Nikon and DIY

Back in college, I used to take long exposures of things at night. Using my trusty Nikon F2, I could manage this two ways. There was a “T” setting on the shutter dial; if I set that and clicked the shutter release, the camera would open up and stay that way until the shutter dial was set to a different selection. Or, if I set the shutter dial to “B” for “bulb”, I could use a cable release, and the shutter would stay open so long as the cable release was depressed. A locking cable release helped handle the longer exposures.

With my digital Nikon D2Xs, things are a bit different. There is no “T” selection in the menu for manual mode. While there is a “bulb” selection, my good old cable release for the F2 has no applicability to the modern camera.

So I’ve added an electronic shutter release to my gadget bag. This is based on the Nikon MC-22 remote release. That goes from a Nikon 10-pin remote port to a set of three banana plugs.

I’m using telephone wall jacks with this. One of them I’ve added banana jacks to, so the MC-22 plugs fit right in. There’s a switch on that one to enable me to keep the “focus request” and “shutter release” functions separate or join them. Both must be closed with ground for the shutter to fire. I can hook up two separate switches to handle being able to focus and then trip the shutter, and have a rig like that with two momentary-contact normally-open switches. But that doesn’t get me to an easy way to do the long exposures. I’d have to set up something to keep the momentary-contact switch closed for that.

The other wall jack I’ve wired to a push-on, push-off switch. So with the one hooked to the MC-22 set with the switch to combine the focus request and shutter release lines, I can push-on to start a long exposure and push-off to end it.

Why telephone wall jacks, you might ask? Well, that means that I can use telephone extension cords to connect up the two jacks, so I have an electronic cable release of extremely flexible length. For travel, I’m carrying one of those retractable cables.

I tried it out with just having the camera in an unlighted room with the curtains drawn. With manual mode, I set “bulb” for the shutter speed, f/16 for the aperture and ISO 100, pressed my gizmo to “on”, and went away for a while. I didn’t time it precisely, but it was likely about a three minute exposure that I gave it. Coming back and pressing again ended the exposure, and I could review it on screen. It was not too bad for a guessed exposure. Looking at the image zoomed-in, it was apparent that Nikon’s warning about “hot” pixels on long exposures was no hyperbole. There was certainly a scattering of red, green, and blue dots through the image. I may have to look into whether anyone has come up with a filter for that kind of thing.

But at least now I can look forward to trying out some night-time exposures that go beyond the 30s limit. There’s always been some tension between what photographers want and what the limits of the tool and process can yield. I’m ready to see what I can do with the system now.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

6 thoughts on “Nikon and DIY

  • 2008/08/04 at 7:14 am

    Nikon makes another remote for the 10 pin connection that has a timer on it as well as a shutter lock. I use the MC-36 with my D300 and get great long exposures using bulb and a set timer above the 30 second in camera setting.

    It looks like it is compatible with the D2Xs.

  • 2008/08/04 at 8:00 am

    Yep, that looks cool.

    On the other hand, MC-22 ($40) + wall jacks ($5) + switches ($3) + wire ($1) = less than $50. MC-36 = over $120.

    I’m sure the MC-36 looks better than my bit of stuff, but the family budget is pretty much strapped from having both of us go through grad school recently. Plus, my DIY project has an advantage over the MC-36 in two respects mentioned in a user review on the B&H site:

    Time will tell whether this will effect battery life.In the end it does exactly what it is supposed to do but the price is a bit high and be ready to spend another [$]!! or so if you need the extension cord.

    I don’t have to worry about batteries. And I’ve tried my lash-up with a 100′ telephone extension cord, and it works fine. I don’t remember how much I paid for the extension cord, since that dates back to non-wireless telephony, and I’m not using it for anything else these days.

  • 2008/08/05 at 10:27 am

    I dabble in astrophotography and hear you about the hot pixels in all CCD images. There are dedicated astrophotography packages like MaxDSLR or MaximDL from Cyanogen and Nebulosity from Stark labs that will do all of the necessary tricks with nighttime exposures like hot pixel removal, image stacking and star alignments. There is a free tool that can eliminate some hot pixels, oddly enough called “Hotpixels”

    A better method has you take a “darkframe” exposure (with the lenscap on) using the same exposure settings as the “lightframe” photograph and subtracting them using a program like BlackFrame NR, from the same website as above.
    Photoshop can also be used to do darkframe/lightframe subtraction but it won’t be automated.
    Another free tool is DeepSkyStacker
    That can do a lot of these tricks with nighttime photos.
    There are a lot of packages like this geared to astrophotographers and they are a lot of fun to play around with.

  • 2008/08/05 at 4:59 pm

    Garry, thanks for the pointers on image improvement software for time exposure.

    I do have a 6″ telescope and adapter for my camera, but I don’t have a clock drive, so I’m limited to fairly short exposures if I don’t want streaks.

  • 2008/08/06 at 1:35 pm

    Yeah I didn’t add up the cost factor. I haven’t burned the battery down on it yet but honestly I mostly use it for its cable release function.

    Next thing for me to pick up is the AC adapter for my D300 so I can get some really nice star trail shots and not worry about draining the camera battery to its knees.

  • 2009/11/26 at 10:21 am

    Canon cameras have 2.5mm jacks that control the shutter release,which means that you can actually make your own shutter release. I found a fairly good one at the instructables website. That type has a shutter switch for bulb mode, a shutter button for non bulb exposures, and a focusing button.

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