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Hands on: Getting trigger happy with Satechi’s Bluetooth wireless remote for cameras

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In photography, shutter release remotes have a useful purpose. Using one with your camera is an effective way to reduce camera shake: You can put yourself into family or group photos without having to set a timer (or pick the person you like the least), or create interesting long-exposure images. Satechi, an accessories maker of everything from speakers to presentation pointers, recently introduced the Smart Trigger, a Bluetooth receiver that lets you control the camera’s shutter remotely through your smartphone or tablet. Besides basic shutter control, the Smart Trigger helps you easily shoot long-exposure shots and time-lapse videos. Despite the low price, is it an important accessory you need? Let’s look at it further.

Features and design

The Smart Trigger is a small lightweight device – about the size of a box of Tic-Tacs – that’s designed to fit on top of your DSLR’s hot shoe and act as a remote shutter release you can control with your smartphone or tablet. Depending on the version you buy, it comes with a cable to connect the Smart Trigger to match the camera’s remote control terminal. As of press time, the Smart Trigger is available for Canon’s EOS DSLRs (going as far back as the EOS 10D), as well as select PowerShot and limited Pentax models. Satechi says Nikon and Panasonic versions are forthcoming. 

satechi-smart-trigger-1The unit has a single button on top that’s used to pair with a smart device, put it to sleep, or re-pair the connection. There’s also an indicator light that lets you know if it’s in pairing mode (a steady flash) or that it’s going to sleep. The Smart Trigger uses two AAA batteries, which Satechi says will power the device for up to 10 years. Since we don’t have that kind of time to test it out, we’ll take their word for it.

To control the Smart Trigger, you will need the proprietary app loaded on your smart device, (free on iOS; an Android version is in the works). The Smart Trigger communicates with your device using Bluetooth 4.0, and Satechi says it has a range of 50 feet (the low energy attribute of Bluetooth 4.0 also accounts for the long battery life). When you first launch the app, it will scan for the Smart Trigger device. The app handles the Bluetooth pairing automatically, and there’s no passcode to enter.

Once the Smart Trigger and app are paired, you are directed to the Regular Shot mode, which has a giant virtual button that controls the shutter. This mode is the most basic: Press the button, and the camera takes a shot. If you are in the camera’s bulb mode, you can hold on the button to keep the shutter open for long exposures; let go of the button, and the shutter closes. The next mode, Manual Shot, requires your camera to be in bulb mode. Here, you can set the focus and keep the shutter open using the shutter lock button; a timer indicates exposure time. Manual Shot is ideal for capturing long exposure scenes like light trails and fireworks.

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The final mode is Timed Shot, which turns your phone into an intervalometer. This advanced mode is used to create things like time-lapse photography. You can set Delay (amount of time before first exposure), Bulb (amount of time the shutter is open), and Interval (amount of time between exposures).

Utility

We tested the Smart Trigger with a Canon EOS 60D DSLR. Setting up the device couldn’t be any more straightforward: Set and secure it into the camera’s hot shoe and connect the cable between the two. When we popped the batteries in, the Smart Trigger entered into pairing mode immediately. Unfortunately, because the Smart Trigger occupies the hot shoe and sits right above the camera’s pop-up flash, that rules out flash photography. 

Pairing the Smart Trigger with a smart device started off rocky. We first tried to pair with an iPhone 4S running iOS 5; the App Store wouldn’t let us download the Smart Trigger app because it requires iOS 6 or higher. Next, we used an iPad running iOS 6, but the app could not locate the Smart Trigger. We thought there was something wrong with the Smart Trigger, but it turns out the iPad we were using – an iPad 2 – isn’t supported (seems to be a compatibility issue with the iPad 2’s Bluetooth 2.1 versus the Smart Trigger’s variant of Bluetooth 4.0). The third pairing attempt worked like a charm: We successfully linked the Smart Trigger with a different iPhone 4S running iOS 6. So, the lesson here is, make sure your iOS device is supported before you buy it.

Once we got the connection set up, we were able to activate the Smart Trigger without a problem. In Regular Shot and Manual Shot modes, we easily fired off the camera shutter. (In Manual Shot, you’ll need to make sure to focus the camera first before you trigger the shutter, otherwise the exposure length on the timer may be incorrect.) The Smart Trigger didn’t drop the connection once, even when we put a good amount of distance between our phone and the camera.

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We encountered a problem while trying out the Timed Shot mode, however. Our first attempt was fine: the camera took a sequence of shots based on our set parameters. In our second attempt, you can hear the camera focusing during each interval, but the shutter does not activate. In the third try, the shutter locks open but does not close, even when we push the shutter button to stop the process. The way we stopped it was to flip back to the Manual Shot mode and pushed the shutter button. Satechi says an update to the app is coming, which we hope will address what are software bugs. The Smart Trigger is designed to only handle shutter release. If you want to make any other adjustments like white balance or exposure compensation, they must be made in camera.

Should you buy it?

At $45, the Smart Trigger isn’t expensive – just a tad higher in price than Canon’s wired and wireless remote triggers – and you get the added shooting features like the Timed Shot mode and wireless operation from your smart device. For photographers who want to capture long exposure shots like star trails or time-lapse videos of a sun setting or flower blooming, the Smart Trigger is a handy accessory to keep in the camera bag; it’s particularly useful if you’re into astrophotography.

As for everyone else, having a remote shutter release is useful for taking family or group shots (with you in them), but unless you own a compatible smart device, you’re better off buying a hardwired version if you have no use for the other features. With that said, the Smart Trigger is a fun way to learn how to shoot long exposure or create fun time-lapse videos easily. 

We have one wish, and that is for Satechi to build on this product and create a receiver/transmitter that lets us do more than just shutter operation, such as live view, settings adjustments, and playback. That’s an accessory we’d gladly pay for.