by Gavin Seim Updated 04/2010: Triggering flashes wirelessly is becoming a popular creative lighting tool. Popular flashes from Canon and Nikon often have built in wireless, but its basically working with old infrared technology making it essentially a line of sight tool with limited reliability.
To resolve this, various third part products have come to the market using RF (radio signal). Pocket Wizards have been a popular choice and their early units, though larger and only providing manual control, seem to have a good reputation. More recently we’ve seen products that offer not only manual, but full auto control. We’ll look at a few today.
UPDATE: 04/2010: Nearly a year has passed since this review first posted. I’ve been using Radio Poppers since then and they have worked amazingly well (note that I have no vested interest in either company). Pocket Wizards have released further firmware updates to their Flex series as well as other workarounds. While I have not purchased another set (and have no intention of doing so), I have seen little evidence that the Flex has been fixed other than tacky workarounds, like wrapping the flash in an RF shield to prevent interference, or holding the unit off camera tethered to a cord to make it work properly.
When a manufacturer has to resort to these sort of things, I consider the product a fail. If you look at even more recent comments you’ll see people are still having the same poor results. I found that Amazon reviews were mixed. There were various users getting the poor results that I experienced and it seems the positive reviews were mostly users satisfied with a short usable range, rather than what PW advertises. You can read them for yourself via the link.
Bottom Line: If you’re just going to use the Flex units very close in a studio, they “might” satisfy you. But if you plan on using them in the way their advertised and getting long range versatile wireless flash, don’t expect much. They did not perform. Nikon units of the Flex are supposed to be coming soon as of this writing, but I can’t say how well those will function. I have little confidence.
In contrast, Radio Popper PX units are great. RP’s work a bit differently. A base transmitter sits on top of your main flash (no they can’t work solo shoe mounted like the PW’s). A receiver unit is mounted to the front of your remote flash (the new bracket that came out last summer makes this much easier). The remote unit picks up the RF signal from the main unit, converts it back to an IR signal which it shot into the flash onto which it’s attached. All the built in wireless flash functions work like normal (even High Speed Sync) and can be controlled form the flash, because all that’s happening RP’s are forwarding the IR signals into a reliable RF signal and then back again on the other end.
While it may sound a bit more janky and clunky the main thing is they do what their advertised to and do it well. That’s what really matters to me. I have used Radio Poppers latest PX units outdoors at over 500ft apart with full functionality. That’s the kind of reliability I need. Radio Poppers also has both Canon and Nikon units available.
I consider the Flex series to be an Epic fail. While I know many Pocket Wizard products are known to be good (mainly their manual units) I have to say that I have little confidence in them as a company after releasing a product this poor. You can take a look thru the review below that I posted last year for some additional thoughts and information… Gavin
So, on to my straight dope review. First I purchased PW’s new Flex Control TL series which have full TTL functionality and high speed sync (Canon only for now, but Nikon coming soon). Sadly I was disappointed with almost useless results (for me at least). Range was claimed to be hundreds of feet and actual tests would not even produce consistent results at even fifty feet.
Often they didn’t fire at all and other times gave full dumps instead of the set power. Some of these issues are said to be fixable in firmware (easily updatable by the way), but the core problem seems to be that PW shipped a product who’s operation is interfered with by the very flashes it’s said to work with. The folks at PW tech gave strings of reasons why their system was totally unreliable, and their solutions were things like, use the lower end 430EX flash instead of the 580, or use an off hot-shoe cord attaching the PW to the flash to help reduce interference.
You’d think it was Canon who was claiming their flashes were made to work with Pocket Wizards products. In reality PW shipped a product advertised to work with the Canon system and seemed to know full well it had major issues. Sorry, but for five hundred a pair, I expect these to work as advertised.
Next I tried Radio Poppers new PX series. Rather than attaching to the hot-shoe, these sit on the flash, pick up the IR signals, convert them to radio waves and send them back into the receiving end unit. Not quite as elegant, but the bottom line is they worked. You get all the functionality that the built in wireless in the flash offers, but with long range and reliability. I’ve been outdoors at around six hundred feet away with them working great and triggering my remote flash with full TTL. They also offer models for both Canon and Nikon flashes.
So the bottom line. I sent back my PW Flex series. At this point they seem to be an epic fail. I liked the physical design, features and the whole idea. The only problem is they didn’t work.
Final thoughts. For me Radio Poppers won hands down. I purchased them after the test and I’m really liking them. Yes there’s room for improvement and their mounting, being not a direct hot-shoe attachment, but attaching to the flash itself is a bit more Jerry rigged and requires a flash (or OEM transmitter) on camera, but the most important thing is that they work reliably.
I suggest you make your own informed decision based on the latest reviews and info. There’s a great bunch of great review videos from the folks over at Tri Coast. I’ll embed their summery below, but you can find all eight test videos via the link. They had slightly better results than with the PW’s than I did, but their similar findings seemed to confirm that I did not have a faulty set. The bottom line was still that Radio Poppers worked better. Whatever you decide, get out there and get your flash off camera. The results can be magical. Have fun, Gav