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Camera Remote Control systems compared

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Category: Accessories

Camera Remote Control systems compared - With the cost of long, high class lenses being so high, the budget conscious photographer has to be a little more inventive when it comes to getting closer to the action than either the subject or the location will allow. Ian Andrews looks at remote control options available to trigger the camera from a distance.

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Kingfisher Using a remote control on your camera will open up a whole new world of options for your photography including wildlife. It is also possible to use much shorter (and cheaper) lenses if your camera, which includes virtually all dSLRs and some compacts, accepts a remote control.

Now remote controls, like the cameras and lenses, come in different forms and work in different ways and your camera’s manual will tell you which one the manufacturer recommends for your individual model. And it will have an OEM price tag to go along with it.

This recommendation can run into hundreds of pounds with some camera models! But, like the camera lenses, there are a number of third party alternatives available that can give excellent results.

There are three main types of remote releases: hard wired, infrared and radio triggers. So lets take a look at all three in a little more detail.

Hard Wired

These remote releases, often known as cable releases, have a wire cable between the camera and the release switch and they duplicate the action of the shutter button. Half a press gives you the focusing while a full press fires the shutter. Many also have a slide action to lock the shutter open when the camera is set to ‘B’ mode.


Cable release
A 10m cable release has plenty of cable to manage. The advantages are reliability and fast reaction time. You may need to place a special order to get one.

Normally just under a metre in length, their use is limited to avoiding camera shake through pressing the shutter release while the camera is tripod mounted. Used extensively in close-up/macro photography, landscape and architectural work and in the studio, they are an almost essential item in the photographer’s kit bag.

Although not so useful to the sports and wildlife photographer, apart from firing off fixed target long lenses, there are, however, longer cable lengths available and those in excess of five metres can start to become useful, for instance if the camera is tripod mounted outside a hide, maybe in a position that a hide would not fit.

Plus points
Instant response
No power requirement
The cheapest answer
Will only fire one camera*

Minus points
Restricted range
Long cables take a lot of space in the kitbag.
Will only fire one camera*

* Firing two cameras can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Infrared

A number of the entry level dSLR cameras use this type of release as their default method of remotely firing the camera.

The major disadvantages of these are that they only work over a narrow field of view from in front of the camera and have a limited range, often less than six or seven metres. They also need line-of-sight to operate.

They are handy if the photographer is keen on self-portraiture or including themselves in group photos and this is what they are really designed to do.

Third party suppliers have overcome the range problems by offering stronger sender units and, for cameras that have a plug for the remote, receiver units that have a greater sensitivity arc. They are still reliant on line of sight and tend to be a little slow to re-act once the button is pressed.

Seculine control
This universal release from Seculine is both a cable and Infrared release, claiming up to 100m as an infrared. Good value from the ePHOTOzine shop at around £20.
Again, the button on the remote normally mimics the operation of the camera’s shutter button, allowing a half and a full press. Some also allow the use of the ‘B’ setting by pressing once to open the shutter and again to close the shutter, but this varies with the camera model.


They do have some advantages though, being small in size and having very low power consumption as they are only required to emit a short pulse in much the same way that a TV remote does, and we all know how long the batteries in those devices last. There are models available with claimed ranges up to 100 metres, but don’t forget that line-of-sight requirement.

Plus points
Small in size and weight
Very low power consumption
Even the best ones can be had for less than £100
Will fire more than one camera*

Minus points
Need line of sight to operate
OEM ones have a short range
Most will only work from in front of the camera.
Will fire more than one camera*

* Firing two cameras can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on what you are trying to achieve.


remote control seculine remote
A similar product, again from Seculine, but this time with an articulated receiver for more advanced cameras. It is available in different fittings at around £60, again from the ePHOTOzine shop.The Twin1 R3-RN (Nikon fit) receiver fitted to a camera and showing how the extended field of view is achieved. It still does not give true 360° coverage as the pentaprism housing gets in the way of the line-of-sight.


Radio

This is the area where the choice becomes much more diversified, both in cost and abilities. Manufacturers offer sophisticated solutions for their top end cameras that will control many parameters of the camera and some which will send the images taken back to wi-fi enabled computers and base stations equipped with dedicated software. These items of kit cost many hundreds of pounds and are a little beyond the scope of this article.
Radio controllers
Two of the various Radio Remotes available from various sources along with the essential cable release, this one a generic one. These are all available in the popular camera fittings.

There are, however, a number of cheaper offerings from third party suppliers with varying degrees of abilities. Their only requirement is that the camera has a remote socket fitted to enable the receiver units to be plugged in.

Radio signals have the advantage of not needing line of sight to operate and many of these units are capable of operating through solid obstructions like brick walls, although their range is severely restricted when doing so. Range claims are normally under ideal conditions and many of these are quite optimistic. In fact for many you should read measurements given in metres as feet! And that is still under ideal conditions!

One major disadvantage of radio remotes is the power consumption of the receiver units. While the sender units are not a problem, only needing power to send the signal in the same way that the infrared models, the receivers are power hungry all the time that they are switched on. And they are only efficient and reliable with well-charged batteries.

Many of the units available take the smaller, non-rechargeable batteries designed for compact cameras and the like, and they are not cheap! Although they have the capacity to last long periods of time in the devices they are designed for, radio remotes are fickle when it comes to voltage and the maximum drops off quite quickly in these batteries. After a few hours use they become unreliable and one placed behind a goal at a football match would become erratic during the second game and would miss most of the action during the second half of that game!

The same problem occurs with the units designed to take popular AAA batteries, and don’t be fooled into thinking that you can use rechargeable AAA type batteries, as they only carry 1.2v as opposed to the required 1.5v of the non-rechargeable ones and don’t even work when fully charged!

For the most part, these type of remotes operate in the same way as the other types, with a single button using a half and full press to operate the focus/shutter. Be aware though, that many of them, especially at longer ranges, will have extremely delicate buttons when it comes to differentiating between the half and the full press.

They mostly have short cables on the receiver units, typically only 100mm, and this makes it difficult to arrange the receiver in the optimum position to receive the signal, further compromising the stated ranges.

Most have channel settings, normally 16, to enable different photographers to use them without firing each others cameras but, and here is where the manufacturers expensive offering start showing their metal, if two senders are used at the same time they will interfere with each other and neither camera will fire! Conversely, set two receivers on the same channel and both cameras can be fired simultaneously with a single sender.

Plus points
Will work without line of sight.
Relatively short reaction time.
Easy channel settings
Will fire multiple cameras (using multiple receivers)

Minus points
Heavy power drain on the receivers.
Range often optimistic
Senders interfere with each other.

Alternatives
There are a couple of units on the market that breach the above types, albeit in different ways. Both have the advantage of having built-in rechargeable Li-ion battery packs and are supplied with a charger unit and therefore have no ongoing running costs.

The first has a far greater capability in that its primary function is as an angle finder and motion sensor and this gizmo, the Zigview-S has a removable screen that can be connected via accessory cables to operate up to 11m away. The screen has a shutter button fitted, capable of firing the shutter from the unit fitted to the viewfinder, again with an accessory cable that is available for different camera fittings. This unit is more expensive, at around the £200 mark, than the radio remotes mentioned above, but nowhere near the cost of the manufacturers wi-fi units.

It also has the advantage of working as a motion detector and, being able to watch what the camera sees, you don’t even need to be able to watch the subject!

ZigView
The Zigview S2 is another Seculine product that can act as a remote amongst its many other capabilities but it will set you back around £230 plus the extra cables. If you want to see what is happening through the camera lens from a position where you cannot see the camera and can use its motion detection system as well, it is worth considering. Again, it is available from the ePHOTOzine shop.

Battery life with the screen turned on is not great, lasting around the two hour mark but if the unit is being used on a home office desk while the camera is in the garden pointing at a bird table, mains power through the charger can be used indefinitely.

The second alternative, at around the £50 mark, is the JJB WR-100, a radio remote with a twist. It is both a wired remote and a radio remote with a normal one metre cable and a single, half/full press button attached to the camera and a remote with two buttons, one for the focus/half press function and a second for the shutter release. This has the advantage of a faster reaction time by using just the shutter release button or, by using the half press function button, keeping the camera awake without the danger of accidentally tripping the shutter and scaring off the subject.

This model relies on a factory set signature rather than programmable channels to differentiate between units, meaning that the sender will only fire its dedicated receiver.

JJC WR-100
The combines the advantages of a cable release with those of the radio remotes and having a rechargeable battery it does not suffer the ongoing running costs where used extensively. Separate buttons on the sender make the reaction time almost comparable with the wired remotes. Available in the UK here for less than £50 in most fittings.

kingfisher set The battery has a five LED indicator for the power remaining and a single charge lasts a day in the field without problems.

This review has been compiled over a four-month period by Ian Andrews, while shooting Kingfishers with short focal length lenses. The savings made by using far cheaper short lenses more than warrants the cost of the remotes!


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