Published February 17th 2015

My remote release ecosystem


Since I often take pictures of myself, I use remotes quite a bit and have amassed a collection of flexible and practical remote solutions for my cameras - even a DIY foot release

I take quite a few pictures where it isn't practical for me to press the shutter button on the camera. Sometimes I take pictures of myself working (mainly tying fishing flies), sometimes I shoot groups with myself in them, and sometimes I just want to not to have to press the release on the camera because I'm moving about or have my attention somewhere else. I also like to put my camera on a tripod or a Magic Arm and just point it at whatever is going on and then take a picture whenever I think something interesting is happening.

Interfit wireless remote

First solution

My first solution was a simple, China made remote release, which did the job, but was highly unstable. I haven't had the best of experiences with these cheap no-name Chinese gadgets, and usually end up upgrading them to a brand product – or at least something better and a little more stable. That went for my first, cheap remote flash triggers, and also came to the camera release.

I upgraded from the Chinese model to an Interfit Strobies trigger, very likely also made in China, but a much better quality. The Interfit has done well for me and only fails when it's out of battery, which has happened a time or two and taught me to carry spares when I use it. It's really simple and works with both my pro bodies with their 10-pin plug as well as the consumer ones, which use USB connections.

The wireless trigger allows for the classic half press for focus and full press for release. I never use AF on remote shots, so don't need that function, but for those who do, it's nice to have. It also supports single shots, bursts and B-shutter for long, manual releases. The Strobies trigger is about 40 USD and well worth the money. You can also aim higher and go for the way more professional and flexible PocketWizards, which also double as flash triggers, but they are much more expensive.

Foot loose

I do quite a lot of shoots where I take pictures of myself tying fishing flies. These shots are done at a table with the camera set on a tripod. I have until now connected the camera to a computer and used Lightroom or DigiCamControl to release it, but that requires me to let go of what I'm doing and press a button on the computer or a mouse next to me, which is not necessarily easy nor very good for conveying what I'm doing since many of the operations I want to illustrate require two hands.

The foot release
So I decided to make a foot release.

At first I was ambitious and wanted to do something wireless. I looked into 433 MHz or 1.3 GHz gear, Arduino and other possible solutions, but wound up realizing that it would be a dramatic overkill for my needs, pretty expensive and also requiring both technical skills, programming and quite a lot of tinkering with circuit layouts, electronic components, batteries and a solder iron.

I decided to go for the simple, wired solution.

The wired control


I bought the following components:

- A sturdy foot pedal. Since I will be stepping on it, I went for a robust, made for the purpose model.
- A wired remote and timer. This was mainly to get the loose cable for my D5100. The remote with a cable was only slightly more expensive than the cable by itself.
- A couple of 2.5mm stereo mini jack female plugs.
- A couple of 2.5mm mini jack extension cords.
These items ran me about 25-30 USD altogether.

The foot pedal has three wires in its short cable tag, which has no plug mounted when you get it. It connects two and breaks two when you step on it. Finding the right wires was done with a meter, but trial and error could do it just as easily.
I peeled isolation off the needed cables, which was the red and white for this pedal. The black I just clipped short. Then I slipped the plug cover over the wire and soldered the wires and screwed the cap back on. You need one cable connected to the shell (ground) and the other one connected to both pins in the stereo plug. The Nikon cameras require both the focus and the shutter pins connected to fire.

When I connected the pedal to the camera and pushed it... click!

So for about 50-60 USD and a bit of work I now have several triggering options including wired, wireless and a foot pedal, which fit all my SLRs and can be combined in different ways. The wired trigger has a ton of features for doing timed shots and intervals as well as a lockable B-setting, which to some extent is found in the high end cameras, but not in the D5100 not to mention my humble D40, which still sometimes gets to take pictures.

The foot release leaves both my hands free

Remote control apps

Using the computer, phone or tablet

Apart from the standard releases mentioned above, I have a host of solutions that use the computer, smartphone or tablet as a controller. The absolute simplest of these is just connecting the camera to a computer with a USB cable and using a suitable piece of software to trigger it. Most of these programs are also image handling programs, which will save and manage the shots. I mostly use DigiCamControl, but also sometimes Adobe Lightroom for this purpose. DigiCamControl has live view, very detailed camera controls and a gazillion of other facilities including manual focusing through the computer, and can further be controlled remotely by a phone or a tablet connected to the same network as the computer that runs the program.

But you can also connect a phone or a tablet directly to the camera and use it as a stand-alone controller. This requires a little extra cable called an OTG cable. USB OTG is short for USB On-The-Go and is a cable that allows a USB device like a phone or a tablet to act as a host and control the camera like a computer would.

Apart from the cable you need a program – an app – to control the camera. These are numerous and widely available and many are free. I have used DslrDashboard, Helicon Remote and others on Android and each has its forces and weaknesses. Some allow for very detailed camera control as well as live view.
Case Camera Remote is another wireless solution along the same lines. This little device connects to the camera with a cable and then allows for remote access using a phone or a tablet running the Case app, which has a very rich feature set and very detailed camera control. Other solutions offer the same functions. One example is Triggertrap.

The ecosystem

I built up my collection of triggers with as much flexibility as possible, and can essentially combine them all into different configurations.

The only oddball in the company is the Fuji X100, which will not accept any of the fancy remotes, but has brought life back to my ancient mechanical Linhof screw-in cable release.

Remote classic