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Another nail in the coffin of Canon/Nikon relative duopoly – Cactus introduces cross-platform radio remote TTL flash system

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Since the 1960′s, Canon and Nikon have enjoyed a relative duopoly in the world of system cameras, especially amongst professional photographers.

In the late 1980′s, Canon took the lead with their totally redesigned lens mount system allowing fast AF, and it is only in the last decade or so that Nikon has again taken the lead with their even better AF tracking and metering technologies.

But as Olympus has shown with their Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, the advantages of the Canon and Nikon dSLR systems are rapidly being lost to ever improving technological advances, especially with sensors, AF and mirrorless systems which, particularly in the case of Micro Four Thirds, offer adequate image quality (often better edge to edge image sharpness) , smaller, lighter, less expensive kits more suited to our travel and hiking needs, more accurate and often faster AF, faster burst speeds with accurate continuous AF, much better image stabilisation, hand holdable super telephoto reach as well as better run and gun hand holdable 4K video.

Part of the successful marketing strategy of Canon and Nikon is keeping their users loyal to their brand – once they have invested into their system, much like Apple users, they are generally too heavily invested to swap brands or even to use other brands with different user interfaces or incompatibilities.

If you had, or wanted to use Canon lenses to their full capability, you had to buy Canon dSLRs, likewise for Nikon.

If you had a Canon system, you had to buy Canon-specific flash systems if you want TTL or remote radio TTL flash – likewise for Nikon.

Canon dSLR owners could use other lenses, even Nikon lenses but with sacrifice of fast AF.

Nikon dSLR owners could not use non-Nikon mount lenses due to a physical design issue – the distance from sensor to lens mount is too long.

Enter the new world of cross-platform utility

My last blog post espoused the potential utility of using Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with a Sigma MC-11 adapter which at last provides fast AF with most Canon EF mount lenses on Sony cameras, but in particular, the Sigma branded ones.

This allows photographers increased choice – they could get a mirrorless full frame camera with a different sensor characteristics plus sensor based image stabilisation and face AF for their Canon lenses with better feature sets at the same price as the entry level Canon 6D dSLR- seeing that Canon has not shown interest in creating such a camera.

Now, Cactus has massively increased cross-platform utility by announcing a free firmware upgrade to their Cactus V6 II radio remote control flash system, which allows Canon, Nikon or Olympus flashes to be used with most other brand cameras with either on-camera TTL or remote radio cross-TTL capability!

This is awesome, but wait, there’s more, the Cactus V6 II x-TTL also allows:

  • remote control of flash unit output, even below 1/128th level for ultra short, motion-stopping shots
  • automatic zoom level control of flashes
  • Super FP or HSS mode (but Pentax and Sony cameras need a brand-specific flash for this to work)
  • Power Sync mode to allow a faster flash sync without losing flash output as occurs in Super FP/HSS mode
  • two unique new flash exposure modes:
    • Flash Compensate – store a desired flash exposure that will automatically adjust according to changes in camera settings.
    • Flash Power Lock – lock flash power output after a desired TTL exposure is achieved, for consistency in repeat shooting.

See my wikipedia page for more information of remote control of flashes.

 And, of course, this also also fantastic news for Micro Four Thirds users who can now have radio TTL flash on their Olympus and Panasonic cameras – even with Canon flashes!

Elinchrom announces an Olympus version of their Skyport HS studio remote flash transmitter

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Elinchrom announced this week an Olympus compatible Micro Four Thirds version of the EL-Skyport Plus HS remote studio flash controller.

Transmitter allows manual power output control of up to 10 Elinchrom lights over 20 channels in 5 groups with ability to use manual exposure High Speed Sync to 1/8000th sec as well as their OverDrive Sync (ODS) which allows up to 2 stops more light at higher shutter speeds above the x-sync.

Units will cost $US249.

New Chinese wireless TTL flash triggers for Canon and Nikon

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

It had to happen, a cheaper version of the Pocket Wizard wireless TTL flash triggers is coming onto the market by Christmas 2009.

Canon version

The new Pixel Enterprises TR-331 (for Nikon) and TR-332 (for Canon) consist of a transmitter only (TX) component and a receiver only (RX) component which use CR-2 lithium batteries but no transceiver to allow use of the speedlight on the camera itself (which is a real pity – I hope they will make a transceiver version).

They differ from the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 in that they use the 2.4GHz radio frequency and thus do not need different models for each region of the world (but perhaps there may be interference with other 2.4GHz devices such as portable phones), and although they support High Speed Sync (HSS) flash to 1/8000th sec, they do not appear to have Pocket Wizard’s Hypersync mode, and they do not appear to require use of a laptop and USB connection to program them (but I presume they are much less sophisticated devices and thus less versatile).

They have 15 channels, and are said to operate up to 65 metres, support auto-focus assist, and also have a PC sync socket to fire studio strobes or manual flashes

Now if only they would bring out a much needed Olympus model.

More information on their website.

UPDATE March 2010:

Jack from Pixel Enterprise informs me that he can supply these Pixel TR-332 radio triggers directly and currently will cost a very reasonable $US180 for the set of transmitter and receiver for a Canon e-TTL with postage charge of $Us25 by Express mail to USA or Australia (can pay via PayPal) . If you prefer you can search for them on Ebay, or if you are a distributor, you can purchase them in bulk at a reduced price.

New Pocket Wizard “Zone Controller” to make remote flash even easier

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

LPA Design has announced a new accessory for their new remote radio wireless TTL flash system which I have previously written blogs on – the FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 – a simple to use Zone Controller.

Pocket wizard zone controller

Pocket wizard zone controller sitting on a FlexTT5

Now unfortunately, the FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 still has not reached Australian shores so I have not been able to try one, let alone buy them for my Canon system, but I am very keen to do so as they add some nice functionality, not the least, high speed sync at full flash output.

The main problem with this new system is that to change the settings, you need a laptop, and to set zone output levels, you need a flash like the Canon 580EXII sitting on top of one.

The new accessory, the Zone Controller helps make life easier by sitting in the hotshoe of a camera-mounted FlexTT5 or MiniTT1 unit, and then each of 3 zones of remote flash units can be easily controlled with 3 main modes:

Auto:

  • this allows you to dial in a flash compensation value in 1/3rd stop increments to +/- 3EV and in addition, takes into account the camera’s FEC setting which will apply to all 3 zones.

Manual:

  • this allows you to dial in a manual power output of each flash down to 1/64th power.

Off:

  • not surprisingly, this means that zone is not triggered.

For simplicity, there are 3 thumb dials to control the level for each zone and a switch for each zone to set the mode.

If you want to have a flash on camera, then a 580EXII on a FlexTT5 or MiniTT1 will probably suit your needs better than the Zone Controller, but for other purposes, the Zone Controller will be very nice indeed.

It is expected to be available in the US for Canon systems in August/September 2009.

Ring flash and TTL remote key flash – what options for portraits?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Most portraits are lit by at least 2 light sources:

  • a main or key light which is usually off-axis to the camera – for example 45 deg from the subject’s nose and above eye level, or directly in front of the subject’s nose and above eye level.
  • and a fill-in light which ideally should not cast distracting shadows, and thus should either be a very broad light from behind the camera (eg. bounced flash off a wall), or on-axis flash such as a ring flash. Furthermore, we need to use ratio control so that the fill-in effect can be automatically adjusted to our liking.

For the purposes of this thought exercise, let’s say we would like to create some type of ring flash effect and have a remote TTL flash/speedlight/strobe as the main key light.

You could buy a camera manufacturer’s macro ring flash, but in general, they are expensive and have a small internal diameter restricting size of lenses which can be used. The Olympus ring flash does not allow remote TTL flash for a second flash and has limited lens compatibilities (an upgrade must be coming soon). The Canon ring flash does allow remote TTL flash but is not a complete ring and has adapters for 52mm, 58mm and 72mm filter threads. Nikon do not make a ring flash. If you already have a couple of speedlights, then a ring flash adapter for one of these may be an affordable option.

What if you do not wish to buy a true Ring flash but use a Ring Flash attachment to your flash?

The first ring flash attachment was the Ray Flash which clips onto your speedlight with your speedlight sitting in the camera hotshoe but unfortunately, this design precludes use of ratio TTL because the Ring Flash accessory obstructs the main flash infrared wireless TTL control system, and currently, there appears to be no version which would allow the accessory to fit a speedlight mounted on a FlexTT5 or MiniTT1 unit which is in the camera hotshoe – of course you could try hand holding it using an off-camera TTL cord but this Ring Flash accessory was not designed for ease of handholding. Furthermore, this design requires a different version for each camera-flash combination – see here.

The Orbis, a newer ring flash accessory looks to be more versatile as it should fit most camera-flash combinations (except older flashes such as Metz 45 series) and you can use ratio control TTL either by:

  • infrared TTL from the flash – as long as you don’t cover it up with your hand, or
  • RadioPopper PX attached to the flashes with off-camera TTL cord, or,
  • off-camera TTL cord from a FlexTT5 or MiniTT1 sitting in the camera hotshoe

The main downside with the Orbis is the need to hand hold it (at least until they release their camera mounting kit later this year), but the great thing is that it will work with most brands including Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic Micro Four Thirds, etc, and the internal diameter of the ring is 85mm (actual ~86-87mm) which means my version fits on my Olympus ZD 7-14mm super wide angle to get some unique creative shots.

So for combination of price and versatility, my vote currently goes to the Orbis and perhaps the Pocket Wizards as the remote TTL device – although if you can get adequate line of sight, infrared remote TTL may be adequate for your needs.

I shall be putting my order in – may be I will need to work out a way of not accidentally dropping either the Orbis or the flash as there is a significant risk if trying to juggle those two plus your camera and adjust settings and take the photo.

post-script:

bought the Orbis, but no wonder they seemed coy about the degree of light reduction – it seems you lose 5-6 stops!!

Testing it with a Canon 580EXII on full manual and on maximum zoom 105mm as recommended by Orbis, gives a flash meter reading at 2m and ISO 100 of f/2.5. Without the Orbis using same settings on the flash, gave me ~f/19. No wonder they recommend using ISO 400!

I will do more testing.

Radio triggers without the hastles and expense of TTL flash

Friday, April 17th, 2009

From my last post on Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 and RadioPopper PX radio triggers which both have remote TTL and HSS flash capability for remote flash trigger with certain Canon or Nikon dSLRs and flashes, you may come to the conclusion that perhaps the complexity and expense and perhaps reliability issues is just not worth it for you, or perhaps you would also like to use it on your other cameras and your film cameras, and anyway, you would prefer to have full manual control over your flashes, so what options does that leave us with?

Most amateurs would probably opt for the cheap Chinese models on Ebay made by YongNuo. Pre-2008, these models tended to have a poor reputation for inconsistent shooting and poor range, but reports of the newer models seem much more positive and range is said to be 30-50m outdoors.

The newer models include:

  • RF-602TX – 2.4GHz, 16 channel, Canon, Nikon or studio flash trigger, wireless shutter trigger. Apparently RF interference with digital sensors is not an issue with this model.
  • PT-04 CN low profile model which has 4 channels and will sync to 1/320th sec if the camera-flash combination allows it, and you can purchase an optional PL-04C receiver which has a 6.5mm plug to connect to studio flashes.
  • PT-04 TM CTR-01 which is a low profile version of the PT-04 TM but not compatible with it. It is 4 channel and has an added optical trigger mode
  • PT-04 TM which has 4 channels but no optical trigger mode
  • Cactus V4 which has 16 channels and an external antenna but you can’t mount a flash on the transmitter, and receiver can be connected to high voltage flashes such as old Metz 45CT-1′s, although some flashes such as SB-600 have trouble mounting on its hotshoe due to the pins of the flash – see here. Some have suggested that RF interference may introduce image artifacts in some digital cameras with certain transmitters including Cactus V4.

Another option is the South Korean My Slave 100 triggers:

  • 10 channels, sync 1/180th sec, 433MHz, distance up to 50m
  • receivers look similar to older Pocket Wizards

More models sold on B&H Photo include:

    • Dot Line Corporation’s RS-RT03K:
      • 4-Channel Flash Trigger Kit w/ Hot Shoe & Umbrella Mount, receiver has a PC outlet and a mono synch jack for studio flash units along with an adapter for 3.5mm synch flash units.
      • The wireless signal from the transmitter is encoded to help protect the unit from radio frequency interference, ensuring that your flash unit fires only when you want them to. Range 85 feet.

RS-RT03K

    • Seculine TwinLink T2D:
      • 16 channel radio transmitter and receiver which use a combination of both 2.4GHz radio and IR technology to allow a range of up to 150′ (45.72 m) indoors and 600′ (182.88 m) outdoors
      • receiver has a built in flash hot shoe so that it can be used to attach and trigger your standard camera flashgun, allowing a way to creative lighting, especially with its facility to be mounted directly onto a tripod head. It also can be attached magnetically to the housing of a studio flash head and has 3.5mm jack and a 6.5mm connector suitable for most studio flashes.
      • transmitter is also equipped with an intuitive LCD display which shows operation modes and system status information and can use PC sync

T2D

    • Impact PowerSync10:
      • A 10-channel selector on its underside keys into the corresponding dial on the receiver to trigger the connected flash or camera without interference from other devices. Range to 200 feet at max. sync 1/180th sec.
      • receiver has hotshoe, tripod mount, 3.5mm mini as well as a PC jack.

Pwersync10

Elinchrom provide another option – their Elinchrom EL Skyport trigger set:

  • 8 channels and 4 work groups, distance up to 50m in studio and 120m outdoors

The above units are just flash trigger ONLY, but are extremely simple to use and cheap – just ensure the channel switches are the same, place the transmitter into your camera’s hotshoe, and attach a receiver to your flash (either hotshoe or PC sync connection). Of course, adjusting the manual outputs on the flash units is up to you to do – so you might need a flash meter, or do a bit of trial and error exposure adjustment.

Radiopopper has announced their new JRX radio triggers which add more range and the ability to adjust the manual output of up to 3 groups of compatible flashes such as Alien Bees, White Lightning and Canon or Nikon flashes, and they have compatibility with the PX system so that you could potentially fire studio flashes in HSS mode when used with a PX transmitter.

The Pocket Wizard fans will still love the range and reliability of their 4 channel Plus II transceivers which are still compatible with the FlexTT5 but just not in TTL, hyper-sync or HSS modes.

In addition, the top of the range Pocket wizard manual triggers is the 32 channel, 4 zone, Multimax which has some extra-ordinary capabilities mentioned in the last blog.

Lastly, you CAN use a PocketWizard FlexTT5 or MiniTT1 in basic manual mode as above with almost any camera and flash combinations – but you will need to set this mode using a laptop – this is the only option which allows placing a flash on the transmitter.

For instance you could place a FlexTT5 on an Olympus dSLR and place the Olympus macro flash controller on it, use the Olympus Ring Flash in manual mode as a fill in, while the PocketWizard triggers a Metz flash in a Westcott Apollo softbox to give a nice portable portrait lighting solution.

Whatever you buy, make sure it is the correct frequency for your country (eg. 433MHz for Europe and Australia; 340.00 to 354.00 MHz FCC/US and 315.50 – 317.00 MHz for Japan).

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:

The brilliant CyberSync system as previously discussed in a much earlier blog.

This system which operates on the 2.4GHz radio band is primarily designed for controlling Alien Bees, White Lightning, Zeus, Einstein studio lights and mixing with any strobe/speedlight.

It is quite unique in that it has a built-in flash meter and can display a number of features on the CyberCommander transmitter including the f-aperture exposure of each studio light or strobe, and can even do so using modeling lamps to provide perhaps the best studio control set up there is (if your studio lights are compatible), and allows your camera’s high speed sync.

And now at last, Alien Bees will be manufactured for global distribution with voltages not only the US standard, and thus this system may become a very versatile one even for us here in Australia. In particular, the new Alien Bees Max monolights allow use of low cost AC-inverters – see here.

Off camera flash undergoes a revolution – the new Pocket Wizards

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Presumably due to international differences in radio frequency usage, the camera manufacturers use infrared technology for triggering and syncing their off-camera flashes – including Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony and Pentax.

Whilst this is OK indoors with direct line of sight, they fail when used in direct sunlight, at distances > ~10m or so, and if the off-camera flash is not in a direct line of sight.

This has been extremely frustrating.

There are many third party devices that allow radio wave triggering of off-camera flashes, but these did not allow TTL-exposure until RadioPoppers hit the scene last year.

BUT now Pocket Wizard, which has produced professional line of radio triggers for some years, has just trumped the scene technologically with its new products – the PocketWizard FlexTT5 and MiniTT1.

These beautifully designed products do away with cumbersome wires to connect to your flashes and are backwardly compatible with older Pocket Wizards (just not for TTL) but revolutionize off-camera flash by allowing:

  • full TTL control even at distances up to 240m (in practice perhaps only 40 feet), in bright sunlight and no line of sight required
  • maintains the camera’s high speed sync flash (focal plane flash) capability so that if you system allows it, you can shoot off-camera flash in bright sunlight at 1/8000th sec shutter speed
  • an exciting new capability – “hypersync” – a user customisable functionality that allows you to adjust the timings of the flash so that you can increase the sync speed of your camera by 1 stop (eg. to 1/500th sec) without losing any flash output power as you do with “high speed focal plane flash mode”
  • mode 2 hypersync that simulates FP flash on non-FP flash systems
  • allows 8fps ttl flash if your system can cope
  • allows a flash to be mounted on it either at the camera’s hotshoe or on a lighting stand
  • can use with the new Bowens Gemini R flash units – see here

Now the bad news:

  • as they use the same camera flash pins, they are specific for ONE brand of camera
  • initial model is ONLY TTL compatible with Canon EOS
  • although they will be releasing models for other countries and for Nikon, there is no guarantee they will do so for other camera systems such as Olympus, Sony or Pentax
  • for these devices to work together they MUST be running at the same radio frequency – thus do not buy one made for US (which uses 344-354MHz) and expect it will work with one made for Australia, Europe, India, China, Malaysia, etc which run at 433.62-434.22MHz or one made for Japan which runs at 315.5-317MHz – see here for details
  • range may be substantially reduced when used with certain Canon flash guns due to their RF interference – see here – essentially you only get 24-31m with 580EX II in US and 52m in EU version, 6-12m with 430EX in US, but 207-259m with 430EXII in US, and 290m with 550EX as it produces almost no RF interference BUT unfortunately, there appear to be incompatibilities with the 550EX. You can double the range of a 580EXII by using RF shielding fabric around it – see here
  • initial version has had multiple issues, which hopefully have been resolved by this firmware update, see also here

Where does that leave Olympus, Sony and Pentax users?

Assuming Pocket Wizards are not made specifically for these brands, I suspect, one can still use them on your camera (perhaps via a normal hotshoe adapter that only passes the main flash sync and ignores the other pins).

You will of course lose TTL flash capability (no big loss really, as manual control is often better anyway), and you lose high speed FP flash, but you will have off-camera triggering in direct sunlight, at a distance and not have to be in direct line of sight, PLUS you should hopefully still be able to program the hypersync mode to work – now this will be a BIG BONUS for outdoor flash as it will allow you to open up one more stop of aperture for more shallow depth of field or allow more underexposure of ambient lighting.

There is also a mode 2 hypersync that simulates FP flash on non-FP flash systems which may work.

More information:


RadioPoppers still may be more desirable for those who have both Canon and Nikon systems as the one product will work on both brands (as I understand it), and you get full TTL and high speed flash sync, and in addition remote control of some studio flash systems BUT you will not be able to have access to the hypersync capability of the new Pocket Wizards.