Fstoppers Reviews the Arsenal Smart Camera Assistant: A Must Have Accessory?

Fstoppers Reviews the Arsenal Smart Camera Assistant: A Must Have Accessory?

There was quite a bit of buzz about the Arsenal Smart Camera Assistant some months ago. It's a hardware device that can plug into many DSLR or mirrorless cameras (though there are some important exceptions which I'll detail later.) It's designed to automate a lot of shooting situations, and make AI based decisions about camera settings to get you the best possible images. Arsenal says it best on their website: "Arsenal’s smart assistant AI suggests settings based on your subject and environment. It uses an advanced neural network to pick the optimal settings for any scene (using similar algorithms to those in self driving cars). Like any good assistant, it then lets you control the final shot." 

The device is small, and can mount on your camera hot shoe and connects via a USB cable. You tell Arsenal what camera you have, and the proper cable is shipped. The Arsenal runs on internal rechargeable batteries and a charging cable and power connector/AC adapter are included. The Arsenal is a Kickstarter project and came with the usual delays and missed deadlines. 

The cost is now $175.00 plus $10.00 shipping. Later the price is set to go up to $250.00.

Advertised features include "smarter" focusing, photo stacking for HDR or focus stacking. The Arsenal will merge the photos, then send them back to your camera SD card.

Arsenal claims its device can automatically detect when detail is being lost and take multiple photos at different shutter speeds to capture all of the missed detail, then merges the photos for you.

It also has a time-lapse function and long exposure settings. In all cases, Arsenal claims its Smart Camera Assistant will calculate the best settings so you can get an excellent image.

Control is through an iOS or Android app. So all settings are done from the app, freeing you from being at your camera menus.

So how does it all work? It's a mixed bag. Connecting to my Sony A7 III was a bit flaky. Sometimes the connection between my iPhone X and my camera was lost. Sometimes the camera locked up. During my testing, a firmware update was offered, and that seemed to settle things down a bit. 

I tried several HDR photos and let Arsenal automate them. They worked, but I did not find it an improvement over doing brackets myself with my own settings. 

As far as the AI functions went... well, I did not find the Arsenal Smart Assistant did any better than I could have at choosing camera settings. It should help a novice photographer, but I don't think any more than using the automated settings on their camera.

I found the time-lapse functions worked well, as did the long exposure automation, but there are others ways to accomplish this.  For example, the Pluto Trigger device I reviewed last month was easier to operate and gave no worse than equal or better results with HDR and time-lapse photos. It doesn't claim any AI smarts, but it does automate a lot of functions of your camera and lets you concentrate on getting the best shot. And it's more than $100.00 cheaper than the Arsenal.

Even with the latest firmware, the Arsenal would sometimes seem to get lost — pausing for long periods with nothing happening, especially during HDR brackets. And, although advertised to do raw brackets, images are saved as JPEGS, rather than raw, which is going to be a non-starter for many people, including me. The Arsenal folks say the "save to raw" feature is coming in a future update. 

Things I Like:

  • There are good ideas here. I think devices like this could be the future, and increasingly will be built into camera bodies
  • Screens on the smartphone app are well laid out and fairly easy to understand
  • Functions like time lapse and long exposures worked very well

Things I Didn't Like:

  • Did not find HDR brackets any better than my own methods, and images stay on your phone and aren't sent back to the SD card
  • Software is still buggy and has some rough edges
  • Power and USB ports are not marked and confusing as to what cable goes where
  • Zero compatibility with some camera brands including Olympus and Fuji (yikes!). Working cameras are listed here

Conclusion

I'm having some difficulty figuring out the use case for the Arsenal. Beginners attracted to the automation will likely find the Arsenal too difficult or buggy to set up and will become frustrated. Professionals or serious amateurs aren't likely to be impressed with the AI features, and again, won't tolerate any unreliability. 

One good example of a showstopper is that the device simply won't function if it requires a firmware update. The last update was almost 500 MB and if I was in the field I could not have updated the Arsenal making it unusable. Not the best way to handle an update. 

There is much promise here. Making more complicated things like focus stacking and HDR easier are a plus, but the Arsenal just isn't there yet. There have been frequent updates which is a good sign, but major promised features like sending RAW files back to the camera are very late. It's a required function. 

I should point out what I only tested the Arsenal with my Sony A7III. Other cameras might work better, or worse. Reports from other photographers aren't encouraging when taken together. 

Interested photographers should keep their eye on what is happening with Arsenal, and I'm  hoping at some point it will be a worthy investment. Right now, it's a long work in progress that I hope will pay off. The ideas behind this product are sound, even if the execution is spotty at this point.

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20 Comments
Ariel Martini's picture

I can be wrong, but it seems only useful for timelapse (if your camera don't have that built in).

Martin Van Londen's picture

It goes way beyond the build in time lapse of any camera out currently.

Jeroen van Veenendaal's picture

I won one for the sole purpose of having an easy smartphone remote for my Nikon D800. It works very well in that capacity. For the rest, I have Photoshop, where I have control over what I'm doing. The only thing missing is a bulb mode in the app for me.

Robert Kitcey's picture

Why would you even want to have one of these simply to just wirelessly actuate your camera shutter remotely? Mine doesn’t work well in any appreciably advertised capacity. It seems kind of like buying a luxury car just to set in your front yard to store boxes in from your garage, but to each his own. I have one from their first idiotic Kickstarter campaign and am considering class action against Kickstarter for supporting scams like these. I know I’m late to this party, but I’m only here because I’ve got an email from this guy announcing he’s going to kick-start a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the same identical project he failed to deliver on in his first one. Why not though, as he ran off with millions he scored disappointing so many people the first time? I thought it pretty bold that he’s doing the same thing. Should I be more hopeful this time and give him my money again?

This reviewer nailed my experience right on the money which failed to include my over a year of frustration and regret to be holding something bordering resembling snake oil and a dead grandmother it failed as promised to cure.

This guy is brilliant at marketing and making excuses, and he’s not even efficient at delivering the sheer volume of excuses his campaign warrants in a timely manner as much as his product deserves. Maybe he’s more prepared delivering excuses this time?

There’s better people you can give your money to for far much better satisfaction. The marketing is brilliant though. The few people that eventually got one that claim to like it are those people who are happy that it’s raining while obviously being peed on. If that sounds awesome to you, then I say “go for it!”

There are ways to wirelessly actuate a shutter though in my experience that will better serve you and frustrate you less. Have a kid and raise it to eventually actuate your shutter, or buy a new body with native wireless support inherent out of the box. Either of those might be more realistically satisfying and reliable compared to my own Arsenal experience.

If you still want a genuine Arsenal real badly though, you could cut through a lot of unnecessary red tape and buy mine. I’m telling you now that it’s terrible and probably won’t work, but you can get it faster and simpler without all the peripheral additional frustration and disappointment that it cost me for as little as just double what I paid to Arsenal in US dollars. Does the fact that I’d consider that a bargain in hindsight speak to you?

My unit is like new, and in the additionally like new shiny nice box they shipped it in except for the hours and hours of time and effort I wasted in hopeful good faith trying to get it to do anything close to their grossly exaggerated claims which were so exaggerated as to seem completely unrealistic now in hindsight. This was my experience.

Whatever it has actually managed to do for me from all it was over-hyped to be capable of, it did like a Rube Goldberg machine - unnecessarily complicated and markedly inefficient for all the time and effort and frustration it required. It remains by far still the worst time and money I ever wasted on photography gear ever, and is there even anything easier than photography gear to waste money on?

But if you’re happy for it still after all that, I’m just as happy to pass my problem on to you if you’re eager and happy to buy it as is, and non-refundably, and with a signed contract up front forfeiting any future rights to seek relief if it ever fails to satisfy any of the sickly sweet and lofty claims advertised by Arsenal’s inventor. It wouldn’t be difficult I think now though to exceed the low expectations I’ve endeavored to fairly evoke though by my attempt to honestly characterize at least some of my bonafide personal experience with Arsenal as not much better than a modern day 21st century version of the old snake oil con, but your mileage may vary.

Trying to be fair and balanced though, and surely not nearly so as I found this reviewers comments to be, I should mention one thing about Arsenal that I found quite terrific actually; the blue light it emits sometimes, seemingly randomly and completely on its own prerogative was quite pleasing hue.

I’m not usually inclined to provide any personal public comments for review, but my Arsenal treatment provided me with such particularly exceptional motivation to offer some here. I hope my effort is somewhat helpful. I pretend no delusion anyone will ever read it honestly, but it was still very satisfying to write - unlike any of my hopeful effort spent trying to polish this turd that I display very proudly in its original box above all my other photography kit to remind me to be much more careful and responsible with my money in the future. I do love it for this once important undocumented and unexpected feature for which my cute little Arsenal - photographers’ assistant so far surpassed my even wildest hopes and dreams. See how important context is?

Martin Van Londen's picture

I’ll be honest I have this device and I actually really like it. It’s a great tool for getting really good holly grail timelapse (no camera can do this internally) and focus stacks and HDRs. It also allows you to monitor your time lapse in real time and you can control and monitor a DSLR in video mode remotely. Which is great!

But there are a lot of big problems. They advertised this as a device that will save you time, take you from amateur to pro over night and all this ad speak. But the truth is it is so finikey that it’s hard to get started on it. You have to be ok with consistent trouble shooting. If you are ok with that then go for it. You will do great work with it. But if not then then don’t waste your money.

Also I don’t recommend using it when it “really really matters. I did this onece. It work great the night before during prep. But when I turning it on during the shoot it started a firmware upgrade and did not allow me to stop it. So I had to put it back in my bag and go to Plan B.

Robert Kitcey's picture

I don’t know what version of Arsenal they sent you, but the one they eventually sent me - besides being more than a year passed their originally promised release date, as well as a bunch of subsequent delays and their excuses which similarly came and went while they delivered excuses but kept taking people’s money is the biggest photography turd I ever wasted money on.

As the “intelligent camera assistant“ that it was billed as, they sent me more like a “photography useless terrible woman who incessantly nags and complains and ensures that I never do any photography at all if I relied on her to take any photographs, and then incessantly criticized me for believing all the lies she wrote about herself on her online dating profile that turned out to just be bullshit just like the out of date and excessively software doctored photos she posted of herself only to trick me into paying for dinner while she incessantly farted at the table and after eating, burped in my face, pulled a knife on me and stole my wallet and ran. Now I get an email with alluring photos she attached saying it is her that I recognize as Penelope Cruz in her 20’s saying she’s hungry again, and do I want to meet her later on Friday and buy her some drinks.” Wanna trade? :)

I’m much more inclined to report Kickstarter to the FTC for its role in supporting outfits like Arsenal who make completely outlandish promises with which they score literally millions from but fail unacceptably to reasonably deliver any product that reasonably approaches what they promised.

Seriously, after most of us fooled from their first campaign believing this guy just went dark and ducked and ran with our money, I just got this cute email today from Arsenal with a seven day countdown reading:

“ New Kickstarter Is Coming 📸”
“ARSENAL”
“The Intelligent Camera Assistant”
“Something big is coming”

I sure hope it’s a double refund attached to a heartfelt public apology. What are the odds that’s what’s really coming? Are they kidding?

Michael Friedman's picture

The bit about not saving to SD is incorrect.

Robert Kitcey's picture

You’re right. The reviewer was mistaken. It should have more accurately reported that after fruitless hours trying in good faith to update firmware so it would pair with either my Canon 5D Mk III or Mk IV, it wouldn’t, and when someone finally answered me, promised a fix in a future firmware update, and a bunch of subsequent empty promises for fixes - none of which ever resulted in it ever remotely doing for me what was advertised, let alone sending combined images back to your camera’s SD in RAW lossless format - even literally years later and the campaign had gone dark and our Arsenal was a cold turd reminding us as a buyer to beware, but today I just received an email announcing a new upcoming Kickstarter campaign called “Arsenal - The intelligent camera assistant” was promising “something big” coming on the horizon.

I hope what’s coming is a double refund and an apology for their first campaign that so many of us who invested long ago concluded was a scam.

but it’s good you caught the reviewer’s mistake. :)

J Stud's picture

I have tried using it with the D850 and it seems there is a setting I am missing as it does not focus correctly. I took a better time-lapse photo with it disconnected. I need to sit down with it again as I was hoping for the results mentioned in the comments.

http://www.jstudstudio.com

Jason Nguyen's picture

I received mine 3 days ago. Essentially useless if you are using a Sony camera that isnt a7iii or a9.

I own 3 a7riis and a a6500 for work. Only one of the a7rii, managed to connect with arsenal. And these cameras can only connect via Sony's remote app (its a wireless connection not via usb cable), Meaning communication between the devices are incredible slow Focus stacking was not even supported which was the main reason I wanted arsenal. Any of arsenals photos took forever to process, to the point it was unusable. I'm talking like 5 minute wait for a 3 photo HDR. Connecting was not intuitive either. Arsenal only connect to my camera once ever 4 tries, if that... Almost every feature arsenal promised didn't work or isn't fast enough to be viable. This was just a waste of time and money to be honest. Was also hit with a 45$ Duty and taxes at my door when it was delivered too...

Only speaking from a Sony user experience. Could be better on Canon or Nikon. But from where the product is now, its total garbage if you're a sony user using any a6xxx series or a7 i/ii series cameras.

Lars Nielsen's picture

I had it for about 6 months. In that time i've spent 90% ot the time to try to get it to work.
My Nikon D750 already have most of the functions but time laps and focus stacking looked like a good idea. But al the connection issues and updating totaly took the pleasure away.
Only one advise. Spend your hard earned money otherwise. At the moment it refuses to work at all. Eg. 200 bucks out the window and so much frustration.

Wasim Ahmed's picture

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Al Cham's picture

I’ve been thinking of buying this for my Canon T5i for its time lapse functionality. Can anybody point me to a time lapse review blog or video for arsenal... or be willing to tell me about their experience with arsenal? It seems that people jus review the hdr and stacking functionalities.

David McDuffee's picture

The "firmware update" is the most boneheaded thing I've ever seen, and if I'd known about it ahead of time I would not have purchased this piece of crap. I used the device a couple of weeks ago, still getting used to it, but the results were acceptable. Went out tonight, started to set up in the field, and it tells me it can't run without a firmware update. IT JUST RAN LAST WEEK -- USE THAT FIRMWARE!!! Nope, it's now a paperweight until I can get back to civilization and an internet connection. This means that someday it will be a paperweight for real. How does it even know there is a firmware update available if there's no internet? I don't know. All I know is that I wasted my money, but there's no need for you to waste yours. Hell, if you want to waste yours, hit me up and I'll sell you mine. I'll never put myself in the position of depending on this piece of gear again.

(Riche) Rifkind's picture

Looks good but that's about it. The lack of Camera support is extremely poor, missing a lot of popular cameras. I went with Miops as it supports a wider range including my Rx10 IV. It honestly feels like Camera support was an after thought, other Smart triggers the good ones ask the Make n model and say which cable it needs.

Dennis Main's picture

I echo a number of the author's observations - especially being buggy and confusing for less adept photographers. Bought with the intention of assisting in more 'smart' remote photography and assisting in back-yard astrophotography and wildlife telephoto work, I found this device confounding. Over the 6-8 months I've had it and tried to become proficient with it - I grew increasingly disappointed.

First a basic peeve of mine - the single control button and single mode indicators caused much confusion. I found it continually hard to verify which mode I was in (auto or manual). Additionally, often while set up with the telescope and working towards a photo, the smartphone app would disconnect saying - disable mobile data, even though mobile data was off and I was connected to the device wifi.

The frustration is in part of that as a non-professional and part realizing that it was not the right device for my needs. Judge accordingly.

Leo Barr's picture

I found before covid lockdown it worked but was very slow; having spent time studying my camera manual it is slow once you understand how to use the camera menus.
I agree with other peoples comments the last couple of times I went to use it there were firmware updates to do which was fine for pack shots but no good outside.
Possible for a novice that wants to do some photos on a tripod it is okay - but photoshops AI is improving focus stacking is very simple the idea sounds really good but in execution it is slow & clunky .
I have put it back in the box & will not be using it again.
I can control my Canon through Canon connect on my iPhone or iPad & feel in control of the camera.
The last couple of time I used Arsenal I gave up with it .
It s probable too smart for a beginner & too dumb for anyone else with rudimentary skills - I would not recommend buying it buy a new tripod or an electronic timer.

Robert Kitcey's picture

I am an advanced amateur photographer specializing in landscape and artistic portraiture. The only difference between me and a professional is essentially that I’m fortunate to be positioned financially not to have to lean on my art to stay fed. I have one of these. The trauma-story I went through for over a year with the creator Ryan Stout to get it through Kickstarter is well represented in relevant forums all over the iWeb, [(c) 2020 R Kitcey, all rights reserved.] so I’ll spare everyone the 10k word rant.

I bought it initially encouraged by Mr Stout’s campaign claims (the marketing is top notch) that it might be a useful tool for this nutty landscape tog out in the field in order to more quickly calculate and implement phocus-stacks (misspelling intentional - it’ll catch on) and exposure brackets (so much hidden ridiculous workflow magik covertly condensed and impressed into one simple-looking silly image go none to usually be the wiser) When you review and consider any product, it’s important to include all the relevant information outside the plastic boundaries of the actual device that comes with it. When included, Arsenal here for example is much more than an accurately reviewed “meh - can’t imagine who would find this useful” least useful piece of gear that the reviewer here captured very well and fair.

All considered, Arsenal is a useless nightmare. Calling it a complete scam would be fair and deserved. Arsenal’s marketing is top-notch, hence “all the buzz,” but only slightly lesser than Ryan Stouts growing reputation for making fantastic promises but delivering mostly only excuses and ignoring complaints.

The first iteration of his Kickstarter campaign raised millions in capital using this business model. Now he’s got the chutzpah, instead of taking the money and respectfully disappearing off the radar into hiding, he’s announcing plans to kickstart a second iteration after disappointing so many hopefuls the first time and on the same crowdfunding platform. He seems to be making essentially the same promises he still hasn’t delivered to satisfy his first investors. He is unquestionably great at marketing, as well as disappointing. He has the bones of a great attorney maybe.

Arsenal is 21st Century snake oil for photography - nothing more. “Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice?” No thank you. I believe example stories like Arsenal are likely factors for which we can expect to thank a future demise of the crowd-funding mechanic from current society.

He did deliver on sending me a worthless piece of plastic and promises. I’ll gladly change my review in the future should Arsenal provide me acceptable relief. If I were offering to sell the one I have, this would be my honest marketing.

You should fairly know what you’re buying for your money. With Arsenal, I unexpectedly bought only disappointment. Live and learn.

Tim McBrayer's picture

It seems that everyone posting here is in the "I hate Arsenal" fan club. I too was an early purchaser and I have to say that I have not experienced any of the problems you folks have been posting about. I make sure my Arsenal is fully charged before I go out and I also check for updates so I don't go into the field and experience the problem with updating that several have mentioned. I could have been lucky too. I'm a real estate agent and I bought Arsenal because I thought it could help me do a better job of taking photos of my listings and I believe it has. I've had no complaints from my listing clients and many have commented on how great the photos are. Like a lot of us I tend not to read directions with most things but when it comes to these new gadgets, especially those bought through websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo I always read the directions and I find that taking that step helps. I've also order the Arsenal II and expect to receive it in June or maybe in December - you never know with these funding campaigns. I've waited as long as 2.5 years and I've probably supported 30 campaigns and I've received every product except for one and I still hope to get that one in the near future. You just have to be patient and you have to be willing to take a risk. If you are lucky you get some cool products before anyone else and for less money. But that's just my experience. Obviously, I've been luckier than most of you posting about this.

Tom TCP's picture

Hi Tim. How's your Arsenal2 experience ?