A Snappier Bridge

Updated procedure at the bottom

We've been through many updates of SnapBridge at this point, and fundamentally, the only major thing that improved is the reliability of the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi connections being made. Even then, I still see drops from time to time, and often at exactly the wrong moment. Plus batteries are being sucked down big time while I'm shooting.

That said, I still want to get some images out to my sports clients quick, and without having to resort to laptop ingest and retransmit at halftime. So what to do?

Well, here's a simple solution that works pretty reliably once you get the hang of it. We're going to do this for Apple iOS devices, since it's real easy. You need:

  • A USB cable that works with your camera and whose other end is USB-A. Typically on the recent Nikons that's USB 3.0 Micro-B or USB 3.1 C on the camera end. You want a short cable. Here's one on Amazon [affiliate link], but the one I use came with one of my portable hard drives and is only 12" long. 
  • The Apple USB-C to Lightning Adapter (MD821AM/A) [affiliate link]. This works with the recent iOS devices (you must have iOS 9.2 or later). 
  • Optional: a smartphone holder that plugs into the hot shoe, such as the Neewer version on Amazon [affiliate link]. I suggest the one in pink ;~)
  • A recent iPhone (or iPad with LTE). Here's the thing: you can choke the phone with images if you're not careful, so you probably want at least a 128GB phone with not much else on it if you're going to be blasting a lot of images.

Other than the phone, you're out less than US$50. 

Plug the MD821AM/A into the iPhone, the USB cable into the MD821AM/A and your camera, and voila, you're connected. You'll see that Apple Photos comes up immediately offering to import what it finds in the DCIM folder on the card in your camera. Woo hoo. (If Apple Photos doesn't come up, just start the app. It may take a bit for the two to fully connect; you'll see the camera's status light blinking as Photos tries to find all the images on the card in the camera.)

This is where Apple and Nikon can get in the way, though (again). Photos can't really stay connected as you're shooting. You really need to pull the cable as you're shooting, then plug it in only when you're ready to transfer. Also, the iPhone will see both cards if you're shooting with a dual slot camera, and this can make things slower to update the Import screen as the phone retrieves all the previews from both cards. 

So, a simple workflow:

  1. Leave the camera and phone unconnected until you need to transfer.
  2. Set the camera to shoot RAW in the primary slot (e.g. XQD) and Small JPEG in the secondary slot (e.g. SD slot).
  3. Take an image that will clearly identify Start of Card. 
  4. Shoot away.
  5. When ready to do an import, first eject the card with the raw files, then connect the cable. 
  6. Start Photos and select Import (if it doesn't automatically start up).
  7. The previews will take a bit of time to download to the phone if you've got a lot of them.
  8. Select all the images you've shot and Import into the phone. Alternatively, browse the images on the phone and sub-select just the ones you want to Import. 
  9. Do what you want with the JPEGs on the phone (typically select in the Last Import album and use the Share icon to send them somewhere). 
  10. Disconnect the camera and phone. Reinsert your raw files card.
  11. Take a new image that will clearly identify Start of Next Session. Go to Step 4.

So, from a practical standpoint, my first shot (#3) at the beginning of the game might be the scoreboard showing "First Quarter 15:00". I'll shoot the quarter, do a quick import (#8), selection, and sharing (#9), disconnect, then shoot the scoreboard showing "Second Quarter 15:00." Lather, rinse, repeat.

What we really need is an iOS app that will just automatically find just those small JPEGs and move them into the Camera Roll as we shoot. Bonus points for being able to ID selects on the phone as you go. Extra bonus points for automatically sharing the selects without further user interaction (other than original setup). Extra bonus points for allowing keyboarding, captioning, and other useful IPTC data entry after the fact (I already do some in the camera). 

Nikon could probably easily do both ends better than an independent app: an iOS app that does what I say coupled with in-camera Send Via USB Connection shortcuts in the camera would be easy enough to add.

Update: A number of folk have responded with variations on a theme, and many point out that this can be done with Android devices, as well. The reason I don't try to document the Android side is simple: Android users are scattered across all versions of the OS these days, and there are different choices that require particular procedures. I'm just not equipped to go through all the permutations and variations that can occur with Android. But, yes, you can typically do the exact same thing.

A few pointed out the Apple Lightning to SD Card Reader (for SD users) or Lightning to USB adapters (to which you'd plug in your XQD card reader). If you're using SD cards, this is a very good choice for brute force downloads. On a D500 or D850 just shoot the desired JPEG on the second slot (raw on your XQD slot) and when you're ready, pop the SD card out of the camera and into the reader attached to your iOS device, then follow alone starting at Step 6. 

One reader reminded me of a feature built into the camera that's of interest here: setting the Front Command dial so that it only scrolls through protected images. Why is that interesting? Because it gives us a new workflow that can work well, even though it's more convoluted than need be (hey Nikon: solve user problems!). Here's an improved workflow with the D500 and D850 (or any other two slot camera):

  1. Leave the camera and phone unconnected until you need to transfer.
  2. Set your camera's JPEG defaults to what you want the final product to be transferred to be done as (quality and size). 
  3. Use only the XQD card and set the camera to shoot only NEF.
  4. Shoot away. 
  5. As you're shooting, choose your "selects" by pressing the Protect button on them.
  6. When ready to do an import:
    1. Put an SD card into the camera (camera set to RAW Primary, JPEG secondary)
    2. For each selected NEF (you're scrolling with front command dial to find them!)
      1. Press i button 
      2. Select Retouch->NEF (RAW) processing
      3. Process
  7. Pull the XQD card out of the camera.
  8. Connect the cables. 
  9. Start Photos and select Import (if it doesn't automatically start up).
  10. When the previews finish downloading, Import All into the phone.
  11. Do what you want with the JPEGs on the phone (typically select in the Last Import album and use the Share icon to send them somewhere). 
  12. Disconnect the camera and phone.
  13. Format the SD card and take it out. Put XQD card back in. Go to Step 4.
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