The Darktable Photo Editor, Part 3: Tethered Shooting in Windows 10
Darktable can do more than edit your photos; it can also help you capture them with your camera attached via a USB cable. This kind of photo capture is known as tethered shooting. Darktable uses a program called gphoto2 to control your camera.
If you haven’t read it, you should probably read the first part of this series on Darktable here.
If you are using Windows, then there is some setup you’ll need to do before you can use Darktable to control your camera. If you don’t do this, then Darktable won’t be able to see your camera.
Tethered shooting in Darktable
To enable Darktable under Windows 10 to see my camera, I had to download the program called Zadig-2.4.exe (or whatever is most current). I got the zadig program at http://zadig.akeo.ie/ , as shown below.
Zadig download site
To use this program, start by connecting your camera via USB and turn it on. Next, run zadig-2.4.exe and select Options | List All Devices. You should see your camera in the list; select it.
Select your connected camera
When you see a screen like what’s shown above, click on “Replace Driver”. It should set up the proper device driver that enables gphoto2 to communicate with your camera.
Successful driver replacement for your camera
Now, you should be able to use Darktable tethering for remote camera control. Stop the zdiag program, but leave your camera connected and turned on. Don’t turn on Live View on your camera, because it needs to be controlled from Darktable itself. I can’t promise that this driver won’t affect other camera communications software.
Start up Darktable, with your camera still connected via USB and powered on. You should be able to see that your camera is visible to Darktable.
Darktable sees your connected camera at startup
When you first start Darktable, you should see your camera mentioned just underneath “scan for devices”. If you don’t see it, you may need to click the button to scan. If your camera driver is correctly installed, you should now be ready for tethered shooting.
Begin tethered shooting
Now that Darktable sees the camera, just click on “tethered shoot”. You will automatically get to the correct screen in Darktable, but you won’t yet be able to see what your camera sees.
Start Live View to see your camera’s view on the computer
Click the little eyeball button as shown above, in the “tethering” tab, under the expanded “live view” option. Now, your camera will be placed into Live View mode, although the camera LCD screen won’t activate. The screen update rate is a bit less than what your camera LCD can do, but it’s pretty good. USB 3 connections, if your camera and computer both support them, will of course be much better than USB 2.
The “tethering” options will need to be expanded to both view and operate them.
Add an overlay to the view: “grid”
In shot above, I added a “grid” overlay. There are several guides to select from. You can also “flip” your live view and select “vertical”, if you wish via the same “live view” dialog.
Select the shooting mode, depending on if you intend to do single shots, exposure-bracketed shots, or time-lapse shooting. Before you shoot, you’ll want to be able to see the camera settings. You’ll probably have to scroll down to see those settings.
Camera shooting properties
To change the camera shooting settings, click the little down-arrows next to the current settings in the expanded “properties” dialog. If you want a setting shown above the Live View window, then click the little eyeball to the right of the control, such as “aperture”.
You will probably want to change the “focus mode” setting to continuous-focus, at least until you’re happy with the focus. For a time-lapse, you’d of course want to leave it on “AF S”.
When everything is configured like you want it, you click on the “capture image(s)” button to start shooting.
If you are doing long time-lapse shooting, turn off the “live view” screen update (the eyeball button) mode. Your screen will only get updated with the latest captured shot, which will help conserve your camera battery. You’ll probably want to switch your “program mode” to “M”, for manual exposure, too.
By default, your captured shots in Windows 10 will automatically get transferred into a folder underneath your “Pictures” folder on your computer, and not saved into your camera itself. The shots go into a folder named with the current month and day.
For time-lapse shooting, the default tethered photo storage option is ideal, so that you don’t have to worry about running out of space on your camera storage card.
Darktable is more powerful than most people would think. By taking advantage of the gphoto2 program, its power is greatly increased. Be aware that tethered shooting is power-hungry, so it would benefit you to charge your battery before using this feature. For extended photo sessions, I know that Nikon sells power adapters EP-5B, EH-5A, and EH-5B that allow you to use external power instead of a battery.