A remote trigger is one of those essential photographer accessories that virtually everyone will have in their bag. The market is full of different makes and models either wired or wireless with a huge variation in price. I have used 4 different triggers over the past few years and have settled on a top of the range wireless brand. Lately I have seen a few smart triggers appear on the market, these triggers move away from a simple controller and allow your smart phone to take full control of the camera - cool!
BaiCheng Innovations lately released the Pluto trigger and very kindly sent me one of the first ones to test out. I have been using it for a month now so it’s about time I tell you all about it. The Pluto trigger is a smartphone controlled remote trigger with a staggering 24 shooting modes. I want to focus on the modes essential to landscape and travel photography that I use frequently when shooting.
Getting started I downloaded the Pluto trigger app to my iPhone from the app store (also available on the Google Play store) ready for when my unit arrived. Exploring the app I found all the standard remote features found on any Intervalometer as well as a whole host of smart sensors. The app is really well designed with an easy to navigate menu system allowing you to move through the different functions at ease. So once my trigger arrived in the mail I was good to get started. My first impressions of the product were good, fancy looking packaging and a smart looking product with a cable ready to plug straight into my camera. I did notice the lack of instructions in the packaging, a single piece of paper with the app quick guide was all you got. Considering I already had the app I was hoping it would be very self explanatory to start shooting. Connecting the Pluto trigger to the camera body is like any other remote, a cable from a control unit plugs directly into the camera. The unit then has a convenient optional screw in hot shoe mount so you can sit it tightly on top of the camera if you’re not using a flash. The unit is then connected to your smartphone using Bluetooth once you launch the app (make sure bluetooth is on in settings!) Once connected you have control of your camera via the app, in the top right hand corner you have a power bar to show you how much charge the trigger has left. The unit is charged via USB so you don’t have to buy expensive batteries for it.
Once out in the field I found the unit and app easy to use for general intervalometer use. Setting the desired function is really easy and you just tap the phone screen to work the shutter button on the camera. I particularly liked the feature of being able to set a timer for the shutter, handy if you are taking landscape photos with yourself in the scene. A number of times I set the shutter to release in a minutes time allowing me to move into the scene before the shot was taken - sometimes, the built in 10 second timer on the camera just isn’t enough!
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The timelapse function is also self-explanatory. Punch in the settings you want it to run at or simply choose one of the presets that are built into the app. You can also do bulb ramping which would not be standard on a simple intervalometer. Once the timelapse is started the smartphone is no longer required, I found this out when my phone died on 40% mid lapse (thanks Apple), the Pluto trigger remembers the sequence and continues to shoot which is very handy. A separate menu is designed for aiding with creating star trails and works the same way.
The HDR range mode is also very good. You can bracket up to 19 shots from a mid exposure, I use a Canon 5D MKIII and the most bracketed shots you can do automatically is 7. This function is easy to use, but something I personally just do manually when shooting.
The feature I used most when out shooting with the Pluto trigger was the ND filter tool. I shoot a lot of long exposures and will often work my shooting times out using an app on my phone. The Pluto trigger app allows you to calculate the exposure time using an ND filter just like any other app, but then at a tap of the screen will then take that exposure. This was a really useful function to have - it meant I didn’t have to watch the timer on the camera at all or monitor a screen. It simply took the exact length shot that I wanted and speed up the shooting process. This is great if you get easily distracted like me!
So the Pluto trigger promotes itself as having 24 modes, a lot of which are smart sensors triggered either by the interaction with the phone or the unit itself. I have had a play with a number of the features and got most of them to work although, for me, I have no idea if I would ever use some of them! The trigger can be activated by sound, light, vibrations and movement, all of which I could get to work via shouting and rattling tripods etc. I could not get the laser or distance features to work, but I could have been doing it incorrectly. I also found the smile and wink detection to be a bit hit and miss with a time delay making them a bit pointless. I think just clicking the shutter when someone smiles would be a whole lot easier! These functions are clearly really smart, just probably not much use to a landscape photographer. If you are the kind of photographer that likes getting experimental in the basement thinking up creative ideas then this could be great for you.
One feature I’m really looking forward to trying in the future is the lightning sensor. Lightning triggers are quite expensive, so if my day-to-day remote and phone can replace that, it would be awesome. Unfortunately, I have not seen any lightning for a while to try this out.
Generally speaking, I think the Pluto trigger offers a lot of features and I think it’s a great bit of kit to have at your disposal. It really does appeal to the creative shooter that wants more than just an intervalometer. I really enjoyed using the app, however, more instructions would be helpful especially on some of the smart sensors. One thing I really loved about the remote was being able to set a time lapse or long exposure running and then still be able to use my phone as normal for snapchatting etc.
Does it have any faults? Well I did encounter a few, firstly using your smartphone to control the camera is just another thing to worry about. On two separate occasions I had to plug my old wireless remote in because my phone died. This is no fault of the Pluto trigger itself, but more a case of, ‘Do I have to use my phone for everything?’ Sometimes I love to escape the pocket world when I’m out shooting. I look at my phone a lot during the day and often taking photographs is a time when my phone gets forgotten about. When my phone wasn’t dying on me I also pulled the trigger out of my bag one day and it was dead. As it doesn’t take batteries, I couldn’t just stick one in and go and, again, I reached for the old remote. These problems can be overcome by having a power bank with you at all times or a phone that has a lot better battery life than an iPhone! My last problem arose during a time lapse, the trigger was set to take a photo every 4 seconds. Ninety-nine percent of the time it worked fine, but on the odd occasion it would leave a longer gap. One time it left a staggering 13 seconds between shots - this is not something I have experienced before. If I knew what caused it though maybe it could be overcome.
Retailing at US$119 it is the same price as my existing wireless remote. So does the Pluto trigger give you more for the money than a regular intervalometer? Well it certainly does if you can find a use for all the features! I will definitely keep using it, particularly when out shooting long exposures with ND filters. I’m really looking forward to testing the lightning trigger and I’m sure I will find practical uses for some of the smart sensors in time. I just won’t be throwing away my other remotes just yet.
Tom Rex Jessett
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