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You Need A Cable Release

If you go back far enough in the history of photography, you’ll get to a time where photographers absolutely had to use a cable release in order to trigger the shutter. And this was a good thing, as it usually makes for sharper pictures. Consequently large format photographers have been employing cable releases since day one, and they’re still useful today, on everything from DSLRs to pocket point and shoots. If you do whatever you can to get your hands off your camera, you’ll make sharper photographs. Period.

In the good ol’ days, a traditional cable release served as a mechanical connection between the hand and the camera. Sometimes cable releases had locking mechanisms, so you could open the shutter, lock the cable release, and walk away while your camera made a really long exposure. That’s still how large format and many medium format film shooters still work today when they’re using mechanical cable releases. And these no-frills releases are just as functional as ever.

But thankfully we no longer live in the good ol’ days. Today, many cable releases have a bunch of additional features. Lots of electronic cable releases often have interval timers built in, or programmable features that make multiple exposures, timed exposures for long duration, or even repeated exposures at regular intervals as easy as starting up the smart cable release and walking away. Some new cameras even have interval timers built in, which makes it especially easy to get the benefits of a modern "smart" cable release without having to actually purchase another accessory.

Sometimes fancy modern cable releases don’t even have a cable—they’re wireless. These are especially useful if you’d like to trigger the camera on demand but you don’t want to sit there right next to the camera. Nothing’s better in this instance than a wireless cable release, which can easily be had for as little as $30 from a number of manufacturers, including plenty of options of the "cheap Chinese import" variety. Beware of these though. Against my better judgment I tried one when my name brand release conked out after many years of service, and not only is it missing an on/off switch and the cable is practically impossible to keep connected, it misfires a high percentage of the time. (But other than that it’s flawless. Oy!) The ShutterBoss release from Vello seems to have a good reputation, and at $99 it’s a reasonably priced wireless, feature-rich wireless remote. Once you get in the habit of triggering your camera with a wireless release, you’ll never want to be tethered again.

If you want the super deluxe, 21st-century approach to triggering your camera hands-free, consider using an actual Wi-Fi connection. No, most DSLRs don’t (yet) have Wi-Fi built in, but there are many adapters that will connect your camera to a wireless network. Once that connection is made, not only can the camera be triggered remotely, but image files can be viewed and downloaded on remote computers, tablets and smartphones. The CamRanger camera controller provides this wireless capability for Canon and Nikon DSLRs for about $300, and it’s compatible with both Android and iOS devices. For those who want as much control as possible, this feature-rich wireless capability may be the way to go.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum with a shoestring budget, and you just can’t fathom spending a penny on an actual cable release much less a robust Wi-Fi system, there’s always an old-fashioned workaround. You can employ your camera’s self timer in order to get your hands off at the moment the exposure is made. A short two-second option is great if you want to make multiple exposures fairly quickly, while the longer timer will allow you time to do other things for the exposure—like holding a reflector or a flag, or even jumping into the shot.

While you’re at it with the cable release (or self-timer, if you’re a cheapskate) consider employing your camera’s mirror lockup feature in order to eliminate the last vestiges of movement during the exposure. During a normal DSLR exposure, the internal mirror swings up and out of the way, allowing the light from the lens to shine directly on the shutter—which will then open up and expose the sensor to the illumination. Sometimes these mirrors swing violently and really bang on the inside of the camera body, creating microscopic vibrations that aren’t so microscopic as far as the sensor is concerned. So if you want to eliminate the last vestiges of shake, use the mirror lockup and simply press the cable release twice—once to get the mirror out of the way and the next to take the picture.

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