I have recently been trying long exposure photography and I immediately hit on a problem – a equipment related problem.
The main trick with long exposure photography is that the camera is securely mounted and an exposure is taken which can range from a few seconds to minutes and hours. Mounting the camera is not an issue for me as I invested in a very good tripod and ball head several years back. However, even with the best tripod that money can buy you still get some flexing and vibrating especially when you are punching at the shutter button.
Luckily most cameras have the ability to remotely actuate the shutter with a corded release, and some even let you auto-focus. My previous camera, the Nikon D70 enjoyed the ability of using an infrared remote shutter control – which was great as I could even use my PDA as a remote control.
My current camera, the Nikon D200 does not use infrared but does allow remote control through Nikon’s 10 pin accessory socket. As I was searching through the various remote shutter cords on Ebay, I noticed this wireless Phottix remote shutter control. A buy-it-now later for a grand total of £13.40 I had one shipping it’s way over to me from Hong Kong.
Over last couple of years these cheap non-oem camera accessories have been getting better and better, so I was hoping this was one of the better items. Original manufacturer accessories tend to be better quality but the quality difference in most cases cannot justify the ridiculous pricing structure. Take for example a simple remote shutter cord – the original Nikon costs over £55 here in the uk, the cheapy equivalent costs £6 – they both follow the same concept, 10pin Nikon connector on one end with a two level switch on the other, both do exactly the same thing but 10 time the price difference.
Rant over, getting back to the Phottix remote. It comes ready to use out of the box, batteries are included even the expensive 3v CR2 for the receiver. The remote consists of two parts, the transmitter and the receiver unit.
The receiver has two leds, one is used to show that receiver is switched on and the other is used to indicate the received signal – green for auto-focus and red for shutter actuation. The Nikon connector appears to be of a good quality even including the metal locking ring which is not normally seen on these non-oem accessories.
The transmitter has the release button which when pressed lightly activates the auto-focus and a hard press actuates the shutter, similar to how the shutter button works on the camera. The button has no tactile feedback, thankfully there is an led which indicates what is happening using the same method as the receiver – green for autofocus and red for shutter release. The transmitter does not have a on/off button, so I assume it only draws current when the button is pressed.
After a week of using the wireless remote, I must say I have been very impressed. In photography the most important thing for me is that the equipment is transparent and does not hinder or get in the way of what I am trying to do, and here the Phottix has performed well it has not missed a beat.
I carried out some basic range testing and with the transmitter antenna retracted I achieved about 15 meters of usable distance, with the antenna pulled out I achieved about 50 meters before I ran out of space – not sure if the device can be used over the manufacturers claimed 100m (300 ft) but I would think the 50m I achieved is more than enough for most people.
The unit even has a bulb mode – the B mode is found on some camera, this allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you want (or till the battery run outs), the shutter is kept open as long as you keep release button pressed.
For a 30minute exposure that will mean some serious finger ache, but thankfully Phottix have included a latch mode (or B-mode in marketing speak). Once you have set your camera to Bulb mode – on my D200 you select manual shooting mode, and then adjust the shutter speed till it displays – bulb. When you are ready to start your exposure you press the release button on the transmitter for about 3 seconds till the shutter led turns off – now the shutter is latched open. After the required exposure time another press on the transmitter button releases the shutter.
For the price I was actually surprised it worked as well as it did. During my virgorous testing I did notice areas where shall we say there is room for improvement.
The release button is very poor – there is no tactile feedback, worse still no feedback between the half-press and full-press. Without the led indicator you cannot tell if you have started auto-focusing or if you have actuated the shutter. I took the transmitter apart to inspect the switch, and what I found is not really a switch more a science experiment that is done by 10 years old at school – 3 springy pieces of metal are pushed in to each other to act as switches.
This arrangement also explains another problem I found – it is very easy to accidentally actuate the shutter several times when pressing the button, in electronics terms this is called switch bounce. To get round switch bounce, in your circuit you design in a de-bounce circuit – the point of this circuit is to clean up the signal coming from the switch, it is a timing circuit and is generally designed using the maximum time the switch takes to settle. Most good quality switches tend to settle in about 1mS and some even faster, but I can imagine the switch bounce in this unit is very bad and it appears that the circuit just cannot deal with it – so you end up with a shutter release which has built-in jitter.
My final disappointment is that the receiver needs a battery. Nikon’s 10pin connector can supply power to accessories, so why did they not power the receiver from the camera? – it would make much more sense as well as reducing the cost to the manufacturer.
This product is not just a review item for me, I actually use it and I have decided to do some modifications – replace the switch with one from a old camera, and rewire the connector so the receiver can be powered by the camera. I will write a how-to article describing the modifications in detail.
In closing, the unit does what it is designed to do, and in most parts it does it well. I would suggest everyone who takes photography seriously to consider having one in the camera bag – it can also be great fun trying out long exposure photography. For the price it is very easy to ignore the downsides, just remember how much the OEM equivalent costs!!!
Cheap and good quality
Metal locking ring on connector
Excellent wireless range
Poor quality shutter release button
Receiver should be powered by camera