Friday, September 27, 2013

Remote shutter release

For macro work, or indeed for shots taken through a long lens, a tripod and some way of releasing the shutter remotely are often necessary. Jabbing at the shutter release button with your finger is asking for camera shake!

Three possibilities are open to me:
  1. The camera's self timer
  2. A wireless infrared remote such as the Canon RC-6
  3. A wired remote such as the Canon RS-60
Newer models, the 6D and 7D, also have the possibility of a WiFi link to a smartphone running a suitable app, but I don't have either of those cameras.

Using the camera's self timer is not really feasible when you are photographing animals. The time it takes to select either a 2 or 10 second delay via the drive mode settings and then wait out the delay, probably means you have missed the shot. I do sometimes use this method for stationary subjects such as flowers and fungi. I normally select the 2 second delay.

Infrared wireless remotes don't usually work from behind the camera when you are out of doors. The problem is that the little window that receives the infrared signal from the controller is located on the front of the camera, so you really need to be in front of the camera, directing the remote towards it. Presumably this is intended for self portraits. The RC-6 has a stated range of 4m, so it will often work from behind the camera when you are shooting indoors because the beam will be reflected by walls and other nearby surfaces. Out of doors however, there is rarely a suitable surface in range for it to bounce off.

So that leaves us with wired remotes such as the RS-60. I use mine frequently and find it an ideal replacement for the cable release I was used to in the days of mechanical shutters. It simply plugs into the 2.5mm jack socket on the side of the camera (under a rubber flap). The button works just like the camera's shutter release: Half pressure causes the camera to wake up, meter and focus; full pressure fires the shutter.

A nice touch is the notches on the sides to facilitate wrapping the cable round it when not in use, and the hole in the end to insert the 2.5mm jack so that the wire is held nicely in place whilst it is in the camera bag.

I have two small criticisms:
  • The release button is in a sort of slider which allows you to lock it down for "Bulb" mode long exposures (night shots, astro-photography, etc). But it is a bit too easy to operate by accident! It needs some sort of click mechanism or something so that you have to definitely want it before it operates.
  • The shutter release button is at the wrong end! It is at the end where the wire comes out. It seems natural to me, for some reason, that this button should be at the other end, furthest from the wire. Because it seems wrong to me, I am forever losing the button and having to think about where it is - which just occasionally loses me a shot! Perhaps it is because the first one of these gadgets I owned was the Olympus equivalent for the OM2 - and that had the button "the right end"! 
The shutter release button with sliding lock
The electronics are very straight forward. It is simply a pair of instant contact switches which complete a circuit. One switch triggers the focus, the other triggers the shutter. The wiring of the 2.5mm jack plug is described here from which this diagram is taken.

2.5mm stereo jack plugs are readily available, from Maplin for example, so it is easy enough to make your own devices. For example, I have wired up a security pressure pad to trigger the shutter (actually, it was for the autodrive of my old Olympus OM2N - but same principle). In this case the switch (pressure pad) would just be wired between the sleeve and the tip of the jack plug. The camera is pre-focussed, so the focus switch is not needed. It is then possible to set up a camera trap, e.g. bury the pressure pad across the entrance to a badger sett, so that an animal emerging steps on the pad, completes the circuit and fires the shutter.

Badger emerging from a drain taken using a camera trap based on a pressure pad wired as a remote shutter release. Scanned from a slide taken in 1982!