So I got a new toy in the post today… Nah, still the same old camera.
I got myself a new timer release & intervalometer… [Its basically a fancy cable release].
Most of the big brands have their own, Nikon have the MC-36, Canon have the TC-80N3. Thing is, they do the same thing… They’re based on the same circuit, and same principle.
You can set it to do lots of exposures, tell it to do an exposure 5 hours, 43 minutes and 19 seconds after you click the button, or program it to do a 3 hour, 59 minute and 2 second exposure, using your camera’s bulb setting [normally a couple of clicks after 30sec in manual mode].
Timer releases are mainly used for long exposures. Say you’re shooting in twilight, you’ve got an aperture of f/16, and your cameras flashing up LOW [if you’re a Nikon user, no idea what Canons say when there ain’t enough light].
You can either boost the ISO, and risk image quality, lower the aperture, and risk depth of field, or plug in a timer release, figure out how long it needs to go for, say, 60 seconds, a stop over 30 sec, the longest most cameras can shoot at without outside help, dial it into the remote, click the button, and Bob’s your mothers brother. Sit back, and in a minutes time, two minutes if you have long exposure noise reduction on, you have a well exposure, real long exposure.
Of course, you could just lock your normal cable release, assuming you have a cable release, and assuming you have a cable release with a lock function, and count up to however long you need.
But if like me, you have the attention span of a blue bottle, keeping count for what can be pretty long exposures, normally isn’t going to end well.
With a timer release, you have the ability to program any shutter length in, normally up to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
Of course, you’re probably goin’ to have to run your camera off of a small diesel generator for it to go that long, and have a block of lead in front of the lens to block enough light to allow a exposure of that long, but at least you know you can do it.
This is really useful when if like me, you like shooting in the low twilight or if you’ve picked yourself up a nice 10 stop ND filter.
Now you have the ability to shoot obscenely long exposures.
The other cool feature of most timer releases, is the intervalometer. Sounds a lot more scifi than it really is.
What this does is let you set an interval, and have the camera fire after that amount of time.
Some cameras, like my Nikon D200 have an intervalometer feature built into them, but like most things in cameras, it was designed by an engineer, not a photographer. I’m good with technical stuff, but even I have to read the manual when setting it. Systems like the Nikon MC-36, Canon TC-80N3, and the host of third party controls, like the Phottix Nikos [TC-501] I have here, simplify the process.
Say your cameras shooting at 5 seconds, if you set the intervalometer to 20 second intervals, 15 seconds after your first shot, the camera will fire again, and so on and so forth, as long as the intervalometers going. To make this process even easier, you can set your camera to bulb, and in the timer release program a shutter length of 5 seconds, and an interval of 15 seconds, and it’ll do it all for you, without any complicated maths [15sec + 5sec = 20sec].
This comes in really useful for creating timelapse videos from your stills. Something I’m looking into, hence my purchase of the Phottix Nikos [TC-501].
These timers also normally come equip with a self timer, to help remove any camera shake.
Set the self timer to 8 seconds, click the start button, and after 8 seconds, the remote will fire the camera, and the process will begin. It also knows to only fire it before the first shot, so it doesnt interfere with your intervals.
They also include a frame count feature that programs them to fire a certain amount of shots, normally with a maximum of 99, though leaving this count at 0 will mean it fires until you turn it off.
I think that covers all the technical crap about the subject, now lets get on with the whole review part.
The Nikos [TC-501] is produced by the Chinese company Phottix.
Phottix is primarily known for it direct knock off’s of other manufacturers products, at heavily discounted prices, such as their TR-90, which bears a striking resemblance to Nikon’s MC-36.
They also make an almost carbon copy of Nikon’s GP-1 GPS Device, the only difference between them being a slightly chubbier chassis on the Phottix [Comparison shot].
But in recent months, they’ve released a wave of their own, home brew camera accessory solutions, like the Nikos here.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the circuit inside its pretty little case is a variant of a Nikon or Canon, but to be fair, there’s not much you can do to make it different, they do the same things.
But what they have done, is include a couple of features I haven’t seen before on a product of this type.
In my long and overly troublesome career with cable releases, one problem has left me short on money multiple times.
With the cable being moulded into the remote section, there’s a great loss of flexibility. When you’ve got a cable release which is nearly 3 meters long, which I have, for some God unknown reason, finding a place to store all
that cable can be a problem.
So I do/did what I do with any cables that’s too long, I wind it up. But as I’ve found out, that’s apparently not a good idea.
I’ve gone through 5 cable released in three years. Only two are still working. My three meter long cheapie off of Ebay, mainly because all the excess is tied up with a cable tie, and my new Phottix Nikos [TC-501]. But I only got that this morning…
Pretty much the sole reason I bought this release over all the other cheap knock off pieces of crap you can get on the market, is because of its removable cable.
Instead of it being soldered onto the board, and attacked through the case by a big injection moulded blob of plastic, the Nikos connects to the camera via mini-jack connection.
Phottix make 8 different cables that can be connected to the Nikos, that will fit a whole host of different cameras from most of the major brands.
I use the Phottix N8 cable, which at one end has the appropriate gold plated mini-jack for connecting to the Nikos, and at the other has a Nikon 10-pin remote terminal connector. [See here].
The whole list of cables and compatible cameras for use with the Nikos can be found here.
The cable comes in a coiled format, which is about 18in in length, and can extend to about 30in/2.5ft long, before the risk of pulling your camera over becomes apparent.
The mini-jack fits very securely into the remote, so much so that it requires a bit of force. It makes for a nice change.
My biggest suprise about the cable was the 10 pin connector.
Most cables to fit a Nikon 10 pin terminal come with a metal, sometimes plastic, threaded fitting, for securely fitting to cable to the camera.
In my experience, these are pure crap. They’re never threaded properly, and just don’t fit, at all. I honestly didn’t have high hopes for the Phottix, but as it has a wrist strap for hanging it off the tripod, I wasn’t phased. I figured
I’d have a go anyways. And to my surprise, it threaded on perfectly.
It may not sound like a big deal, but to me its a sign of quality. I bought an extra cable at the same time as the remote, due to my past experiences, and to test that it wasn’t just fluke, I tried that aswell, and it fit perfectly too. I was shocked, to say the least.
I really like the Nikos’ brushed steel effect facial. It moves it away from the standard chunky black plastic look of cable released.
Size wise, its about the same as a modern ‘candy bar’ phone; its dimension being 1.5cm deep, just under 10cm long, and about 4cm wide.
It fits comfortably into my gorilla hand, with all the buttons easily reachable with your thumb.
Control wise, its pretty simply laid out.
You’ve got your…
- Shutter button, the big round one at the top, under the screen. That’s for using the remote as a standard cable release.
- Lock/Backlight button. Holding this down locks the remote, so you don’t accidentally turn it off during a long exposure. Its a nice little feature but it means moving it around whilst you’ve started the exposure… The screens got a semi-bright green backlight, like most cameras and cheap digital watches have. It just lights up the screen so you can see your settings when its dark. Simple, and it works. Can’t ask for anymore.
- Stop/Play/Pause button. It doesn’t actually pause though, so dunno why they’ve put the pause emblem on it as well. Once you’ve got your desired settings in place, hit it once, and it starts the remote going, hit it again to stop it, though if you’re only using it as a timer release, you won’t have to stop it.
- The D-pad and set button. You use the ◄ and ► buttons to go through the options, once you’re on the one you’re after, you press the ‘set’ button, the figures will start to blink, you can then use the ▲and▼buttons to change the settings, and the ◄ and ►to go through the units, which are (left to right) hours, minutes, seconds. Once you’ve dialled in the settings you want, hit ‘set’ again, and you’re ready to rock.
- On the side, you have your off-on-bulb switch. Off means its off, obviously. You can still use the remote as a normal cable release, but you don’t have any of the advanced features. On fires up the fun parts of the remote. You can then set your interval, shutter duration, frame count and self timer.
The third setting is for bulb. This is my only real irk with the whole thing.
I’m not sure why they’ve done it this way. Most releases, the shutter button has a lock feature; where you press
the shutter button down, and slide it forwards, to lock it in-place for as long as you want the shutter open.
I think to keep the unit aesthetically pleasing, they’ve gone away from this, and stuck it on the side as an operating mode.
Really I’d have liked to have have it kept the standard way, so when not using the advanced features, and shooting in bursts, for HDR or something, its still available.
You can still do this, but to keep the shutter firing in a burst, you have to slip the switch into this bulb mode, without having your camera in bulb. So that it just keeps on rattling off shots.
This is fine, but it uses the battery up, as the display comes up and counts how long you’ve been bulbing? for. If I’m using the remote for long exposures, I’m just going to use the long exposure feature build into the remote, and
set the time I need, that way I don’t have to keep checking the time, I can have a nap or a sandwich. I just don’t understand the logic behind this feature. It works fine, I just think it could have been left out, and the shutter button given a lock feature.
The screens laid out nicely, each feature is accessible separately, and you’re able to use them all at once.
From left to right you have; Self-Timer/Delay, Interval, Shutter Duration and Frame Count. You simply navigate through them with the ◄ and ► keys.
Like I said, you can enable all these features at once, so you can tell your camera to fire 5 seconds after you press the start button using the self option, shoot for 2 hours, 8 minutes, 45 seconds using the long option, and do it ever 20 hours using the int. feature, until its done it 36 times using the frames option.
With the ability to combine all these features, it gives you the ability, if you wanted, to do more than 30 second exposure time lapses. If you’re shooting star trails for instance, shooting at 30 seconds at f/5.6, you’ll normally have to boost your ISO to around 400. With this new ability, you could shoot say, 120 seconds at f/8 with ISO 200. Then you’re going to have better depth of field and sharpness, from the more mid-range aperture, higher image quality from the lower ISO, and still the same about of light coming in. Also, in that time, the stars will move longer, and you’ll need less exposures, which means you can get back to bed quicker… See, method to my madness.
Remotes like this open up a whole new wealth of abilities, long exposures, time lapses, a 99 hour, 59 minute and 59 second self timer… if you needed that, and the ability to mix them all together.
I got mine for £49.90, and the spare N8 cable for £5.50, direct from Phottix’s UK dealer, which is here.
When you compare that to the £109-155 of the Nikon MC-36 and the £105+ of the Canon TC-80N3, both of which can only be used with certain cameras, from their own companies, to me its a steal.
All you need is a camera with a socket for a wired cable release, not an infra-red one, like some Nikon’s like my D70, and some Olympus’s do, and the appropriate cable for your camera, and you’re ready to go. Theres no complex compatability issues which stop it from working with certain cameras, its just a universal* timer release & intervalometer.
In my opinion, its a no brainer. It performs beautifully, it looks great [I really do like the brushed steel effect…], its cheap, and I can switch it between other cameras in the future, and it was delivered stupidly quickly.
Yeah, there’s a couple of wtf features, like the bulb thing, but all in all its a great little unit.
The Phottix Nikos [TC-501] gets my seal of approval. It does everything I need it to do, looks good, and didn’t bankrupt me. Simple as.
If you’re in the market for a timer release, I can honestly recommend this unit.
I got mine direct from Phottix’s UK distributor, here.
Disclaimer: I bought this unit. Phottix didn’t provide this unit for testing. This is myyy cable release. So my views are mine and aren’t swayed.
Though, if anyone from Phottix is reading this, feel free to send me gifts, maybe your Geo One…
* Check their site for comparability with your camera. Its universal in the sense that its no wired to work with just a Nikon 10-pin or Canon mini-jack.
More photos of the unit and its packaging. [click]