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Radio Flash Trigger Comparison Essay

Most photographers have a mix of gear from many different brands.

For example, it is not uncommon for a photographer to have both Canon and Nikon camera bodies, a mix of Canon and Nikon speedlite strobes, maybe some third party speedlite strobes like Yongnuo or Nissin and studio strobes.

If that is you, you will want to check out the new Cactus V6 wireless flash radio triggers.  According to Cactus:

The Cactus V6 is the World’s First wireless flash trigger that works ON ANY CAMERA (with a standard hot shoe or PC Sync port) to control power output, wirelessly, of Canon, Nikon and Pentax’s system flashes ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

We put the Cactus V6 triggers through their paces – read on for our review of the Cactus V6 wireless flash radio trigger system.

Triggering Off Camera Strobes In A Multi-Brand Environment

Up until now, the only option to trigger a mix of strobes from different manufacturers was to use full manual radio triggers such as the PocketWizard Plus III or Plus X transceivers, or to set up brand specific triggers like the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 to work in full manual (click here to find out how).

The new Cactus V6 wireless flash radio triggers are specifically built to work in a multi-brand environment.

And, they can control the power of your remote off camera strobes, right from the Cactus V6 on your camera (well for Canon, Nikon or Pentax and their clones anyway).

To me, that is pretty awesome!

Wireless Power Control is Not TTL

Just to be clear – the Cactus V6 triggers do not offer wireless TTL control.  But they do offer wireless manual control (which to me is much more useful than TTL anyway).

What that means is that once you set up your off camera strobes, you can manually dial the strobe power levels up or down for each individual flash, or for the entire group.

Here is a list of comparable flash models pre-installed on the V6:

Canon system models:
– Cactus AF45C, AF50C;
– Canon 320EX, 430EX, 430EXII, 540EZ, 580EX, 580EXII, 600EX-RT;
– Godox V860C;
– Metz 36AF-5, 44AF-1, 50AF-1, 52AF-1, 58AF-1, 58AF-2;
– Nissin Di866 MARK II, MG8000;
– Phottix Mitros;
– Sigma EF-500 DG SUPER;
– Yongnuo YN568EX II;

Nikon system models:
– Cactus AF45N, AF50N;
– Metz 36AF-5, 44AF-1, 58AF-2;
– Nikon SB-24, SB-28, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910;
– Nissin Di700, Di866;
– Sigma EF-530 DG SUPER;

Pentax system models:
– Cactus AF45P, AF50P;
– Metz 36AF-5, 44AF-1, 50AF-1, 58AF-2;
– Pentax AF 360FGZ, AF 540FGZ;

If a TTL flash model is not listed, the V6 may still be able to learn its flash profile and then be able to control the power output of the flash.

Other Features

Here are a few other features of the Cactus V6 wireless flash radio trigger system that I found particularly interesting:

Absolute Power Control

Absolute Power Control benchmarks the power output of different flash models to the same light intensity.  What this means is that your big Nikon SB-910 will output the same power as say a Canon 430 EX II when they are used together in the same system.

Lo Power mode

Lo Power Mode fires the flash for extremely short lengths of time so the flash power is less than the minimum power setting.  This would be useful for high ISO, low light photography, where a flash power of even 1/128 is too bright.

Remote Shutter Release

With a shutter release cable, the Cactus V6s can also be used as a remote shutter release.

In The Box

OK – now that we have established why the Cactus V6 wireless flash radio trigger system is a powerful tool, lets take a look at how they look and how they work.

In the box you get the Cactus V6 wireless flash tranceiver, a cold shoe mount, an instruction booklet and a booklet of sample photographs with lighting diagrams.

I particularly appreciate the inclusion of a paper instruction booklet.  Most modern electronic devices seem to only have an online manual, which to me, is usually a big pain in the a$$ compared to a little paper instruction booklet.

Build Quality

The Cactus V6 wireless radio triggers look very similar to PocketWizard Flex TT5 tranceivers.  They both take two AA batteries and are about the same size and shape.

I would say that the overall build quality is very similar to other radio trigger systems I have used such as PocketWizard and Elinchrom Skyports.  All of the buttons and the control dial feel firm and functional and the hot shoe mount is sturdy.  I also really like the hot shoe locking mechanism – there is minimal play once locked down.

Performance In The Field

The real question is how the Cactus V6 wireless radio trigger system performs in the field.  In this regard, when Cactus asked us to review the V6s, I have to admit that I was initially pretty skeptical.

After all, the Cactus brand is a subset of Gadget Infinity (or Gadget Infamy), a well known supplier of low cost Chinese radio triggers with a questionable record of reliability.

Past reputation aside, I had a very positive experience using the Cactus V6 radio triggers in the field – although I did discover a few quirks with the system.

Update: Cactus and Gadget Infinity are separate brands under the mother company Harvest One Limited.  The Cactus V6 was developed independently by Cactus with over two years of design and testing in Hong Kong.  The V6 units are assembled in mainland China.

Multi Brand Lighting Setup

To test out the Cactus V6 radio triggers, I decided to use them on a shoot for a local fitness studio that would involve several different strobes.

Here is a of one of the lovely pole dancing fitness instructors from that shoot.

In this image, the model is lit by the following:

  • An Elinchrom BRX 500 studio strobe triggered by a Cactus V6 in manual mode from behind and to camera left,
  • An Elinchrom BRX 250 studio strobe triggered by optical slave from behind and to camera right,
  • A Nikon SB-800 off camera flash triggered by a Cactus V6 with remote power control overhead,
  • And a Spiffy Gear Light Blaster is projecting the stars onto the background with a Canon 430 EX II speedlite triggered by a Cactus V6 with remote power control.

(For a details of the complete pole dancing fitness instructor shoot and a lighting diagram click here).

Cactus V6 Manual Mode Performance

In manual mode, the Cactus V6 triggers were bombproof.  I didn’t notice a single misfire of the studio strobes.

Of course, I was not really testing the range of the system, or the limitations of the system in a wifi congested environment, but we were on location and shooting for nearly four hours, so I’d say the performance was great.

Cactus V6 Power Control Performance

On the Canon 430 EX II, the Cactus V6 triggers worked like a charm.  I was able to control the power output of my remote flash right from the V6 on camera without any problems.

However, I did have a few issues with the Cactus V6 and my Nikon SB-800s.

First of all, with a Nikon SB-800, I found that the V6 would only work if I turned on the flash first, then the V6.  This isn’t really a problem once you figure it out, but it was a little frustrating at first (my Pocket Wizard TT5s have the same issue).

Next, when connected to the V6 the controls on the SB-800 are completely locked – you can’t even turn the flash off.  I also noticed that once connected to the V6, the flash head would fully zoom in to 105mm.  I managed to fix the zoom problem by turning off the automatic power zoom head function on the SB-800 – but then you have to remember to set the zoom before turning on the V6 because the zoom control will be locked.

Finally, the SB-800 did not always fire correctly.  With a new setup, I would occasionally get a tiny flash, well below minimum power, regardless of what power setting the V6 transmitter was set to.  The V6s were triggering the flash, but only at a very low power pop.  The only way I could work around this was to turn the V6s off and on a number of times until it would work correctly.  However, once the system was working correctly, it continued to work and I was able to control the power output of my remote flash right from the V6 on camera without any further problems.

I suspect that this may have just been a connectivity issue with my older and well used Nikon SB-800s, but I did mention my problems to Cactus and they are looking into it.  I will update this post if any new information becomes available.

Ease Of Use

Overall the Cactus V6 wireless flash radio trigger system was easy to use.

Each V6 is a tranceiver – so it can be used as either a transmitter or receiver – but you have to remember to switch it to the correct mode.  The V6 on camera is set to TX (transmitter), the V6s on your remote strobes are set to RX (receiver).

In manual mode, the V6s are ready to go out of the box.  To connect them to a speedlite strobe, you just put the flash on the hotshoe.  To connect them to a studio strobe, you have to use a 3.5mm sync cable.

In power control mode, you have to set each receiver to work with the specific flash it will trigger.  For example, if you are using a Canon 600EX-RT and a Nikon SB-910, you have to set one receiver to Canon 600EX-RT and the other to Nikon SB-910.  If you swap a flash for another unit, you have to remember to change the setting on the V6.

If you are pairing your V6s with the strobes you already have, I think it would be helpful to just put a sticker on each V6 to identify which flash it is set to work with.

Would You Recommend the Cactus V6 Radio Triggers To A Friend?

With a retail price of only $55 each, or practically half the price of PocketWizard’s lowest cost radio trigger option the Plus X, its hard not to recommend the V6s.

They worked flawlessly for me on manual mode which is all a Plus X can do anyway.

However, the V6s have a maximum advertised range of 100m compared to 500m for the Plus X – so PocketWizard is still the champ for long range reliability.

I did have some minor problems using the V6s to remotely control the power of my off camera Nikon SB-800 strobes, and those problems did effect my shoot.

However, the ability to control the power of your off camera strobes directly from your camera is extremely useful, so I would be willing to work with a few quirks in the system.

So the answer would be yes, I would recommend the Cactus V6 wireless trigger system to a friend.

At this price point, you really can’t go wrong, especially if you are already operating in a multi-brand environment.

Cactus V6 vs PocketWizard Mini TT1 / Flex TT5

Unless you are shooting long range in a congested wifi environment, or you absolutely need TTL (c’mon who actually needs TTL), I would definitely consider the Cactus V6 versus a PocketWizard Mini TT1 / Flex TT5 setup.

PocketWizard is a great company with fantastic tech support – but I have found the Mini TT1 / Flex TT5 setup to be quirky at best, totally unreliable at worst.

Plus, if you want to manually control your remote off camera flashes with the PocketWizard Mini TT1 / Flex TT5 setup, you need to have a flash in commander mode (or a commander module) on camera.  With the V6’s you don’t need another device on camera to act as a commander.

Finally, for the cost of a single PocketWizard Mini TT1 / Flex TT5 pair, you could get about eight Cactus V6s.

But, before you go out and sell your PocketWizards and convert your whole studio over to Cactus V6s, I would consider purchasing a few and trying them out with the particular strobes you are already using to make sure they meet your needs.

Find Out More

To find out more about the Cactus V6 wireless flash radio trigger system, click here to visit their website.

Or you can get yours directly from Gadget Infinity here, or you can find a local dealer here.

Update

I just used the Cactus V6s to photograph the IFSC Climbing World Cup Boulder Competition (see the photos here) which was a much better test of the V6s in a wifi congested long range application.

I set up two groups of strobes – one with the Cactus V6s and the other with Pocket Wizards, all triggered from the same camera.  In my initial setup, the V6s were set to remote power control of my Nikon SB-800 strobes and initially, I had no problems.

However, after a break in the competition, the V6s had gone into standby mode – and as they were inaccessible, there was no way I could wake them up.  At another  break, I was able to turn off sleep mode, and to make sure that I didn’t have any further problems, I set them all to manual trigger mode.

However, no matter what I did, I could not get the V6s to trigger my strobes in manual mode.  I don’t think this was a range or reception issue, the V6s seemed to be receiving the signal – they just wouldn’t pop the flash.

Luckily, the group of strobes that was set up with Pocket Wizards performed flawlessly – so I ended up using the Pocket Wizard group only.

I did a quick experiment – if a strobe is connected with a 3.5mm sync cable, the V6 seems to fire it in manual profile mode with no problems.  However, if the same strobe is on the V6 hotshoe, I cannot get it to fire in manual profile mode  – the flash profile has to be specifically set to match the strobe that is on the V6 hotshoe.

Filed Under: ReviewsTagged With: cactus v6, cactus v6 flash transceiver, cactus v6 price, cactus v6 review, cactus v6 vs pocketwizard, radio slave, wireless trigger

If you have a DSLR, you have three ways to trigger flash units wirelessly: via infrared, radio or a hybrid method that involves both infrared and radio signals. While all three options can be used for triggering off-camera flashes, they all have advantages and disadvantages for indoors and outdoors use. The infrared system works very similarly to your TV remote at home – if you are not in direct line of sight or there is an object in between, the signal will not reach the destination. On the other hand, manufacturers are able to use infrared to its limits, pushing the most amount of features through it and supporting a variety of shooting applications. Unlike infrared, the radio signal has no line of sight limitations, but comes at a rather high cost, with its own set of problems. The hybrid system simply takes the infrared signal from the commander, converts it over to radio and then converts it back to infrared on slave units. Let’s analyze these advantages and disadvantages in more detail.

1.1) Infrared System Advantages

  1. Low cost – all Nikon/Canon flashes that support wireless communication communicate over the infrared signal, so there is no additional cost.
  2. Features – because flashes are built with infrared, this method of communication supports the most amount of wireless features such as pre-flash and various sync modes.
  3. Easy to use – infrared is easy to learn and use.
  4. Quick to set up – setting up flashes to communicate with each other wirelessly over infrared is very quick.
  5. TTL does not require metering – you do not need metering tools to know how much flash power you need. The camera will meter the light for you and pick the right amount of flash to fire in TTL mode.
  6. No cables needed – wireless operation is cable-free.

1.2) Infrared System Disadvantages

  1. Short range – infrared only works reliably in short distances.
  2. Requires line of sight – if you cannot see the flash, chances are the flash won’t get triggered.
  3. Not reliable under sunlight – shooting infrared outdoors on a bright sunny day is often problematic, since sunlight can interfere with the infrared signal.

1.3) Radio System Advantages

  1. Very long range – radio works over very long ranges of 1500 feet and more.
  2. Does not require line of sight – whether you mount radio triggers inside a softbox or in a different room, they are very reliable.
  3. Works under all conditions – as long as there is no interference to radio signal, it simply works everywhere under all conditions – whether you are shooting under bright sunlight and overpowering the sun, or shooting behind thick walls.
  4. Extremely reliable – if you are using industry-standard radio triggers from PocketWizard or Elinchrom, you can fully rely on flash triggering every time you press the shutter button.
  5. Does not require a flash on camera – the nice thing about radio triggers, is that you do not need a master flash on your camera. If you are just shooting with one light, you only need one flash unit.

1.4) Radio System Disadvantages

  1. Mostly manual – while there are some brand new products from PocketWizard like MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 that fully support TTL operations, most radio systems require setting flash power manually.
  2. High learning curve – with TTL, you do not need to know much about flash – the camera and flash work together to give you the best exposure. However, if TTL is not available, learning how to use flash in manual mode can be an overwhelming experience for beginners.
  3. High cost – good radio transmitters are not cheap. For each remote flash, you will have to get a separate radio receiver. Many of the radio products require a sync port on the flash unit, which means that you have to get an expensive flash to start with, which also adds to the total cost. On the plus side, if you are only using one flash for off-camera set up, then you can save by not having to purchase two flashes – the radio transmitters will trigger the flash for you, so you do not need a commanding unit.
  4. Slow/longer to set up – compared to infrared units, radio transmitters take up longer to set up and configure (see below)
  5. Wired transmitters – with the exception of the new products from PocketWizard, most radio transmitters connect with flashes via sync cords. More wires means more mess and potential points of failure.
  6. They take up space – additional transmitters and all those wires take up plenty of space and can look rather bulky.

1.5) Hybrid System Advantages

  1. Features – hybrid still uses the infrared signal from your flashes, which means that you get the most amount of wireless features such as pre-flash and various sync modes. Example of a hybrid trigger: Radio Poppers.
  2. Easy to use – similar to infrared, hybrid system is easy to use, as long as it is set up correctly.
  3. Quick to set up – initial set up is time-consuming, but once done, setting up master/remote flashes is very quick.
  4. TTL does not require metering – you do not need metering tools to know how much flash power you need. The camera will meter the light for you and pick the right amount of flash to fire in TTL mode.
  5. No cables needed – hybrid system glues on top of your flash, so no cables are necessary.
  6. They take up very little space – compared to radio transmitters, hybrid systems generally take up less space and sit “glued” to your flashes.

1.6) Hybrid System Disadvantages

  1. Requires a master flash – because the primary communication still happens over infrared, you will need at least two flashes (one as a commander) for an off-camera setup.
  2. High cost – the above, plus a separate trigger for each flash is going to cost more than a set of PocketWizards with a single flash.

1.7) Infrared vs Radio vs Hybrid Chart

I got a lot of good feedback for using a chart in my previous article on Nikon Flash Comparison, so here is a summary chart for the above information:

DescriptionInfrared FlashRadio FlashHybrid Flash
CostLowHighHigh
Wireless FeaturesAllSome *All
Supports TTLYesNo *Yes
Requires Line of SightYesNoNo
Works reliably under sunlightNoYesYes
Easy to UseYesNoYes
Quick Set UpYesNoNo
Requires cablesNoYes *No
RangeVery ShortLongLong
Learning CurveLowHighLow
Requires PC/Sync PortNoYes *No
BulkyNoYesYes

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