1. May 2019

WithArsenal… or without?

A few weeks ago, a family member who shall remain nameless mentioned the Arsenal product. I think at the time I had heard of it before through KickStarter but it didn’t appeal to me at the time so I didn’t invest in it.

Arsenal is said to use Artificial Intelligence to analyse the scene in form of your camera and determine best settings based on 1000’s of professional photographs. This in itself is an interesting concept and would certainly help a novice get used to selecting the “correct” settings and perhaps get a feel of what works and what doesn’t.

As someone that mostly does long exposures using filters, I didn’t see how the product would be of use to me but when my family member started about it I looked at some of the videos and it looked like a cool product so we agreed that I could test it a bit once it had arrived.

It has arrived

So the Arsenal is a small box that has 2 USB connectors one, for charging and one to talk to the camera. As I have a Fujifilm XT-1, I first checked if that was on the list of supported camera models and it was… so that is good news! or so I thought…..

First I had to find a cable to connect the Arsenal to my XT-1, the cables sold by arsenal aren’t too expensive at $10, but then they add $20 for shipping to the Netherlands so I checked if I could just use any other cable. Turns out, you can! So I needed a USB OTG micro connector on one end and.. a USB micro connector on the other end…. turns out those cables do exist but they are usually “charging cables” and won’t have any data leads so they are pointless in this case.

I happened to still have an USB-micro OTG cable that has a female USB A end so I combined that with a standard USB-A to micro-USB cable to get to where I wanted. It isn’t pretty, but it works and it was dead cheap which always helps.

Setting up

Setting up was easy, once I had connected the Arsenal device with the camera and paired my Android phone with Arsenal (using the Arsenal supplied WiFi SSID) it immediately said that a firmware upgrade was available and proceeded to upgrade the Arsenal firmware.

This was a fairly painless process although it did take a while and could not be bypassed. I would hate for that to happen in the field but perhaps there will be a bypass at some point if you’re out and about.

After the upgrade, the application told me to change the USB mode on my XT1 (that’s a nice touch!) so I did et voila! We were connected and I could have a live view on my phone… Awesome, right?!

So onto testing the stuff I was interested in….

  • Focal point selection
  • Timelapse (in particular holy grail)
  • Exposure bracketing
  • Focus stacking

Focal point selection

So one of the things I thought was very cool was focal point selection by simply tapping the screen to point out where you wish to focus. I think the more recent Fuji XT-models have that built in now, but the XT1 doesn’t so that’s an easy win right?

So the other option I was really interested in was multi-point focus and all-scene focus. This essentially lets you decide a few points (or the whole scene) to focus on and Arsenal will find out the optimal focal point and aperture to get all that in focus….. Yay! We can forget about hyperfocal distances and all that, we now have an assistant for that!!!

But not on the XT-1, sadly…….

Not supported in this version? But the webiste says the XT-1 is supported?? I guess doesn’t mean it is fully supported.. perhaps that is to be expected from a kickstarter product but seeing as they are selling this thing for “real” as well now, I suspect a lot of XT-1 owners are going to be disappointed.

TimeLapse mode

The other thing I was interested in was the promised holy-grail timelapse mode. I like timelapses and would love to dabble more in them but I just need some help there, particular in day-to-night and night-to-day.

Sadly (again?!) that part isn’t finished yet. I’ve seen videos mention it is coming but given the above experience, I have to wonder if it will come for the Fuji’s as well??

So onto regular timelapse then! I am sure that AI powered goody can deliver some awesome timelapses…. take care of the usual flicker and all that, right?

So in order to test I dialled in a 3 second interval (which appears to be the minimum time between shots) and 99 shots. Very cool was that the app showed me it would take a little short of 5 minutes to take the shots and would result in a 4 second clip at 24 frames per second. COOL!

So, I let it fire away while working on some other stuff.. at some point (after the 5th shot or so) I noticed that those were veeeeeeeerrrrryyyyy long seconds…. Turns out that 3 seconds interval translates to about 8 to 10 seconds as the Arsenal is doing all sorts of stuff in between.

The app does count down to 3 seconds but it doesn’t actually take the picture every 3 seconds, instead it waits for a bit (presumably for arsenal to catch up or relay information?) before it actually counts down to the next shot.

That however, is not even the most interesting twist I encountered during the timelapse testing! I have tested twice now and both times, it never made it to 99 shots, rather it just stopped shooting after around 30 shots which is obviously a huge bummer…… particularly during timelapse, you need to be able to trust your kit to keep going.

So just to make sure my short (wait what?? No, with the winds we’re having in NL 3 seconds is actually pretty long!) interval isn’t causing issues I set the interval to 10 seconds… still bogs out after 30-something shots.

Exposure backeting

One of the gripes I have with the with the XT-1 is that the bracketing function is severely limited. Max 3 shots 1EV or less apart just doesn’t make sense… A decent RAF will allow you to do +/- 1EV anyway so what i sth epoint?! I wanted to be able to do 5 shots at 2 EV apart so can Arsenal deliver that????

As it turns out….. No, it does not!

Focus stacking

Once last item on my list is focus stacking, I like my macro photography and imagine that the focus stack would help tremendously here. The question is if Arsen can deliver on the promise.. when using a Fuji camera as that appears to be where it is struggling.

[Testing to be done]

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