Back to the Ground Glass: Now it’s an iPad

I remember using 4×5 and 8×10 field cameras where I set up on a landscape, took out a loupe, covered my head and the camera with a dark cloth, and composed the image and focused the camera while viewing the composition on the 4×5 or 8×10 ground glass before inserting the film holder. The full image was before me—albeit upside down.

Since I began to base my photography on the single lens reflex (SLR) some 35 years ago, my “ground glass” has been significantly smaller. In film SLRs, the view was limited to the viewfinder. In the last dozen or so years, we’ve had the benefit of an LCD on the back of our digital SLRs. Initially, the LCD only allowed us to view what the image the sensor had already captured, and to make adjustments to subsequent captures on that basis. With the advent of Live View in 2007, we were able to see, and fine-tune, what the sensor was seeing, before capture. But I still wanted a bigger image. A Hoodman loupe helps, but not to the magnitude of a 4×5 or 8×10 inch screen!

My wish has been granted! The CamRanger ( brings us back to the large ground glass, but with all the beauty and magic of the high-tech era I love to live in. The CamRanger is a WiFi transmitter that plugs into the mini-USB input of the camera and sends the Live View information via an app to either a smart phone or a tablet. It works in even the most remote locations, because the WiFi is an ad hoc signal sent locally between the camera and the phone or tablet; no other WiFi  or cell signal is needed.

iPad and CamRanger

The CamRanger is attached to the camera and the iPad can be wirelessly up to 150 feet away with an adhoc wireless WiFi signal. Note the bald eagle nest in the background tree.

I now use my high-resolution iPad to see in Live View what the sensor on the DSLR is seeing, before capture. Not only that, by simply touching the iPad screen I can control the camera with shutter speed, aperture, ISO, metering type, over- and under- exposure control, Raw or JPEG capture, and, fire the camera. There’s more. I can touch the screen of my iPad to focus on an area, record video instead of stills, and review the images already taken full screen. It’s all wireless, up to 150 feet from my camera. So I can sit down next to my camera, or a ways off, and monitor what the camera is seeing, make adjustments, fire when I want to, and switch to video in a flash.

I am monitoring this bald eagle nest with the CamRanger and iPad. I can switch from stills to video by touching the screen. I also did a fine focus on the 1000mm lens using enlarge mode on the iPad screen.

The CamRanger has revolutionized my long-lens photography because by tapping the screen twice, I can enlarge the image to enable critical focus of a 1000mm to 3200mm lens (that’s two 2X tele-extenders on an 800mm lens). Most photographers are not successful working at such a magnification or distance because it has not been possible to see the subject well enough to attain the needed fine focus through the viewfinder.

When capturing video with long lenses, you really don’t want to touch the camera, so working from the iPad in “Live View” is very helpful. In a current project, I’m capturing video on a bald eagle nest with 1000mm (500mm + 2X and Canon 5D MK III), and I monitor the camera without any vibration and know the focus is spot on. I can switch between stills and video at will, all at a safe distance from the nesting birds.

The CamRanger app screen showing all the controls possible at my finger tips. I would normally have the capture mode set to RAW.

At the other end of the spectrum, I use the CamRanger in field macro and high-magnification studio photography. In outdoor macro work I can place the camera in any position (such as lens-up on the ground) and monitor the view and controls. In the studio, at magnifications up to 24X, I use the CamRanger to monitor the focusing positions of the camera for stacking using the StackShot ( Again, focus is critical, and having a large screen like the iPad is very useful. The StackShot at high magnification can be set for more than a hundred images, so I can take the iPad into my office in the next room and monitor the progress of the studio photography while working on other projects.

The scales of a hairstreak butterfly captured at 24X using the StackShot ( I used the CamRanger streaming to my iPad for setting the start and stop focus points.

The CamRanger has other features, such as an intervalometer for time-lapse and a basic focus stacking capability. I’ll do more testing of these options as time goes on.

The price of the CamRanger is $299. I’d advise you to purchase at least one extra battery so you don’t run out in the field. I love it. And I’ve been waiting for it for, well, about 35 years.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.