean 5th wire going to the USB device dongle. It uses this extra wire to inject the additional power needed to transmit the WUSB at 480mbits/sec. Transmitting and receiving data constantly requires more power then the 5volts sitting on the cable, that's why the need for the brick used in the original implementation.

So lets put the dongle on and see how this packages now.

Not so hot looking eh?

All those right angles make for poor packaging if we want this to look thin and cool. Now some people might say, just hard wire the dongle and you're done right? Not exactly. These USB dongles pair by having the host computer pair with the computer when its plugged into the computer. The only way to do that is to unplug it and plug it into the host pc. So if we hard wire we lose that ability hence the need to keep it unpluggable if needed. If only it had 2 right angle USB connectors like the right side one that goes to the device you want to use. So out comes the soldering station and off comes the straight connector.

And here we go, one connector de-soldered and cleaned up. I hate de-soldering connectors BTW.

So I looked around to see if I had any right angle USB connectors, sadly I didn't. I have 400 mini-usb right angle connectors, but I decided against using that as I'd need a mini-usb to mini-usb cable. So back to the drawing board. I decided to keep the project under my $50 total and time constraints and reuse the existing connector. I turned it into a right angle by bending the pins, and adding leads for the grounds back to the large holes. Its also getting glued down to the board for support since I'm not using as it was designed.
After a little tweaking and re-soldering it was good as old, and nearly ready to go.

Here it is after the right angle mod.

And here is a picture of what it looks like next to its new home, a Radio Shack AAA holder Catalog #270-411. Price only $1.99. I'm actually using 2 of these for a total of $4. One will hold 4AAAs and be the power source, the other will be the home for the PeteTether.

I next removed the power switch on the enclosure, the metal tabs for the batteries, and snipped out all the extra plastic to hold the batteries.

Here's what it looks like before I put the holes on the sides for usb cables and the power connector.

I next used a nibbler, it snips little bites of metal or plastic out and is great if you're into building prototypes. So I nibbled out the sides, and also glued down the red wire with gold pin. Thats another gotcha to overcome. The original design is such that when you drop it into the docking station the gold pin touches a gold plate on the USB dongle. That solution won't work here as it could be unreliable, and we can't have that.

So I took a pin used for another connector and installed it onto the dongle. This will allow it to plug in and off the gold pin. Here is what I'm talking about...

I soldered a wire to the existing wire that was on the gold plate. Its fairly short so it will take a little skill to do this. I place some black heat shrink over the pin after it was crimped on there, bad things would happen if it shorted to the ground plate.

Once completed and soldered together with the other Radio Shack AAA pack, it now looks like this!
With both the Batteries and the PeteTether it measures 2.5"x2"x1.25" not including the dongle sticking out (1/2 the 1.25" if you use another power source). I still have a 1/4 nut on the bottom from the first version, but that could come off. I can run off 4 AAAs or if I keep the power switch turned off I can plug in the Energi to go pack to the power plug that is still functional.

I found an old mp3 player case with a nice big clip on it and packaged it into that to test it on my camera strap. Its not intrusive, it just hangs about 6" above where it connects to the camera. Now if you went with PeteTether sans AAA pack and Energi to go power pack you could have two lumps on your straps. I really prefer the AA solution but I don't like the way it packages with the module. The circuit board is bigger then I can put inside that Energizer module, so I'd need two modules. A better way to go is find that perfect project box that has a 2 AA compartment and room for the tethering module hardware. The problem is that it will most likely cost more then $4 and you'll still need the 3-5v upvoltage converter. If you haven't done prototyping before, you'll find that good prototype boxes are rarely inexpensive.

So I met my budget, under $50, but really close, $40 for the adapter, $4 for battery and module holders, and $5 for the right angle adapter for the mini-usb. I highly recommend that as it can breakaway if its stressed and doesn't hang out there sticking out and just begging to be bent or worse, ruin your cameras connector.

Next up in the future, I need to find an MB-D10 so that I can convert the AA holder to house everything inside. Anyone want to send me one? :) I'll send you back working module all enclosed in AA holder. One of these days I'll probably splurge and buy a real one, The genuine MB-D10 is so much nicer then the knockoff ones.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The $50 wireless tethering solution

So after using the eye-fi solution for quite a while, I felt it was nice, something useable for simple see the pictures after the shot, but not with any speed. Most professionals want a quick near instant response like that of USB tethered commercial solutions. So with my D300 I thought it would be great to have live view over a wireless connection, and the ability to review photographs taken with a near instant preview. To do this I looked at Nikons WT-4a, a very nice solution with a not so nice price somewhere north of $700. I can't justify that as a non-full time photographer.

I mainly wanted to be able to shoot in a studio environement and see the image and light quality quick and easy. I also thought it would be a great tool for teaching where I can shoot and have everyone see the image. So I had seen that a new USB spec had come out for wireless, and that there were a few devices built extend traditional USB wirelessly. The device I chose to implement my "homebrew" wireless tether was the Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Adapter Kit. I bought mine back in January when I did this project, it was closer to $80 back then, now they can be had for under $40.

So for under $50 you can have wireless USB tethering that will work on most any camera! There a quite a few buts however.

  • The product supports Windows, BUT not Mac. Sorry guys, although someone else may have a mac compatible product out by now.
  • Its fast, even faster at transmitting data then the very expensive WT-4a. Being that it is Certified Wireless USB, it can communicate at 480mbits/sec up to 3 meters, and 110mbits/sec up to 10 meters. so speed is really great, BUT it can't do isosynchronous transfer modes. What that means is you can't stream video ie a web cam with this. Luckly Nikon does not use this mode so I get live view just fine!
  • The images they show make you think it just plugs and plays. BUT a big issue is that it requires a 5 volt power brick on the remote device. So its really wireless usb + AC powerline. This is a problem as it defeats the purpose of wireless tethering. We'll fix this though.

So heres my homebrew project. I built in back in late january and it works pretty good. Initial startup is a bit slow to start Nikon Capture, but once it shows connected to the camera its the same as if it were connected via USB cable. I removed the power module that the USB remote drops into, and put it in a temporary box to test the concept. Underneath it is a 4 AAA powerpack that it soldered onto the module. I wanted to be able to reverse things if it was totally awful. The Dongle on the right will plug into my laptop.

Another thing I did was buy this right angle adapter designed for Motorola cells phones. It allows the USB cable to run up the side of my D300 rather then sticking straight out which is a recipe for distaster in my book.

Here a link to where to get the Right angle adapter. I'd recommend it even for wired tethering as its more likely to reduce damage if stressed.

So heres what it looks like mounted on my camera. I used a cheap flash bracket I had lying around, put a connector onto the battery pack with a 1/4" thread so that the plate could screw onto it. its a little bulky and eventually I'll put it into a better box, I'm still trying to find one I like. I did consider putting it into a hot shoe type mount, but I wanted to keep the top free as I use the pop up flash as a commander. Another Option I've been toying with is integrating the whole affair into a camera strap.

So hows it work? Well it connects a little slowly to Nikon Camera Control 2, but once connected it runs well. Transfers are very fast, about 4 seconds for a Fine Jpeg from my D300, and 8 Seconds for a RAW+ fine. (I think this might be even faster then the WT-4a, as wifi is a slower protocol) Live view works great as well, a little slower then a direct connection, but fully useable for doing live view. This will open up some interesting possibilities for me to set the camera up somewhere that I might not be able to see what I'm pointing at. One thing that is a little annoying is the camera is in PC mode and I can't actually preview on the camera LCD while I'm tethering.
Battery life is also pretty good, I've gone over 2 hours without depleting a set of batteries, but I left the power on so I'm not sure the exact duration of time that they will last. I will tell you that using rechargables will be an issue as you'll need either an upvoltage convertor or an extra cell to meet the 5 volt minimum is requires.

All in all It was a fun build, I always get questions when I use it. I have found it quite useful in a teaching environment when trying to show people lighting effects in a large group. Being able to have a shot show up nearly instantly on a 12" tablet or projection screen is quite useful.

PS - Since everyone has been asking where to get them for $40, here a a link