One hundred and nineteen dollars. That’s it. That’s all you need to open a door to a world of photography previously known only to the most extreme DIYers and commercial photographers for whom purchasing decisions are usually made for them by client requests.
The Pluto Trigger does a lot, yet costs a little. No, I’m not calling it cheap, it’s inexpensive. But what does it do exactly, you’re asking?
A high-speed smart camera trigger, which can be controlled by a free iPhone or Android app (via Bluetooth), it can do the following:
- Remote Shooting/Triggering of camera
- HDR photography
- Bulb mode control
- Time lapse
- Lightning triggered
- Sound triggering
- Laser beam sensor triggering
- Star trails
- Timer (for long-term projects)
- PIR (infrared heat sensor)
- Custom DIY input
With the app on your phone you can also trigger your device via vibration or even location gated shutter releases, which will fire your camera when your phone reaches a specified distance from the trigger.
The Pluto Trigger also includes a few handy calculators: a depth of field, sunset/sunrise, ND filter and a rule 500 (for shooting night skies without star trails).
And all of that functionality is compatible with 300+ camera models from various manufactures. But remember you’ll need the proper cable, so ensure you also add that to your cart when ordering.
Thankfully Pluto doesn’t gouge on the cable: some of these sell for upwards of $40 on eBay at times, and Pluto charges just $5 with the purchase of a Pluto Trigger.
Size matters… but so do buttons, switches and sensors
And thankfully the Pluto Trigger is small enough to be tucked into a small pocket during an overnight hiking trip, awaiting that once in a lifetime moment when the stars align and you need nothing but the Pluto and your camera to perfectly capture the lightning storm erupting off the coast line.
The solid little box of the Pluto Trigger is pleasant, compared to the last trigger I tested some time ago — the Nero, now MIOPS— the Pluto Trigger is nondescript, unimposing but from just a glimpse it’s clear the Pluto packs a punch. Despite the small form factor there’s a total of 12 sensors, emitters, receivers, buttons, ports and switches on this thing.
I don’t think my first camera had 12 buttons, let alone a frickin’ laser sensor.
Firstly you have a USB charging port. Yep, no double AA’s or proprietary battery types to be losing and forgetting. This is a downside as much as an upside, because no battery lasts forever and Pluto haven’t made it clear what to do when your trigger’s battery no longer functions well.
I was curious what was inside, so I cracked my Pluto Trigger open to take a look.
Much like an iPhone there’s a small battery that connects to the Pluto’s main board via 2 pin connector. Nothing fancy and if you’re half techie at all, this isn’t outside the abilities of most.
Beside the USB charging port, there’s an AUX port, camera/flash 2.5mm cable port, status LED, charging LED, shutter button, sound sensor (aka, a microphone), light/laser sensor, infrared receiver and emitter.
Turn on Pluto, Open App, Done… But Plan Ahead
Set up is easy. After affixing the Pluto to your camera and plugging in the necessary cable from the trigger to your camera’s port (usually the one you’d use with a 10-pin cable release or similar), download the free app for your phone, view the devices page and it’ll detect your Pluto. No faffing about with Bluetooth settings or syncing with pin codes.
And this is where a device like the Nero/MIOPS begin to show their differences. With the MIOPS you have a screen on the device itself by which it’s operated and settings are adjusted. FYI, the older Nero didn’t have wireless connectivity but the newer MIOPS does.
The Pluto has no screen — and for that you get a smaller form factor — but the app is so well fleshed out that no screen is needed. Everything is done via the phone app, great assuming you have a phone and the battery isn’t dead after that eight-hour hike. Plan accordingly, nothing would be worse than getting to your destination to set up and prepare for a long night of star trail photography only to discover your iPhone 6 has decided to shut down because it’s a little chilly outside.
I say this only because it happened to me on a chilly spring evening when I set out to test the Pluto with some star trails photography on the coast line. My iPhone 6s may actually have an issue but cold air temperature fault shutdowns on the 6s are well documented. All I could do was attempt to warm my iPhone with body heat, meanwhile the clouds steadily moved in from the northeast and my evening was spoiled.
Some Knocks On Pluto, But…
- Proprietary battery, no clear indication on website about replacement program
- While nice to have, free apps which calculate DoF, sunrise/set times, nd filter and rule 500 are a dime a dozen, but if you have pluto now they’re at least all pushed into one app, so you just cleared some space off your home screen
- Bluetooth has a limited range, unlike Radio Frequency available on something like a Pocket Wizard. RF can trigger in the thousands of feet in the right conditions and also be relayed even greater distances.
Despite those few complaints, however annoying they may or may not be for some users, the Pluto works fantastically well in my experiences.
For starters, something as basic as HDR, which most cameras can do quite well has been pushed further than the majority of cameras are capable with their own built-in tools. Your standard DSLR does somewhere in the range of 3-5 for lower end bodies and then in the 5-9 range for higher end cameras.
The Pluto’s software can do 19. That’s a lot of range and while yeah, you could do it manually, the ease of snapping of 19 without thought via the Pluto is wonderful given how prone I am to losing my place half way through 7 if I do it manually.
Similar to programmed HDR photography, the Pluto will automatically knock star trails pictures out of the park as well.
Then there are add-ons like this… thing… which looks a lot like something you might find at the proctologists’ office. This is the Pluto Valve, a device created to make pictures of water droplets colliding in midair.
Niche? You betcha.
I didn’t test the Pluto Valve and it is most certainly a niche product, it’s also an indicator that Pluto are willing to develop the tools necessary to make fun and interesting photos, at a reasonable price as well.
But I did put the trigger through its paces for stars, timelapse photography and the laser trigger made possible with the included laser light.
And — despite the fact that the area I live in sees barely one frickin’ thunder and lightning storm a year and usually its pretty weak beans — I actually shot some lightning photos with the Pluto trigger.
Which was fun. More than fun, it was an absolute blast.
I should mention that I do not live in Tampa and despite living on the coast, I live in an area of the coast that doesn’t get the right conditions for lightning. Though it feels as though we’ve gotten more over the past 20-30 years (climate change, anyone?) it’s still something that happens very infrequently.
So when I was about to fall asleep one night and I saw a local Tweeter mention a storm rolling through I immediately sprang into action. And it is here where I hit upon just how easy the Pluto is to use.
I hadn’t really used the Pluto much for anything other than timelapse, HDR, stars and remote triggering at this point. I hadn’t even tinkered with the Light sensor trigger because, well, as I said, it was pointless to even bother.
Despite being in a rush (because when we do get lightning, it could last for just 20 seconds, as happened last week) I managed to get the Pluto Trigger connected to the camera, to my phone and the app set up and firing from the lightning flashes in just 60 seconds.
After a few minutes of tinkering with the light sensitivity for I was making photos that wouldn’t have quite been possible before. Yes, sure I could have just made my camera fire willy nilly, triggering frame after frame till I got one, but that’s a crap shoot. Odds are, lightning will strike in between frames or when your camera’s doing something annoying like clearing the buffer.
In fact this lightning storm went on so long the Pluto trigger which has great battery life but hadn’t been charged in some time, got low so I quickly connected a small USB battery pack I had lying around and it kept on chugging.
For 45 minutes the Pluto dutifully worked away snapping pictures. A lot of what was shot was just lightning in the clouds, illuminating the whole sky like a gigantic softbox. But… once in a while I got this:
When it came to the light sensor on the Pluto I am 100% satisfied and confident with its capabilities. It fired with every single lightning strike. It was 1:30am and while the Pluto did its thing, I literally sat back in my office chair and had a nap, lulled to sleep with the rolling thunder and the gentle clacking of my Nikon’s shutter.
Another aspect of the Pluto I was very curious to try was the time-lapse function, not because it’s a fresh idea but because instead of fumbling with the cumbersome intervalometer buried in the menu of my Nikon’s, I was able to easily tap the settings on my phone and hit go.
And it worked just as it should.
Shooting this one from the bouncy wharf on the lake it was nice to be able to walk away — nearly 30 ft. — letting the dock settle and, using the Bluetooth connectivity, instruct the Pluto to fire once it was stabilized.
Unfortunately the wind dropped off, the temperature shifted and my 14-24 was covered in condensation just as the clouds cleared. Being 3:30am in the morning, I called it a night.
The Pluto Trigger App
Touching on the app briefly, though it should be said it’s a critical component of the Pluto Trigger itself, it needs to be said that the app works flawlessly.
No bugs or any major annoyances to speak of. The buttons and sliders all function very well. Functions are clear and very easy to use without directions. I never once complained about the app or found myself having to close/reopen because it had crashed (it never crashed!).
I did test the laser sensor briefly and it does work as expected, though nothing exciting came from the photos and I was anxious one of my dogs would stick his face in the laser light so I shut it down. a
For $119 you honestly can’t go wrong here, even if this is something you rarely pick up and use, it’s not something that will actually go to waste. The potential ceiling for the caliber of photo which the Pluto can enable for any photographer — newbie or pro — is about as high as it gets.
The app is solid and the Pluto Trigger is a sturdy, well-built device. The overall function of the two is wonderful.
But there is a caveat, which I alluded to already but which many may gloss over. For $119, consider the replacement cost if you should find yourself with a quick to drain dud of a battery. The more capable out there may be able to find an easy replacement off eBay. But if you fall into the category of “don’t even own a screw driver that will open this thing,” $119 may multiply as years go on and batteries fail.
Despite that small issue, I still have to recommend this as a buy for anyone interested in doing HDR, lightning photography, Time Lapse or some of the more off beat areas of photography, such as the location gated triggering via your iPhone abilities of the Pluto.
That is to say, I recommend this ONLY if you need a remote trigger device. The cost of this at $119 over, say, the MIOPS (and heck, I’m sure you’ll find it cheaper if you look) is a steal if this is your kind of thing. If this ISN’T your kind of thing and you think you might get into shooting the types of photos that the Pluto makes possible, wait for a sale and try and resale on eBay. At $119 you won’t lose much money, at all.
Full disclosure: Pluto Rigger review units were provided for the purpose of this article.