Manufacturer: Harbortronics Inc.
MSRP: USD $149.00-$199.00
Designed to work with the original Nikon Coolpix line of point-and-shoot digital cameras, the DigiSnap 2000 series of intervalometers (or, really, camera controllers you might say) has evolved to embrace the modern digital SLR world. But before going into their strengths, features, and differences, we need to talk about one thing: ATL.
One Feature to Rule Them All
All intervalometers will trigger a camera, or cameras, at a preset interval for X number of shots. But none of them will let you specify exactly when that will happen. You either have to be there to press the start button, or go through (sometimes risky) runarounds. The DigiSnap line has their killer feature called ATL, or Advanced Time-Lapse, that nobody else can match. You can set up to eight programs, determining when each program starts, how many shots are taken, and what the interval will be. Earlier DigiSnaps like the 2800 did this by getting the time from the camera and operating accordingly. Newer models like the 2700 incorporate an internal clock to deal with SLRs.
Above, where all the magic happens: the ATL programming menu.
I still use old Coolpix Cameras for wildlife monitoring and timelapse location scouting. With programmable ATL periods, cameras can be active only when wildlife is likely to be present. The program above will operate an infrared-modified Coolpix 995 for an hour before dawn and after sunset, monitoring for coyote activity. The ATL feature alone is enough reason to get a DigiSnap, but there’s more.
Feature Sets Galore
There are various models in the DigiSnap 2000 lineup, and all have different options and feature sets. I won’t go into them all, as the models change over time: if you’re looking for something specific, your best bet is to consult the Harbortronics website. ATL is the primary feature for digital SLRs, but consider the following features for the older Coolpix cameras:
Long-duration timelapse and wildlife monitoring are all about power, and the DigiSnap 2800’s ability to accept a wide range of voltages and power itself and the camera provides an incredible level of safety. I currently use a 12-volt 32-amphour deep cycle marine battery to power one of my scout cameras, it’s nice to be able to leave it on location for days at a time, even in sub-zero weather, and know that there’s power to spare. Piddly camera batteries are almost useless under conditions like that.
Above, from left to right, wildlife and life in the wild: a common carp swims under a drowned log, a bufflehead duck hovers under the surface waiting for a fish to swim past, an under-ice mink checks out the camera, and space shuttle Endeavour lifts off for the final time in near infrared. All shots were triggered using DigiSnap ATL sequences.
None of the above images are particularly great, but that’s no fault of the DigiSnap: these are my experimental cameras, the ones I don’t mind sinking underwater and hacking the hot mirrors out of. Triggering more hardcore cameras would result in much higher quality imagery. There’s only so much you can get out of a 3-megapixel sensor and a middling adapter lens like the full-frame fisheye Nikon FC-E8.
Above: a DigiSnap-triggered traditional timelapse, showing a Christmas cactus flower opening over the course of a few days.
The DigiSnap Interface: Back to the Future
The DigiSnap’s secret lies in its interface: there really isn’t one. They’re field-programmable to a degree, but only for straightforward timelapse sequences. You can set an interval via the buttons on the front of the unit, and then set everything running, but that’s about it. All of the magic happens via old-school terminal emulation and a serial port, which is so old-school that modern computers often don’t even have a serial port. Dust off your old terminal program (I use ZTerm), get a USB to serial adapter (like a KeySpan USA-19HS), crank up the baud rate and get your geek on.
Once you’re connected to your DigiSnap, any operation can be set or parameter defined to the absolute nth degree. This is the DigiSnap’s greatest strength, and its greatest weakness: it’s 100% programmable, but it requires a computer to do it, making field programming an issue. You either have to preset everything before heading out, or take a machine of some sort with you to adjust settings. Harbortronics offers a modification to the DigiSnap line to allow programming via Palm/Handspring machines, but I haven’t tested them yet so can’t comment.
Using the serial interface is a wonderful way to go about programming a unit, and any settings are 100% clear and read back to you by the terminal program. It’s a much more humane way to work than by pressing tiny buttons on a unit and progressing one step at a time on a teeny screen, but it does require a computer. I currently have cameras out in the field, preprogrammed to shoot the hour before and after both sunrise and sunset (four hours daily total), and the system works perfectly.
Above: a rough series of timelapse sequences, all shots were taken unattended via preprogrammed ATL sequences.
The DigiSnap is an impressive, programmable tool, and currently the only unit offering anything like the ATL feature. The cables shipped with the DigiSnaps are high quality, with full locking mechanisms (at least in the case of Canon N3 connectors). Designer Mark Roberts offers any number of custom modifications, such as upgrading certain components for cold-weather work, or adding a DC power jack. He’s extremely responsive to any questions you may have, and can help with any weird custom things you might need done.
If you need rock-solid timelapse programmability, the DigiSnap line is what you’re looking for. Highly recommended.
Product: DigiSnap 2xxx line of intervalometers
Best uses: programmatic timelapse photography
Strengths: highly customizeable, ATL feature, external power options
Weaknesses: requires a computer to program
Final verdict: highly recommended
Note: images photographed with a DigiSnap on this site have all been tagged, and can be viewed en masse here.