Some time ago the folks over at Nero Trigger contacted me and asked me if I would like to review their Nero Trigger after having seen some of my lightning photography. Those that follow me, or know me in real life might know that I have said before that I tend to feel disconnected from images that I make that I don’t actually press the shutter release button on, that very reason has kept me from investing in a lightning trigger, but after my friend Bryan Snider wrote a review of an earlier generation of a Nero Trigger last year, I wanted to give one a try.
The Nero Trigger is a multi-function tool, which I like, but I only tested 2 of the functions as they are the types of photography that fit into what I do, they are the “Timelapse” mode and the “Lightning” mode. This review will address both of those, but won’t go into the other functions as I didn’t test or use them.
The first thing that caught my eye when I took my Nero Trigger out of the box was the LCD display and what looked to be very well laid out and intuitive buttons. I then added the batteries and turned the unit on and was quite impressed with the brightness of the LCD display, I would later determine that it could even be seen in bright Arizona sun, no easy task for a small LCD. The intuitive nature of the button layout carried on to the menu structure, it was quite simple to navigate around and find each of the functions available.
There were also a few negatives that I immediately noticed. The first thing that jumped out to me is that there doesn’t seem to be any level of weather protection at all. This unit sits on the top of your camera, mounted in the hot shoe, with the buttons on the top surface. While this layout makes it easy to make changes while shooting, it also is the first place that rain is going to fall when out storm chasing, and trust me, you gear is going to get rained on when chasing storms. Two other things jumped out as soon as I mounted it to one of my cameras, the plastic foot that slides into the hot shoe is just a little too big to allow it to slide in easily, that did get better the more I used the trigger and the plastic got shaved off a bit, but it made it pretty tough to mount the first few times. The second thing is that the hot shoe mount doesn’t sit square to the unit itself, when mounted on the camera the trigger points just slightly to the left. You can sort of see that in the picture above.
Living in Western Washington I don’t always have access to the amount of thunderstorms I would like, but I do shoot a lot of time lapse videos and because of that it made sense that I would use the Nero Trigger early on using it’s “Timelapse” mode. This mode gives you a very solid, yet simple to use, intervalometer. An intervalometer is a device that fires your shutter a pre-determined number of times, with a pre-determined interval between shots, for a pre-defined amount of time. While I typically use the built in interval shooting mode with my Nikon cameras, the built in intervalometer in my cameras are limited to 999 shots meaning that when you are done with the 999 shots the camera stops. While this is fine in a lot of cases, there are times that you want to exceed that, and the Nero Trigger really works well for that, you can set a limit number, or simply set it to 0 and it will fire until you either run out of batteries or you fill your memory card. One other advantage to using the Nero Trigger as an intervalometer is that it allows you to make really long exposures, up to 59 minutes when you have your camera set to “bulb” mode. The built in option with Nikon cameras is generally a limit of 30 seconds.
The fact that the Nero Trigger mounts in your cameras hot shoe is also quite nice for time lapse shooting, you don’t have anything hanging down by a cable or needing attached to your tripod with something like velcro or gaffers tape. It is a clean setup that works very well. All said, I am quite impressed with the Nero Trigger as an intervalometer, but what about the real reason you are reading this review, using it as a lightning trigger?
As great as the Nero Trigger is as an intervalometer, it was the lightning mode that I was really anxious to test, but living in Western Washington it was something that I was going to have to wait to do until I could get somewhere with lightning. That opportunity came when my annual Arizona monsoon storm chasing trip this year. I flew into Phoenix the evening of July 8th to perfect conditions. The sun was just setting and there were thunderstorms to the north, west and south of Phoenix. I grabbed a rental car and headed south to a location I have shot from multiple times and knew that I would be able to get some shots from before the storms died out.
Once I got to the location I had in mind, I set some gear up and almost immediately the Nero Trigger captured the following image.
The storm continued for another 15 minutes or so, with lightning very much like this strike, but I did start to notice that there were times that the Nero Trigger simply wasn’t firing, even though I had the sensitivity adjusted per the users manual. My guess is that it would actually fire the camera every 3 or 4 strikes. This seemed odd as it was dark, and the lightning was very bright, I expected it to fire each and every time. Regardless, I was happy with what it did capture for me and after the storm died out I checked into my hotel and started importing images.
The first opportunity I had to test the Nero Trigger, and this time during the day, came on July 10th when a late afternoon storm developed to the south of Phoenix near the small town of Maricopa. It wasn’t an intense storm, but it was a pretty one, and even if there wasn’t much lightning in it, I was happy to go out and shoot it. I got my gear setup, attached the Nero Trigger to my Nikon D7000 and adjusted the sensitivity per the manual. Like with the night test, there were strikes that I felt it should have triggered on, in fact, probably more. It fired once every 3 or 4 strikes when it was dark, but it was only firing the shutter every 6 or 7 strikes during the day, but I was able to capture the following strike, which I found quite impressive as it was a very faint strike.
This storm died down shortly after this image was captured and the next opportunity to give the Nero Trigger another workout wouldn’t come until Sunday the 13th when Bryan Snider, Chris Frailey and I headed to the high desert of Arizona for an epic day of storm chasing.
Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona
Ok, maybe on on a corner in Winslow, but we did find ourselves in the Little Painted Desert area near Winslow with storms in almost every direction. They all had gorgeous structure and lot of lightning, needless to say that I was excited to get my gear setup and let the Nero Trigger do it’s thing, but this is where things sort of went south a bit.
On this trip there were 3 different Nero Triggers. Chris and I had the current model, and Bryan had his earlier generation from the review I linked to above. One thing came immediately clear, Bryan’s older generation Nero Trigger was firing his camera more than ether Chris or my current model triggers were, infact mine only fired a couple times during the entire storm chase, and when it did, it would put the camera into a rapid fire situation where it seemed that the only way I could get it to stop was to turn the Nero Trigger off and back on again.
I do have a theory as to why this happened. During my first two tests I had a lot more contast through entire scene. Take a look at the images above, the night one is obvious that there is a lot of difference between the dark areas and the brightness of the lightning. Even with the day time shot there was a decent amount of range between the dark skies, the green fields and the mountains in the scene. When we were up in the high desert, we didn’t have that range of contrasts in the scene, as you can see in this image of the Little Painted Desert near Winslow.
You will notice that for the most part the only darker part of this scene is the storm itself, the upper clouds and the painted desert canyon in the foreground are both quite bright. My theory is that the Nero Trigger needs more range in the scene to be able to detect the lightning strikes, even when sensitivity is set to 99, its highest setting. While I did manage to capture lightning from this location and this storm, sadly it wasn’t with the Nero Trigger.
The bottom line
So where does all of this leave us?
I would like to see a little effort put into the build quality of the trigger, specifically a little bit of weather proofing on the top side where rain will easily get into the buttons. I didn’t test how much rain it would take before failing as I didn’t want it to fail. When I was out shooting in the rain with it, I simply put a piece of gaffers take across the top. Gaffers tape is not waterproof, but it did prevent water from getting into the buttons.
I can honestly say that as an intervalometer the Nero Trigger works great, and I will continue to use it as one since I do a lot of time lapse work, especially at night when I want longer than 30 second exposures. I suspect it also works quite well for it’s other functions that I didn’t have the opportunity to test, namely the sound and laster modes, but there are a number of reviews online for both of those from people far more qualified to test those functions.
As a lightning trigger, it does work. As spelled out above though there are times where I think it could have done a much better job. While the Nero Trigger is not cheap, it is less expensive than many other options out in the market. I can’t compare how it performs against those more expensive units as I have never used or tested them. I can say though that if you are a hobbiest storm chaser or just want to try your hand at capturing lightning, the Nero Trigger might be a good choice for you. If you are a serious storm chaser, and shooting in the proper conditions it might also be a viable choice as long as you are aware of its limitations, and are willing to miss shots that you would typically expect a trigger to capture.