The Nikon WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter ($59.95 direct) is a tiny adapter that plugs into the accessory port of many a recent Nikon camera to add Wi-Fi support. It works as advertised, allowing you to transfer photos from your camera to your iOS or Android device at full resolution. We tested it with the D5200 D-SLR, but it’s compatible with a number of popular models including the Coolpix A($721.44 at Amazon) and D3200.
The WU-1a($179.99 at Amazon) has a sibling that is functionally identical, but is compatible with camera models with a different type of accessory port. The WU-1b is also $59.95 and can be used with the full-frame D600 and several models in the compact 1 series, including the J3( at Amazon), S1, and V2.
Either adapter plugs into the accessory port on a compatible camera. On the D5200 the WU-1a sticks out like a bump on the left side, and requires you to leave the flap that normally covers the ports open during use. When it’s connected and enabled, you won’t be able to review images on the camera’s rear LCD, only on a connected smartphone, and Live View is disabled. It noticeably wiggles when touched; it’s not an accessory I’d recommend leaving attached at all times.
Once you plug it in, a new Wi-Fi network is generated, identified as Nikon_WU and a string of numbers. There’s no password, you just connect directly with your iOS or Android device from the network settings menu. Once you’ve paired the adapter with your phone or tablet you’ll have to reset it to use another device, which prevents unwanted users from snooping through your shots or taking control of your camera. We tested the adapter and app using an iPhone 5, and Nikon has yet to update the application to provide full screen support for the larger 4-inch display.
When you launch the free Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility app you’ll be presented with two options—Take Photos and View Photos. The former turns your phone into a remote viewfinder that has the ability to fire the camera’s shutter. The current shutter speed and aperture are displayed, but you won’t be able to adjust them. And I don’t mean that you can’t adjust them from the app—you can’t adjust them from the camera either. The settings you have selected prior to launching the remote shooting mode are locked in. There are a few options you can set in the app—you can activate a self-timer, which is useful for taking group shots when using the remote viewfinder, and you can tell the adapter to automatically transfer a photo to the connected device after it’s captured.
The Take Photos mode also shows you the current battery level and the number of photos left on the memory card. We started our tests with a 40 percent charge, but after only a few photo transfers and about ten minutes of remote viewfinder usage the charge had dipped below 30 percent. At this point the Live View feed to your phone is disabled. You can still fire the shutter remotely, you’ll just be doing it blind.
The other mode, View Photos, is a bit more straightforward. It shows you all of the shots on your memory card. You can select the ones you’d like to download, and with a touch transfer them to your phone. It’s simple and it works well, although it can be a bit slow. Each shot from the D5200 took about 15 seconds to transfer. If you shoot Raw, you’ll be happy to know that a full-resolution JPG version of the Raw file will copy over to your phone, so you can share images on the go without resorting to storage intensive Raw+JPG shooting.
There’s a lot of room for improvement with this adapter. Nikon’s competitors are a bit ahead of them in terms of Wi-Fi implementation. The Canon EOS 6D($1,699.00 at Amazon) gives you multiple choices on sharing images online, and can even send directly to Facebook and Twitter from the camera. Samsung’s Smart Camera series, which includes the NX300($925.00 at Amazon) also gives you the choice of setting up the camera as an access point or connecting to a hotspot. And the Samsung Galaxy Camera($399.95 at Amazon) runs Android and has built-in 4G cellular connectivity.
The worst part about using the adapter is losing access to camera controls while it’s active. The idea of a remote release is great, but you should be able to adjust the settings on your D-SLR through the app and via the camera’s physical controls with ease. If there’s a silver lining to this, it encourages you to disconnect the adapter when not in use, which is a good idea when you consider the shaky connection between it and the accessory port. Nikon has dipped its toes into the water with putting Wi-Fi into cameras without requiring an adapter, but the company needs to play catch up on features and fix some issues before its Wi-Fi is ready for anything other than occasional use.