T-Minus Audio Trigger

T-Minus Productions Audio Trigger product shotT-Minus Audio Trigger
The only tool for the job

Manufacturer: T-Minus Productions Inc.
Website:  www.tminusproductions.com
MSRP:  USD $400.00

Remote photography is almost always problematic, and space launch photography doubly so.  Physical access is highly restricted, launches can be delayed at a moment’s notice, and launch windows shift daily.  In the case of photographing the final launches of NASA’s iconic space shuttle fleet, gear might have to sit out in the field for upwards of a week in a Florida swamp environment: sun, rain, alligators, wild boars, insects, and nesting birds threaten any installation, not to mention a shortage of film or memory card space and battery life.

STS-133 space shuttle Discovery SSME ignition and stabilization sequence

Above:  a T-Minus Audio Trigger catches space shuttle Discovery’s SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines) igniting for the final time, stabilizing in this high-speed sequence from left to right to exhibit the typical ‘mach diamonds’, produced by the supersonic flow of the exhaust gases.

Enter the T-Minus Productions Audio Trigger, a tool bred to do a single job, and do it well. The trigger runs off of a field-programmable 7-day timer, which can be programmed to start and stop monitoring for each daily launch window.  The trigger wakes the camera up at the specified time, and waits for a loud event to happen (like, say, a launching space shuttle).  As long as audio levels remain above a level adjustable by a pot switch on the back of the trigger, the attached camera will shoot continuously.  By only being active during specified daily periods, camera battery life is extended and more false triggers (like helicopters flying overhead) can be avoided.

Since launch windows shift daily, a 7-day timer is the only way to go.  Many homebrew triggers that I’ve seen had to be reprogrammed daily when there were launch delays, and those that were continuously operating could be heard shooting away as people walked in front of them, crunching through dry underbrush to set up their own remote cameras.

Fri 07/08...11:21:46 AM...11:26:46 AM...11:31:46 AM...
Sat 07/09...10:59:15 AM...11:04:15 AM...11:09:15 AM...
Sun 07/10...10:33:31 AM...10:38:31 AM...10:43:31 AM...

Above: the launch windows for the final launch of the space shuttle program shifted by over twenty minutes on a daily basis. Source: www.spaceflightnow.com.

The triggers themselves run off of a single 9-bolt battery, and consume very little power.  Due to the enormity of what you’re photographing fresh batteries are highly recommended for every launch, but in reality you could probably run a year at a time with a single battery.  Some production runs of the triggers had quality control problems, with people complaining of units being DOA or having faulty microphones.  In every single case that I came across, though, T-Minus Productions either repaired  the units or replaced them immediately onsite.  They stand behind their product 100%, but full testing is mandatory before heading out into the field (which, to be fair, should be standard practice for all equipment).

Closeup of final launch of space shuttle Endeavour, STS-134STS-135 space shuttle Atlantis launch clearing the towerSTS-133 final launch of space shuttle Discovery

Above, from left to right:  final launch of space shuttle Endeavour, STS-134, from the pad floor, final launch of space shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, from the pad side mound, and the final launch of space shuttle Discovery, STS-133, from the dike road.

The only complaint I have against the triggers are the cheap connectors T-Minus uses on their cables, at least in the case of Canon N3 connectors.  The connectors are generic plastic Chinese knockoffs, with no locking mechanism, unlike any name-brand Canon cables or those shipped with intervalometers like the Pclix LT or DigiSnap line.  At a retail price of USD $400, the T-Minus triggers should absolutely ship with the highest quality connectors.  One shot that I had lined up, for the final launch of space shuttle Endeavour, was a lovely wideangle shot from the pad floor with an Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f/3.5 lens mounted to a Canon 5DmkII via a CameraQuest adapter.  After Endeavour’s SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines) fired up, the cheap connector worked itself loose after photographing only two frames, rendering the entire camera useless.  All future remotes I placed out in the field had rubber bands on them after that incident, but that shouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

Remote launch pad camera, STS-134, final launch of space shuttle EndeavourSTS-133 space shuttle Discovery launch sequence

Above, from left to right:  a remote camera stares up at the launch pad before having its protective enclosure put in place, and a high-speed sequence of space shuttle Discovery, STS-133, leaving the launch pad and clearing the tower.

At USD $400, the T-Minus Audio Trigger is not a cheap addition to your camera kit.  But, besides getting out the soldering iron and creating something yourself, they’re the only game in town.  Their size and field-programmability make them highly flexible, and once you have one tested and working their ease of use is lovely, letting you focus more on the photography of your launch than on the technology.

Product:  T-Minus Productions Audio Trigger
Best uses:  space launch photography
Strengths:  field programmable with up to a week’s worth of launch windows, long battery life, small
Weaknesses:  expensive, occasional quality control issues, cheap cable connectors
Final verdict:  the easiest game in town.  Recommended.

Note:  images photographed with a T-Minus Audio Trigger on this site have all been tagged, and can be viewed en masse here.

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