I’m sure that most OPC readers have at one time or another seen an amazing photograph of a hummingbird hovering over a flower, a water drop splashing or a light bulb bursting as a bullet goes through it and wondered how did the photographers capture those images? The world of high-speed, motion-stopping photography has long fascinated and intrigued photographers. My first exposure to it was about 30 years ago when I got a copy of Stephen Dalton’s 1982 book Caught in Motion: High-Speed Nature Photography (check out some of his photographs at www.stephendalton.co.uk/gallery.html). I tried to take similar photographs, but I just didn’t have the technical expertise and the expensive equipment at that time to do it; I quickly gave up. However, now in 2014 the TriggerSmart Motion Capture System by SabreSwitch has made taking high-speed photographs and videos of nature and other subjects a lot easier and more affordable.
The TriggerSmart Motion Capture System is designed to trigger your camera’s shutter when it detects sound, motion or light intensity increases using a controller unit and a variety of different sensors. The easiest way to get started with the TriggerSmart Motion Capture System is to order the TriggerSmart MCT-1 kit ($369) that contains the MCT-1 Control Unit, an infrared (IR) receiver/light intensity sensor, an IR transmitter/sound sensor, two mini tripods for the sensors, two sensors to control unit cables, a camera connection cable (2.5mm male ends) and a 2° baffle for the IR receiver. Depending on your camera you also may need to get a cable(s) that connects the control unit to your camera, and there are ones to fit most common DSLR cameras. I needed two cables that cost around $22 for my Nikon D800e.
The heart of the system is the MCT-1 Control Unit; it connects with the sensors and the camera and allows the photographer to control the sensor’s sensitivity, the amount of delay between the sensor detecting the input (1 ms to 10 sec.) and the camera triggering, and the length of time that the camera is triggered (5 ms to 5 sec.). The MCT-1 allows for a considerable amount of control of the sensors and triggering of the camera so that the perfect image can be captured. To maximize its portability the control unit runs on four AA batteries, but you should have a spare set of batteries with you as there’s no battery level indicator on the control unit. You can also purchase a third party AC power supply from your local electronics store. The control unit and the sensors are “splash or weatherproof,” but not waterproof so care needs to be taken when using them outdoors. There are Weatherproof Covers, which fit over the sensors and their cable connections, available separately in pairs for $24.99.
The Sound Sensor is essentially a sensitive microphone (50 to 5,000 Hertz at 3 decibels), with its sensitivity adjustable via the control unit. When it detects a “sharp” sound, like someone clapping, breaking glass or a pin dropping on a hard surface, it will trigger the camera. The Light Intensity Sensor will detect a rapid change in ambient light levels (1 to 1,500 lumens; sensitivity 10 lumens) when used in low light or dark conditions and can be used to capture photographs of fireworks and lightening bolts, or trigger the camera from a remote flash. Just like all the other sensors, its sensitivity is adjustable via the control unit. Setting the sensitivity of the different sensors all takes a little trial and error, so having some patience is important.
For detecting motion you need to use both the IR Transmitter and IR Receiver. The IR Transmitter sends a narrow (6°) infrared beam to the IR Receiver unit and when that beam is broken the camera is triggered. The IR beam has a range from 20 cm to 2 m. When photographing small objects it’s best to used the included 2° baffle on the IR Receiver. It narrows the beam being received so that there’s greater accuracy and sensitivity. Since the IR beam is no more than 6° wide the two units must be aligned quite accurately, which is not to difficult when the two units are close together, but that can be more difficult when they are farther apart. To help with IR beam alignment you can purchase the accessory Infrared Alignment Aid. It’s not inexpensive, $96.99, but it truly does make aligning the IR beam really easy and definitely worth considering.
The two mini tripods that come with the MTC-1 kit are adequate for holding a sound sensor or light intensity sensor in most situations when using them either indoors or outdoors, since their placement isn’t that critical. When using the IR transmitter and IR receiver for motion detection, where placement of the two sensors is critical, the mini tripods are OK for indoor tabletop situations and at ground level in the field. In the field, if you’re shooting at ground level you can order Stakepods from TriggerSmart, which are stakes that have a thread on the top for attaching the sensors. If your subjects are higher than ground or tabletop level then you will probably want to have some lightweight light stands to put the sensors on or some type of clamping system, like the Joby Clamp Flash Clamp and Locking Arm, on so you can adjust the height of the sensors to the appropriate position.
Overall I found that the TriggerSmart Motion Capture System was easy to use (although sometimes aligning the IR beam was a bit of a challenge without using the Infrared Alignment Aid), well made and versatile. It has lots of accessories to customize your shooting situations, and most importantly it’s lots of fun. If you’re interested in high-speed, motion capture photography, whether it’s field nature photography or studio shooting, you definitely need to check out the TriggerSmart Motion Capture System.
To read more of Mark Degner’s reviews and other great how-to articles please pick up the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of OPC today, or subscribe!