The Photo Trigger is a compact box of electronics made by the company that created the SplashArt kit we reviewed a few months ago. It's designed to fire your camera remotely with a variety of options including a built-in intervalometer or motion, audio or light detection using one of the plug in supplied attachments. This means you can shoot time lapse sequences, lightning, high speed flash (splash drops, balloons bursting etc), and moving subjects triggered when they pass through a laser beam, such as animals, insects or water drops etc.
Photo Trigger Features
The Photo Trigger is housed in a small off-white coloured box with curved corners. There are three buttons on the front below an LCD panel and to the side is an on / off switch. Around the back are two screws to take the unit apart, but, unlike the Nero Multi-Trigger we reviewed a few months ago, you do not have to, as the two AA batteries are in an easy to access slide open chamber.
What's a little worrying is the LCD panel does not have a seal around it, and there's a gap. You can poke something through and touch the insides. This makes it dodgy for outdoor use if the weather changes or for water balloon bursts, but also indoors if it's near water when doing splash shots. Also long term it's probably going to get dust inside.
The top section has several sockets for the various accessories. Illustration above, from left to right, are sockets for camera connection, light and audio sensor, laser and flash trigger.
The trigger is supplied with several cables for various camera fittings, along with cables that have microphone and light receptor, laser pointer and pc sync sockets at the other ends. There's a hot shoe adaptor inlcuded for those who don't have a camera or flash with a pc connector.
Three camera connectors are included for Canon, Nikon, Sony or Pentax models. You'll need an adaptor to convert the Pentax/Canon 2.5mm into an Olympus fit and no doubt other systems will work with the correct cable sourced and attached.
The instruction manual is an A4 sheet style guide with sections showing how to use the intervalometer, Audio Trigger and Light Trigger.
You can set the Photo Trigger to open the shutter with a delay to compensate for autofocus speed, and flash delay, you can also measure shutter lag and account for precise changes, such as a reduced delay when the camera has a mirror up feature. Delays can also be set for the time it takes for a subject to pass through the laser beam when using the light sensor. In the case of water drops you also have an incremental delay that adds to the delay time so the position of the water bouncing from the surface is recorded at various moments so, in theory, any stage of the water's path can be recorded accurately resulting in a wonderful range of shapes.
Sound Trigger (with Delay option)
Laser Trigger (with Delay option)
Intervalometer (1 to 9999 shots)
Intervalometer delay (1 sec to 32767 hours)
Flash slave trigger
Shutter lag measurement
Microphone, flash sync cable, light sensor and laser supplied
Photo Trigger Handling
If you're like most people you will press a few buttons before reading the manual. Many products are self explanatory when attempting to use them in this way, but not the Photo Trigger - it could have you confused, and the instruction sheets might not help. If you struggle using a TV remote control you may find this equally challenging. And if you're new to this kind of photography you may be thrown by the quite technical approach with mentions of trigger delay delta, shutter lag, and signal level. And there are only three buttons.
Left and right scroll through options and the middle one sets the option selected. The menu structure has a top level to switch between the Intervalometer, Audio Trigger, Light Trigger and Settings using left or right buttons. And then when you arrive at the one you want to use you press the middle button to drill down to lower layers of that menu. At the lower layer you go left and right to find an option and press middle to go to that option and make changes. It is quite easy when you get used to it.
The buttons have a positive click, and you can turn on (or off) an audible beep (buzzer) from the settings' sub menu. I prefer the quieter approach, so turned it off.
The manual suggests an initial configuration to set the buzzer on or off, and determine the camera's shutter lag. It was at this point when I discovered the Photo Trigger has another trick up its sleeve. If your camera has a flash and a remote release input you can use the Photo Trigger to measure the time taken to record a photo following the press of shutter. This shutter lag time is useful to know if you're a sports or action photographer . The quicker it is the more likely you will get a bang on action shot. It's very important in high speed photography, as it ensures the action is caught at the right moment - just as a balloon bursts or a water drip bounce off the water. My Olympus OM-D E-M5 measured around 110ms in manual focus mode and over 200ms with autofocus.
I did find setting specific timings cumbersome using the menu system, and having to go from one top layer and up or down the menu structure to another was quite laborious. Also the specific ms delays were hard to get one step increments. It seemed to jump in twos quite easily. And going from micro seconds to milliseconds needed pressing two buttons and once it gets going zoomed passed the number you wanted.
Photo Trigger Performance
The easiest feature to test is the intervalometer. I set Repeat count to 60, Repeat unit to seconds and Repeat delay to 15 to make the Trigger take 60 photos at 15 second intervals. I had the camera's autofocus turned off and set the intervalometer menu option for Autofocus to Off too. The trigger didn't respond. So I reset to On, but left the camera focus setting on manual. I tried the trigger on a Pentax K10, and it only fired every second shot. Same problem with the Pentax K20D. I then switched to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and everything worked fine. The video below is a cloud sequence recorded by the intervalometer. It could also be used for recording a candle burning, fruit rotting, flower opening, star trails etc.
Like the Nero Multi-Trigger recently reviewed you can't set a delayed start time, so the sequence can't begin in the early hours of the morning while you're asleep. I would think it's an easy extra to program into the module so maybe we'll see this on Version II. You can, however, set the number you want to take and have the option to go as high as 9999 shots. This is useful for star trail photography where you may want a larger number of shots for your sequence and want to pre-program that number (around 120-200). The Nero keeps taking photos until you stop it and the Hahnel Giga T Pro II has a limit of 198.
To try the Audio trigger I set up a stand with a horizontal pole and clamped balloons filled with a small amount of water or flour. The camera was on B and the microphone was placed near to the balloon. An old Sunpak G4500 flash was connected to the Trigger and mounted on a stand to the right. I then opened the shutter and popped the balloon. The sound of the burst triggered the system and flash illuminated the burst. I was out on a windy evening and the sound of the wind kept triggering the flash.
There's a useful sensitivity measure that you can adjust so the trigger will only fire when the existing audio level is tipped, but it seemed to miss the sound of the wind! So while a great idea didn't seem too accurate. That said I still got some decent images, but it was a bit more hit and miss than the Nero reviewed previously. The popper explosion was done using the same set up.
Photo Trigger Balloon Powder | 4.5 sec | f/22.0 | 42.0 mm | ISO 640
Photo Trigger Balloon Water | 7 sec | f/22.0 | 42.0 mm | ISO 640
Photo Trigger Popper | 12 sec | f/22.0 | 42.0 mm | ISO 640
I have to admit I gave up on the light trigger. You place the sensor to one side of the path of the subject and point the laser at it from the other side. Then when the beam is broken as something passes through, the shutter is triggered. You can set the trigger delay for the shutter or flash following the beam break.
It's not my area of expertise and no matter what I did I could not get the sync right to ensure I had exposure at the correct moment. Also when trying to photograph water drops the laser would not register the beam splitting as the water passed through. Maybe this was alignment. But it didn't respond to a large clothes peg either, The only thing that would trigger the camera was waving a hand through the beam. And, like the outside tests, the flash occasionally fired even when nothing was breaking the beam, so the audio sensitivity measurement appears to have similar problems to the light sensitivity.
So my conclusion - it may work, but you have so much precision to sort out that it's beyond the normal photographer's capabilities. I had no trouble with the Trigger Trap or the Splash Art kit so in my mind simplicity is key here and the accuracy of this gadget and facilities seem to get in the way of simplistic use. A lot of thought has gone into providing sensor measurements, so a little extra step where the measurement is taken and then factored in to the system automatically might make all the difference.
Also the fact the sensors have no clips makes it fiddly to align. You need clamps or tape and even then the sensors can move and easily become out of alignement.
While on the subject of clamps and fixings. The cord from trigger to camera is really short so the unit tends to be left swinging around under the tripod mounted camera. If it was longer you could place it on a table or if it had a shoe like the Nero it could be mounted conveniently on the camera. What would be great is a light weight clamp that attaches to the tripod leg to hold it in the same way an iPod or phone cradle holds the device in a car. A useful optional accessory maybe?
The cables for laser and audio/light sensors are bewteen one and two meters so you may need extensions for outdoor set ups.
My final shot was to try the slave flash. I got it to fire using the light sensor but not in sync with my system. So the flash didn't register on the photos. Again I'm sure it's something that can be fixed, but I'd lost interest. Normal slave flash accessories (and there are hundreds to choose from) just synchronise without you having to consider shutter or flash or focus lags.
Value For Money
We recently reviewed the Multi-Trigger at $199 (est £150) which doesn't have a laser, but it does have the accessory shoe attachment and a built in microphone making it a bit more convenient. It also has the timed shutter feature for really long exposures. And the TriggerSmart, with mini stands and laser is much higher at around £230, but easier to control. Hahnel's Giga T Pro II is a better device for time-lapse and long exposure at just £80, but lacks the sound and laser triggering. So as an all round unit the Photo Trigger is certainly the best value at £129 with all the necessary extras included (apart from batteries) - shame it's not as easy to use!
Photo Trigger Verdict
On paper it appears a great feature set and what you get makes it superb value for money. But handling and putting it into practice can be a real faff. I've never given up on a product before, but this really was too much hassle to set up and use for certain tasks, unlike its competitor products the Trigger Trap and Nero. For those who're very technically minded you should hopefully get to grips with the microsecond delays and precision of alignment of laser / sensor. But normal photographers may struggle. I certainly did and I don't normally like defeat!
The lack of sealing around the LCD might put outdoor photographers off.
This area of the market is expanding fast as photographers desire to record the stuff that used to be just for scientific photographers or those with a friend who read Practical Electronics magazine. They need it to be made easier and I notice the Nero is being rebuilt, following feedback from reviews like ours. With a few refinements this could become a real killer product, but at the moment the only thing it might kill is your enthusiasm.
Photo Trigger Pros
Very precise settings possible
Backlit LCD panel easy to see in low light
Versatile range of modes
Batteries easy to change
Shutter lag measurement
Can be used as a flash slave
Photo Trigger Cons
Instruction manual quite technical
Complicated to use for several aspects
Casing not sealed
Doesn't work correctly with Pentax
No timed shutter for long exposures
Microphone built in on competitor product
A super wide-angle zoom aimed primarily at landscape and architecture photographers with a more affordable price and a slightly wider range than the camera makers' own models...is there a catch? We aim to find out.
3 Aug 2009 11:34AM