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A break from the artworks – lets look at the exciting world of cross-platform radio remote TTL flash for Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Pentax users – our world has changed!

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Until recently if you wanted to do radio remote TTL flash, you needed a Canon dSLR with a Canon-compatible flash and a radio remote system, or a Nikon dSLR with a Nikon-compatible flash and a radio remote system.

Initially these radio remote systems were provided by companies such as PocketWizard or RadioPopper, and then a couple of years ago both Canon then Nikon added their own radio remote TTL flash to their latest cameras and flashes.

The PocketWizard system particularly became very popular with the professional photographers and is renown for its reliability, build quality and the early ground breaking ability to not only provide remote TTL flash and HSS flash and pas-through TTL to a top-mounted hotshoe but also its proprietary HyperSync which allowed full output flash at marginally faster than usual shutter speeds without the power output loss that HSS flash caused.

Unfortunately, Pocket Wizard failed to recognise the ground swell of mirrorless cameras and increasing cross-system ownership that has resulted and although they did create a remote system which supported the Panasonic GH4, in general their receivers would not fire Olympus flashes even in manual mode let alone TTL mode with Olympus cameras, and of course if you owned a couple of camera systems you had to have a different set of Pocket Wizard units (Flex TT5/TT6/MiniTT1)  for each camera system, and there was, and still is, no mix and matching of systems in TTL mode.

But its now mid-2017, and we are in a totally new scene thanks to Cactus V6 II remote system and the Godox remote system – both of which offer cross-platform radio remote TTL flash albeit with different approaches.

If I were to buy a flash unit or studio flash now, I would strongly consider how it would be used for my Olympus, Sony and Canon cameras with either or both of the two new systems – neither of which are perfect but a vast improvement on what we currently have, and far better than the rubbish optical remote RC mode of the Olympus system (yes, I love Olympus but I am not paid by any company including Olympus who have never offered me any freebies or special discounts and so yes, I am able to call them out when I feel it is appropriate – that said perhaps they have done us all a big favour in allowing these new third party solutions to come to the party and solve our problems).

Let’s compare the two cross-platform approaches to radio remote TTL flash:

The Cactus V6 II approach:

This is the more cost effective approach, particularly if you have existing flash units – you just buy 1 transceiver to mount on the camera and another to mount on your digital-TTL capable flash (the flash will need to be either Canon, Nikon or Olympus digital TTL capable – not Pentax unless you are also using a Pentax camera, and not Fujifilm unless you are also using a Fujifilm camera).

These transceivers are able to AUTO-Detect the camera or flash system (although there are a few gotchas and workarounds – see later).

This means IF it all works as the manufacturer suggests it will, you could buy 5 units, place one on your Olympus camera’s hotshoe (which can optionally also mount any digital TTL flash unit as outlined above) and attach one to each of a Canon 580EXII flash, an Olympus FL50R flash, a Godox TT685 flash and a Nikon SB-900 flash and ALL will fire with radio remote TTL exposures with flash exposure compensation in 0.1EV increments and separate for each (if they are assigned to one of the 4 possible radio groups)  and optionally in HSS/FP mode for faster shutter speeds and wider apertures, or one of the two Group Sequence modes, remote manual flash zoom, and even in the Cactus proprietary Power Sync mode which allows a slightly faster than usual shutter speed at full flash output – and yet there is much more it can do including display all flash unit power outputs, Delay mode, AF assist light and remote camera shutter release!

Decide to use your Canon dSLR to shoot instead, cool, just turn the transceiver off, put it on the Canon, let it auto-detect and away you go.

Working in an environment with lots of other photographers using the same system which is causing cross firing – no problem, just set all your transceivers to the same 4 digit RADIO ID value.

If you are running a workshop and want other users to fire your flash set up – no problem – just make sure they are using the same radio ID and turn on Multi-Master mode each photographer can choose their own exposure compensation settings – just try to avoid firing at the same time as someone else!

As an alternative, you can buy a very affordable Cactus RF60X flash unit which already has a remote transceiver built in so this saves you money and complexity.

Some gotchas and workarounds of the Cactus V6 II system:

  • there is a special Sony version of the transceiver (V6 IIs) which is required if you wish to attach to either a Sony camera or a Sony-mount flash, but it can essentially achieve the same as the above.
  • requires firmware upgrade for cross-platform compatibility, the Olympus/Panasonic/Micro Four Thirds compatibility should be available August 2017.
  • as with the Godox system, it operates in the 2.4GHz radio frequency range and this may have issues with interference at times and is generally limited to 100m
  • READ the MANUAL: to auto-detect camera system, half-press the shutter release of camera while switching on the V6 II to TX mode
  • Power Sync may require the user to adjust the sync time in order to eliminate any banding issues (black line across the image).
  • “Power Sync” may not give you much more and there is no option to go less than full power output – but then you usually want full power output in these situations unless you also need short recycle times.
  • Cactus V6 II does not work with Cactus V4, V2s or V2 flash trigger models (but is compatible with V6 but not in HSS mode, and with V5 for basic non-TTL modes only including flash triggering and shutter release triggering)
  • there is a limited range (currently 60 units) of currently available flash units that are automatically usable with this system – others will require you to create your own custom flash profile on your computer and upload it to the transceiver (this can store up to 10 such profiles) and then you will need to manually select which profile to use for the flash.
  • some cameras have a  thicker than usual metal spring plate in the hotshoe which can interfere with the flash contacts and this may need to be removed (easily done) – examples include some Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Fujifilm models – this does not appear to be a problem with my E-M1 mark I or mark II
  • the hotshoe locking pin position is optimised for Canikon and thus there may be some mechanical instability on other systems, when using Olympus flashes, moving it 0.5mm may remedy this, but there may still be issues on the camera and this becomes more risky if you are mounting a flash onto the camera-mounted transceiver as the weight may cause it to fall off – this does not appear to be a problem with my E-M1 mark I or mark II
  • the latest July firmware has issues with TTL passthrough when used with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II (mark I seems to be OK in brief testing)
  • there is limited compatibility with some cameras including:
    • Nikon D600 and Panasonic GX-8 camera are not fully compatible with HSS mode when used with a Cactus RF60 flash (but presumably the RF60X is OK)
    • high-speed sync modes not supported on Fujifilm X-E2 / XE2S, Fujifilm X100T cameras, and, Fujifilm flashes do not support HSS capabilities.

The Godox X1 approach:

Godox have really taken massive strides towards world domination of enthusiast and pro lighting (and their sudden rise in popularity perhaps may be part of the reason for Bowens lighting company apparently going out of business – although the Bowens name will live on thanks to the Bowens S mount which is one of the more universal lighting accessory mounts – including for the Godox studio style lights).

In the first instance they brought to the market their lovely, powerful and versatile portable flash units with lithium ion batteries and battery packs which have made strobists all over the world jump for joy.

Next, they upped the ante substantially this year when they announced cross-platform support.

Unlike the Cactus system (other than the dedicated Cactus V6 II Sony module), the Godox remote transceivers require a system dedicated transceiver attached to the camera hotshoe such as:

  • for Olympus or Panasonic cameras either:
  • for Canon cameras, X1C TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
  • for Nikon cameras, X1N TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
  • for Sony cameras, the X1S TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
  • for Fuji cameras, the X1T-F TTL Wireless Flash Trigger

Each of these camera mounted X1 triggers have a TTL-pass-through top hotshoe.

Like the Cactus system with their Cactus RX60X, there are Godox flash units with inbuilt receivers and a very nice range of units there are such as:

  • Godox Wistro AD600 portable 600Ws lithium ion battery studio flash with ability to be used with either a 600Ws or incredible 1200Ws flash head (this requires two AD600′s to power it), and optional lithium ion battery pack and Bowens or Godox mount studio lighting accessories such as softboxes
  • Godox Wistro AD360II - a more portable option but it is regarded as too heavy to mount on a camera, usually used with hand grip and power pack and strobists accessories
  • Godox Wistro AD200 pocket flash
  • Godox Wistro AR400 ring flash
  • Godox V860II-O - similar to an Olympus FL-50R in that it can use the Olympus optical RC system as master or slave, but in addition it can be used as a slave (and perhaps as a master according to web page specs) for the Godox  X1 system, and it uses a 2000mAh lithium ion battery pack for 650 full power shots per full battery charge

Unlike the Cactus system, if you wish to fire a non-Godox flash unit in remote TTL mode, you will need a different Receiver unit and specifically, one that matches the flash system, thus, for a Canon flash you will need the X1R-C receiver to attach the the Canon flash.

A brief side-by-side comparison:

 

Cactus V6 II Godox X1
Price $US95 per transceiver
$US46 for transceiver
types of units needed only 1 type BUT need a different one for a Sony camera or flash need a different one for each camera system, and a different receiver for each system of non-Godox X1 flash, for example, a XTR-16, XTR-16S receiver
radio frequency 2.4GHz, range up to 100m
2.4GHz, range up to 100m
radio groups 4
5
radio channels 16 32
Radio ID 4 digit
No
HSS / FP mode most cameras (except Fujifilm flashes)
most cameras except Fujifilm?
front/rear curtain sync Yes
Yes
Multi-flash strobe mode Yes
Yes
flash exposure compensation Yes, +/- 3EV in 0.1EV increments
Yes, +/- 3EV in 1/3rd EV increments
remote manual zoom control Yes
Yes
AF assist lamp Yes 1W LED
Yes manual open
Multi-Master mode Yes, up to 20 photographers
?
Power sync mode Yes but needs user to configure
Can sync E-M1 to 1/320th in PC-Sync non-TTL mode
Flash delay mode Yes 1msec to 999 secs
0-10msec for synch delay adjustment
hotshoe locks into Olympus cameras to avoid slippage Maybe (lock pin slightly out as optimised for Canikon) Yes (X1T-O)
PC sync socket Yes
Yes
USB firmware upgradeable Yes Yes
Can remotely trigger camera shutter release via cable Yes “Relay mode” – also available is a laser motion detection trigger to radio remotely act on the V6 II ?
power supply 2 x AA batteries 2 x AA batteries
size 72x72x42mm, 96g
72x75x52mm, 90g
ease of use must set to auto detect when starting, but otherwise fairly universal plug and play
camera-dedicated transceivers do not need to auto detect
low power output for short flash exposures 1/256th output
1/128th output only?
lock flash exposures Yes ?
display power of each flash unit Yes displays exp. compensation or power output fraction only
compatible flash units 60 plus ability to store 10 custom profiles which user can create, or Cactus V6 II specific units such as RF60X
system-specific flashes for the receiver, or Godox X1 compatible flashes including Wistro studio flashes
flash system for TTL mode when mounted on the transceiver on camera any compatible flash – should Auto-detect?? no passthrough TTL – single pin hotshoe only

 

Which system should you buy?

If you need to purchase new flash units, and in particular, the awesome units such as the Wistro AD600 or AD360II, then it makes sense to go with the Godox system as you just need the flash units and the system specific transmitter for each camera system you own.

If you already have a mix of flashes, or you wish to use the special features of the cactus system such as Power Sync, then the Cactus V6II transceivers would be the way to go, although you may be wise until Cactus finalises all their TTL firmware and it is found to work as advertised.

It would not be entirely crazy to have BOTH systems for different needs.

It does alter which flash units I would invest in though, and perhaps the 3rd party flashes may be the best approach although there is always a risk the camera manufacturers introduce incompatibilities, but it is likely that Cactus and Godox will be able to address these through firmware updates.

Many pros will stay with their tried and true Pocket Wizards which do use a different bandwidth and are system specific with no cross-platform TTL or HSS capabilities – and there is no Olympus version as yet – ah yes, I have been waiting nearly 10 long years for an Olympus version and still there is no word.

For more information on remote TTL flash, see my wikipedia pages.

Pentax evolves sensor based image stabilisation with some cool novel features

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Pentax has just announced their 1st full frame dSLR – the Pentax K-1, a weathersealed 36mp camera with a unique cross-tilt rear LCD screen and illuminated controls to make it easier to operate and change lenses in the dark.

But what I like most is how they have made use of their sensor based image stabilisation system.

I have always been a big fan of sensor based image stabilisation and am unlikely to buy another camera without it – hence I may be waiting a long time before I buy another Canon dSLR to use my many pro lenses with!

Readers will know I love the sensor based IS on my Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras as Olympus along with Pentax were trail blazers in this technology.

Olympus has made incredible improvements to the effectiveness of their 5 axis 5EV IS system and in the OM-D E-M5 mark II and Pen F, have added a Hi-Res mode where 8 shots are taken with slight sensor shift and then combined to create a Hi-Res 50mp image without moiré.

Pentax with their 2013 model cropped sensor dSLR, the Pentax K-3, added the capability of rotational compensation to correct for rotated horizons as well as sensor shift to act as a anti-aliasing filter to reduce moiré.

The Pentax K-1 takes the K-3 functionality further by adding:

  • 5 axis 5EV IS
  • Pixel Shift Resolution mode that increases color resolution by shooting four consecutive images with the sensor moved by one pixel – effectively canceling the Bayer color filter array and lowering noise by image averaging
  • Astrotracer system that uses the sensor’s movement to cancel-out the effect of the Earth’s rotation when taking images of stars (something it can calculate using its GPS)

Sure, these features may not be used very often but the astrotracer system could be very handy for marginally extending long exposures of comets, etc whilst minimising blurring of stars by star trailing. It won’t help astroscapes much as it will blur the landscape while keeping the stars clean – probably not that helpful there! It also won’t help with deep sky astrophotography requiring more accurate guiding of stars using an equatorial telescope mount.

Nevertheless, it is exciting to see what the camera manufacturers can come up with – perhaps we will get rear tilt-shift capabilities one day as well.

At present, there are few dedicated lenses available for the K-1 with fast AF optimised for a high resolution sensor, but in the meantime, it is optimised to make good use of legacy Pentax k-mount lenses and can shoot 15mp cropped sensor mode for using APS-C sized lenses.

The camera RRP is $US1799 which is a great price for the features but the system is very limited and early days in development.

Hopefully, Olympus and Sony are inspired to add similar functions to their cameras.

And just maybe, Canon might decide to finally jump on the sensor IS bandwagon before they become a forgotten brand other than for the sports professionals.

 

 

Will new cheaper medium format dSLRs like the Pentax 645D squeeze Canon and Nikon from above?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

While the Micro Four Thirds camera system with its compact, quieter, and lighter form factor is increasingly impacting the entry level dSLR market place, Canon and Nikon surely must be becoming concerned that falling prices for medium format dSLRs such as the new Pentax 645D may squeeze them from above as well.

For sports and other action photography, the pro dSLRs by Canon and Nikon such as the Canon 1D Mark III and Mark IV, or the Nikon D300s and D3s reign supreme courtesy of their fast burst rates of 8-10fps, good performance at high ISO, fast auto-focus (albeit not always accurate or focused on your subject) and range of wide aperture telephoto lenses. It is unlikely that in this sector, they will be seriously challenged for at least another 5 years.

Until now, pro photographers wanting to create very large and detailed prints requiring wide dynamic range and lots of pixels had to part with lots of money for either a medium format dSLR such as a Hasselblad costing some $US30,000+, or settle for a $US10,000+ 35mm full frame dSLR such as a 20+ megapixel Canon 1Ds Mark III or a Nikon D3X, or go for a $US20,000+ compromise on a medium format Mamiya dSLR.

Other options include the expensive, new Leica S2 system, or buying a medium format film SLR and adding a digital back, but this latter approach is quite cumbersome and risks lower image quality with potential lack of precise alignment of the sensor.

BUT, times are changing and Pentax is going to start the push for cheaper, but high image quality medium format dSLRs which handle more like a 35mm dSLR than the more cumbersome current medium format dSLRs.

The new Pentax 645D will be available in Japan only in May 2010 at an incredibly low $US9400 for body and sensor which has got to hurt Canon and Nikon, as their 35mm sensors will not be able to match a 645 size sensor for image quality when you need to create very large prints. When you can offer that image quality at the same price as a Canon 1Ds or a Nikon D3x, you have got to have a great chance of capturing market share.

The Pentax 645D offers the following features which make it very useful for landscape photography in particular, but also fashion if you can post-process out the potential moire artifacts:

  • Kodak 40 megapixel, high dynamic range (11.5 EV range is quoted), 14bit A/D, 44x33mm sensor (giving 6 micron size photosites) with dust removal system – that is 1.7x the area of a 35mm full frame sensor and the diagonal is 1.28x. Note that the 645D sensor is smaller than 645 film which 56 x 41.5mm which is 2.6x the area of 35mm film and 1.6x the diagonal of 35mm.
  • weatherproofed body with batteries optimised for cold weather – able to take 650 photos at -10degC on a single charge – perfect for the photo hiker wanting high image quality.
  • no anti-alias filter so that as much image detail as possible is captured – but at risk of moire on certain clothing, etc.
  • ISO 200-1000 – that is all that fashion or landscape photographers need – after all, they will usually be using a tripod or studio flash anyway
  • simultaneous RAW+jpg in-camera – unusual for medium format dSLRs, and offers DNG RAW file option as well as Pentax RAW files
  • sensor and body fixed to ensure precise alignment and cheaper manufacturing
  • no tethered shooting at present but HDMI output is available
  • no live view as no current medium format sensors offer live view
  • 2 axis electronic level indicator
  • 11 point autofocus
  • 77 segment exposure metering
  • ISO priority metering mode
  • uses SD memory cards
  • 98% viewfinder with diopter correction range -3.5 to +2.0
  • ability to use Pentax medium format lenses – the new 55mm lens is a Pentax 45AF2 mount but the camera will also take the older film mount lenses including 645AF (designed for the Pentax 645N and 645NII), and the manual focus lenses – 645A mount.
  • you can also use Pentacon and Kiev 88CM manual focus lenses via an adapter (the Pentacon 6 and Kiev lenses can also be adapted to Mamiya and Contax 645 cameras as well as used with tilt-shift adapters on Canon and Nikon dSLRs).
  • the Pentax 645 lenses can also be used on dSLRs such as Canon via adapters but obviously, only in manual focus.
  • a new digitally-optimised 55mm f/2.8 wide angle lens (gives a diameter field of view equivalent to a 43mm lens on a 35mm camera) – weather-proofed, 9 element, aspherical with USM AF, internal focusing and even coatings on rear element to reduce internal reflections of light bouncing from sensor.

If I was going to carry around a big, heavy camera for static subjects and the Pentax lenses suited my needs, then for the same price point, the Pentax 645D would have to easily beat any Canon or Nikon offering on image quality – assuming that the images of the 645D do live up to expectations.

The problem for Canon and Nikon is that either they will have to lower their prices or lose some of the high end market share to medium format sensors, unless they start to enter the medium format sector themselves – and perhaps Canon were considering this given that some of their latest pro lenses appear to have larger image circles than needed for 35mm sensors.

An issue with the Pentax is the narrow range of lenses and lack of tilt-shift capabilities:

  • the widest lens is the Pentax-FA 645 35mm f/3.5 AL IF Aspheric which on the 645D gives a diagonal of of a 27mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • there is an older manual focus version of this lens which is not as sharp and has more vignetting on 645 film -  the Pentax SMC P-A 35mm f/3.5 MF.

See also:

new Pentax K-7 dSLR with some interesting new features

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Although I don’t follow Pentax closely, their new K-7 dSLR has some interesting features which Olympus fans might like to see in their cameras given they are both based on similar CCD-shift IS technology and Live View technologies.

Firstly, the K-7 is a 14.6mp, APS-C sensor with weatherproofed body, CCD-shift image stabiliser of 2.5-4 stops, 100% field of view viewfinder, 5.2 fps burst rate, 11 point (9 cross-type) AF, 920,000 dot 3″ fixed LCD, face detection contrast AF in live preview and comes with the now almost standard movie mode at 1280×720 pixels at 30fps but no live AF although it does have an external mic input at least.

Now, a few rather innovative features:

  • continuous shooting in live view mode with mirror locked up via an innovative diaphragm-control mechanism – but have they finally made a near silent live view capture mode?
  • HDR (high dynamic range) function to create one composite image with an extra-wide gradation range from three images with different exposures
  • Digital level function for easy checking of the image’s levels as with Olympus E620 presumably
  • Innovative CCD-shift mechanism for ensuring sensor is level horizontally (within limits) AND the ability for minute angle adjustment (in the direction of up/down, right/left and clockwise/counterclockwise), helping to compose the image exactly the way the photographer wants.
  • Attachment of copyright credits on recorded images

see more at dpreview.com