When you control your camera via a cable to your computer, it’s called tethered capture. The two most popular communications cables are Ethernet and USB. This article reviews a tethering program called digiCamControl, which uses USB for remote control.
I was also going to review tethered capture using LightRoom, but that program is so pathetic at remote control that I decided to not bother.
Most people would use a program like this in a studio environment, but it can also be very useful for situations such as shooting from a blind. It's possible, using USB hubs, to 'daisy chain' USB cables together and extend the cable length.
I want to concentrate on this program’s ability to perform automatic focus-stacking, which I’ll cover in some detail.
The (free) digiCamControl program has a full complement of camera controls, live view, automatic photo transfer to your computer, exposure bracketing, time lapse (movies), web-server remote control (e.g. your smartphone), focus-stacking, multiple screen control, and motion detection. This is a Windows program, and supports most Canon, Sony, and Nikon DSLR/mirrorless cameras (about 100 models). I’m using it with a Nikon D500 and Windows 10. It can be downloaded from here:
There is some online documentation, but I don’t consider it very thorough.
digiCamControl startup screen after turning camera on
When you first start up digiCamControl and turn on your camera, you’ll see something like the screen above. You could start taking pictures by clicking the “aperture” icon in the top-left, but you don’t necessarily know if the camera is in focus yet.
The program seems pretty forgiving about turning your camera on before or after starting digiCamControl. The Nikon camera LCD panel shows “PC” to indicate the camera is connected to the computer (via the USB port).
digiCamControl main screen after “Capture” click
The main reason to use this program is to see a big, beautiful live image on your computer screen, so I go straight to the “Live View” screen, by clicking the “Lv” button. Don’t invoke live view from your camera.
You can still use your camera’s shutter release even while connected to the computer. You have full control over exposure, white balance, ISO, and focus from your “Live View” screen on your computer.
Download from camera memory card
You can separately download pictures from your camera memory card (the main screen “download” button) which will give you thumbnail views of what’s on your camera.
Live View screen in digiCamControl
The camera LCD doesn’t display its live view, so it doesn’t get hot or consume unnecessary batteries showing you what’s already on your computer screen. Your “live view” is just on your computer’s screen, where you want it, after you click on the “Lv” button.
You get a histogram while in live view, too.
Click with the left mouse button on the live view screen where you want the focus point located, and then you can click on the “Autofocus” button to focus there. You should see a green square around the focus point location.
By default, your pictures will go directly to your computer, such as
You can assign the session name where you want the photos to go. Since they go to your computer, you’re essentially unlimited for storage.
There is pretty significant battery drain while remotely controlling your camera; it’s handy that the battery level is displayed on the main screen. Use a battery grip to make battery drain less of an issue.
Live View Exposure Controls
The screen shot above shows how you can set your camera controls from the Live View “Control” dialog.
Motion Detection and Intervalometer
Motion trigger and intervalometer
You can trigger your camera via motion detection from Live View, as well as take a series of timed shots (intervalometer).
When you want to stack photos to increase depth of field (even including a landscape shot), you may just fall in love with this program feature. digiCamControl gives you great control over how to configure the near-limit, far-limit, and number of shots in-between for stacking photos.
Start by clicking the “Session” menu option from the main screen, then “Add new session”. Fill in a session name and browse to the folder where you want to save the focus stack photos. A session lets you organize your shots into logical groups.
Once you click the “Lv” button from the main menu, you enter “Live View”. You may need to “maximize” the live-view screen to see it. Click on the live view screen with your mouse where you want the “near focus” focus point to be (a green square). Click on the “Auto focus” button to focus on that spot.
Advanced Focus Stack dialog
Click the (screen top) “Preview” button and then use the mouse wheel to zoom in on the focused spot to verify critical “near” focus. Click on the Preview Screen “X” to close the “preview” dialog and return to live view.
Refocus if necessary. Use the bottom-center buttons to rough-focus (the “<<<”, “<<”, ”<”, ”>>>”, ”>>”, ”>” buttons) where more arrows focus in larger steps. Click on the left-hand “lock” button at the bottom of the screen to prevent the near focus from changing any more.
Use the same arrow controls to obtain the “far” focus desired, and then click on the right-hand “lock” button at the bottom of the screen to prevent changing the far focus any more.
Now that the focus range is locked in, make sure that you expand the “Focus Stacking Advanced” on the left edge of the Live View screen. Enter the desired number of photos, the focus step size (start with around ‘30’) and the wait time between photos.
Click the “Preview” button, just below the “Focus Stacking Advanced” controls. This will let you automatically run through all of the focus steps before actually taking the photos (near-to-far), showing the count number as it steps through your requested number of shots. If it looks good, then click on “Start” to let the photo sequence get captured to your computer.
Although the digicamcontrol program includes the “enfuse” plugin and can discover other plugins (my CombineZP, for instance) I got errors when I tried to use the plugins. Personally, I use the free stand-alone CombineZP program directly for my focus stacking.
The screen shot above shows the Live View screen while setting up the “Focus Stacking Advanced”. The screen shot was done after locking in the “far focus” position; you can see how the near focus looks very fuzzy.
After letting digiCamControl control the camera to take the 9 requested shots and saving them to my requested computer folder, I ran the CombineZP program (very similar to the older CombineZM) to stack them into a single shot, as shown below. If you’re interested, I made an article on focus-stacking here:
Stacked result from 9 shots: CombineZP “soft stack”
I might mention that if you haven’t used focus-stacking software before, you need to make your photo-framing a little wider than what you want for the finished shot. The photo edges will show some unwanted artifacts that are related to shifting focus in each shot. Note the bottom of the photo above shows a “mirror image” that should get cropped off in your editing software.
There is plenty to explore in this tethering program. Many of its features, such as bracketing exposure, can be done more easily in-camera. Focus-stacking, however, is what I consider a real forte of this program.