Syncing time with multiple cameras has always been a best practice for video, but not as prevalent for still photographers. Cinematographers and videographers have long used the SMPTE code (pronounced “SIMP-TEE,” the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) which consists of HOURS : MINUTES : SECONDS : FRAME. The purpose of syncing multiple cameras to the same time makes it much easier to edit the footage and sync audio later on in post. Without timecode, it would be a nightmare to try to figure out what clip has that alternate angle from camera B and C simply by filename and reviewing each clip.
So, why is this important for still photographers? We don’t need to sync audio or cut to different angles, but a lot of us use multiple cameras these days. Many photographers (sports, wedding, event, etc. shooters) will use two bodies to minimize switching lenses and also have the ability to be ready for the shot. During weddings or events, I’ll carry a full-frame camera (such as an EOS 5D Mark III or EOS 6D) with a wide angle zoom lens (such as the EF 16-35mm f/4L IS or a wide prime, like the EF 24mm f/1.4L or EF 35mm f/1.4L) and an APS-C camera, such as the EOS 7D Mark II, with a telephoto zoom like the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II.
After all the photos are imported from your cameras, you can cull by camera, but I find it easier and more intuitive to select “Sort by shooting date and time” in Canon’s DPP software (Digital Photo Professional). This way, all images will be grouped according to the time it was taken, no matter what camera it was taken with. So that reaction shot your second shooter caught of the mother of the bride while you were shooting the bride and groom saying their vows? That photo is right next to the series of vow photos. This isn’t just useful to wedding and event photographers; it can be useful to sports photographers so they know what play the images were from. This also helps out news wires that receive images from multiple photographers so that they can see all angles of the same play.
So how do you sync time with multiple cameras? Professional model video cameras traditionally use an SDI cable to sync to the timecode sync port. Even though EOS cameras do not have this, they can be synced a few different ways. You can always manually set them with the 1,2,3 and push SET method, but there are a few more accurate and automated ways.
Some of Canon’s EOS bodies have GPS built in (EOS 6D and EOS 7D Mark II, as of May 2015) and Canon also offers a hot shoe accessory unit called the GP-E2. Both of these GPS options can automatically set the date and time for you.
Head to GPS/digital compass settings and enable GPS. Once GPS is enabled, go to Set up -> Auto time setting and choose “Auto update” from the menu.
With the accessory GP-E2, the Auto time setting menu is found in GPS device settings (page 23 in the manual/page 57 in the online PDF version).
Setting time with EOS Utility software is useful and more accurate for syncing one or more cameras. This would be helpful for a studio or wire with multiple photographers (all shooting EOS) to all be synced to the same time.
The first step is to have your computer at the correct time. Most operating systems will allow you to set date and time according to network settings when you are connected online.
With EOS Utility open, select Camera settings -> Date/Time/Zone Setting.
This will show the current date and time of the camera. When the button next to the date/time is pressed, (“From Mac,” in my case) the date and time will be synced from the computer when you click “OK.”
Repeat this process for every camera and all will be synced to the time and date of your computer. This is helpful when doing more than two cameras, as it doesn’t matter how much time is spent between each camera sync, as the data is passed through the computer.
For me, this is built into my pre-shoot list – along with cleaning my gear, formatting my cards in-camera, and packing bodies/glass/Speedlites/accessories.
Try it out on your next shoot and see if it makes a difference in your post-processing workflow!
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