I do bracket all my night photography, for various reasons: for exposure blending, noise reduction, dynamic range extension etc etc. Unfortunately, Canon thinks that all photographers only need +-2EV brackets, unless you own one of the very big Canons, and that 30 seconds is also enough. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough for some of my night panoramas, and I was looking into ways to fix it (that included pleading to Canon, but we all know how far that goes).
So I decided to build my own long-exposure bracket controller, based on the arduino platform, with an Nokia LCD to actually have an user interface, other than a red button, write my own piece of software and test it last night… I call the gadget “Bracketmeister 0.32” for now. It works like a charm. Now I can have +-3EV (what I was aiming for, but the it does up to +-10EV, possibly more), exposures from 1 sec to 2 hours, and up to 11 shots for each bracket set (can be more). Now no night panorama is impossible anymore.
Update: More info, diagram, images and source code after the break:
The setup is quite easy: big battery pack for cold long winter nights, a 2.5mm plug from a unused cell-phone earplug (fits perfect into Canon EOS that don’t have the N3 connector), and a red button to start the bracket sequence, just minor soldering work, most time went into the software, which is quite easy: the mini joystick left/right takes the user to the next menu, up/down changes the values in the sub menus. It just needs a nice case.
In order to make it work, you need an arduino (or a clone), a Nokia LCD shield (I will try to order a monochrome LCD and write a simpler GUI), the Arduino 0.11 IDE (0.12 doesn’t work with the Nokia library), the Nokia library (install into arduino-0011/hardware/libraries)
If you are improving the code, it would be great if you share the changes with me again, to keep it open source. It is also very easy to implement an intervalometer into the software, making it possible to shoot HDR time lapse, maybe in V0.4, or to connect it to a panorama robot. And as with all projects like this, I take no responsibility if you break your own stuff.
Here is an example taken with the Bracketmeister.
Update: Hans Loepfe took my Arduino code and adopted it for his Nikon D300, and it seems to work well.
Commercial plug: if you are looking for a more finished product, and not a DIY solution like my Bracketmeister, please visit Steve’s blog at panocamera.com. He is selling a very elegant Nintendo DS mod, that is working with a number of Canons and Nikons.
Update: Steve has teamed up with HDRlabs and moved the NintendoDS project to the Open Camera Control.
Update (Summer 2009): I bought a Promote from promotesystems.com, because it was great to have super long exposures, but I also needed shorter exposures, and the Promote send the right commands via USB, and not just through the release pin like the Bracketmeister does, making the Promote more versatile for what I need. Unfortunately, this has left the Bracketmeister sitting in the drawer completely unused, so maybe I will repurpose it for something else.