‘Arsenal’ assistant bolsters photography accessibility

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Shooting with Arsenal
Shooting with Arsenal. Image by Rebecca Krusz

Arsenal is a new smart camera assistant and the first batch of units recently shipped. Supporters backed the project successfully on Kickstarter last year. The compact DSLR accessory simply attaches to camera’s hot-shoe and connects with a mini-USB cable.

The most notable aspect to the device is that it is designed to improve camera automation and image quality. The assistant aims to “unlock the full potential of your DSLR or mirror-less camera.” Arsenal also allows users to control their camera from up to a 100 feet away with a mobile phone.

photopigs eagerly puts these claims and goals to the test.

Unboxing and setup

Arsenal setup attached to a DLSR.
Arsenal setup out of the box includes the unit and a USB connection. Photo by Gene Dianoski.

Arsenal includes a USB cable for your specific model of camera and a wall/USB charging cable and plug. The packaging is small, well-placed and very nicely designed throughout. On the right side is the power cord socket, which is on the same side as the power button (so itโ€™s easy to remember). On the other side is a socket to connect to the camera . At the top-right is the power and a tiny LED light to let you know when the unit is fully charged.  

Once it is attached to the camera and powers up, a blue light on the back flashes and wants to pair with the smart phone app. Arsenal does not require a WiFi connection. Unfortunately, the connection button on the app took two or three attempts to pair to the device. However, that is possibly nitpicking because it only took a couple seconds to work. 

After making the first time connection, the app needs to push the newest firmware update to Arsenal. Downloading and installing it took about twenty minutes. When complete, the app shows your camera, scene movement, ISO and aperture settings. From here, users see a live view of their camera, focus the scene and click ‘TAP SHOT’ to take a photograph.

Arsenal’s screen functionality

There are also screens for manual mode, time-lapse and video underneath the trigger button (along the bottom of the app). The gear icon at the top-left shows battery life percentages of Arsenal and the camera. Exposure stacking, focus stacking, long exposure blending and to toggle a grind on and off are also available features. 

Additionally, there are on and off sliders for focus peaking, zebra strips and ‘refocus before shoot.’ Finally, there are the settings for the ‘mirror lockup’ feature.

Testing Arsenal in the field

It was a frigid below-freezing morning when we went out to capture the sunrise with Arsenal. Using the grid feature to observe the rule of thirds, we captured a few images with the ‘Smart’ setting. Executing this functionality was simple because all of the work to find the correct settings was done automatically. The live view and remote triggering are also incredibly convenient because it was possible to walk around in the cold wearing gloves. Gloves make it difficult to change settings and using bare hands is uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.

The resulting images from full auto mode turned out the same as if we had manually adjusted and balanced lighting with a light meter. Very impressive.

Switching Arsenal into manual mode was just as impressive. The last smart settings automatically loaded but it was easy to change any or all of them. The histogram for each image displays below the live view.

Camera assist and manual results

Image taken with Arsenal Manual mode.
Image taken with Arsenal Manual mode using the EV -1 adjustment. Photo by Gene Dianoski.

Using EV -1 took he best shot of morning sunrise. It’s likely that we’ll spend most of our time in Arsenal using manual with this setting. I “shoot to the left” and usually shoot in various apertures. Arsenal makes this habit extremely convenient because all the settings, histogram and live view are all located on one screen.

Arsenal image taken as a 10 photo long exposure blend
Arsenal image taken with a 10 photo long exposure blend. Photo by Gene Dianoski.

Another great feature is that Arsenal holds a .JPG copy of every image. In addition, it writes them to the camera’s SD card in whichever format the camera settings designate. Photographers that perform stacking or shooting for HDR with Arsenal will find this feature extremely convenient because the original images are maintained but the blended images are immediately viewable on your smart phone.

An Arsenal image with Exposure Stacking
An Arsenal image with Exposure Stacking. Photo by Gene Dianoski.

Arsenal allows the images on the camera’s SD card to be viewable on mobile phones, even when they haven’t been taken with the app. It is also possible to share them directly to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or 500px, or sending them by text message or email and saving directly to the phone.

Overall impression of Arsenal

Arsenal is a nice addition to the accessories found in photographer’s camera bag. It allows more control because it condenses everything into one screen. Although not every photographer needs all of its features, we see ourselves using it frequently, especially in aversive conditions like Minnesota winter. However, it is an obviously useful tool for photographers without access to editing software that want to execute techniques like stacking blends. It is also useful for handy uploads to social media during relaxing vacations where photography isn’t the primary concern.

For these reasons, Arsenal is worthy of adding to the, erm, arsenal, in a photographer’s camera bag. While some argue that assisted technology devalues photography, we believe that photography is for everyone.

As of November 20th, 2018, the camera assistant is available by limited pre-order for $175, plus shipping, and will retail for $250.

3 COMMENTS

    • Sorry John, I didn’t see your comments. I haven’t been out much with the camera as a whole since I’ve gotten it, but when I do go out I’ve been using the manual mode. It makes an outstanding remote trigger.

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