Gigapan: electrical shutter release for Nikon

After some time strolling around in the american forums for the 'Gigapan' unit I've made my decision to build an electronic shutter release for mine - for one the moving servo introduces vibration and uses a fair amount of power, plus it is really slow.

So triggering the camera electronically solves all those problem:

  • no moving parts so no vibrations
  • no motor which has to be moved - no power loss (forums say about 50% move picture on a single battery charge)
  • faster release so shorter time needed to complete the pano

Buildcost: 0€ - all of the components are common and I had some flying around from other projects - but even it you have not a single part it should be in the 1-2€ range.

But now the question - why use etxra parts? Well the 'Gigapan Epic Pro' which is designed to work with big DSLRs comes with a lot of remote cables - my little 'Epic 100' not...
The concept for the 'Epic 100', which is supposed to be used with smaller cameras, is the 'button pusher' servo motor as an universal interface - but you can get a remote cable... for canon. No love for the Nikon folks here.

But since the 'Gigapan' was part of a research project and the discussions on the forums, some on the current hardware some on the beta units, is still available it took less time to come up with a solution. Still this is using the unit in ways it was not designed for, so if you are not comfortable with this do not attempt to modify it - use caution and, of course, I am not responsible for anything you do with this little write-up.

Now, how do you use an interface to a 'black-box' which does things in mysterious ways - in this case pretty simple: you have 3 pins which connect to the servo and a menu with 2 options.

Step 1:
3 Pins, and the menu option 'Remote Port' for electronical release - perfect, lets switch to that.

Step 2:
Messure the voltages on the 3 pins - I use the color coding black, red, yellow as these are the colors used on a standard servo connection.
If you have the 'Epic 100' in front of you with the display facing you the connection is precisely this:
black, red, yellow.

black-red: 5V as soon as you switch the unit on
red-yellow: 0V and jumping to 5V for about 200ms on release
black-yellow: 5V and jumping to 0V for about 200ms on release

That means the release time is way to short to trigger the camera directly, the beta units took about half a second which would be enough, oh well...

Step 3:
Now we have to think how we could interface with those limited options. The release on nikon cameras is done by simply connection 2 pins on the remote port (as long as the shutter speed is not set to 'bulb' this is sufficient - when using 'bulb' you also need to pull the focus pin low).

And this is the final product - as simple relais and a transistor.
On the left side you can see the three connections from the port on the 'Epic 100', the relays and transistor in the center and the connector to the camera on the right.

The way this is working is as follows:
The relais is provided with 5V from the red cable and connected to ground through the transistor, which itself has the base connected to the yellow cable.

  • When turning the 'Gigapan' on the relais is powered and shorts the two pins on the camera
  • When the unit is triggered the transistor will cut the power to the relais which will open 
  • Then the relais closes and takes a shot
This inverts the signal coming from the 'Gigapan' and abuses the timing in the relais to create a release pulse which lasts long enough for the camera to properly trigger.

If you think to yourself, well you could just use the red-yellow connection directly into the remote port of the camera I say to you: DO NOT DO IT! There were people on the forums who tried it, it works, for about 300 shots then the remote port on the camera blew and needed to be replace by Nikon - which is really expensive.

And again, this is not supposed to be a tutorial for a definitive way to build an electronic shutter for Nikon cameras and the smaller 'Gigapan' units . I am not responsible for anything that you do to the unit or your cameras!