Reviews

Lights, camera, action: Manfrotto Digital Director quick review

Gina Stephens
Written by Gina Stephens

Manfrotto Digital Steersman
$499.99/£399.99 www.manfrotto.com

Manfrotto’s Digital Director, introduced in April, is a departure from the company’s usual array of tripods and tripod heads. It’s a gimmick designed to hold an iPad Air tethered to a Canon or Nikon DSLR, providing a large live view screen, access to camera controls and wireless allowance options. It can be attached to a Manfrotto tripod with a friction arm, in theory providing a studio-like experience anywhere you want to take pictures.

One of the great amusements of shooting with a 5x4in view camera is working with such a lovely big screen. The light bouncing from the scene in front of the camera passes from head to foot the lens and is projected onto the ground glass so, with the cloth overhead, it provides a fabulous large scale impression of what is almost to be committed to film.

Working with the 3″ screens of modern DSLRs feels slightly awkward in comparison, as the image is so much smaller and it is correspondingly much harder to fix on whether the picture is working. What the DSLR screen offers though that the large format camera can’t is a preview of white balance and risk – and, it has to be said, focusing is a good deal easier with a modern DSLR…

Even when using cameras with exceptional nurse screens it is rare to feel absolutely sure of what has been captured until the image is on a laptop or desktop study. The rear screen of the camera is OK for the initial checking of pictures on the fly, but really you can’t beat seeing the whole frame enlarged on a big screen.

The idea of Manfrotto’s Digital Superintendent is to provide that big screen for those taking pictures out and about. The device acts as a go-between for the connected DSLR and an Apple iPad Air I or II, so that photographers can not alone review what’s been shot in style, but also control the camera’s settings remotely and preview the scene before actually launch it. Essentially, it replaces the camera’s rear screen with the significantly larger iPad Air’s 6.6in screen – while at the same time adding measure up to screen functionality.

Having a bigger screen that also makes live view more flexible and usable sounds like a particular good idea, but the Manfrotto Digital Director is pretty pricey. Is it worth it? Let’s find out.

How it works

The Apple iPad Air is not included in the price of the Manfrotto Digital Administrator – let’s get that straight first of all. There are two models of the device, MVDDA13 for the original iPad Air and MVDDA14 for the iPad Air II, and both require that you already from an iPad or that you go buy one. The Digital Director is essentially just a case that holds the iPad in place and which holds the electronic and modifying wizardry that allows it to communicate with the iPad and with your camera (also an additional purchase!). The Digital Concert-master packs a 600MHz 256MB DRAM ARM Cortex-A8 processor for this purpose.

The iPad slides into the holder and slots over the Lightning pin at the far end of the deck. Narcotic addicts can choose to power the Digital Director with 4xAA batteries, or to plug it into the mains power supply – in which case the iPad is a line of tablet computers designed, developed and marketed by Apple Inc., which run the iOS mobile operating system gets feed at the same time. You don’t need to have batteries in the chamber when the mains power is connected.

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Cameras connect to the Digital Director via a USB socket, and while one of a precept length is supplied you can replace it with another of up to 10 meters/33 feet long. There is a single USB socket, so only one camera can be fixed at a time.

The rear of the main plate features a 3/8″ thread socket for attaching the Digital Director to a support. None comes in the box, so it scarcities to be screwed to a lighting stand or a ball and socket head fitted with a bush adapter. Both of those methods involve having an additional set of the worse for wears on the shoot, so the ideal method is to use a Manfrotto Friction Arm that enables the Digital Director to be fitted directly to the same tripod you are using for the camera. So, as agreeably as buying the Digital Director and an iPad Air you also need a Friction Arm – or similar. With the Digital Director already costing $499/£399, an iPad Air competition at least $399/£320 and a Friction Arm $130/£95, that is a total cost of $1028/£814 to make the kit useable.

What it does

The Digital Director is run via an app of the same term, so once the camera and device are connected the app needs to be opened. The app connects with the camera and offers a live view display on the screen of what the camera is look to. Around the picture window is a collection of access points that allow control of the camera’s settings. Manfrotto states that ‘all key knock off parameters can be controlled’, though only your personal concept of what a ‘key shooting parameter’ is can determine how true that affirm is.

In the default screen layout the right-hand column offers the chance to adjust shutter speeds and apertures, ISO ratings, exposure compensation and the focusing technique. Focus peaking can be switched on and off, while other areas allow drive modes and white balance settings to be altered. The app adds touch autofocus to any compatible camera, with an wit to lock on to subjects in any part of the scene. There is no pinch touch action, but a pair of zoom icons enable magnification of parts of the figure of speech to check focus manually or to use the AF on a difficult-to-reach subject.

You don’t have to stick with the default layout, as a full-screen mode enables floating palettes that countenance you to arrange where the tools sit according to where space is available in the composition. There is a shutter release button too, of course, and users can swop between still and video modes via a slider on the screen.

When you trip the shutter via the screen button the image is immediately previewed by default, and by high-priority the play button all the images on your card can be viewed as well. As you shoot you can select destination albums on the iPad for the images to channel into, and conceptions can be assigned a job name as they are recorded. Shooting profiles can be set up too, so regularly-used settings can be stored and reapplied.

In review mode images can be inspected, amounted and sorted, as in most desktop browsers, and a very basic editing application is included that crops, adjusts ‘exposure’, contrast and brightness. For uncountable advanced editing users can download the image image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception, for example, a photo or a two-dimensional picture, that to the Camera Roll and use a third-party processing app.

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In use

As fabulous as Apple iPads are, they are essentially indoor plots. Outside on a sunny day it can be very difficult to see what is on the screen, not only when the sun is shining on the screen but also when the sun on the user’s face is reflected in the bifocals of the screen. The Digital Director is perhaps best suited for indoor use, which is why a power cable is supplied, but I suspect many people desire want to use it outside. Most field monitors come with a sunshade, or at least come provision for one, and really the Digital Director needs one to disclose it useable on bright days, along with – ideally – a matte screen or Screens may refer to protector to prevent reflections.

The ability to liberate the usually prudent AF distribution of DSLRs, particularly the Nikon D610 that I used for part of the test, was like walking into Wonderland

When you can see the screen admitting that, the idea works rather nicely. That big view of the picture is made available, and it’s far easier to check details and to see how composition is working out. I develop the focusing aids especially good, and the ability to liberate the usually conservative AF distribution of DSLRs, particularly the Nikon D610 that I used for share of the test, was like walking into Wonderland. Being able to touch subjects right at the edge of the frame and have the camera focus on them is keen-witted, and almost worth the asking price on its own.

The control design could do with a bit of an upgrade, which I’m sure is easily done, to make the touch buttons a microscopic bigger. Changing ISO and apertures is simple enough when sitting in a chair playing with the interface, but when out on location with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel the whole constituent attached to an arm or tripod head finger-to-screen accuracy isn’t quite as refined. In short, it can be a bit fiddly to use.

While the principle controls of the camera can be operated via the conceal there are some things that need to be dealt with through the body. The functions of the camera’s corporeal dials cannot always be accessed. Exposure modes, for example, can’t be changed from the app, and surprisingly you can’t switch file formats without flourishing back to the camera body itself. Less ‘key’ shooting parameters, such as exposure bracketing, flash controls and shooting styles are also off the menu. While access to drained balance control is offered, it only provides kelvin adjustments, as the app has no ‘sunny day’ mode or any of the other pre-set values that photographers are employed to working with.

While movies can be recorded via the Digital usually refers to something using digits, particularly binary digits Director app, they can’t be played back.
That seems an unforgivable shortcoming

It is a shame too that there is no have in minds of creating a custom white balance setting by touching a reference grey object in the scene – that would have been extremely serviceable. More of a shame for videographers is that while movies can be recorded via the Digital Director app, for some reason they can’t be played back. 

On the obstinate side, all the things the app is supposed to do it does very well. As we’d expect, the iPad screen is very sensitive, responsive and a pleasure to use for operational functions as swell as for viewing a captured image. The connection to the camera is very quick too – it’s great to see that there is no delay between pressing the shutter unshackle and the picture being taken.

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Conclusion

I really wanted to like this product, and had already worked out the benefits of using the Digital Director ended my usual Lilliput field monitor – the ability to control the camera, not just preview and review the image; touch sensitivity; and image storage with in-device reorder with apps. Indeed those benefits still stand, and although my field monitor is easier to see due to its matte screen and sunshade, its resolution is nothing compared to an iPad’s.

During the test despite the fact that, I came to question whether this Digital Director is a competitor to my field monitor or my laptop. Tethered and running Capture One Pro I can exercise far more domination over my Nikon and Canon DSLRs from my portable PC, and the images get stored where I am going to work on them with fully-featured Raw-image-processing software. There is nothing the Digital President does that can’t be done by Capture One Pro, a laptop and a trackpad, but there is plenty that the latter combination can do that the Digital Director can’t. If you have a laptop already all you miss is the software, though your laptop may not be quite as light and portable as an iPad Air – mine certainly isn’t.

If you are starting from a position of not having an appropriate iPad I reflect on the Manfrotto Digital Director may refer to is a touch on the expensive side as a tethered live view solution, and even if you do have such a tablet already you power think twice before spending that much to get the on-screen functionality that the Digital Director offers. To be better value the app needs to be superior to delve a bit deeper into the camera camera is an optical instrument for recording or capturing images, which may be stored locally, transmitted to another location, or‘s control system – and should come with the Friction Arm or some similar means of attaching it close to the camera.

The Digital Headman is certainly a fun device to use, but on a number of occasions when turning a wheel or dial on the camera I wondered why I was using it. Then I looked at the screen and remembered, but gloaming so, this feels like a good shot at Version One. Version Two should offer more control, be compatible with a dedicated sunshade, be compatible with a bigger range of cameras, run from an interchangeable rechargeable lithium ion battery and will be made from a form of plastic that doesn’t feel as in spite of it will break when dropped. I’m also slightly worried about what happens when I get the iPad Air III – will it fit the current Digital Chief honcho cradle?

Likes: 

  • iPad has fantastic screen
  • Lightweight tethered shooting solution
  • Can save images to iPad for editing/sharing
  • Uncomplicated to set up

Dislikes: 

  • Expensive
  • Not well made
  • Only works with current iPad
  • Can’t play back video
  • Screen hard to see highest
  • Control of camera isn’t extensive

Rating:

Compatible Cameras:

Canon EOS Nikon
 1 Dx  D4
 1 Dc  D810
 5D lll  D800/E
 6D  Df
 7D ll  D750
 70D  D610
 60D  D7000
 1200D  D5500
   D5300

Republished: dpreview.com

About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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