When it comes to photography, there are numerous accessories on the market that allow us to obtain shots that are impossible with just a basic camera setup. One of these accessories, a lightning trigger, is specifically made to allow us to capture lightning strikes. A lightning trigger is nothing more than a sensor that “senses” the lightning, or intense light and triggers the camera's shutter.
In this day and age, a lightning trigger really cannot be considered a necessary item as we can use the built-in intervalometer or a camera remote. This might not be the most streamlined way to capture lightning though as you have to wade through a number of shots to find that one image that you want.
Several years ago, I tested another trigger that I won't mention. The trigger worked great for the most part, but the biggest hang-up was the trigger would not communicate with my camera. When I contacted the company, they told me that they were having issues with their triggers communicating with Pentax camera bodies. While I was able to get some great shots with that trigger, the communication issue was huge. It meant that I would not be able to test the trigger with lightning. The company told me that a firmware update might possibly solve the issue. Several months ago, I checked and could not find a firmware update.
Enter the MIOPS Smart Trigger. I contacted MIOPS several months back inquiring about reviewing their smart trigger. Within a few days, I was in possession of the Smart Trigger. Unlike the previous trigger, I wanted to test the MIOPS unit with lightning, so it would take a few months before I would have a complete review.
My first impressions of the unit were good. The first thing I noticed was the integrated hot shoe mount into the plastic casing. Other triggers usually come with a screw in adapter allowing you to mount them on the hot shoe of the camera body. Not with the MIOPS unit. I liked this as it means there is one less piece that could end up lost.
The next thing I noticed was the buttons and the screen. Upon powering the unit on, the screen came to life. The MIOPS Smart trigger is built so that the user can operate the trigger without the benefit of a smartphone app. The buttons allow the user to switch between the modes, of which there is 12 in total. The modes include lightning and sound, and several that allow the user to use the trigger as a wireless remote.
Also in the box was the camera specific cable that attaches the MIOPS to the camera, and a flash sync cord. Due to my disappointment with the previously mentioned anonymous trigger, once I had the MIOPS halfway figured out, I attached it to the camera and began testing in the office. I was glad to see that there were no “communication” issues and it was triggering the camera like it should have.
MIOPS has an app that is available for download if the user wants to use their smartphone to operate the trigger. Although not needed, this is a very nice feature so you can control the camera from the comfort of your warm vehicle.
Unbeknownst to me, I would use the MIOPS unit as a wireless remote while on my first Milky Way outing of the year back in March. Now back in the olden days of using the antiquated wired remote with the camera set on BULB mode, I would use the timer on my phone to countdown how long I wanted the shutter opened. With the MIOPS unit, there is a PRESS and LOCK feature that has an on-screen timer. It made shooting star trails even easier. I found this feature to be easier to use than using the wired remote that I have. No more fumbling around in the dark, and no chance of accidentally inducing any camera movement while the shutter is open.
Now onto the main course, lightning! This was the main reason it took so long to write the review. In the last couple of years, I had already bag storms in March and April. Due to the ever-changing weather patterns, my home area has been suffering from another drought. It would be the middle of May before I even had a weather photography opportunity and my first crack at lightning. Unfortunately, it would be at night which I felt would not be a good test of the MIOPS trigger.
My first chance at using the unit while the sun still up came on my fourth attempt of the year about an hour before sunset. Even though I was shooting towards the west and the storm had blocked out a lot of sunlight, the shutter speed was at 1/4” at f/8. I believe the sensitivity of the MIOPS was turned up all the way. Even the most minor of lightning strikes was activating the trigger.
Even though I really did not need to, I took the MIOPS out to the gun range to capture some gunshot images. The idea behind a gunshot image is to capture a gun right when the trigger is squeezed and the firing pin strikes the primer. This, in turn, captures an image of the gunpowder as it exits the barrel in a fiery stream. It is possible to capture the bullet midflight. It is also possible to catch the slide of a semi-automatic cycling. From what I can find, a semi-automatic cycles around 0.10 a second. Some are going to be faster and some slower. That is pretty impressive.
This time around, my crash test dummy supplied a black powder pistol. Black powder guns tend to produce a more dramatic and spectacular explosion out of the barrel. And when your crash test dummy is highly motivated and loads the gun “hot” those explosions are even better.
The setup to do this is fairly simple. I do this at night, at an outdoor range so things were fairly simple. The camera sets on the tripod, in BULB mode, aperture as wide open as possible and ISO at 800. I have one of my Yongnou 560 IV speedlights on a stand camera right, with the power at 1/128th. We still ended up with some of the images coming out blurry, but such is life. The key to catching a bullet midflight is a fast light duration. Unfortunately, at 1/128th the Yongnou cannot freeze the bullet. But I have caught the bullet that can be easily identified. The MIOPS is connected to the flash via a flash sync cord and the MIOPS is set to LIGHTNING mode.
When I am ready to shoot, I will ask the shooter if they are ready. When they tell me they are ready, I will open the shutter. I will then countdown from three. It is at that point that the shooter squeezes the trigger. I will then close the shutter. At the end of the countdown, the shooter is free to squeeze the trigger. I will then check the camera screen to see what was captured and adjust as necessary.
Again, I walked away from the range with several decent images.
Do you need a lightning trigger for lightning? No. I have survived for years without one. It has allowed me to come home with fewer images to sort through. It has also allowed me to tighten up my exposures. Instead of having the shutter open for a few seconds, now I can get shot with a faster shutter speed.
The motivation behind possessing something like a MIOPS Smart Trigger is that you can grow as a photographer. Want to capture a balloon as it's popped? Perhaps the explosion out of a gun barrel? Do you need a wireless remote? Save a few bucks and get a Smart Trigger. If you want to save a little more money, readers of Photographers Cooperative can receive a 5% discount when they purchase a MIOPS Smart Trigger using the code COOPSPEC5
ABOUT STANLEY HARPER
A native and resident of the Oklahoma Panhandle, Stanley will soon be relocating back to the Visalia area of California's Central Valley. Just a mere couple hours drive from places like Yosemite and Pacific beaches, Stanley looks forward to this new adventure in his photography career. If you would like to follow Stanley and his future adventures, head over to his other Internet haunts:
Black Mesa Images - Photography by Stanley Harper