Saturday, 9 August 2008

Review of the Phottix TR-80 - a generic version of Canon's TC-80N3 remote release

One of the reasons for buying into a complete camera system, such as Canon’s EOS series or Nikon, is the range of accessories available, which is also one of the pains when you realise how much the manufacturers charge for even the simplest accessory. This is a review of a cheaper generic version of Canon’s TC-80N3 remote release with its digital timer functions.

Canon’s TC-80N3 remote release fits any Canon EOS camera fitted with Canon’s proprietary three pin N3 remote release. In the UK they typically cost around £99 each. This is one of those nice to have, but not exactly sure what I will do with it, sort of accessories that I have thought about getting for years, but due to the price I could never justify it to myself.

The TC-80N3 incorporates the following programmable functions:
  • Self-timer
  • Interval timer
  • Long-exposure timer
  • Exposure count setting feature
  • + operates as a conventional electronic remote release
The three timer functions are programmable in the range 1 sec. to 99 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 sec. (in 1 sec. intervals) and the exposure count function operates in the range 1-99.

The sort of thing that I would be interested to use the interval timer function for is to do time-lapse photography to monitor the unfurling for a butterfly from its pupae or the blooming of a flower. These days there is software around that can convert a series of these images into a video.

If you look on eBay you will see a reasonable variety of generic versions available, nearly all from China. These range in price and quality, but even the better looking clones cost about a quarter of what Canon charge, so I was tempted to try one since I have been happy with my Chinese generic version of the simple RS-80N3 that I have reported [ here ] in my blog.

You will also see that it is possible to buy purportedly genuine Canon versions from Hong Kong for around £80, which is not much of a saving over the UK price and you are then at the mercy of customs, who, in the UK, are pretty hot on charging duty, tax and fees that might hike the cost above the genuine version…

I chose a version that looked as much like the Canon as possible and bought it for £27.50, all in, including delivery from China which accounted for much of the price.

Was this a good idea?
Since I have not got a genuine Canon TC-80N3 remote release, in fact I can not remember ever having handled one, I can not make a comparison, other than with the Canon’s spec.

The photo below shows the Phottix TR-80 in its Canon N3 form.

The TR-80 comes with a printed manual in Chinese and English – the English version is 17 pages; it is well printed and pretty well written, and covers all the functions of the timer in detail. It is a pretty good manual. Below is a scan of the nomenclature page of the manual

The first thing to notice is that it does not have the metal locking cap on the N3 plug that the Canon has, but I was not expecting it to have one as the eBay photo clearly showed that it had a bare plastic plug. I do not plan to use this in anything other than studio or very tame outdoor environments so this does not worry me.

In the hand the Phottix feels solid and well made; the cable length is 8cm longer than the specified cable length at 88cm. It has a holder on the reverse side for cameras that have removable N3 socket covers so that you don’t lose them – since none of my cameras have such a thing (they all have rubber flaps to protect the various plug holes on the camera bodies) I can’t vouch for them. All in all it looks and feels like a nicely made piece of kit.

The push-in connector works fine, although you do not have the security of the lock to make sure it stays there during use.

The TR-80 is powered by a CR2032 3v Li button cell battery, which was included with the remote. The manual says that it is expected to last for 3 years, but the CR2032 is cheap and easy to buy if need be.

First I tested to check that it worked as a standard remote release, which it does happily on a series of DSLRs – 10D, 30D & 40D – without a problem. The half-pressed release mode to set the auto-focus and exposure functions going on the camera works OK and it has a sliding lock for the fully pressed switch position to allow long exposure times or continuous shooting. The half-pressed position is more akin to the Nova remote release I tested earlier (go [ here ] for the earlier review) than the standard Canon remote release.

Moving on to the digital functions…

I got it to do pretty much what I wanted it to do without reading the manual, but felt it was better to read it to get a handle on all that it can do and how it does it. Below is the page that sets out fifteen of the combinations possible with the TR-80. Setting multiple functions stack up the actions performed by the timer.

Double click on the image to expand it so that you can read it

For instance if you set the self-timer to 30 secs, the interval timer to 15 mins, the long exposure setting to 1min 30 secs (you have to set the exposure time on the camera to “bulb” for this to work) and set the exposure count to 75 and press the start button the timer will tell the camera to wait for 30 seconds; then take one 90 sec exposure; it will then wait for another 13mins and 30 secs, take another 90 sec exposure and keep on doing this until it has taken 75 images in all. At any time you can over-ride the timer by pressing the manual remote release – meanwhile, the timer will continue until you press stop.

When you ask it to perform this sort of multi-function programme all the icons representing the set functions light up on the LCD and the one currently being undertaken flashes. In the scenario above the self-timer icon disappears once it has done its job, then the interval timer icon flashes. It is, however, not possible to see how many shots are left in the exposure count function once the programme is under way.

Essentially it seems that the TR-80 has the same functionality as the Canon TC-80N3.

The photo below shows the control unit in more detail.

I have tested all the functions, some in more depth than others, and they all work as promised. The LCD back-light works, but is pretty faint and the first time I tried it in daylight I did not think that it was working – in the semi-dark it is fine and stays on for about 6 seconds.

The mode button scrolls between the four functions and the jog wheel to the right hand side of the unit rotates to select the numerical value you are looking for – rotating the jog wheel up decreases the number; down increases it. To change between selecting seconds, minutes or hours you press in the jog wheel to move from one to the next – the time being set flashes. If you just want to select seconds then set them and press mode to move on to the next setting, or simply press start – you do not have to go through all the possible settings in any given mode before moving on to the next one. It all works nicely and intuitively.

When you press the start button the programmed functions kick off – if it is a count down the display counts down, and resets to the start at the end of each cycle. During operation the mode that is showing flashes to tell you that it is in action. 5 secs before taking an exposure the timer wakes up the camera to set the auto-focus and exposure so that everything is ready at the allotted time to take a photo. It will not fire the shutter if the camera would not let it – for instance if auto-focus is not found on the Canon 40D I tested it on.

The exposure counting function takes a photo every second unless you set a longer interval with the interval timer. For most purposes you should probably set the frame rate to single as it may cause some unexpected results if set to a high frame rate.

Cleary if you set an impossible combination (such as asking it to produce 90 sec exposures every 60 secs) it will not do what you want. It is quite easy to come up with impossible combinations, but things like exposure bracketing are possible with a bit of juggling.

It is possible to run with mirror lock-up in action, so long as you set an interval to less than the self-cancelling time for the camera – in the 40D’s case it drops the mirror after being locked-up for 30 secs. In continuous exposure count mode (with the interval set to 0) it will effectively take an exposure every 2 secs rather than every 1. If you want to run in a more realistic scenario with mirror lock up set to take a photo every 15 mins then it will not work (or at least I have not found a camera/timer combination that will allow this yet). Since the conditions that will allow mirror lock-up to be used are not really very useful this is a limitation if you want to use mirror lock-up.

The settings remain in place after it has completed the programmed actions. This is useful if you want to repeat the programme, but you have to remember to cancel the various times etc after use if you do not want to repeat the programme, otherwise you may unintentionally do things other than your chosen function the next time you come to use it. Fortunately it is possible to cancel all the settings in one easy operation by pressing the Mode, Backlight and Jog wheel all at the same time. It is also possible to lock all the buttons and jog wheel so that you do not accidentally make any changes by pressing the Backlight button for 3 secs.

If the battery runs out you can simply use it as a standard manual remote release as that function carries on working fine without a battery.

In use I find that it is best to secure the unit to a tripod leg with a Velcro strap – I tried using Blu-Tack, but it kept falling off.


So was it a good buy? Yes – at a 1/4 to a 1/3rd of the price of the Canon original it is good value. In fact, apart from the plug, if someone put a Canon label on the front instead of Phottix I would be happy to believe it was from Canon.

It has an impressive range of features and options, and the user interface is well thought out and presented. Only time will tell whether it is reliable and durable over the next few years, but there is no reason to suppose it will not be.

If you want to try out a TC-80N3, but can not justify the expenditure then I recommend the Phottix TR-80.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the review.

I'm thinking of getting the TR-80 myself, so I think you've sold me on the Phottix.

I noticed on ebay that there are two designs of the Phottix timer remote for the 40D. One has the side dial (the one you got), and the other seems to have a multi directional button in the middle (and also comes in a red box rather than blue and white like yours).

Any idea which is the newer version, and which is better? I can't work out which one to buy.

Churchill Photographer said...

Sorry, no idea - I have tried the one shown in the post.

Anonymous said...

The one described here is TR-80 (also sold as TR-80 C3). The one with the multi-directional button in the middle is C3 (only). It seems that C3 is newer. There is a big difference in the design, but the functionality seems to be very similar. I researched them on the net and only found two advantages for TR-80 -> esentially canon design and the battery, and one advantage for C3 -> seemingly more numbered shots (99 with TR-80 and 399 with C3).
Here is the link to the reviw of C3
(I've just ordered TR-80, mainly because it seems a close copy of the original canon design, which is probably better tested.)

Jordi said...

Hi there,
I've been reading about PHOTTIX TR-80 in oficial web page. This only can make up to 99 photos? not too much isnt it? if you want to make a time-lapse... I think is not enought.
Is true? only 99 photos?

Thanks and sorry for my english
Jordi (Barcelona)

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