TriggerTrap Review: Control your camera from your phone

TriggerTrap Photo 1

What is it?
You have phone; you have a camera. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to trigger your camera from your phone? And, since your phone is, in essence a miniaturized computer, wouldn’t it be great if you had an app enabling you to use your phone as a programmable intervalometer and shutter release? Also, if you could use your phone as a trigger, wouldn’t it be interesting if you could use your phone’s sensors to trigger your camera based on sound, vibration, and so on?

That, in a nutshell, is TriggerTrap: a mobile dongle you can use to connect your camera to your iOS or Android devices for about $35.  It’s compatible with a wide range of cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony to Fuji, Panasonic, and a slew of others.

Using it
TriggerTrap is straightforward to use: connect it up to your camera, choose your mode in the app and fire. You’ll have to think about how to mount your phone to your camera or tripod, but that’s a pretty easy hurdle to get over. I ended up with the ChargerCity hotshoe mount for $15. There are more expensive options out there (especially if you want to mount your phone to your tripod; something you’ll want to do if you’re working in windy conditions), but for $15 you can’t go wrong.

TriggerTrap mounted using hotshoe bracket

TriggerTrap mounted using a flash hotshoe bracket

Camera Control Functionality
TriggerTrap is not a full camera controller (it doesn’t control ISO, aperture, and so-on). Nonetheless, it does offer a wide range of functionality. Just take a look below at all the modes available in the app: you won’t be short on things to do! (the app is free, by the way, so you can download it and experiment to get a sense of the user interface):

Cable Release Modes

  • Simple Cable release*: use your phone to take a photo
  • Quick release*: TriggerTrap will take a photo when you release a button
  • Press and hold: keeps the shutter open while your hand is on a button (i.e. bulb exposure)
  • Press & Lock: a bulb exposure where you press a button to start then press the button again to stop
  • Timed Release: program the exposure time for a bulb exposure
  • Self-Timer*: set a timer and get ready for the camera to be triggered

Timelapse Modes

  • Timelapse*: a simple intervalometer. Set the exposure time on your camera and use TriggerTrap to fire the camera
  • TimeWarp*: vary the interval time between exposures to speed up and slow down motion within a sequence (think car traffic speeding up and slowing down in your timelapse)
  • Distance Lapse*: take an exposure at a specified distance
  • Star Trail: set the number of exposures, the exposure time, and the interval between exposures
  • Bulb Ramping: take day-to-night/night-to-day timelapses

Sensor Modes

  • Sound Sensor*: capture an image when a sound reaches an amplitude threshold
  • Vibration Sensor*: capture an image when a selected vibration threshold is reached
  • Motion Sensor: capture an image when a predefined number of objects move in front of the camera
  • Peekaboo*: capture an image when a predefined number of faces are detected

HDR Modes

  • LE HDR: select the number of exposures, exposure step, and the middle exposure time to shoot HDR sequences
  • LE HDR Timelapse: shoot an HDR timelapse by specifying the middle exposure time, interval time, and exposure step.

 *can be used to take images with your phone’s camera.

Some other cool stuff:
Many of TriggerTrap’s modes allow you to use one phone/tablet/etc as a master and others as a slave. For example: you can use your iPhone to trigger your camera while also triggering several speedlites.

TriggerTrap also has a handy neutral density filter calculator and simple solar calculator showing you Sunrise and Sunset times.

As an HDR trigger
TriggerTrap will work great to trigger an autobracket sequence you have programmed into your camera. It’s also a great device to allow you to take those 5,7,9+ HDR exposures. However, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind if you’re going to put your camera into Bulb mode and use TriggerTrap to set the exposure times. That thing is: every camera has a minimum bulb exposure time. A good limit is somewhere around 1/20th of a second. What this means is you won’t be able to shoot that 1/100 exposure during the day. This won’t be an issue if you’re shooting before sunrise/after sunset, but it will be an issue for you if you’re shooting during the day without a neutral density filter. While this is more of a camera limitation than a TriggerTrap limitation, it’s still something to keep in mind.

TriggerTrap for HDR

TriggerTrap used to take 7 exposure HDR

As an intervalometer
As a simple intervalometer TriggerTrap is great. It’s very intuitive to use and I like how the app uses a graphical indicator to tell you when the next exposure will be fired. For more complex intervals, you can use the Star Trail mode to dial-in the exposure time and the interval between exposures. I’d name the Star Trail mode something else as it does more than just Star Trails, but that’s not a big deal.

 I like the Time Warp and Distance Lapse modes, especially the simulation in the TimeWarp mode to give you an idea of what the acceleration and deceleration of the interval will look like.   Distance Lapse is very handy for shooting sequences in a car. The one thing I didn’t like is bulb ramping.

Bulb Ramping
As it stands, TriggerTrap’s bulb ramping exposure controls modifies exposures from the beginning of the ramp to the end of it. It would be nice if you could start a specific exposure then wait a predetermined time before ramping. From there, it would be ideal to set how long to ramp for before reaching the end ramp exposure and then continuing on at a final exposure time. It would also be nice to speed up/slow down the ramping rate if need be.

You won’t care if you won’t be using TriggerTrap to shoot Holy Grail timelapses, but this is something I would very much like to see improved in future releases.

TriggerTrap Bulb Ramping Interface

TriggerTrap Bulb Ramping Interface

Other Tidbits:
Get an iPod Touch: But everyone uses phones now! I know, but you’re going to miss your phone when you’re shooting an three-hour-long timelapse and have nothing to do but sit around and wait.   Especially if you want to use your phone to, you know, make phone calls.

Connect everything then turn on the app: I had some trouble initially getting the camera to trigger. To get it to work, I needed to first connect the camera and phone, turn up the phone volume to max then start the app.

External Battery Source: you’re going to want a battery pack for your phone if you’re planning on doing long duration timelapses. (Anker’s 3200mah battery is a good choice).  Battery packs aren’t too expensive these days, you’ll want to keep one on hand.

Should you buy it
I suspect Canon users (like me) will find TriggerTrap more compelling than Nikon users. Nikoners (Nikonites?) with their built-in intervalometers may not find TriggerTrap a need, unless features like TimeWarp, Distance Lapse, and the Sensor modes are desired creative options.

Overall, it really depends on what your expectations are. TriggerTrap is a good device at a reasonable price point. If you’re looking for a hardcore intervalometer, however, TriggerTrap may not be for you – especially with the limited bulb ramping functionality.

That said, TriggerTrap has historically been good at updating their app and adding features; it’s not inconceivable for the bulb ramping to be improved in the future. Also, in terms of user interface, TriggerTrap is easy to use and program.

Where to buy
Amazon: Dongle only (you will need a cable compatible with your camera)
Amazon: Nikon (Dongle + Cable)
TriggerTrap: Canon (Dongle+Cable)
Amazon: Charger City Phone hotshoe Mount
Amazon: Anker 3200mah external battery

The Cathedral Church of St. Luke’s – Orlando

The Cathedral of St Luke's

Orlando is known for its theme parks and many distractions – not for Gothic Revival Churches modeled after the English Gothic style of the 14th century.  Nonetheless, that is precisely what you see here in the Cathedral Church of St. Luke of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida.

Designed by the architectural firm of Frohman, Robb, and Little, a firm whose work includes design contributions to the Washington National Cathedral, St. Luke’s is a rare architectural gem in downtown Orlando.

Construction the Cathedral began in the 1920’s with laying of the cornerstone in 1925.  While a portion of the building was completed before the Great Depression, which hit Florida in 1926, a temporary wall sealed the altar end.  This wall would not be removed until the building was fully completed as planned in 1987.

About the image
The photo is a composite of 5 images captured during a photowalk with the Orlando Digital Photography Group using a Canon 5DMKII, 24-105 F/4L, and an Induro tripod.   The images were merged in Photomatix with additional editing in Lightroom, Photoshop, and the Topaz suite.


Miami from Vizcayne

This is downtown Miami as seen from the Vizcayne Building – an exclusive luxury condominium building home to Miami’s elite (Dwayne Wade calls it home).

This was a tough shoot. Rain was pouring down that night, but I had worked out permission to be on top of the building and didn’t want to give up on the shot. So I waited and waited with an assistant (thank you Marcos Iturribeitia!) for breaks in the rain. We had gotten there an hour before sunset, so we had time to watch the weather.  The weather radar indicated that we should get some breaks.  So we waited.  My target was blue hour so we really had 1.5 hrs.  With nothing else to do, we just stood around a rooftop maintenance room cameras ready to go.

When the breaks came, we went out and setup (Marcos held an umbrella over the camera the entire time because the breaks came and went.) He also kept me from falling over the edge. The wall was maybe 2-3 feet high and it was slippery up there (not to mention I kept tripping over the rain drains.

Fun fun fun. I remember seeing the edge of the building whenever I closed my eyes that night. I got in late, slept a couple of hours then went out to shoot at the Deering Estate.

All’s well that ends well :)

Generation Gap

Generation Gap

Who says the generations can’t get together, have an outing and just get along?  I wish I could tell you more about the hot rod in front.  The owner wasn’t there and all I know is the grill says “International” on it.

All That Remains: Remains of a House Fire

All That Remains

I ran across this fire ravaged home in South Carolina not too far from Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant.

When you see something like this you wonder: did everyone make out ok? What happened? What time of day did it happen?

I know the fire happened around Christmas as there were clearly signs of christmas gifts and decorations. I also know the family had children because of the myriad of toys in the house (not in this frame).  I also know it looked like the home was left in a hurry.  But, that is all I know.

Hopefully everyone made it out ok.

Review: Topaz Clarity for the HDR Photographer

1955 Chevy Bel Air - created with Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop & Topaz Clarity

1955 Chevy Bel Air – created with Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop & Topaz Clarity

What Is It?
Topaz Clarity is a plugin that allows photographers to make color, contrast, and clarity definition adjustments without halos or artifacts.

Does it do it well?
Topaz is no stranger to controlling halos.  Their Detail plugin is one of my favorite sharpening tools because it does not create halos at edge boundaries.  But that’s Detail, what about Clarity?

In short, the technology does a great job.  I have some reservations about some bugs in the user interace I hope Topaz will address in the future, but those are minor issues; the technology itself works, and it works well.  Take a look at the before (left) and after (right) below:

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.00.22 PM

Topaz Clarity Before & After


Is it perfect?  I do see a bit of haloing, but it is so slight that it’s easily addressed with the masking brush Topaz makes available.   That’s a real nice feature allowing you to brush-in/brush-out the effect as desired.

Tonemapped images always need a contrast boost.  I like the fine tune control over Micro, Low, Medium and High Contrast.  Clarity is like a contrast scalpel providing you with control when you want it.

In addition to clarity and contrast, you also get Hue Saturation and Luminance controls, as well as, a good list of presets to get you started.  The presets themselves are broken down into collections like Documentary, Landscape, Fashion, Wedding and so-on to give you a head start depending on the type of photography you do.  You can also create your own as is expected.

Another nice feature with the masking brush is a preview showing you where the brush has been applied.  Think layer masks in photoshop, but large enough for you to see where the brush was applied.  I’d like to see something like that get incorporated into Lightroom & Photoshop.

Is it worth it?
Topaz will be selling Clarity for $49.99 but has it discounted to $29.99 until May 31st.  That’s not a bad deal for the kind of fine tuned control it gives you.  Skip a few cups of coffee and give it a whirl.  If you can skip coffee for a while, the Topaz Bundle has a great set of tools like Adjust, Denoise, and Detail (to name a few).  By the way, if you’re interested in Denoise, checkout my video tutorial here.

Ok, it’s new software, are there any bugs?
There are a few bugs with the UI.  If you’ve used Lightroom, you’ll notice similarities between it and Clarity. The layout of the HSL sliders for example is definitely an homage to Lightroom, but some of the UI functionality is a bit buggy (at last in the Mac version at release).  The brush, for example, doesn’t repsond to the a two-finger drag to resize and the “[” and “]” keys don’t always the resize brush when clicked.  Also, Command-Z doesn’t seem to undo brush strokes.

These are minor issues I’m sure will be addressed in time, but they’re there.  The core functionality does work well, and if you’re looking for fine grain clarity control Topaz Clarity is a good one.

Anything else?
You can try it for free for 30 days, give it a shot and let me know what you think in the comments.


On Deck

On Deck

F-8K Crusader and F-14A Tomcat on the deck of the USS Yorktown at sunset.   I was done shooting for the evening when the sky turned quickly from a dull grey to this amazing cotton candy blue and pink.  I had to work quickly to get this shot knowing I only had a few minutes before I lost the sky completely.

That’s just how it is sometimes: you’re working slow and methodically and the next thing you know you’re running around at breakneck speeds reshooting shot after shot that you just completed because God hands you a beautiful gift of a sky.

Epcot’s Illuminations, Japan

Epcot Fireworks Illuminations

Epcot’s Illuminations fireworks display as seen from the Japan Pavilion at the World Showcase.  I was shooting very long exposures this night (30″+) and was only able to get a few images because of the duration.  I didn’t get a lot of images, but I do like what I captured.

It was also a fun shoot.  I locked up focus and composition an hour or so before the show, ate some sushi, chatted with some friends and waited for the fireworks to start.  I love the music that accompanies the show.

China Epcot’s World Showcase

Located between the Germany and Norway Pavilions at Epcot’s World Showcase, the China Pavilion features a replica of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.   Epcot’s replica is home to the 360° movie “Reflections of China”.  I love seeing this movie and all the images of China it contains but I don’t always get a chance to when I visit Epcot.

Outside of the frame on either side of the bridge are serene ponds that make for interesting photos themselves.  I’ll see about grabbing a shot of some of the lily pads next time I’m there during the day.

The New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World

Disney’s new Fantasyland at Walt Disney World in Orlando will be fully open on December 6th featuring two new areas that will double the current size of Fantasyland: the Enchanted Forest and Storybook Circus.  Storybook Circus with the new Dumbo Ride and Barnstormer (a Goofy based coaster) is already open.   The Enchanted Forest will open next week.

The image above was taken just outside Beast’s Castle in the Enchanted Forest a few weeks ago.