Recently, I have been exploring a lot of new ways to take and edit photos using AI or artificial intelligence. The first piece of gear that I bought was Arsenal: The Intelligent Camera Assistant. I bought this off of Kickstarter and was eager to test it out. I wanted to see if the images it produced with its “smart capture” feature could really lived up to what the campaign said that it could do. So far, I have been impressed, but I think a few more updates would make Arsenal a lot better.
What Is It?
Essentially, Arsenal is a trigger that connects your camera to your phone or other device. It allows you to see what your camera sees and adjust the settings. Arsenal can set up and create timelapse video and at some point, actually record video. So far, the app has not let me record video using my Canon 5D MKiii. The main feature is that Arsenal AI in the smart capture setting to choose the best settings to get “what it thinks” is the best shot. You can also focus stack and bracket your images. Not to mention, focus by tapping a point on the screen of your phone or choose to focus the entire scene.
The unit is a small device that slips into your hotshoe on top of your camera and plugs into it via a cable. The device needs to be charged to use and that can be an issue if you forget as I have often done. However, once connected the app will let you know about the battery levels and all the other important information. With the tap of a button, Arsenal can focus stack or merge images all inside the app.
What Is It Good For?
Arsenal is great if you have an older camera that does not have any internet connectivity. Many of the newer camera models do have this feature where you can download something like “canon connect” if you have the Canon 5D mk iv and you can have much the same experience. However, Arsenal does have a couple of features that makes it stand apart from the canon connect type apps.
The first big feature is the smart capture feature. Arsenal uses AI to figure out the best settings to use for the particular situation that you are shooting in. This is useful if you are a beginner and are wanting to achieve results slightly better than P-mode on your camera. Sadly, I was hoping for something a little smarter when I tried this feature during a number of shoots. For my tastes, it is just too balanced and it’s not yet intelligent enough to create images that require different techniques.
The timelapse feature is however, really good. The one major plus is that it compiles the shots into a video for you as the timelapse goes on. Meaning that you can check the progress of your timelapse in real time. Sadly, it does not create an actual mp4 file of the timelapse afterwards but that would be awesome if it did in the future.
Finally, the best feature for me is that you can edit and share the jpg directly from your device and also saw the raw image for later. This can save a lot of time if you are needing to send or share images right away. If you are travelling light, this make also save some space as you can have lightroom on your ipad and work on the photos from there.
What Issues Did You Have?
The biggest issue was connectivity. There were some times where it just would not connect no matter what I did. I spent a lot of time hoping that just once as I pressed the connect button that the little gadget will bring my camera to life. Many times this did not happen. I have had to also create a couple of “new devices” as well to connect to the camera. Not being able to remove these previous devices also serves as a reminder that the connections can be finicky at best.
The app itself is great but you really only have access to it once you connect it to your camera. Meaning that if you want to play around with the settings and features, it has to be connected to your camera. This may not seem like a big deal but for me it means that there is a lot more tinkering when I am in the field than I would like. Also if you can’t connect to your device, you can’t access your previous photos, change settings, or do anything with the thing.
The focusing seemed quite slow and often took a few moments to get the camera into focus, especially when using the multi-point or whole scene focus modes. I do like that there are a few different focussing features but, it often it took awhile for the app to get the image into focus and at times it was not that sharp.
The only other issue that I had was just the ergonomics of the whole phone/DSLR set up. Arsenal is best used on a tripod (there is also a handheld mode) and thus, trying to adjust the tripod and constantly check the almost requires a third hand or an assistant. Their kickstarter video noted how Arsenal takes care of the setting to allow you to focus on the composition. However, that was the problem that I had. I had trouble finding the right composition while holding my phone at the same time as I adjusted my tripod and camera. I found myself trying to look through the viewfinder which you can’t use when you are using the viewer in the app.
I really want Arsenal to succeed but I feel that it will take a number of updates before they do. If you know how to get the shots that you want from your camera already then this product may not be for you. If you are looking for something to connect your camera to your phone and make some decent timelapses then this could be an option. Once Arsenal gets the bugs worked out of their app, this will be a great product and one that would be amazing for timelapse photography especially when they release the holy grail feature that will adjust the settings as the light changes. I especially liked being able to adjust my camera settings with my phone and the freedom I had of being able to step back from the camera to see the scene for myself. Being able to edit and share them at the same time is a bonus for me. However, I would love to be able to access the photos without having to connect to the camera.