WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter

The image quality of smartphone cameras might be getting better and better but DSLRs still have the edge for serious photography. However, smartphones come with the advantage of connectivity which allows you to share your images almost instantly on social networks, via e-mail or on image hosting sites. To bridge the gap between camera and smartphone Nikon has released the optional WU-1a adapter ($60) with the D3200.

The WU-1a is a little WiFi-dongle that connects to the camera's AV port and allows you to transfer images from the camera to your smartphone or tablet and remote-trigger the camera. So far it is only compatible with the D3200 and only works with Android devices (2.3 'Gingerbread' or later). According to Nikon a version of the app for Apple's iOS-devices is on its way for fall 2012. For this test we have used a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone running Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean'.

To make things work you need to install Nikon's Wireless Mobile Adapter Utility app on your device from the Google Play store. Once that is done you can plug the adapter into the AV-port and switch the camera on. At that point the camera acts as a WiFi-hotspot which you can connect your smartphone to. If You then launch the app you are offered four options on the homescreen:

  • Use the camera to take pictures - in this mode you take a picture as usual, by pressing the shutter button on the camera, but right after capture the image is transferred to the phone.
  • Take pictures remotely - in this mode the camera enters live-view mode, you can see the live-view image on your phone screen and trigger the camera remotely.
  • Share pictures - in this mode you can share pictures that have already been downloaded to the phone with other apps on your phone, for example Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, E-mail, Dropbox etc.
  • Download pictures from camera - does exactly what it says on the tin, let's you download images from the camera's SD-card to the phone via WiFi. You can choose between full-size and VGA-resolution.

In practice we found the adapter/app combination to work quite well but there is still some room for improvement - not a surprise considering this is a new type of product for Nikon. The phone occasionally disconnects from the camera, even with both devices placed right next to each other. If that happens during an image transfer it has to be restarted.

The other complaints we have are mostly minor ones. Depending on how many images there are on your SD card it can take quite a while to generate the thumbnail view in the browser. It took about 35 seconds to show the 450 images we had on our card. What makes it slightly annoying is the fact that the thumbnail-view has to be re-generated each time you leave and re-enter the download-screen (even after the phone goes into stand-by mode). The app also doesn't detect image orientation and shows all images in landscape-format.

The WU-1a is a tiny adapter that connects to the camera's AV-port. It feels a little flimsy, so you might want to disconnect it and store it safely in its case when you're not using it.

Overall the WU-1a adapter is in its current state more of a gadget rather than a professional tool. It's definitely fun to play with but its operation feels a little clunky at times. Professional users will want more 'remote control' over camera settings and operation, and we suspect that those who want to post a quick snapshot will probably find it quicker and more convenient to just use their phone camera. That said, if you need to e-mail your images or post them to the web while you are out and about the WU-1a will do the job.

Below we are showing a series of screengrabs of the Nikon Wireless Mobile Adapter Utility app to give you a better idea of its functions and operation.

The setup is easy. Once you have the adapter plugged into the AV-port and turned the camera on the D3200 basically acts as a WiFi hotspot that you can connect your smartphone to. After launching the app you can choose from the four main functions on its home screen.
The 'Take Pictures remotely' screen shows you the camera's live-view image along with shutter speed/aperture and the camera's battery status. Press the shutter button on your screen and a picture is captured. In the 'Use camera to take pictures' mode you press the shutter on the camera. Once the image has been captured it is being downloaded to the phone.
Once an image has been downloaded you can view it on your phone screen, zoom in and out and drag it around the screen. With a decent screen on your phone this is a good way of checking critical focus and sharpness.
If you select an image for sharing a screen opens that allows you to pick the app you want to share it with. The options you get here of course depend on the apps you have installed on your phone but you can use your D3200 images in most imaging apps such as Instagram (right image), send it via e-mail, post it to Facebook or Flickr, or store it in your Dropbox or Google Drive.
This is the Image Download screen. It can take a little while for the thumbnails to be downloaded but once they're there you can select an image by pressing and holding it for a second or so. If you then press the download button the download starts. We measured about 15 seconds for a full-size JPEG image. If that's too long for you and you only want to share your images on the web you can set the app to download a VGA-sized version of the image.
The app offers a good array of options. You can select a minimum battery level, for both camera and phone, at which live-view transmission stops. You can select the image size for image download (full-size or VGA) and you can configure the app to automatically download an image after capture or to trigger the download manually. There are also fairly extensive options for the WiFi-connection that allow you to configure security settings and set a password amongst other things.