The Quantum TriggerSmart MCT-1

by Stan Sholik

Stan Sholik

December 10, 2012

Devices capable of triggering cameras by sound, motion or a flash of light have been widely available for years. A device that can trigger a camera and an additional piece of equipment with all of the inputs above—like the TriggerSmart MCT-1 distributed by Quantum Instruments—is far more unique.

I’ve used an array of triggering devices over the years both in the studio and on location, but none has the combination of triggering inputs and controls found in the TriggerSmart. I’ve shot editorial assignments using a sound trigger to photograph a “vicious” dog in mid-bark, light-activated triggers to fire electronic flash units in sequence, and motion-activated triggers more times than I can count to capture splashes in drinks. While each of these required very different systems, the TriggerSmart is capable of doing them all.

The TriggerSmart is described as the MCT-1 Motion Capture System—and a system it is. Included is the main control unit, a combined infrared receiver and light intensity sensor, a combined infrared transmitter and sound sensor unit, connection cables for the sensors and camera, a baffle to narrow the infrared beam, and two mini tripods for the sensors, which are so “mini” and lightweight that I found them useless.

Adding to this basic system is a range of optional accessories, including a 6V AC/DC converter, a self-contained battery-powered infrared transmitter, extension cables and a tilt sensor switch.

The heart of the system is the main control unit, powered by two AA batteries. Rotary knobs on the top control sensitivity, trigger delay and trigger time. The sensitivity knob controls the sensitivity of the selected sensor to the existing conditions. You rotate this dial clockwise until the indicator LED glows, and then back it off until it extinguishes. It’s best to do this with your camera turned off unless you want a series of useless frames.

With the trigger delay knob set fully counterclockwise, there is a minimum 1/1000-second delay before the shutter is released. Rotating the trigger delay clockwise adds a delay up to 1/10 second if the Short delay setting is active, and from 1/10 to 10 seconds if the Long delay setting is active. Adjusting the trigger delay knob is pretty much trial-and-error depending on your initial conditions.

The trigger time control knob setting determines how long the shutter release is activated. For example, if your camera is set on high-speed continuous capture, you can use the trigger time control to set the number of captures, again by trial and error. Or if you set the shutter on Bulb, the trigger time setting will control the length of time the shutter remains open.

On the top of the control unit there are also membrane switches to remotely focus your camera, manually trigger it, or temporarily inhibit the TriggerSmart from operating. The back of the control unit contains input and output connections, and switches for power and sensor type selection.

I found that setting up the system for motion triggering with the infrared sensors is easy physically, but not so easy electronically. The infrared transmitter and receiver both have a standard ¼-20 tripod mount on the bottom. I used these to mount them to substantial tripods and aligned them carefully. Switches on the backs of the units need to be moved to the infrared position.

The 10-foot cables supplied were easily long enough to reach the control box next to the camera. I could also have connected on transmitter to the receiver and the receiver only to the control unit. Next I connected the camera to the control unit. I would have liked a much longer cable for this, but one is available optionally—that’s the easy part.

Although the manual describes this procedure in precise detail, when I turned everything on, I couldn’t get the camera to fire when I broke the beam. After a chat with tech support, I discovered that operation is very sensitive to the settings for the sensitivity knob. Set too high and the camera fires continually; set too low (my problem) and the camera won’t fire.

With this sorted out, I was curious about how far apart the transmitter and receiver could be separated before the camera wouldn’t trigger. Separated by 15 feet, the farthest the supplied cables would reach, and with the sensitivity properly adjusted, the camera fired each time. This is better than the specification, which lists the usable separation as about 1 to 6 feet. Alignment didn’t seem to be much of an issue either, even though the beam angle is only 6 degrees.

As light sources, I used a Quantum T5d-R to backlight the set and a Quantum Trio for front light. Both flashes were at low power in manual mode and I adjusted the power levels on each with a Quantum CoPilot in the camera’s hotshoe. 

With a guess setting of 1/10-second delay on the trigger delay knob, my assistant dropped an olive through the beam. The first drop produced a perfect splash! Playing with the trigger delay dial we were able to stop the olive at any position we wanted, including one that made the olive appear to float on the surface of the martini.

Encouraged by this success, we decided to photograph breaking balloons. Big problems; we were going to break them with the sound trigger that would be activated when the air gun fired a BB at the balloon. We switched the transmitter to sound mode and repositioning the sensor out of harm’s way. The flash system remained the same, though it too was repositioned. All we ever photographed was the background. The balloon had burst before the camera and flashes triggered. We tried breaking the balloon with a pin. Even at the shortest trigger delay, the setup was too slow to capture the balloon as it burst. 

Another call to tech support showed me the error of my ways: it turns out that every device in the system introduces its own delay. With an event that happens as quickly as we were attempting (we calculated about 1/10 second for the BB to reach the balloon), the delay introduced by the CoPilot wirelessly firing the Quantum flash units was too long. Replacing the CoPilot with an on-camera flash in the hotshoe did the trick, but with ugly lighting. Lighting these events and triggering the lighting at the proper instant isn’t as easy as it seems, but the TriggerSmart seems capable of handling it.

I wanted to try the lighting trigger function with lightning or fireworks, but neither the weather nor the local amusement parks were willing to cooperate in the time that I had the unit. I had a similar problem using the system to attempt to photograph the hummingbirds in my garden—the TriggerSmart would have done it if the hummingbirds had cooperated.

If I didn’t have individual trigger units for light, sound and motion already, I’d buy a TriggerSmart. Once you sort out the interaction between the sensitivity, trigger delay and trigger time knobs, and the associated membrane switches, it is a reliable and versatile system if you need the capabilities of what it can do.

MSRP of the TriggerSmart MCT-1 system is $398. Contact Quantum
Instruments  at www.qtm.com.  

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still-life and macro photography. His latest book, Lightroom 4 FAQz, published by Wiley Publishing, is now available. 

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