You may remember my 2019 review of the original Arsenal hardware. It was a blocky box that you attached to your DSLR or mirrorless camera that automated many of the tasks that photographers regularly face. Arsenal sold pretty well. Although it had a few good points that could speed up or improve a photographer’s workflow, it left a lot of unhappy buyers and it seemed to end up on a lot of shelves and in a lot of drawers, rather than in camera bags. Now we have Arsenal 2.
It says it offers a healthy dose of AI in so-called Deep Color, automated panoramas, crowd control (to remove people from photos) and Night Assist, as well as improved and faster features, better time-lapse images and this neural network to intelligently develop each photo. Deep Color is not a look or a filter. Instead, it produces a set of custom adjustments for each photo. It claims to enhance your raw (or JPEG) files.
This was the feature I was most interested in. As with the original Arsenal, the small accessory box attaches to your camera using the hot shoe on the top. A supplied cable (you specify which camera you have when ordering your Arsenal 2), which, in my case, plugs into the USB port of my Sony a7 IV.
Using Arsenal 2
The new Arsenal 2 has a place for a mini SD card for storage (you buy the card yourself), and when you set up the device you specify that your JPEGs or raw files go to the Arsenal’s internal storage 2. This is where the accessory does its neural network magic. Intact files are stored on your camera’s storage card as usual.
You control your camera from an iPhone or Android device, and this is one area where the Arsenal 2 is far superior to the original. I had a really hard time connecting with the older model, and judging from other reviews, a lot of other people did as well.
Now, at least with my Sony, the Arsenal 2, my camera and iPhone turned out to be best friends, and it took about three seconds to connect. It has never failed my tests.
In most cases, your camera will be on a tripod and you’ll control it with the app, seeing on your phone screen what the camera displays on its LCD screen. There’s not a lot of lag, which is a plus.
There is a very smart handheld mode for shooting Deep Color in smart mode. You can put your phone in your pocket, but the app will still control your camera and save images to both Arsenal 2 storage and your phone. It makes things much more usable. The company also offers an adapter that can connect your phone to the Arsenal 2, essentially replacing your camera’s LED screen with your larger phone’s screen.
In automatic mode, set up your composition and let the Arsenal 2 software decide the best aperture, f-stop and ISO settings, all of which are based on the amount of light, if there is lens movement. camera, and the material.
In this basic “take picture” mode, your camera will get an image and the Arsenal 2 will get two files, an unprocessed raw (same as your camera) and another image which will allow you to apply Deep Color settings. This is done when you review the images you have, and when you look at an image, a slider appears. You can decide how much Deep Color to deliver and see the result in real time. It’s still a raw file, if that’s how you set up Arsenal 2, and it’s ready for further processing, or you can consider it finished.
Here’s an example so you can see what’s going on. First, a raw file of a sunset sky:
You can see the colored icon at the bottom. Swipe it to the right and you’ll get an AI-assisted version of the same photo.
The slider is continuous, so you can drag it as much as you want. In my eyes, the AI assistance gave me a more accurate color rendition of the sky as it was.
The other modes I tried were the focus stacking feature, which worked well, but was also in the original Arsenal. It brackets well and is easier to set up than on my camera, but the results are no different from camera-controlled bracketing.
I didn’t have clear skies to test the nighttime settings, but they look promising.
Thoughts on the Deep Color feature
I had high expectations for this new AI-powered feature, and as you can see, it worked well. However, in any case, I could improve it by processing the image myself.
In this image you can see the Deep Color photo on the left. I went back to the original raw photo, then used a raw editor to work on it myself. The result was closer to what I saw in real life.
Here’s another example: another sunset, giving you the original unedited raw top left. Top right is the Deep Color raw made by Arsenal. It looks much better and closer to the real scene. Bottom left is the original raw, edited by me in Lightroom.
Again, this is closer to reality. The shadows have some detail, the color of the sky is a bit closer to what that Arizona sunset looked like. The Deep Color managed to remove the imprecise cloud green that appears in the unedited raw.
What else can Arsenal 2 do?
As mentioned, there is an astrophotography feature that I was unable to try. Too many clouds and rain in recent weeks. Focus stalking worked well, but many cameras can also do this quite easily. I tried it for a short time and thought it was a nice feature, and setting up multi-frame support for HDR was easy, but not something you can’t set in camera .
The vistas look inviting, and the Arsenal 2 site has a spectacular demo of the feature, but alas, it’s not ready yet. Maybe a beta in September.
Who is Arsenal 2 for?
It’s a tricky question. It seems to be marketed to people who aspire to do quality work, rather than professionals. On the other hand, most beginners may find it all a bit complicated and don’t like the hardware and cables attached to their camera. Still, the people of Arsenal 2 must be doing something right, because they have sold many thousands of original Arsenal and are selling thousands of this new Arsenal 2. The test is how many buyers remain regular users .
I think Arsenal 2 is a very interesting product. It automates certain tasks, allowing you to make better use of your time. You can decide in what quality your images are saved for each function.
Unlike the original Arsenal, this more mature version runs faster and, at least with my camera, never failed to quickly establish a connection and be ready to shoot.
What I like
- It’s a reliable connection to my camera.
- If you want automation, it easily automates what would be more complicated setups on the camera alone
- Deep Color generally gives you a better picture.
- The Arsenal 2 generally makes good choices for f-stop, ISO, and shutter speed (see below).
- Battery life (it’s rechargeable) is good for a normal day of photography.
- Handheld mode is excellent. You can put your phone in your pocket and take photos in Deep Color mode without juggling between your phone and a camera.
- There are plenty of tips and documentation on the product website.
What could be better
- Not really a tool for a pro. It takes too many decisions away.
- It sometimes makes the wrong choice of camera settings. In particular, it often seems to use too high an ISO for the prevailing conditions.
- Deep Color is good, but most people who use an editor can match or exceed it.
- Not all features are available, but are still advertised, panoramas being a good example.
- For most functions you will need to be on a tripod, but that would be true if you were creating these effects without the Arsenal 2.
The Arsenal 2 is very clever. It’s packed with innovation and far exceeds the first model it offered in 2019. If you’re willing to keep it charged, put it on your camera, and wire it up, it can automate some processes that might frustrate new photographers.