If we believe everything that we read, there are never enough remote release options for cameras, and everyone wants to use their smartphone as the controller. Whether these assumptions are accurate, Alpine Labs has starting delivering a solution to these problems.
Pulse initiated as a Kickstarter Project. Delivery was a bit late, but communication from the company was reasonably frequent with status updates. My unit arrived about five weeks ago.
The Pulse consists of a small black plastic receiver, connecting cable and an app that you download to your smartphone. All my testing has been done using the iOS app on an iPhone 6 Plus.
My unit arrived with a USB charging cable and a USB cable with a micro USB on one end (Pulse) and a Mini USB on the other for the camera. Unfortunately, I don't own a camera that takes this connection. Apparently my submission indicated that I own a Canon 7D (I don't) so the company sent the cable for that camera. I contacted them and was advised via email within 24 hours, that they did not have the cable I needed but did provide a link to Amazon for a similar cable. As the description on Amazon was vague, I ordered three different types.
I paired the Pulse with the iPhone using Bluetooth after charging it fully. That went fine. I then followed the documentation exactly but when I connected the micro USB to micro USB cable from the Pulse to the bottom half of the USB port on the Canon 1Dx Mark II, the bluetooth connection dropped immediately.
I borrowed a 1D Mark IV and it connected and the app fired the shutter. Once. After disconnecting and reconnecting several times, I gave up and sent a very unhappy email to Alpine Labs.
Several business days later, I received an apologetic email from the company and the person confirmed that issues had been discovered with the 1Dx Mark II. I was advised to try the Pulse with the 7D Mark II and the 5D family and to retry the 1D Mark IV. I could not do that but sat down on Sunday night to test with a 5Ds that I was able to borrow. Despite one software glitch where the Pulse would not exit timelapse mode, the unit and application did exactly what they said that they would do. Next up is to test the 7D Mark II, and to hope for a solution for my primary camera, the 1Dx Mark II.
Fundamentally the Pulse is a simple device. I am guessing that the smarts are in the app. The Pulse receives a signal from the app, and processes the signal into a shutter command. As the Pulse uses the USB ports instead of the dedicated remote control ports on different cameras, I suspect that it is using the basic tethering commands that are built in to some cameras. Personally I do not care for USB connections. They are easily disconnected and if damaged, your whole camera is toast. I would much prefer to have seen Alpine Labs do as the other remote control companies do and to use the manufacturer's dedicated remote control port. They are all more robust than USB and less likely in many cases to cause complete breakdown if something bad happens to the port.
The app is clean and relatively easy to use, but it is plainly a work in progress. Help is not really helpful, theme choices are really only one choice and killing off a timelapse or long exposure is not always consistent or easy. These things are fixable in software updates. The Pulse itself has no reset function, it has a cold foot, a tiny on / off switch and a single micro USB connection that is used to talk to the camera. Build appears to be decent, no worse than any other shoe mount unit, and it is quite low profile. There is an attractive blue LED that lights up when it receives a command. The smartphone also buzzes on sending a command so you know on both ends when a command is sent.
As I mentioned at the start of the review, there are dozens of remote triggers. The Pulse documentation specifies manual exposure and manual focus only. That's not quite true, but if you are doing long exposures or time-lapse, those settings will be the right ones anyway. I shot the 5D in time-lapse in aperture preferred and autofocus on and it worked fine. In this case, the focus was infinity based on an ultra wide angle and I had no problems, but note that this is not what the manufacturer says it's for. As a long exposure tool, intervalometer and time-lapse tool the Pulse is a decent offering. Using it solely as a wireless remote trigger is a lot of futzing around just to trip a shutter a few times. I found using my Phottix Aion or Hahnel Captur systems faster to get set up and going. Both use radio instead of Bluetooth for greater transmitter to receiver range and while the controls are smaller and the setup a bit less intuitive than the app, they work well. The app does offer the display on the smartphone of a thumbnail of the last captured image, which is a nice feature, particularly for night shooting, and especially if seeing the LCD is awkward due to camera positioning.
The Alpine Labs folks did send me the proper cable from their stock although I did get all three generic OTG micro USB to micro USB cables that I bought to work. They also indicated that they are aware of issues with the 1Dx Mark II and will be working on resolving them. They did not specify a timeline. Since receipt there have been reasonably regular updates to the application.
Pulse today only works with Canon and Nikon cameras, and only those cameras that have an SDK. While it appeared that the Pulse was using tether commands, it may not as there are plenty of other lines that support tethering by USB that Pulse does not support at this time. Alpine Labs is quite specific that there is no Sony support because Sony does not write to the memory card if a USB cable is connected. This is not Pulse's fault, it is a design error on Sony's part.
Pulse sells for $89 USD from Alpine Labs and camera cables are $12.99 each. This is reasonably competitive relative to alternatives.
- Wireless Bluetooth
- Small form factor
- Clean Design
- Controlled from Smartphone
- Thumbnail of image transferred to app in Smartphone via Bluetooth
- Uses USB instead of manufacturer locking remote connectors
- Early days show software needs tuning
- Need to buy different cables for different models of cameras from the same builder
- Only support for some Nikon and some Canon models
- Bluetooth range is limited
- Smartphone batteries do not do well in the cold - may impact long night exposures
I like the idea of supporting innovation. I don't like the use of the USB port for connection, given the way the USB 3 port is used, I think it's a problem waiting to happen. The app, like many is a work in progress and will likely get better over time. It feels like the company is small and that the team are nailed to the wall with the first shipments and customer issues. Responsiveness will probably improve as the initial shipments complete, but in the short term, patience will be valuable if you have any issues.