Triggertrap Review - The Clever Cable Release


Photographic gadgets proliferate everywhere at the moment. Take a glance through the shelves of paraphernalia at your local photo store and you will find tier upon tier of … junk. That’s just it. Every manufacturer out there is trying to prise a little more cash from your wallet for some gizmo or gadget that can ostensibly be used to improve your photography or at the very least make life a little easier. Add to the established manufacturers, weird and wonderful creations by photographers with enough financial backing to put their own products out, and you have a myriad labyrinth of small bits of gear that are often pretty much useless. Then, if not useless, not valuable enough that they will be used more than once (maybe twice at best).

The Triggertrap is not one of these! Triggertrap is a mobile app and small piece of hardware that turns your phone into a very clever cable release. Admittedly when I first heard about Triggertrap I relegated it to the mound of useless gadgets that should best be avoided. Slowly I started hearing good things about Triggertrap as it gained traction amongst photographers. A growing host of features made the app even more useful, to the point that I began pondering buying one myself to try out. The Sunshine Company forced me out of my deliberation by sending me a sample to test out in Namibia during last year’s Composing The Dunes Workshop. Suffice to say I was so impressed by this little addition to my bag that I ended up buying one for myself and now it never gets left behind.

What Is It?

The Triggertrap is actually a mobile app that can be installed on any iOS or Android device. Thanks to two small cables and a tiny little electronic box, it turns audio signals from your phone or smart device into a signal that triggers your camera. The app is free to download from the iTunes store or Play store. What you buy is the actual cable and audio converter to make the app communicate with your camera. If you feel inclined to explore what the app offers you can easily download it for free and explore its contents. Off course you can’t make it trigger your camera unless you have the cable and converter.

Triggertrap is so much more than a standard cable release as it brings the computing power of a smart phone into the equation. This means that the Triggertrap can do things that your ordinary cable release either can’t do, or would require a more expensive specialised intervalometer cable release to be able to do. To elaborate, these are the release modes currently available on the Triggertrap app:




Simple Cable Release - Does what it says. You tap a button on your screen and it triggers the camera. Essentially this replaces (or acts as) the conventional wired cable release that allows you to trigger a camera without actually touching the camera itself, thereby avoiding camera shake for very slow shutter speeds. Quite frankly, Triggertrap is a little overkill if all you need it for is this purpose. I far prefer a simple cable release for simply triggering the camera. Just the fact that a normal cable release has a tactile button rather than a smooth screen makes it more useful than the Triggertrap.



Quick Release - The idea behind the Quick Release is that the camera is ready to fire when you press on the button on the phone’s screen, but only fires when you lift your finger. The theory is that this is a faster reaction than pushing the button. Suddenly the Trigger pulls away from a conventional cable release with this feature.



press_holdPress and Hold - This only works in bulb mode on the camera and does exactly what it says. You press down on the on-screen button and the camera will fire with the exposure ending when you release the button (exactly as would occur if you were to use the camera’s shutter button while in bulb mode). Again, a conventional cable release is a better idea here as it doesn’t have a slippery glass screen that you work with.

press_lockPress and Lock - This is more useful than the Press and Hold Function and replicates the T (Time) function on some of the old film camera and the lock button on most modern wired cable releases. Start the exposure by hitting the button, then finish the exposure by hitting the button a second time. This is great for doing single exposure star-trails for instance.



Timed Release - Another useful function that is only available on some of the high-end cable releases. Most cameras have 30 seconds as their longest exposure. With this release mode you can input the duration of the shutter release (while in bulb mode in the camera) and when you start the exposure a countdown starts which ends and completes the exposure. This means you can accurately set shutter durations of any value from 0.01 sec through to 99 hours if you so wish (although it’s really more useful in the 30 second to 2 hours range since the camera battery is likely to die thereafter and you camera can handle exposures up to 30 seconds).




Self Timer - This is basically the same as your camera’s self-timer on steroids. Rather than the usual 2, 5, 10 and 20 second countdowns, you can input any delay from 0.01 second through to 99 hours










These are all fairly simple, and basically just an extension of the conventional wired cable release. In some cases such as the Timed Release the Triggertrap is definitely better than a conventional wired release. For others though (Simple Cable Release and Press and Hold in particular), a the wired remote is actually better. It’s the Timelapse modes that make the Triggertrap really interesting. These are:



Timelapse - This is the core feature which makes the Triggertrap so useful. Timelapses are essentially a series of still images strung together as a video in order to show a long passage of time passing over a shortened film clip/video. Ron Fricke’s incredible film, ‘Baracka’, uses numerous time-lapse sequences where several hours of footage are condensed into a viewing experience of about 15 seconds. It’s also a technique that is becoming increasingly popular amongst enthusiast photographers. The mode allows you to simply select the interval between shots and simply press the button to start. It’s really a no-nonsense trigger whereas all the other interval timer triggers I have used (including those built into the camera) require you to set the number of exposures. Personally I prefer the Triggertrap in this regard as I invariably set my time-lapses up at 999 frames (the maximum they will allow) on the conventional triggers anyway. The other advantage of using a dedicated remote rather than the intervalometer built into the camera is that it is easier to stop the time-lapse and review the images. With Nikon’s for instance you have to physically switch the camera off to stop the time-lapse (if it hasn’t reached the end of its counter) which potentially disturbs the camera on the tripod.


Timewarp - This is quite a cool little feature where you can have the exposures ease in and out of the actual time-lapse video. To get the feature to work, calculate your time-lapse then use the graph to set perceptually where you would like the interval between frames to increase or decrease (increase in frames means for slower movement while a decrease speeds us the movement within the frame - at the expense of potential flickering though).





Distancelapse - Using the GPS feature of most smartphones the distance lapse mode triggers the camera every so many metres. This can be useful for hyper lapse photography (hyperlapse is similar to time-lapse, but the camera is moving position between the frames). What’s useful about using the GPS is that the perceived speed of movement should appear uniform through the sequence (think road trip where you plug the camera and Triggertrap to the dashboard of the car to record the passing miles).


star_trailStar Trail - This is another feature I used a lot, and one which makes the Triggertrap invaluable for landscape photographers (see the opening image). Similar to the time-lapse mode, the star trail mode also allows the photographer to set the actual exposure duration as well as how many frames they would like to capture. So for example, I could set the exposure at 4 minutes, with the smallest gap possible between frames for a sequence of 16 exposures, giving me an effective 1 hour star-trail after post-production (You can read my article on night photography for an explanation of how to do this). Setting this up on conventional intervalometers can be tricky the first time you do it. Triggertrap is far simpler than any intervalometer I have used before.

brampingBramping - This feature is meant to be the answer to the holy grail of timelapse - the seamless transition between day and night. In theory, while using the Bulb function of the camera you can set the initial shutter duration, calculate how long you want the time-lapse to shoot for and then set the final shutter duration. For example, you could start the time-lapse exposure at 1/15th of a second and have it ‘bramp’ (bulb ramp) to 30 seconds over the course of three hours. That’s the theory, but in practice it doesn’t work quite like this as light doesn’t play according to a nice linear set of rules. I personally wasn’t able to get the cramping feature to produce a useable set of stills for a time-lapse. There are easier methods, especially if you use Guenther Wagner’s LRTimelapse software. I also found the simple use of Aperture Priority and Centre-Weighted worked more effectively than the bramping feature. Still, the option is there and is worth experimenting with and I will personally try it again in future.


There are then several modes which make use of the phone’s sensors. Things like Sound Sensor, Vibration Sensor, Motion Sensor and Peekaboo, the last of which is a facial recognition sensor (triggering the camera when it recognises that a face has come into view of the phone’s camera). Personally I found these slightly gimmicky and didn’t use them at all apart from trying them out in the studio to see what they did. More useful are the last set of modes:



LE HDR - This mode refers to long exposure HDRs. Here you can switch the camera to Bulb and set the middle exposure for a series of long exposure images. This is particularly useful if you are going to be bracketing exposures which stretch beyond 30 seconds (something I have done in the past manually).



HDR_timelapseLE HDR Timelapse - This is for the serious post-production junkies. Use this mode to bracket your exposures and have the whole process repeated so as to create HDR timelapses! I personally didn’t try this out, but will probably give it a go at some stage in the future. The most likely workflow would be to automate the HDRs with something like Photomatix Pro and then Lightroom and LRTimelapse. Like I say, serious post-production and not for the faint-hearted or impatient.


The last three modes are wifi mode and two calculators which are also pretty useful. The wifi mode allows you to trigger your camera remotely if you have two phones. I didn’t try this, but can see the merit if you happen to have an old spare phone (my spare doesn’t have working wifi sadly). The calculators to my mind are really nifty. The first is just a neutral density (ND) calculator. Simply type in the metered exposure, then set the strength of the ND filter you want to use and the app spits out the final exposure time. Yes, you can do this in your head and certainly that is how I have always done it, but, what the calculator does is make my teaching oh so much easier. I can literally dial in adjustments and have students watch the change on the phone rather than asking them to make calculations in their own heads. For someone just starting out with ND filters it’s also wonderfully useful.


Finally there’s the solar calculator which gives sunrise and sunset times for the current day and the following day. There are better apps for this, but it’s great having it on an app that you are likely to be using a lot of.

In Use

This has to be the easiest intervalometer cable release around. I have run a number of star-trail workshops over the years and run into issues regularly with some of the intervalometers that photographers bring. Figuring out how to get them to work is like trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone at times. Not so the Triggertrap. It’s easy and logical to work, and does what it promises. What I really like is how instinctive it all is. Because it’s a smart phone there’s no need for weird little icons that indicate what a button would do. Instead there’s actual text (that’s if you even need it since it’s so self-explanatory).

Setting the Triggertrap up is simplicity in itself. Plug the provided cable into the camera’s cable release socket, connect that to the Triggertrap controller (this converts the audio signal from the phone into a triggering signal), and the cable that comes out of the controller ending in an audio jack plugs into the microphone socket of the camera. Simple.

The rub is that this is a phone, not a dedicated cable release, and this is where one starts to run into some complications:



Sadly not everything is perfect all the time. It’s a phone which means it can be glitchy. Working in Namibia I had the previous version (v3.0) of the Triggertrap hardware with the app running on iOS 7.2 on an iPhone 4S. The Triggertrap app and cable behaved flawlessly on the trip. Not a single mishap. When I got back just before Christmas I ordered my own Triggertrap cable and was sent the newer version. I hurtled off to the Drakensberg with a photography workshop and used a newer iPhone 5 with iOS 8. Oh dear. Suddenly the Triggertrap started behaving rather erratically. I would use it as a simple cable release and it would just keep on firing the camera until in desperation I unplugged the device from the camera. It is useful to note that this will also happen if the camera's drive mode is set to continuous advance, but this wasn't the case here. When I got back from the Drakensberg I downloaded an update (v3.1.2) to the Triggertrap app and the problem seems to have disappeared. What this warns any potential user is that Tripper Trap is a software programme, and like all software programmes has the possibility of operational glitches when hardware and operating systems change. Make sure that you have the most up to date version of the app if you are going to be using the Triggertrap. More importantly, test the setup before using it on a serious shoot. The good news is that the Triggertrap company seem to send out updates regularly, so you are pretty much safe in the knowledge any encountered problems (of which there are very few) are likely to be fixed.

Occasionally I would also jab away at the button and nothing would happen. This has to do with the way that the Triggertrap works. It turns the audio signal from the camera into a triggering signal via the Triggertrap cable. Essentially, if it doesn’t work at all, turn the volume up. the phone has to be at full volume to work.

Then there are the ergonomics of the phone itself and the fact that you are connecting the phone to your camera via two microphone sockets (phone and Triggertrap unit itself). Where on earth do you put the phone when you are not physically holding it (I challenge anyone to hold their phone for the duration of a 2 hour time-lapse)? Dangling the phone from the camera is not a good idea for two reasons. One, it can actually introduce vibration to the camera during the exposure if there is any wind blowing it about and two, it can fall off. My standard cable release has a small carabiner that I have attached to it so that I can hook it one of the knobs on my tripod head. The phone doesn’t have anything like this. I would seriously recommend strapping the phone to the tripod with a strip of velcro when using the Triggertrap.

In regard of the above, I had several near phone disasters during the last few shoots that I used the Triggertrap. In Kolmanskop in Namibia the phone came off twice while walking between the buildings. I would arrive at a building and suddenly discover that my phone was missing and have to retrace my steps to find it. Then, in the Drakensberg while trying to perch the phone on the edge of the tripod is slipped and tumbled to the water, and unlike a bungy jumper, continued on falling to the water after yanking free from the audio jack (miraculously the phone survived despite a full dunking in the cold stream).

*Update* - The makers of Triggertrap now also produce something called the Phonetrap. This device attaches to the hotshoe and allows you to securely mount the phone. This sounds like the perfect answer to the above problem. I have already been told I'll be receiving one to review soon, so will post an upadte as soon as I have tested it.

I need to make it abundantly clear, losing a phone while supposedly connected to the Triggertrap is not the fault of the little unit, nor of Triggertrap. It is entirely my fault. The point is that if you use Triggertrap you need to think about how you use your cable release. A cheap (especially if it’s a Chinese knock-off) simple cable release can be thrown about and mistreated without serious repercussions. Your phone cannot.


Kolmanskop_starsBuy the Triggertrap. If you need to do any time-lapse, or star-trail photography the Triggertrap is fantastic. Just the fact that you have a nice big illuminated phone screen when you are setting up the exposure makes it worth it. For me, the time-lapse and timed exposures are already reason enough to have a Triggertrap (which is why I personally bought one after testing it). One caveat though: it would probably be better to use it on an old spare phone rather than your all-important daily phone (this also means that during a long exposure or time-lapse you can use your normal phone as a…phone. Fancy that).

The Triggertrap doesn’t exactly replace a dedicated intervalometer because it has an expensive and somewhat more delicate phone attached to it. But it does improve on the bog standard intervalometer in several ways. I read the last two sentences and I have to admit that despite claiming that the Triggertrap doesn’t replace an intervalometer, I haven’t actually used my dedicated intervalometer since getting a Triggertrap. It’s that useful. Where it falls short is as a bog standard simple cable release with lock. For that the Triggertrap is overkill and somewhat slower to use as well. Not to mention that dunking the pleb version of a cable release in a river is far from disastrous.

The best thing is that the Triggertrap is not hideously expensive (Nikon and Canon’s intervalometers in comparison are) and it is tiny and light. There’s no reason not to have one in your gear bag. So as I say, just buy it. If you do any complex time-lapse, star-trail or long exposure bracketing, then the Triggertrap is an absolute pleasure for your photography.