Hacking a Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries (Sony Mirrorless Cameras With USB Port)

This guest post is written by Sean Goebel, an astronomy student in Hawaii and an avid nightscape photographer. You can view his work at SGphotos.com and Flickr.com. All content is copyright Sean Goebel.

If you use a timer remote/intervalometer with a Sony camera that has a multi-connector remote port (A6000, A7 series, RX10, DSC-QX30, SLT-A65, etc.), your remote doesn’t actually need batteries. It’s possible, with some basic modifications, to power the remote from the camera. Why would you do this? There are two main reasons:

  1. It’s smaller and lighter. Half the point of a mirrorless setup is to be as small and light as possible while maintaining professional image quality. This mod cuts the size and weight of a remote in half while maintaining the original functionality.
  2. It improves reliability. You won’t lose a timelapse halfway through due to the batteries in the remote dying or getting too cold. You’ve gone from two potential points for power-related failures (camera battery + remote batteries) to just one (camera battery). And we’ll cover ways to vastly increase the battery capacity of the camera in a future post.

 

Required Supplies

  • Intervalometer (Any brand will work. I used a Canon one that had a damaged N3 plug. If you shoot a lot of timelapse, as I do, you’ll end up with a bucket of damaged and semi-functioning timer remotes. Seriously, I should get an Amazon subscription to these things.)
  • Sony multi connector (You can buy an S2 cable for cheap, or buy a conveniently prepared plug from Slovenia, or use the multi-use cable that came with your Sony camera. A micro-USB cable will not work. You need the 10-pin Sony connector. A micro-USB cable only has five pins. If you buy a multi-connector on a cable, you will need to introduce it to your knife/pliers and liberate it from its enclosure.)
  • Four-strand (or more) cable (I used old phone cable, which conveniently has 4 strands.)
  • Multimeter (You absolutely will want to check continuities and voltages.)
  • Soldering iron with both ultra-fine and fine tips
  • Pliers, tweezers, wire strippers, profanities…

10-Pin USB Cable Diagram

sony_rm-vpr1_remote_pinout

Unlike a normal micro-USB cable, the Sony connector has 10 pins. Photo is from www.diy.net.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_11

Above, I’ve removed the Sony multi-connector from its housing. There are 10 pads on one side (these are for the proprietary Sony communications) and five on the other side (these are for normal USB operations). Don’t break off the pads or you will be in a world of hurt. I broke off three of the pads and soldering was far more difficult than it needed to be. I ended up scraping the plastic off the wires to the pads and then soldering onto those. The 10 connectors are crammed in the space of 7mm or so.

According to the extremely helpful page at peterwedege.blogspot.com, the pinout is shown in the following table. I have underlined the ones that matter for this project.

U1 VBUS (+5V, max 2A)
U2 USB D-
U3 USB D+
U4 USB ID
U5 GND_USB
M10 +3.3V (MULTI_DC)
M09 reserved
M08 “UART_TX” / “LANC_SIG” (At A6000 it seems to be UART; No LANC!)
M07 “UART_RX” / “BOOT_IN” (At A6000 it seems to be UART; No Bootloader/Debug)
M06 SELECT (resistor against M01 or M09 for selecting Multiport functionalitites/protocol)
M05 Short to ground to focus, Audio R out
M04 Short to ground to take image, Audio L out
M03 Maybe composite video out (no AV-out at A6000 known to me!)
M02 GND (identical to GND_USB)
M01 Power_On/Off (short to GND)

There are reports that sometimes the pin numbering on the PCB is reversed, so plug the connector into the camera and use the multimeter to see which side is ground and and which 3.3V. The remote normally runs on two 1.5V AAA batteries in series, so they provide 3V. Therefore it’s quite happy to run on the 3.3V supplied by the camera.

I used the ultrafine tip to solder wires onto pins 2, 4, 5, and 10. The connections were so tiny and weak that I broke two just testing them. So I slathered the connector in 5-minute epoxy (make sure your epoxy is non-conductive!) and sandwiched it between two pieces of scrap plastic. Now it should now be as strong as it originally was.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_10Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_05Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_14

Next, I removed the screws and opened up the timer remote. The circular disks at the bottom are the piezo speaker which enables the remote to beep during operation. They aren’t necessary.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_08

De-solder the piezo speaker and discard it/save it for another project. Alternatively, if you desperately want the remote to emit obnoxious beeping noises during operation, you could probably relocate it.

Cut off the battery terminals. They’re woven into the PCB, so this is easier than de-soldering them.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_13

De-solder the three wires that went to the camera previously.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_04

Next, solder in your wires. Of the three pins on the right side that we just desoldered, on my remote the bottom one was ground, the middle was shutter, and the top one was focus. You should verify this by pushing the big button on the front and checking continuities with the multimeter, as different remotes probably have the pins in different orders. “Focus” will be the circuit that turns on when the big button is half-pressed, while “Shutter” will be the circuit that turns on when the big button is fully pressed.

Connect the 3V and ground wires to where the battery terminals used to be, and put a wire between the former ground battery contact and the ground camera triggering pin.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_03

I epoxied a little piece of plastic onto the cable where it exits the remote in order to prevent it from ripping off the solder joints.

I cut off the bottom of the remote case. If you cut it off at the right point, you can preserve a relatively closed-up bottom.

Hacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need BatteriesHacking a Camera Interval Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries_01

Final step: put it all back together. Test it out.

Want To Delay The Start Of Your Timelapse?

If your interval remote uses batteries, you can usually just set a timer delay on the remote, say for 2-3 hrs, and then go to bed at 9 PM while your timelapse starts at midnight. (If this sounds early to you, you’ve never hiked for 12 hrs with 50+ lbs on your back!)

Unfortunately if your interval remote doesn’t have batteries, it is at the mercy of your camera’s own “sleep” mode. On most Canon / Nikon cameras this wouldn’t have been a problem, but Sony cameras don’t have an easy “never sleep” option. D’oh!

With Sony cameras such as the A6000, the longest “power saving” sleep period you can set is 30 minutes. This means that the camera will go to sleep and the remote will forget its settings if you want a delay longer than this. HOWEVER, if you set the A6000’s setting named “Remote” to “On”, it will override whatever is in the “power saving” menu, and the camera will stay powered up forever.

Dear Sony, having one menu item render meaningless another is bad, and you should feel bad. However for the sake of this project, it’s a hack that works. Next time, just add a simple “never sleep” menu option. Maybe when you get around to significantly increasing that laughable battery life, too?