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

This guest post is written of 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?

Astro-Landscape & Long Exposure Timelapse Testing For Mirrorless Cameras: External Battery Power

Since acquiring one of the most amazing compact super-zoom digital cameras ever, the Sony RX10 mk2, I have been earnestly testing Sony’s USB power input. All of of the newer (mk2) A7-series mirrorless full-frame bodies, for example, can run off a 5V power bank using a USB cable. (Previously, the Sony USB port could only charge a battery while the camera was off, apparently.)

My goal is to see just how ready (if at all) mirrorless cameras are for all-night astro-landscape timelapse shooting.

TLDR: using the highest capacity external battery sources, so far I am very impressed and moderately excited about mirrorless cameras finally being ready for astro-landscape timelapse work! Unfortunately a few quirks do still exist that may be show-stoppers, for the time being.

Sony RX10 II Moon

Nightscape Timelapse Testing Details

  • The Sony RX10 mk2 uses the same battery as the full-frame and APS-C mirrorless systems, the Sony NP-FW50. It’s ~7.2V and a paltry 1020 mAh. (A Nikon EN-EL15 is 1900 mAh)
  • Thanks to the much smaller sensor, the Sony RX10 mk2 is actually CIPA rated to get slightly better battery life out of the NP-FW50 than, say, an A7RII. (400 vs 360)
  • Unfortunately, all mirrorless cameras gobble up those mAh much faster than OVF DSLRs do, and this puts mirrorless cameras at a huge disadvantage for battery life, period.

Considering all these relevant details, the RX10 mk2 gets about 60-90 mins of continuous, back-to-back 30 sec exposures on a single NP-FW50. That is about 1/3 or 1/4 what a FX or DX DSLR would get. The DSLRs are able to operate without live view running continuously, this saves a ton of power. And even though some of the newer mirrorless cameras allegedly have options for turning off the LCD and EVF while shooting, the bottom line is that the Sony NPFW-50 battery is also about half the capacity of most DSLR batteries.

wigwam-motel-rialto-09Sony RX10 mk2, 30 sec @ f/7.1 & ISO 100, 3-image panorama

Using External Power With Mirrorless Cameras For Timelapse Work

First, I bought an Enerplex QuickCharge 8000 USB battery and ran an all-night timelapse to see just how long 8,000 mAh would carry the RX10 mk2.  Theoretically, if it can do ~1 hr on ~1,000 mAh, it should be able to do ~8 hrs on 8,000 mAh.

The first attempt was 990 30 sec exposures at 47 sec intervals, which would yield nearly 13 hours of shooting.  The 8,000 mAh battery pack died some time during the night, and the RX10 mk2 was not able to switch to its in-body battery to continue the timelapse apparently. But, at least the external battery lasted for almost the entire 13 hour duration / 990 exposures.

The second test was again 990 (this is the limit of the built-in timelapse app that you can buy for $9.99; hopefully they’ll have an update that can change this!) 30 sec exposures at 33 sec intervals, yielding ~9 hours of essentially continuous sensor….sensing. The external battery pulled off the 990 exposures no problem, then the camera sat idle for ~3 more hours after sunrise, and still had somewhere between 30-50% charge left. (I slept in. I hope the Sony timelapse app also gets an update to allow the camera LCD to sleep after a timelapse is complete!)

Enerplex QuickCharge 8000

Note, this is a 5V, ~1 amp output device, and the cameras operate at ~7.2V.  (They claim the QuickCharge is capable of 1.5A output, however, Amazon reviews state that this basically operates at 1A to avoid overheating) Either way, going from 5V to 7.2V is, simply put, a bit wasteful. The limitation of 1A instead of 1.5-2 is probably not helping either. (You can buy 7.5V-12V battery packs for various other purposes, however, 5V USB power banks are by far the most popular because that is what most folks use to charge their phones and tablets on-the-go. Also, most variable-voltage battery packs are much more expensive, like, 5-10 times more expensive!)

Eastern Sierras Hot Springs Moonlight Star TrailsEastern Sierra Hot Springs By Moonlight
Sony RX10 mk2, 40 mins worth of 30 sec exposures @ f/2.8 & ISO 800

Anker PowerCore 20100

Clearly, a single 8000 mAh battery pack would be enough for 1-2 simple nightscape timelapses of 4-5 hrs each, and if you’re on a roadtrip with AC power access in a vehicle during most of the day, this might be all you need.  But, what about backpacking in the middle of nowhere for 3-5 nights? I decided, go big or go home, and bought the Anker PowerCore 20,100 mAh USB battery pack.

With this battery pack, I wanted to perform a different kind of test first.  Instead of powering the camera directly from the battery pack, I wanted to see how many re-charges I could put into the Sony NP-FW50 itself while the camera was off. (If a Sony camera is turned on while plugged into external power, it directs that external power straight to camera operation, and does NOT charge the battery while the camera is operating.  You can only charge the NP-FW50 in-camera via USB if the camera is turned off)

NOTE: Again, this is only the case for newer, mk2 versions of Sony mirrorless cameras. The older cameras, such as the A7R or A7S, cannot run directly off a USB power pack, and they can only charge the internal battery if the camera is off.

Considering that the NP-FW50 is ~1,000 mAh, at first glance you might hope that the Anker PowerCore 20100 would put ~20 full 100% charges into the Sony RX10 mk2.

In simple terms, you lose a lot of juice when charging one battery with another battery. (Even in Anker’s official spec sheet, the 20,100 mAh battery is only spec’d to charge a Samsung Galaxy S6 five times, and 2850 x 5 = <15,000 mAh.)

I was able to charge the 1020 NP-FW50 only seven times, and it took about ~3.5 hours to charge each time.  Considering you can kill these batteries in just a few hours while shooting, or in about 30-45 mins while shooting 4K video, that’s a show-stopper for anyone who is going to be away from additional power sources for more than 24-48 hours. If you want your mirrorless camera to last a few days, either bring a ton of pre-charged batteries, or be willing to go everywhere and shoot everything with your camera plugged in. (On a tripod, this isn’t so bad, just gaff-tape the Anker battery to one of the tripod legs.)

Anker USB Battery Powering a Sony RX10 II Timelapse

The next test I performed was much more promising, however.  I went with the same 990 shot, 33 sec interval, 30 sec exposure test on a fully charged Anker 20100. This time I managed to wake up right as the timelapse was completing. The whole thing didn’t even put a dent in the Anker’s 4-LED battery life indicator.

Stay tuned for continued testing results!  It seems that if you’re heading into the wilderness with a mirrorless camera and you wish to run some all-night timelapses, you should be good to go with the relatively lightweight (354g / 12.5oz) Anker PowerCore 20100 for at least a couple nights of shooting, and conservative daytime shooting.

However you might get 20-30% worse performance than what I got, if you’re using a full-frame mirrorless camera, so clearly this whole theory will require additional testing. And, for any system, whether it be RX-series, A7-series, A6000-series, you will still want to bring quite a few extra NP-FW50 batteries, simply because recharging them in the field is a rather inefficient option. Unless you plan on leaving your external power source permanently taped to your tripod and plugged into your camera, which may very well be a good option for some. ;-)

 

Mirrorless Loses Its Advantage Of Weight Savings

For landscape, travel, adventure, or nightscape photographers though, the “mirrorless advantage” is a bit difficult to figure out. Many of the bells and whistles that other mirrorless fans are raving about just aren’t relevant to us. In fact for me, I can only think of two reasons right now that I’d consider using a mirrorless camera for hiking and backpacking: weight savings, and accurate metering at night.

The on-sensor metering of a Sony is incredible, and allows you to shoot day-to-night transitional timelapses with ease. This is a huge advantage compared to a DSLR that seems to utterly fail at metering about 20-30 mins after sunset, which necessitates annoying bulb ramping calculations or constant exposure monitoring.

A #sunrise #timelapse shines on #Catalina Island and #NewportBeach, #California. #SonyRX10 mk2

A video posted by Matthew Saville (@matthewsavillephoto) on

Eastern Sierra Hot Spring Sunset Timelapse, December 2015

A video posted by Matthew Saville (@matthewsavillephoto) on

Unfortunately, the other advantage, weight savings, can cease to exist if you want to shoot lots of timelapse one of the larger sensor cameras like the A7R II. It’s only marginally lighter than a Nikon D750 to begin with, and the extra batteries required to feed the mirrorless camera would put it far beyond the tipping point.

Even if you also use an external battery to power your DSLR, you’ll only need a single 9-10 oz battery, whereas to shoot the same amount of timelapse you might need two 12+ oz USB power banks.

So, mirrorless loses its advantage, unless you’re shooting very conservatively. You could save even more weigh by using one of the older, lighter A7-series bodies, but then again that camera wouldn’t work with a plug-in USB power bank, you’d have to use a dummy battery like with a DSLR, and bring 2-3 external 7.5 volt batteries. (This is something I plan on testing asap) That, plus the fact that the older Sony A7-series mirrorless bodies are completely un-sealed from weather, equals serious hesitance on my part.

Lastly, you could do what I did: opt for a non-ILC compact camera with a 2.7x crop sensor, like the RX10 series. This would certainly save you weight, but it would also be a noticeable compromise in overall image quality. Or, there’s the Sony RX100 series, which currently offers a 24-70mm equivalent lens that hits f/1.8 on the wide end, which is certainly tempting at just 10 oz. Without question, I’d bring such a camera on a backpacking trip if I needed 2-3 cameras on that trip. We’re on a mission to find the best solution for a primary camera, though.

Therefore, it is my conclusion that mirrorless is certainly a viable option for nightscape timelapse work, but there are still a few serious improvements that could be implemented, and the DSLR option is still a great one, even for the weight-conscious photographer. (Although lightweight full-frame body options are a bit limited, I’d still consider them to be adequate for any type of professional work)

More Nightscape Wishes For The Sony Camera System

Before I wrap this up, I might as well collect my current wishlist for the Sony camera system here, including stuff I’ve already mentioned above:

  1. I wish the Sony timelapse app would allow the camera LCD / EVF to sleep (turn off) after a completed timelapse sequence, or even DURING a timelapse.
  2. The existing option in the Sony timelapse app for a dim LCD (“Monitor Bright. during Shoot.”) …does not seem to do anything, and it always resets itself back to “Normal” no matter how many times I set it to “Dim”.  Maybe the feature is broken, or maybe it’s because I already set my camera LCD to -2 for all nightscape photography in the first place.
  3. I wish all Sony mirrorless cameras were able to completely shut off the LCD during longer exposures, instead of just leaving the LCD on, but black / blank. This could really go a long way to increasing battery performance when all you’re doing is back-to-back 30 sec exposures!
  4. I wish the Sony timelapse app would allow more camera settings to be adjusted during a timelapse; currently things like WB, and even the physical EV comp dial, seem to be on lockdown once you start a timelapse.  This would be very helpful when capturing timelapses of the transition of night to day and vice versa.

So, that’s all for now folks!  Stay tuned for more test results.

Data and random notes are collected at:

Matthew Saville’s Adventure Photo Gear Chart

Take care, and happy trails,
=Matt=

Yosemite National Park VS Delaware North Companies | Facts VS Feelings

Ugh, I can’t believe this is still making headlines. And now March 1st is just a few days away. But I think the news reports, and the social media hype, are all extremely short on details, and heavy on conclusion and bandwagon-jumping. So, is it justified?

The Whole History of Yosemite VS DNC

Let’s go back all the way. Curry Village for example, was officially named in 1970. So DNC did not give it its name, that’s for darn sure. According to Wikipedia, the concession contract was granted/purchased by DNC back in 1993, for $115M in today’s dollars. (Does anybody care to do the inflation math in reverse?) This sale did include some sort of “intellectual property” however you’ll have to get back to me if the specific word “trademark” is anywhere in that original sale.. (I don’t know if the “intellectual property” was itemized in the sale, either.)

Apparently, somehow they now own even the name “Yosemite National Park” and the slogan “Go climb a rock”. Um, excuse me?

Diving-Board-Astro-Landscape-pano

 

In 2014 when the NPS decided to switch concessionaires from DNC to Yosemite Hospitality LLC, apparently they “forgot” to list the intellectual property as part of the sale, the new contract. So, DNC filed a lawsuit asking a court to determine the market value for that “intellectual property” so that they could be paid fairly.

DNC asked for $51M, NPS countered with a $3.5M offer. From there, it got worse.  Allegedly the NPS las lost interest in discussing price, and has opted to just pressure DNC to drop the case entirely. Also, apparently, some news articles talk about the trademarks as if they were in fact bought in 1993, even though they weren’t even legally filed until almost a decade later.

So yes indeed, there’s corporate greed afoot. But wasn’t the sale of the “intellectual property” in the first place a bit of a bone-headed move, now coming back to haunt the NPS? I can’t help but find myself wondering, “who in their right mind would sell the *NAME* Yosemite National Park, for any reason whatsoever? How is something like that ever for sale at all? How did we as a nation allow this to become a tool for corporate money-grubbing? Did the NPS just desperately need some cash at the time, so they decided to throw in the trademarks for a few extra bucks? Or, did they have no idea they were actually selling the name of a national park, or other iconic names?

The answer is complicated, but it seems to stink of corporate sneakiness no matter how deep you dig. Basically, from my conversations with other folks who greatly appreciate Yosemite National Park as I do, it seems that DNC may have been playing a subtle, long-term game with the “intellectual property” situation.

Simply put, whether or not DNC was actually buying specific ownership of the names of places like the Ahwahnee Hotel back in 1993, they waited until 2002 to actually file the name “Ahwahnee Hotel” as a trademark. They also trademarked “Yosemite National Park” then, and have since been filing other trademarks every now and then. They even filed a Yosemite related trademark in 2015, apparently after they had lost the concession contract. A trademark is nothing new, in fact they have been around since the 1800’s. So, what happened in 1993, and how did DNC even get away with shenanigans like this? Therein lies the shaky grounds for this whole fight. Now you know!

Yosemite Valley Moonlight Nightscape

 

Either way, I’m thinking, if the original contract in 1993 had simply stated “you own these businesses, the property, and you may operate under these names, but the names / trademarks remain the property of the NPS” …then this whole thing would have been dead in its tracks today. So yes DNC are money-grubbing; if they paid $115M  and yet are asking for $51M for JUST the trademarks today, they’re crazy.

But who’s to say the NPS’ offer of $3.5M wasn’t a slap-in-the-face lowball? And now it sounds like they’re just being cranky and un-cooperative about the whole thing, allegedly:

“NPS declined to discuss the fair value of DNCY’s property [in court] and instead pressured DNCY to waive its rights to be compensated for intellectual property and capital improvements…” – DNC

(Yosemite trademark dispute takes new turns in law and politics – The Fresno Bee)

If I was the CEO of DNC, I’d happily take a $3.5M bone if the NPS threw me one, and let the whole thing be finally done with. But that’s probably exactly why I’ll never be a CEO- I have too big a heart for historic nostalgia, and too big an aversion to hardball corporate business tactics.

Then again, if I had been in charge of Yosemite or the NPS back in 1993 I would have definitely made a ruckus over the thought of selling the name “Yosemite National Park” to a big corporation.

Either way, I don’t care what they call these places on March 1st, I’ll always call them by their historic names. And if a tourist asks me “how do I get to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel?” …I’ll just stare at them blankly and walk away, because I won’t even correctly remember that name five minutes after I finish writing this sentence. Majestic-valley-dome what, you say?

I also hope some die-hard Yosemite fans preemptively duplicate the existing road signs ad-infinitum and then hang them back up over the changed new signs. ‘Cause that’d be hilariously entertaining. But then again DNC wouldn’t be the victim of such shenanigans anyways, so never mind.

Yosemite Valley Tunnel View Sunrise

 

Anyways, now you know the whole story. Buried somewhere under social media’s cries about cold-hearted corporate greed, DNC is probably going to legally maneuver their way through this, like it or not, because they are cunning businessmen. One thing is for sure, this won’t end in DNC just rolling over and playing dead just because of social media uproar, or a disorganized, small-scale boycott.

I would say that some serious lobbying and/or boycotting by park-goers might do the trick, but it seems to be too late for that, depending on how much longer DNC will be collecting profits from their business in the park. At this point, the main ingredient would seem to be some serious change-of-heart on the part of DNC execs. So, a snowball’s chance…?

Take care, and happy adventures,
=Matt=

Yosemite VS DNC Trademark Dispute References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahwahnee_Hotel#Background

(Anybody feel free to chime in if my facts aren’t straight! I appreciate fact-checking.)

https://archive.org/details/yosemiteconcessi00unit

(If I glean any info as to the reasons behind the sale of the names / trademarks in this document from 1993, I’ll add them here.)

http://www.trademarkia.com/company-dnc-parks–resorts-at-yosemite-inc-352814-page-1-2

Disclaimer:
I enjoy playing devil’s advocate. If you don’t, that’s okay. I like to at least try to fully understand both sides of an argument, and know the whole story, before forming an opinion. But its’ a process, and I never claim to be more informed than someone else. So, if I’m totally wrong about something, or if you simply disagree entirely, feel free to chime in, as long as you’re respectful. Thanks!

Wigwam Motel, Rialto CA

Testing out some new blog sharpening algorithms, and some night exposures with the Sony RX10 mk2. It appears that although I’m displaying the original size images, WordPress is in fact changing the fine detail ever-so-slightly. Bummer. Might have to go back to uploading to SmugMug, and hotlinking the image URL.

Enjoying the Sony RX10 II for night photography.  Considering it’s a bit noisy at all ISO’s, 30 sec exposures at ISO 100 feel about the same as ISO 400-800 exposures on my D750, which gives a natural grain look to night shots. I’m actually adding a bit of “silver rich” grain.

Which reminds me, these images are processed in Capture One, not Lightroom. I’ve really been falling out of love with Adobe Camera Raw lately…

Enjoy,
=Matt=

photos.matthewsaville.com

PS: Note Orion visible at the top of this first photo. Sorta visible. (Inland Empire light pollution…) The other two images have a waxing crescent moon in them.

 

Sony RX10 mk2, 30 sec @ f/7.1 & ISO 100, tripod, 2-sec timer, long exposure NR, 4-image vertical composite @ 24mm equivalent.

 

Sony RX10 mk2, 4 sec @ f/2.8 & ISO 100, tripod, 2-sec timer, long exposure NR, 24mm equivalent.

Sony RX10 mk2, 30 sec @ f/8 & ISO 100, tripod, 2-sec timer, long exposure NR, 5-image horizontal composite @ 24mm equivalent.

Radian 2 Kickstarter Campaign Almost Over

the-lost-coast-greetings-from-another-world-1000
Nikon D750, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Slik Pro 500 tripod

30 min @ f/4 & ISO 800

There are fewer and fewer things that I get very excited about these days, as far as photography equipment goes. We’re pretty close to having the “ultimate” camera bodies, the “ultimate” lenses, and amazing other tools for the astro-landscape work that I am passionate about.  I could use cameras and gear from this current generation for the rest of my life, and be quite happy.

So, what does excite me these days?  Other sorts of specialty tools, and one other thing that I have already shared about myself: weight and space-saving improvements for use on extended adventures. If I find a piece of “kit” that weighs roughly 1/2 what most its competition weighs, or takes up 1/2 the space, then that means I can bring two of them into the wilderness, or simply go farther and remain in the outdoors longer.

That’s why I’m excited for what seems to be the next generation of timelapse motion control. I already shared that I’ve begun using and testing the Alpinelabs Radian, and now the Kickstarter campaign for their mk2 Radian device is almost complete.  (You can support it HERE!) This next generation of timelapse motion control technology is bringing two major new things to the table: bluetooth connectivity for wireless control and monitoring of your timelapses, and ultra-lightweight linear motion control along a slider or dolly etc.

The use of cell phones for controlling your camera is nothing new, but it has come a long way very rapidly in the past few years.  At first, it was a complete non-option for the type of stuff I do; I simply cannot have my phone be plugged into my camera 100% of the time, in fact I abhor all cables of any kind, and only use them when absolutely necessary. Another issue with cell phone control is battery life, but I have overcome that by finding a phone (Samsung Galaxy S3, Ebay, $150) that seems to live FOREVER on the particular brand of battery that is readily swappable. (Babo, Ebay, $9) In airplane mode, I can get many days of backcountry life out of a single battery, but since I now also use my cell phone as a GPS map and logger, thanks to an app called Backcountry Navigator, (Android only, $9.99) …I went ahead and bought four total cell phone batteries.

But I digress.  Now, with the Alpine labs Radian mk2, (which I’m supporting on Kickstarter and hoping to receive in a few months) I hope to be able to program timelapses from my phone, wirelessly, and with the ability to disconnect or turn off my phone as soon as a timelapse is started. There are also a couple other new features that I have barely begun to ponder uses for, including actual image transfer for exposure monitoring, and completely re-imagined bulb ramping options.  (Previously, bulb ramping has proven to be highly un-useful for me, and I’ve had to do sunset-to-starlight timelapse progressions using basic aperture priority and manual exposure control.)

The other thing I’m excited about is the lightweight, affordable adapter for linear (slider) motion that Alpinelabs is kicking off as well. It is belt-driven, and mounts the Radian on the side, so hopefully it will be both stable and precise. Previously, such systems were extremely expensive and hefty, and complicated to set up and program, and even if I could have afforded them I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of lugging them on a high-mileage backpacking trip. Lately however more systems are becoming available that offer compact lightweight and affordable timelapse motion control.

This is, lately, what has me the most excited about photography equipment!

Happy clicking,
=Matt=

 

Alpine Labs Radian – Timelapse Device Quick Intro

I’m always on a quest for ultra-lightweight, simple, and affordable equipment.

That’s one of the main reasons why, despite owning two full-frame cameras and a handful of lenses, I still frequently reach for my crop-sensor Nikon D5300 and Tokina 11-16mm for creating both still images and timelapse footage.

I obsess over weight for reasons other than just being a sissy, by the way.  (Although that may be one of the reasons.) I obsess over weight because the lighter the gear, the easier it is to bring two or three cameras into the wilderness! (Watch this video if you haven’t already)

I obsess over price for reasons other than just being cheap-o, too.  (Although, again, that could be one of the reasons…) Mostly, I like affordable gear because it makes me a little more willing to take a risk I might not be willing to take if $5,000 is at stake.  (Either by destruction, theft, or confiscation by authorities…  ;-)

It is on that note that I present to you my newest tool:  The Alpine Labs Radian, a simple, portable, and affordable timelapse device.  Stay tuned for a full review here, and on SLRLounge.com, but in the meantime, suffice it to say I’m excited about the specs, the weight, and the price!  In fact it’s so light, at first I kept looking through the box for a heavy battery or something to go with it.  But that’s it!  Less than 1 lb.  It’s also extremely simple to set up, if you have any experience with timelapse intervals and workflow. Set the total time, the angle to rotate, and the interval, then click “upload”. (And then you can unplug your phone, too, which is nice.  Your phone will even keep a graphic representation of the progress, and let you know when it’s done.)

Take care and happy clicking,
=Matt=

February 2015 Road Trip | Grand Canyon B&Ws

The sunset on February 27th was nice, but not as epic as it could have been considering how much dramatic weather was swirling around. And just after sunset, it started snowing moderately fiercely. The Forester (stock road tires) actually slid around a bit for the very first time! (Well, on paved roads. Getting to White Pocket a year ago was a whole different ballgame!)

The next morning, waking before sunrise, it was completely dark, grey, and still lightly snowing outside.

It was also nice and warm in bed.

Get up and go, the little voice said. Bad weather is awesome. YUP, it sure is!

The sun is “the little ball of hydrogen that could”, …and clouds, unlike ancient monuments of solid rock, are fleeting.

So, set your alarm clock. Brave the elements, I say! (Weather sealing or not!)

I think this is why my mantra as a landscape photographer is sometimes the opposite of what most people say. Here’s my way of thinking:

              Hope for the worst, and prepare for the best!

That is to say, I have found that almost all of my favorite images have been made on days when the weather was either bleak, or ominous, or at least un-predictable. So, instead of looking at the weather report before going out (you do look at the weather before you go out, right?) …and deciding to stay at home just because it might rain on your nice expensive camera, I say, go out and brave the elements, protect your gear as best you can of course, and just see what happens. Be prepared for something truly amazing to happen.  Be prepared to capture beautiful, fleeting light.

Another thing I’ve come to assume is, bad weather makes for great black & white imagery.  90% of the time, a grey, overcast morning is just not going look very exciting.  In fact, color might actually be detracting from your image’s interest.

If something in your image (including color) isn’t working FOR your image, it’s probably working AGAINST your image.

Plus, burning and dodging the heck out of a color image usually tends to just make it look like a bad HDR, whereas folks like Ansel Adams and Clyde Butcher have spent the last half-century proving that burning and dodging a B&W image is one of the greatest photographic art forms there is.

No, I’m not encouraging folks to completely obliterate every last “flat” tone in every corner of every image until there is a near-white and near-black tone everywhere.  In fact, just the opposite.  I feel that subtle, faint tonal transitions are one of the most difficult things to master, and yet one of the most beautiful and satisfying elements to see in a B&W image. Besides, a winter storm almost always involves limited visibility, and lots and lots of grey.  ;-)

Please feel free to comment if you have any questions!  (All images were made on a Nikon D750 and a Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR.)

=Matt=

Why astro-landscape and timelapse photography demands lightweight cameras

Why do I complain about wanting more lightweight camera gear?

I didn’t realize just how much I sound like a whiney kid until I watched this clip later, so my apologies lol. Maybe I am indeed a sissy for not being able to lug THREE D810’s or 5D mk3’s up a hill, mounted to multiple 14-24’s or 24-70’s or other 2.8 full-frame DSLR zooms. Also, just maybe, …next time I should count my blessings and and enjoy watching the sunrise while my camera does its thing… ;-)

Hopefully you’ll still get my point – lightweight, compact cameras that deliver great image quality aren’t just for beginners and sissies, they’re highly useful for astro-landscape and timelapse photographers who often take 1-2+ hours just to create a single image or sequence.

Dear Sony, please reconsider your policy of ignoring lightweight primes!

I personally feel it is highly lamentable that so far, Sony’s official line has been that they’re not very concerned with delivering any lightweight, compact primes for their full-frame mirrorless A7-series.  So far, their 55mm is $1,000 and weighs a ton, and their 35mm is f/2.8 and while lightweight, doesn’t exactly tempt astro-landscape shooters at $700 for an f/2.8 aperture.

Unfortunately, the last I heard from Sigma was that neither are they ready to deliver their Art lineup of lenses to the FE mount, so we won’t see the 35mm f/1.4 Art any time soon, nor a yet-unannounced 24mm f/1.4 Art.

Then again, Rokinon has been moderately gung-ho about supporting the FE mount, with both their 14mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/1.4 available without adapters, and those two lenses are pretty much the go-to lenses for astro-landscape shooters.

Speaking of adapters, it is important to remember that if there is one thing Sony’s FE mount does NOT lack, it is adapters.

All this to say, if you’re only looking to pack 1-2 cameras into the wilderness, you’re probably OK.  Feel free to criticize me for whining about the lack of lightweight options.  That’s fine with me, I’ll be busy packing 2-3-4 cameras up a mountain.

Take care,
=Matt=