Monday, March 31, 2014

Tethering a Surface Pro 2 to a technical camera

Fire Wave Pano, Valley of Fire State Park, NV
Simply stated, tethering refers to connecting one device to another.  In this case using a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and a Phase One IQ160 tethered together using a USB3 cable with the IQ160 connected to a technical camera; a Cambo WRS. 
On June 18, 2012 Steve Ballmer announced a new tablet from Microsoft called either the Surface RT or the Surface Pro.  Both tablets ran a version of Windows and were offered either with a ARM CPU (Windows RT for the Surface RT) or Intel Ivy Bridge CPU running Windows 8 on the Surface Pro.  The Surface Pro has a screen of 10.6 inches (27cm) with a 16.9 aspect ration and offered a 1920x1080 display.  Both tablets have Gorilla Glass screens which are scratch and crack-resistant.  The Surface Pro also came with 4-GB dual-channel DDR3-1600 RAM and weighed 2-pounds (910 g).  It also came with 1-USB 3.0 port.
Getting it all set up

My good friend and fellow photographer Ken Doo and I began talking about the new Surface Pro and how we could use it with our Phase One IQ digital backs.  Ken and I are both long term users of Phase One digital backs with me dating back to 2007 with a Phase One P30+ and currently using a IQ160.  Phase One released the IQ series in 2011 with the promise that we'd be able to tether using either IEE1394b Firewire or USB3.  We'd be able to use Firewire for many years and were looking forward to the use of USB3 as well.   To make a long story short, USB 3 while offered was not available for close to 18-months after the initial release of the IQ Backs. 
The delay of Phase One to offer a mature firmware update including the ability to use USB 3 worked out in our favor.  Phase One as a company failed to recognize that including USB 3 in their advertizing lead many to believe it was ready out of the box.  Sadly it wasn't.  The good news was that Phase One kept working on the issues until they were certain what they would offer actually worked.  And it does.
In the meantime Microsoft wasn't sitting idle either.  The new Surface Pro 2 was released October 22, 2013 offering a dual-core 1.9 GHZ Intel Core i5-430U CPU with a selection of either 4 or 8 GB RAM (depending on storage size).   The new Surface Pro 2 is not only faster it offers more memory and a larger storage with either 256 GB or 512 GB disks (there are much smaller/slower available).  The Surface Pro 2 weighs 1.984 pound (900 g). 

While 4 GB RAM might work both Ken and I saw the immediate use of 8 GB and focused our attentions there.  Our conversations normally went like this, "8-GB RAM, either the 256 or 512 disk with the USB 3 tethered to our IQ back (Ken has an IQ180 while I have an IQ160).  The reasons included the ability to run Phase One Capture One software while tethered to a technical camera (we both have a Cambo WRS) that would allow a much larger screen than the IQ has plus the ability to better see the subject with focus-mask and double tapping the screen (both of which we can do on an IQ with a much small screen).  

Ken got his Surface Pro 2 before I had a chance to and has a well documented blog on it here.  I got my just last month. 
Checking the capture
I took the Surface Pro 2 with me to Jackson Hole WY where I thought if conditions were right I'd try it there; sadly they weren't.  Stopping in Valley of Fire and hiking out to Fire Wave proved excellent conditions to try the new tethering system out.  And as Ken has stated this is a real game changer.

When using a technical camera you're faced with several choices on how you might capture an image.  Set the system up and shoot blindly checking the result on the screen on the back; much like hunt and peck which has served me well for many years.  Another option is much slower and can offer some danger.  Using a groundglass you must remove the digital back replacing it with the groundglass.  Using the groundglass you then can focus and frame the shot.  You then need to remove the groundglass and replace your digital back; slow and in some cases if there's high winds dangerous to both the digital back and the rear element of the lens.  Actually for this reason alone I don't use my groundglass when faced with high winds or inclement weather like rain/snow/dust.  The third option is tethering.  Tethering is often used inside a studio where the camera is connect to either a studio computer/monitor(s) (mine weighs close to 40 pounds) or a laptop (mine weighs close to 5 plus pounds).  In the field such as Fire Wave, tethering to either type computers is just a non starter.  Until Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro and in turn Pro 2 there wasn't a system available offering either Firewire or USB 3 that was small enough to fit the requirements. 
Sitting down on the job
I found setting up the camera much the same as I normal would.  Open the tripod, locking the camera on it.  Setting up the Surface Pro 2 took slightly longer (first time in the field) however it was much faster than if I were using the groundglass.  Once I had everything set up it simply took me turning on the Surface Pro 2 then the IQ and waiting a couple seconds for both to connect.  I then framed the shot and closed the shutter and within 5-seconds I had the image displayed both on the IQ as well as the tablet.  The huge difference was the screen size.  I later decided to move to another location several hundred feet away and simply picked up the tripod holding the camera and tablet and moved to the new location and within seconds was able to capture another image. 

First capture

Sitting down
One additional thought; Phase One recently announced a firmware update allowing live view via USB3.  This allows you the same ability of live view when tethered.  While live view is still quirky with medium format; mainly due to the senor type it does offer some advantage and using it on the Surface Pro 2 was much better than viewing off the much small LCD of the back.

Fire Wave Pano was captured after I moved several hundred yards and sat down; its a 3-shot pano all captured tethered using the Surface Pro 2 and Phase One IQ160 digital back.
Ken and I will be working on refining the tethering process in the coming months with Capture Integration looking over our shoulders. I recommend staying tuned to Ken Doo Photography, Capture Integration and of course here for more updates.
Thanks for visiting and please stay tuned for more updates.





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