Manfrotto develops Digital Director DSLR kit

Manfrotto's iPad-based Digital Director
In control: Manfrotto’s iPad-based Digital Director. Image: Manfrotto

Manfrotto, the photographic accessory firm best known for its tripods, has developed an add-on that turns a standard Apple iPad Air into a high-resolution video monitor and camera controller.

Manfrotto website Digital Director uses a combination of an app, firmware and hardware to connect the iPad to a DSLR. Initially, the device will support cameras from Nikon and Canon. The device is designed to take advantage of the Air’s Retina display, providing very high resolution monitoring on a device that many photographers and film makers might already have on set.

Although camera makers already have a number of basic controller solutions for DSLRs based on a smartphone app and a WiFi connection, these typically have fairly limited control functions, and can only display a small preview screen.

WiFi connections, too, can introduce lag: a problem especially for video production. Manfrotto’s design aims to overcome this by building a CPU into the Digital Director. This electronic “brain” allows the iPad to communicate with the camera over a USB cable, but also allows the iPad to operate as a monitor.

The Digital Director connects to the tablet over a Lightning port, and also works as a frame for supporting the iPad. Potentially, the tablet could be mounted on a tripod arm, but the system also works as a remote controller, with suitable cables.

According to Manfrotto, the Digital Director can control standard settings such as white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed, as well as controlling focus. The iPad also shows a histogram, has a punch-in feature for focus checking, and displays the camera’s audio levels. This makes it a lower-cost alternative to monitoring devices such as the Convergent Designs Odyssey 7Q or the Atomos Shogun, although both of those are also video recorders.

As well as camera control and monitoring, Manfrotto’s Digital Director adds image sharing, over FTP or email and to social networks, via the iPad’s WiFi or cellular connection.

The system runs off either AA batteries or mains power, and is expected to go on sale in June for US$499.