Sometime in the recent past, I came across an ad on social media that advertised the Pluto Trigger. I am all about finding cool tools and accessories that might aid me in my photography ventures. I pulled up the website to see if this particular accessory was compatible with my Pentax. After dancing around the computer for a few minutes and running up and down the street in celebration, I went about acquiring one. The wait was long and hard, but I finally had a Pluto Trigger in my possession.
ABOUT THE PLUTO TRIGGER
The Pluto trigger is a small, compact trigger system that advertises to be able to do the following tasks:
All in all, Pluto advertises 24 different modes for the trigger. Yup, it's pretty intensive.
Along with the trigger, the buyer also receives a small laser, along with three cables. One cable is to connect the trigger straight to a flash unit, another cable is compatible with the camera the purchaser has and the third is just a longer cable. I used this cable to hook up the trigger to the water valve. Also in the box were two hot shoe adapters. Without going into all the brands that are supported, Pluto's website lists 13 different camera brands that are compatible with the trigger and even the most recent camera body releases for several brands are listed. The current cost for the trigger is $119. The trigger is operated via smart phone and has apps for both IOS and Android. The app is available for no additional charge. For the purpose of this review, I also received a Pluto Water Valve, which is a specifically designed product for droplet photography. The valve is sold separately for $40.
The trigger is battery operated and from all information is proprietary, but the trigger can be charged via USB.
ABOUT THE PLUTO APP
The trigger connects to the IOS or Android device via Bluetooth. The app is divided into four different sections. Intervalometer, Pluto Sensors, Smart Sensors and Tools. Under the Intervalometer section is listed things such as Shutter Release, Time Lapse, HDR, Star Trail, Video and Timer. Along with the button on the trigger, it can be used as a wired shutter release through the app, and also as a wireless shutter release (more about this later regarding Pentax). In the past, I have just used the in-camera intervalometer for things like Time Lapse and used Bulb mode for Star Trails. Within the app, the time lapse feature goes a little deeper by offering several presets determined by what is being shot, such as a sunrise. The Star Trail mode is also a little more intensive than just setting the camera in bulb mode and using a timer for the shots. The user can determine the number of shots, the length of the exposure and delay between shots.
The Pluto Sensors section is where the magic happens with the trigger. There are 8 different areas to control what part of the sensor the user is going to utilize. Several of the sections, such as the light, lightning and sound are setup very similar to each other. There is a meter that will measure the input, such as light, and will register it. Next to that is a sensitivity meter that allows the user to adjust the sensitivity of the trigger. For example, if the user wants the trigger to trip with sound, the user can then adjust the sensitivity so ambient background noise is blocked. I will cover several other sections later in the article.
Within the Tools section, there is a DOF calculator, a sun position section, an ND Filter chart and a starscape rule calculator.
Lastly, the app contains the user manual for the trigger. I found this to be helpful during testing as I could access it straight in the app.
Since I was unable to find any reviews that focused the Pluto sensors themselves, I decided for the sake of this article I would focus on them. In my opinion, if someone is going to spend money on something like what the Pluto Trigger advertises with the sensors, readers would want some real information about them.
TESTING THE PLUTO SENSORS
I had to wait about a month from the time I received notice from the company until I received the trigger as it was shipped from Hong Kong. Just like a kid in a candy store, once I had some time I set the trigger up and began testing.
Immediately, frustration set in. I set up the water valve for water drop photography. I set the trigger up according to the manual. The manual advises that the trigger is wired to the valve and a flash, and positioned so it will use the infrared mode to set off the camera shutter. Needless to say, the trigger was not setting off the camera with any kind of reliability. I notified the company of the issue and the reply was that they were having issues with IR mode and Pentax and that they were looking to fix it with an upcoming firmware upgrade. With the laser mode, the manual advises to hook the trigger directly to the camera and again, I had issues. The company advised to tweak some settings within the app, but again, I was not having success.
After going over everything for a little while and thinking about how the Pluto Trigger operates, I was able to find a solution.
SUCCESS IN TESTING
One of the things about the Pluto trigger is that it has the option of operating in Camera Method, or Flash Method. In the initial testing, I had the app set in Camera Method. Things being the way they are, in Camera Method, there is enough lag between the action to the sensor that the camera shutter would be triggered too late. Enter Flash Method.
At the next test session, I set the app to operate in Flash Method and just set the camera shutter to anywhere from 4 to 8 seconds and I was in a dark room. The first tests I ran were with the sound sensor, using popping balloons to trigger the sensor. When I first started the testing, I had the sensor about a foot away from the balloon and found that the lag was too much. So I moved the sensor closer, just several inches away from the balloon and while the shots I captured were not the best, I was now capturing the act of a balloon rapidly deflating.
The process was pretty simple. Once I had my balloon popping pin next to the balloon, I would kill the light I was using, then trigger the camera shutter. I would then pop the balloon, which would trigger the Pluto, which would trigger my flash. Going with information I gleaned from the Internet, I had the flash set to 1/128th. Enough light to illuminate the balloon, but a short enough duration to minimize any blur.
WATER DROPS ANYONE?
Like I mentioned before, the Pluto Water Valve is an add on cost of $40. Depending on your outlook, this may or may not be worth it. For the purpose of this review though, it was definitely worth it. I went back to the water valve after the successful sound sensor test.
While the sound is a little more straight forward, the water drop session was more intense. The app allows the user to change drop size. Flash timing can also be changed through the app. By changing the timing of the flash, the user can catch the drop in various stages from right before the drop hits to all through the cycle of the drop. A second water drop can also be programmed to be released. I had a little success with this in the second session. Third session though, I was unable to capture anything like this.
With the water drop system, it can take a little bit of time to get everything dialed in. Once I had the settings dialed in, it was time to play. Most shots I captured were pretty basic for water drop photography. Hopefully over the winter I can work with the system a little more for some HOLY COW images.
During testing of the water valve, there were several issues that I noticed. One issue that popped up was related to water drop size. At first, I used small water drops. Over time, I increased the size to the point that the valve would release multiple drops. Also, at times, I would notice that the valve had a leak. It could either be a manufacturing issue or from filling the valve.
LIGHTNING IN DECEMBER?
Wait, what? When it comes to testing a lightning trigger on actual lightning in December might sound odd, it almost happened. As I sit here on Christmas Day, finishing this review, we are just a couple hours removed from a line of thunderstorms moving through this area. I did not go out due to the timing of the storms. I also spoke with one of my storm chase contacts and was advised that most of the lightning was buried in the clouds. If you are new to lightning photography, I suggest you check out Rusty Parkhurst's excellent 7 Tips For Photographing Lightning article published back in May.
Before I get to the test and the images, I have to offer up a disclaimer. The test of the lightning trigger was under controlled circumstances. All the personnel involved are very proficient handlers of firearms and the test was at a range.
I contacted a friend of mine and asked him to help me out with this particular test. My idea was simple. Hit up the local range and I would hook up the Pluto Trigger just like I did with the water drops, to the flash. The process was simple. I would give the shooter a 3 second countdown, I would trigger the shutter for about 6 seconds. I also told my shooter that once the beep stopped from my camera, pause for 2 seconds, then squeeze the trigger. Basically the same process I used with the sound sensor. Due to the wacked out weather, I held off on this test until the last possible moment.
Just like some of the other sensors, the trigger sensitivity can be adjusted in the app. I will have to wait until a lightning show to really test this. With the pistol shots, I could adjust the sensitivity all the way up and it would work solid.
Once we knocked out a couple of test shots, and repositioned everything so I could have a clean background, we nailed the shot. I also attempted to test the light sensor, but for some reason we were unsuccessful. Once I turned the sensor on, it started to trigger the flash. I had actually tested this particular sensor on my office light previously and it worked as advertised.
ODDS AND ENDS
I had several questions regarding the Pluto Trigger that needed to be answered to complete this review. First off, the trigger is currently only available from Pluto. The trigger ships direct from Hong Kong, so you will probably be waiting awhile until you receive it. It took right around a month from confirmation to delivery. According to the company, the firmware upgrades directly through the app.
Although I had some technical difficulty in the beginning, for what I was able to do I was happy with the trigger. It would be nice that the infrared issue was a non issue, as that takes away from the performance aspect. The trigger does work great as a wired remote. I would have also loved to been able to test it on actual lightning, but I will have to wait for a couple more months. Although I did not really dive into some of the other aspects of the trigger that allows the user to dial in such things time lapse and star trail shots, some of the guess work might be eliminated. The one thing I do not like is the proprietary battery system. Although the trigger can be charged via USB, and battery life can be seen on the app, having the ability to change batteries out would be a necessity for some photographers.
I like the water valve. It makes water drop photography a lot easier, well as easy as it can be.
The app is well designed and easy to use.
I would recommend this to anyone who wants to dive off into high speed or waterdrop photography. I also like the versatility of the Pluto Trigger to be used as a remote shutter release, along with using my phone or Ipad for the same task.
In closing, I will have to wait to test all of the sensors like I want, but I was happy with everything I did get to test.