I warn folks up front that this is not a how-to, or solution oriented post on making tethering work in Lightroom. That has been covered in many classes by Scott Kelby and others, including myself. Mostly it involves prayer, a blood sacrifice of some creature at least chicken sized, speaking in tongues and gnashing of teeth. Then it works until it doesn't.
Lightroom has had a tethering feature for many versions, and as any studio professional using Lightroom can tell you, Adobe tethering is on its best day, fragile. Rather than bitch at Adobe about the crappy nature of their tethering offering, I want to offer them an alternative.
What Option Does Adobe Have?
That option is to give up. Clearly tethering is not an A or "above the line" priority. I get that. It's used by a limited subset of the client base, and is certainly not on the must have list of the clients that Adobe is targeting with Lightroom CC. Work on Lightroom Classic CC needs to focus on a new database structure that dates from newer than the Pleistocene period and that is not single user oriented, given that everything is "clouded" these days and most users have multiple points of connection
On a sidebar, I think that Adobe's two machine limit for subscriptions is ridiculously low, as competitors offer from 3 to 5 machines. But that's a different rant entirely. Watching their financial reporting, I don't think that it will hurt the company to increase the usable machine count to three.
Back to the problem of tethering. Adobe has much bigger fish to fry than to fix tethering. Despite a lot of noise, Lightroom Classic CC when used in production is only marginally faster than the predecessor, and even then only some of the time. Adobe has lots of really smart folks, and those great developers know that at some point, you just need to cut the line and start fresh. It's also rather clear to me, that Adobe is not all that interested in the pro segment for Lightroom, given their dumb it down path, and also where the alleged Lightroom competition is coming from, be it Skylum or ON1, both of which have credible entry level products and neither of which can beat Lightroom at its own basic game. Yet.
Tethering is a pro function. Manufacturer's understand this and either provide free (you go Canon) or at some cost, a tethering function. One option that works a charm also costs the same as two years of Lightroom and is Nikon's Camera Control Pro 2. Yes it's two darn expensive, but you know what? It works, has negligible overhead and the performance just screams. It's not an editor, anymore than Canon's EOS utility is an editor, but it can show you the shot on the big screen and move the files really fast into a folder, that Lightroom could use as a Watch Folder if you set it up that way.
Practical Studio Tethering
For those who want combined tethering and editing, so long as you aren't shooting Hasselblad, you might want to check out Capture One Pro 11. I am in the process of a deep dive review of Nikon's D850. Camera Control Pro 2 tethers with it beautifully. Capture One Pro 11 is not only just as fast as CCP2, it also loads your image direct into Capture One's editor. Capture One Pro is easily as powerful as Lightroom, and as a serious user of both, I'm going to say that Capture One is more powerful. I cannot afford to spend a lot of time in retouching, the revenue isn't there for it in general. I need it to be excellent and I need it to be fast, and I can roundtrip from Capture One to Photoshop when the need arises.
This isn't about a fight between Capture One and Lightroom. Both are very fine products, but when it comes to tethering, I expect Adobe to catch Capture One round about never. Since Adobe is unlikely to make a big investment on making their tethering offering fast, stable and keep it up to date (you'll note that tethering a D850 to Lightroom still cannot be done), they should focus on the stuff that serves more clients and leave tethering to those who get it, can make it work, and stay current.
When one is shooting tethered, the photographer is either behind the camera, or may be using a remote to trigger the camera while speaking to the subjects, or in the case of an inanimate subject, not speaking. One of the real benefits of the OEM tethering software and of Capture One Pro is that you can change the camera settings from the computer, or if using Capture Pilot with Capture One Pro, from your smart device. This ability to make changes to the camera settings within Lightroom's tethering tool is a major missing, particularly if the camera has been placed in an awkward location.
While I personally prefer to tether by cable, there are wireless tethering apps, that are either native or via some proprietary device connected to the camera. Camranger, CASE, AlpineLabs and others have these offerings. They may or may not offer full remote camera control depending on their design, but the real issue is that they occupy the USB port so the transfer of full sized RAW files to the computer if possible at all goes over WiFi and this slows down your workflow, particularly if you are using a higher resolution camera such as a Sony a7R Mark II/III or a Nikon D850 or Canon 5Ds. That process flow degradation may be a problem or not, it will depend upon your use case.
Don't get me wrong. I like Lightroom in general, although I have serious concerns about its overall speed and Adobe's directional emphasis on gaining new customers whose photographic engagement is smartphone oriented. I'm a working professional and cloudy, slow, and function bereft services are immaterial to me, and indicative of a company focus not in alignment with my needs. Tethering is a symptom of a greater challenge for Adobe, and I hope that they choose to fall in support of those who brought them to the dance, but they will do what they do. The decision not to focus on supporting more serious photographers will impact them at some point, and I plan to be prepared long before Adobe effectively makes a hard left turn, leaving me with no place to go with them, from the Lightroom perspective at least.
Does tethering matter to you? Do you see Lightroom Classic CC remaining as your best option? Let me and other readers know what you think in the comments.
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace.