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Gadget Bag: The Modern Remote

Whether you’re looking for a system that can control all aspects of the camera’s controls from a smartphone or you want something that can fit in your pocket, you’ll find what you need in the current lineup of camera remote systems
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Manfrotto Digital Director

Most photos are taken by pressing the camera’s shutter button with one’s finger. This is simple, requires no additional gear, allows for capturing those “decisive moments” and works quite well much of the time. However, there are times when you won’t want to operate this way.

One is to avoid jiggling the camera as you trip the shutter, even with the camera on a tripod. You can use the camera’s self-timer to do this, although its delay will cause you to miss some decisive
moments, and you must be at the camera to activate it. With a DSLR, mirror prelock will flip the mirror up out of the light path a bit before the exposure is made, allowing vibrations from the mirror’s movement to subside. Mirrorless cameras don’t have SLR mirrors, of course, so this isn’t a problem. However, the mechanical focal-plane shutter’s first curtain can cause vibrations as it opens to begin the exposure. Some cameras have electronic first shutter curtain (EFSC) mode (sometimes known as silent mode), which uses the sensor as the first curtain, thus eliminating the vibration, and sound, of the mechanical first curtain.

Another time you won’t want to operate the camera by pressing the shutter button is when you wish to operate the camera from afar. For example, it might be cold and damp out, and operating the camera remotely from your car would be good (be sure your camera can handle the conditions or is outfitted to do so). Or you might be afraid your presence would frighten off a wildlife subject. For these times, a remote control is the answer.

Remote Controls
The simplest remote control is a cable release. It allows you to trip the shutter without touching the camera and (depending on the length of the cable) without being right by the camera.

Infrared remote controls consist of a transmitter, which you hold, and a receiver, which attaches to the camera. They allow you to fire the shutter from a distance, but require line-of-sight: The receiver must be able to “see” the transmitter’s IR signal.

Radio remote controls work at greater range than infrared ones and are omnidirectional—the receiver doesn’t have to “see” the transmitter for the system to work. Advanced radio controls have
multiple channels so you can operate several cameras—or assure that another photographer in the vicinity won’t accidentally fire yours.

These remotes let you fire the camera from a distance, which can be handy, especially in harsh weather (you can stay in your car or tent) or when photographing shy wildlife. The remotes also let you trip the shutter exactly when you want, while the self-timer’s delay might cause you to miss that decisive moment.

Intervalometers set the camera to fire at periodic intervals to record time-lapse events such as a flower opening or clouds passing by. You can select the interval, number of shots and starting time. Some cameras have built-in intervalometers; if yours doesn’t, a number of accessory intervalometers are available. Some newer cameras will turn the time-lapse sequence into a video clip, in-camera.

That’s the traditional stuff. There are also remotes that fire the camera when they detect sound, motion or even lightning (some units do all three). You can use these to set up a remote camera and have it fire when an animal passes in front of the lens, when a clap of thunder occurs or when lightning is detected.

Today, we even have systems that turn your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for your camera. These use WiFi (or, more rarely, Bluetooth) to connect the camera to the smart device wirelessly. You then can see the live image on the smart device’s monitor, adjust camera settings and trip the shutter. You can also upload images from the camera to the smart device, then to web-based sharing sites.

Here’s a sampling of remote systems available today.

Camera Manufacturers’ Apps
Besides third-party products, many camera manufacturers offer apps for their cameras that let you operate the camera remotely from your smartphone or tablet via wireless WiFi connection, as well as upload images from the camera to your smart device. Often, these apps are free downloads. Some cameras have WiFi built in, while others require the purchase of an optional WiFi accessory.


CamRanger is a wireless camera control that lets you operate your camera from up to 150 feet away via your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Android device. Just plug the camera into the CamRanger via the provided USB cable and you have an ad-hoc WiFi network to your smart device. You can view the live image, focus by touching the subject on the screen, take and view photos, view full-res images, and set shutter, speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, exposure comp and much more. CamRanger also enables intervalometer/time-lapse, HDR bracketing and focus stacking for enhanced depth of field. It’s available for many recent Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Estimated Street Price: $299.99-$364.99.

Manfrotto‘s new Digital Director is the only Apple Certified interface that helps users intuitively manage photo and video workflows, from setting camera controls to sharing pictures, via a tethered iPad application. Consisting of hardware, software (app) and firmware, the Digital Director turns the iPad Air into an external monitor, taking full advantage of its high-definition Retina display. Adjust such functions as exposure, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, manual focus, white balance, image quality, focus and drive modes, and battery status, with real-time live-view monitoring and adjustments. There’s a live histogram and audio-level display, and you can download images to the iPad, review high-res files and make image adjustments. List Price: $500.

Sanho iUSBportCAMERA2

The Sanho iUSBportCAMERA2 turns your smart device into an advanced wireless remote control and high-resolution viewer for compatible Canon and Nikon DSLRs. It can stream still images to up to 12 mobile devices via WiFi or full HD video to up to five devices. It provides wireless control up to 300 feet from the camera. Features include touch focus, focus stacking, HDR bracketing, long exposures, time-lapse and control of camera settings. The CAMERA2 mounts on the camera’s hot-shoe, but is powered by its own rechargeable battery that’s good for about eight hours per charge. Estimated Street Price: $299.95.

Triggertrap Mobile

Triggertrap Mobile consists of a free Triggertrap Mobile remote application for iOS and Android, and a Triggertrap Mobile Dongle and Connection Cable Kit, which costs around $40 for most cameras. It’s available for more than 300 camera models from 14 manufacturers. Triggertrap can be set to trip the shutter to sound, vibration or motion, make a variety of time-lapse sequences including star trails, and do long-exposure HDR images and timelapses. It can also make long exposures of up to 100 hours (assuming the camera can handle that). The app also includes photo calculators, providing information like local sunrise and sunset times, and times of first and last light.

Hardware Remotes
You don’t need a smart device to operate your camera remotely. Dozens of manufacturers offer wired and wireless remote controls that work directly with many popular camera models. The big drawback to non-smart device methods is you can’t see the image, but that’s how remote photography was done for decades before smart devices and apps were invented.

Camera Manufacturers’ Remotes
Most camera companies offer simple wired and wireless remote controls for their cameras: cable releases, infrared remotes and radio remotes. These were designed to function with specific cameras in the manufacturer’s line, and operation is straightforward. Just attach the cable release to the appropriate receptacle on the camera, or connect the receiver of a wireless remote, and you’re set to go.

Flashpoint Wave Commander

The Flashpoint Wave Commander is a low-cost corded remote for most popular cameras that can control all time-related functions: long exposures, delayed exposures, self-timer, time-lapse and interval shooting. It features a large, comfortable button for use as a simple cable release and a backlit LCD status display. Two AAA batteries provide power for more than many thousands of actuations. The 6.1×1.5×0.7-inch unit is small enough to carry whenever you might want its capabilities. Estimated Street Price: $39.95.

Hähnel Giga T Pro II

The Hähnel Giga T Pro II is a wireless timer remote control for a wide range of Canon, Nikon, Sony and Olympus/Panasonic cameras (the Canon version will also work with Pentax and Samsung DSLRs). It consists of a transmitter and a receiver—the latter plugs into the camera, the former goes with you. The Giga T Pro II can do time-lapse (with a repeat mode that lets you repeat time-lapse sequences when desired), self-timer and long exposures (the exposure starts when you press the transmitter button and continues until you press it again). The unit works through walls and up to 100 meters (328 feet) from the camera. Both transmitter and receiver have backlit LCD panels. Estimated Street Price: $99.50.