Actual Photo (vs the rendered view found most other places)
I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II and occasionally dabble with HDR. If you shoot Canon too, you know that the auto-bracketing exposure (AEB) is limited to 3 exposures on all but the 1D Series bodies, while Nikon allows up to 9 exposures. So, what do you do? Short of buying a new camera, you stick to the limits provided by Canon, or you take a set of 3 exposures, change the settings on the camera, take another set of 3 exposures. This is far from ideal as this may cause misalignment between sets of exposures.
Enter the Promote control, from Promote Systems. When I heard Ron had one unit on loan, I had to ask him permission to do some field testing with it.
My first surprise is that the Promote Control is much more than just a snazzy device for taking HDR pictures. A quick run through the various modes and you realize this device does a lot more:
However, there is a little caveat for the Focus Stacking. The unit I used was loaded with firmware 2.25 (beta), which allows Focus stacking, but only for Canon cameras with the Live View feature. This is temporary though, as Promote systems will extend this feature to Nikon as well, in a future firmware release. A quick look at their website reveals that the latest firmware release is now at version 2.36 (beta, as well). Click on this link to see the details of the list of firmware and the features that are added.
The second surprise was the ease of use. It is very intuitive. For each mode you select the parameters that you want to set, hit “Start” and voila. For each mode there are a few pre-requisites for the unit to operate flawlessly. So, before reading the manual, it does pay off to watch the “Quick Start Videos” that are posted on Promote systems main webpage (and here on YouTube). They are short, but they will set you straight away on the right track.
Promote control, in its basic configuration, comes with the following:
- The unit,
- 1 USB cable, to connect the unit to the computer (for firmware updates),
- 1 mini USB cable to connect the control to the camera,
- a lanyard,
- and a pouch.
If you shoot HDR, it is strongly recommended you buy the additional Shutter cable, for faster operations (more details below).
This review focuses (no pun intended) on HDR and focus stacking
HDR – Mini field testing
As mentioned earlier, if you want to get the best experience in this mode, get the additional Shutter cable. Among the many advantages, there are 2 that are directly relevant for HDR:
- Enable faster shutter release
- Enables mirror lockup functionality
This cable is brand specific, so make sure to get the right one for your camera.
The pre-requisite for this mode are the following:
- Set your camera on manual exposure mode
- Set the exposure setting on 1/3 of a stop increments
- Set the lens on manual focus.
This means that in the field you will want to do the pre-focusing first and then switch to manual focus.
Using the Promote Control is straightforward. Set your camera as indicated above, connect the unit to your camera, select your settings and press “start”. The combo camera/Promote Control does the rest.
What I personally liked about this unit in real life shooting is two-fold:
- Once you have focused and connected the unit to you camera, you no longer touch it. You can shoot the same scene using different settings and never lay hands on your camera, hence avoiding misalignment between exposures
- It is flexible.
The power of the Promote Control lies with the settings:
- Number of exposures (it goes up to 29)
- Interval between exposures are in increments of 1/3 of a stop
- Mirror lock-up
- Time lapse HDR
- Sequence of exposures (from dark to bright, or the opposite)
There are additional options in the Function menu that allows you to customize your unit so that it matches your camera and your shooting style more adequately.
If there is one drawback that I can think of, it is one more accessory to carry with you. The unit is very light, weight is not at all an issue, and the pouch allows you to stow away the unit plus its cable in a very snug way. It is just “one more thing to pack and carry with you. Having said that, you can buy a tripod holder that allows you to attach the Promote Control to the tripod, and / or you can also buy the remote control unit. (I did not have either of those, so I was not able to test them).
Focus Stacking – Mini field testing
Focus Stacking Example
Notice how both the foreground and background objects are in full focus
Focus Stacking is a technique that consists of taking 2 or more pictures at different focus points and combine them later in software, in order to achieve greater depth of field. This particularly handy for situations where depth of filed is a challenge, like macro photography, but of course, this applies to any situations where you want to get the greatest sharpness you can get, from near to far (architecture, landscape …).
This features uses Live View, so in the case, you just need the USB cable that links the unit to your camera (no shutter cable required for this mode).
Click here to see a gallery that shows all 15 shots taken to create the shot above that is perfectly in focus from the rear all the way to the front of the image. Doing this by hand is a pain yet this app makes it easy to capture the images for use by your favorite focus stacking software.
Again, there are some simple pre-requisites. Your camera needs to be set in manual exposure mode, and One-Shot mode. The lens this time will need to be switched to AF. You then connect the unit and adjust the settings. Note that when you start adjusting the settings, Live View turns on automatically, and you see the effect on focus on your LCD as you adjust the settings on the unit. The Promote Systems main page has a video that explains how to use this mode in more details than I could do here, but I must say, using this mode will make you a believer.
Make sure you read the caveat above. This feature is currently available only to Canon cameras (with Live View functionality). It will be extended to Nikon in a future firmware release. With that out of the way, WOW, I would buy the Promote Control just for this feature alone. I absolutely love it.
This mini-review has only scratched the surface. As mentioned earlier, there are additional modes that I have not even used yet. Additionally, one feature I have not included in this review is that you can combine modes together, for instance, Time-lapse HDR, or Focus Stacking HDR. But for what I have seen so far, Promote Control is a very powerful tool. It is very flexible, and allows you to do much more than what you would normally achieve with a regular remote control, like the Canon remote release and other similar alternatives.
If you shoot HDR, Time-lapse or do focus stacking (and more), I would definitely recommend buying one. You will use it a lot.
Special Offer (Updated March 12, 2012)
Click this link to place your order directly from Promote Systems, and get $15 off EVERY accessory you purchase with your order. This offer WILL NOT WORK if you don’t click the link, and it will not begin until the date stated above.
This unit was loaned to Ron & Luc by a reader of this blog. I may get a commission if you make a purchase using the links in this article.