Equipment Review – Phottix Aion Wireless Remote

Phottix Aion Remote

Don’t you love it when you buy something and find out you got a lot more than what you expected?  I was looking for a wireless remote to use with my Canon bodies (Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 7D, and Canon 1D Mark III) that would be programmable for night exposures and star trails.  When it comes to purchasing equipment, I have only found four sources that I generally trust when it comes to buying camera equipment and they are B & H Photo/Video (online), Precision Camera (local store in Austin, Texas), Photography on the Net website (for used and almost new equipment), and Amazon.  I was perusing the wares at Precision Camera a few months back when a remote caught my eye and it was the Phottix Aion Wireless Timer & Shutter Release.  I already had a simple wired remote that I had used on occasion for macro photography but it didn’t allow me to program a specific exposure time which I would need for night photography.  Furthermore, although I had never tried star trails, I knew I would want that capability.

While many people prefer a wired remote for more reliability, I have had zero issues with the wireless remote.  However, this remote can indeed be used wired since it comes with a cable for just such purposes.  Just be sure to always have extra batteries (the Phottix uses AAA batteries) available in the event you need to replace.

Here are the features that I have really liked thus far:

1)  Ease of programming in the dark.  Let’s face it, when doing night photography, we really don’t want to lose our night vision.  I have thick fingers and yet I have no trouble changing settings, time, or functions on the remote in the dark.  The buttons are well spaced and the remote is a decent enough size that I don’t feel like I will lose it.  It does have a light that can be turned on to see the screen but this little light is bright and can take night vision away.  There is also a wrist strap which is perfect since I leave this remote always on my wrist so I don’t misplace in the dark.

2)  Ability to customize everything you can imagine.  This remote will work as a simple shutter release which I use extensively for landscape photography.

3)  Ability to autobracket for low-light HDR photographs.  This is a wonderful function!

4)  Has the ability to operate in “S” or SHUTTER mode where pressing the button simply triggers the shutter for whatever length of time you (or camera) has selected depending upon exposure mode.  “C” or CONTINUOUS mode will take 5 consecutive shots when the shutter is pressed.  “b” or BULB mode is very handy in that you can press the shutter button on the remote and the camera’s shutter will open.  A timer begins on the remote and you can simply press the shutter button again to close the shutter when you reach the appropriate time.  Finally, the “2S” or TWO-SECOND DELAY mode is just like the 2 second delay on the camera.  Pressing the shutter button on the remote will take a photo after a two-second delay.

5)  The real star of the function show however is the TIMER function.  This function has DELAY, LONG, INTVL, N, and BKLN settings.  The first four (4) of these functions can be used separately or in conjunction with one another.  The DELAY setting is used as a self-timer before a photo is taken.  The LONG setting requires the camera to be in BULB mode and will stay open for as long as you have the timer programmed with a maximum time of 99 hours, 99 minutes and 99 seconds.  I doubt you will run out of time!  The INTVL setting (Interval) will take photos at the exact time intervals programmed into the timer.  For instance, you can have the timer take 20 consecutive shots 30 seconds apart.  The 30 seconds apart is controlled by the interval setting.  The N (Number) setting controls the number of exposures the timer will shoot during the current program (– being unlimited, 199 being the maximum programmable).  Finally, the BKLN (Bracketed Long Exposure) setting can be used for long exposure HDR.

This is a bit tricky as you don’t set the exposure to start for the right one, you need to calculate the darkest exposure based on the number of shots you plan to take and start there.  Read the manual for more detail on how to properly use this feature.

6)  Finally, at about $90 retail, this remote is a bargain compared to the price of normal wired remotes.

Cons:

1)  The dial used to tighten the receiver on the flash hot shoe is small enough where I have a tough time grasping to tighten or loosen.  I suspect for people with narrow and/or longer fingers this might not be an issue.

2)  In live view mode with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 7D, it can be a bit tricky to get the shutter to trigger.

3)  It can be tricky at first because you use the shutter button on the remote for S, C, B, and 2S functions.  For the timer, you use the Play/Stop button.  You will definitely want to take the manual with you on your first outing until you get everything nailed down.

Here are some photos I have taken using the Phottix Aion:

My normal lens for night photography is the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.

Night Sky - Pagosa Springs, CO

Night Sky – Pagosa Springs, CO

Sunrise Over Dead Horse Mountains

Sunrise Over Dead Horse Mountains

Lightning Through the Window

Lightning Through the Window

Watching the Stars

Watching the Stars

To learn more about the functions of the Phottix Aion, you can download a user’s manual here and join me on one of my upcoming Big Bend National Park photography workshops coming in 2015!

Night Photography – New Area of Interest

As of late, I have been researching and learning as much as I can about night sky photography.  There is something awe-inspiring about viewing amazing images taken at night where countless stars are visible along with amazing features of the landscape.  This area of photography has seen a marked increase in the number of folks interested in this form of photography.  Modern digital equipment has certainly made it easier to attempt night photography; however, it still takes time, patience, a good eye and proper knowledge to shoot at night.

Night Sky - Pagosa Springs, CO

Night Sky – Pagosa Springs, CO

I will be posting about my equipment and techniques to help others who might be interested in attempting some night photography.  If you want some eye-candy to get you motivated, check out this group on Flicker.  The ability to capture high quality night shots has been greatly enhanced by advances in digital camera bodies which allow you to capture great shots at high ISO’s (this is the equivalent of film speed for those who are new to photography.  The higher the ISO, the less light needed to expose an image.)

For those who wonder what basic equipment you might need to attempt some night sky shots, here is a simple list:

DSLR Camera Body – There are some camera bodies that are simply much better at capturing night images than others.  I shoot with Canon equipment, but I can tell you that you can have the same results with Nikon equipment.  I have been using the Canon 7d and Canon 1d Mark III but plan to upgrade to a Canon 6d soon.

Wide-Angle Lens – In general, the wider the lens the better as the night sky is BIG!!  My current go to lens for night photography is the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.  I hope to add the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 to my bag for night panoramic shots.

Tripod – This is one piece of equipment that many new photographers eschew; yet, it is the one thing that will take your photography to another level.  Night photography requires long exposures and the camera and lens must remain perfectly still if you hope to capture some nice shots.

Tripod Head – The tripod legs may be great, but imagine trying to get your camera level with the horizon, in the dark, and sometimes wearing gloves!  You will want a sturdy, easy to adjust tripod head.  I am currently using the Giottos MH 1300-657 Ball Head.  It is a littler larger than you really need for typical night/landscape setups, but I prefer having larger knobs for turning with gloves and thick hands.

Remote Shutter Release – Many people assume that using a tripod for long exposures is all you need to ensure a sharp photo.  There is one other piece of equipment I highly recommend and that is a wired/wireless remote shutter release and preferably, one that is programmable.  I use the Phottix Aion which can be used wired or wirelessly and is programmable.

Of course, photographing at night also requires a few other items such as a flashlight for navigating and/or light painting part of your photo; a good headlamp (preferably with a red light so you don’t lose your night vision); good batteries for long exposures; and reliable memory cards.  In upcoming posts, I will review some of my equipment and cover night photography techniques.