There are times when you want to trip the shutter of your camera with as little trauma as possible. When using long exposure times, long lenses or shooting close-ups with macro lenses, for example, pressing the shutter button can introduce vibration that might degrade the image quality, or even ruin it altogether.
The easiest way of avoiding this issue is with the humble cable release. This screws into a threaded hole in the shutter button and provides a plunger you can squeeze gently to trip the shutter. It’s a device that has been around since Victorian times. And it’s still with us. Out of the three cameras I use regularly – the Nikon D800, Sony RX10 III and Fuji X100 – two have threaded shutter buttons.
Alas, the one that doesn’t is the Nikon, and that’s the one where I need it most.
Recently, I’ve been shooting long exposures a lot. The Nikon has excellent noise reduction with these kinds of techniques, which is why it’s the go-to camera for this work. You can reduce shutter (and mirror) vibration using the self-timer and live view. But a remote release allows you to avoid touching the camera at all when the time comes to take the picture.
After some careful research, I bought two, both made by Pholsy. But first, a quick gripe.
Nikon uses a small, 10-pin socket, handily placed high on the left-hand side of the camera, to plug in remote control devices. But on the D800 this had a notorious fault, at least on the early models. The plastic part that receives the pins of the release’s plug had a very feeble mount.
The first time I tried to use one of these releases, this part broke and flopped around inside the socket. There was nothing for it but to send the camera to Nikon for repair, which cost me well over €200. Nikon doesn’t acknowledge that the problem is a design fault, which is pretty shoddy. I’ve heard the repair involves a significant amount of glue and/or solder so that the socket is now reasonably robust, although I have no intention of testing this to destruction. When inserting the plug, therefore, I am vary careful and light of touch.
Pretty much all it does is trip the shutter when you press the button. There’s a slide mechanism to lock down the button. For long exposures, then, you would set the camera to manual mode, set the shutter speed to ‘bulb’, and then trip the shutter by pressing the button on the remote while simultaneously sliding forward the lock. When it’s time to finish the exposure, just slide back the lock.
It’s very simple and works flawlessly. I mentioned in a recent post how I’d used this remote control to shoot images with 1-minute exposures, timing the shutter with the stopwatch function on my watch. This is the shot.
One feature strongly in favour of this device is that it’s entirely passive – ie, it contains no electronics and therefore requires no batteries. It’s basically just a switch. This is a device that can live in the camera bag permanently and you’ll know it will work regardless of how long it’s been there.
This device costs around €12.
The ‘delay’ feature does the same job as the self-timer on your camera – once the button is pressed it delays the tripping of the shutter by the set amount – except that it’s more configurable. In this case, that delay could be seconds, minutes or even hours. (I can’t conceive of a situation where you’d want a delay of hours, but hey-ho.)
The ‘long’ feature is an exposure timer. You set a time – let’s say one minute – and set the camera shutter speed to bulb. When you press the release button on the remote, the shutter opens and the remote starts counting down. When the configured time is up, the remote automatically closes the shutter again.
The ‘int’vl’ feature is an intervalometer that allows you to shoot repeated images at set intervals – for example, for time-lapse photography. This isn’t something I do, but I guess it’s nice to know I could.
There’s also an ‘N’ setting where you can configure the number of frames to shoot each time the shutter is triggered.
The remote control has a couple of other features. There’s a large shutter button with lock, so you can use it in exactly the same manner as the simpler device above. Confusingly, this is not the button you press when you want to trigger the timer or intervalometer features above – that’s a much smaller button. The good news is that this feature works even without batteries. If you’re in the field and find yourself with dead batteries, you can still use this device as a basic remote shutter cable.
The remote beeps at various times, but you can turn this off. And there’s a backlight.
Whatever settings you enter, these are retained, even after the device is switched off, so long as the batteries are good.
Some of these features can be combined – a fact I found out by accident. I had a self-timer delay of three seconds dialled in. When I came to shoot some long exposures of one minute I found that the delay was still there and I had to wait three seconds before each exposure started.
This could be handy – for example, you might want your hands free to hold something to shield the lens. You could dial in a delay of several seconds so that, after pressing the trigger you have time to drop the remote control, pick up whatever you’re using to shield the lens and hold it in place.
I was pleased at how easy this device is to understand and use. Having it count down the time for long exposures is useful, and the automatic closing of the shutter means you have less to worry about (compared to the timing with a stopwatch method).
Aside from the simple shutter release mode mentioned above, this device is reliant on its two AAA batteries. At one point I got what appeared to be a low battery warning, but then this went away by itself!
This device cost me €24 – and, again, it’s available in multiple versions for different camera brands.
The first time I used it was for this shot – a 1-minute exposure.
Both of these devices are small and reasonably well made. They don’t scream quality but neither are they cheap ‘n’ nasty. The cables are quite thick and sturdy and measure around 90cm – more than enough for my needs.
These remote controls don’t take up a lot of room in your bag, backpack or pocket. I’ll be keeping one permanently in my photo backpack – probably the more sophisticated remote control because, even if the batteries fail, it can still do the job of the other device. The more basic remote release I’ll keep in my support car (which stays in the car) as a backup.