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  1. #1
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    The Quest for the Perfect Remote Flash Triggering System

    This one is a bit of a doozy, so grab a couple beers and some snacks:

    The Quest for the Perfect Remote Flash Triggering System
    By: Thomas DeCoste

    In the search for the ultimate remote flash trigger, you may find yourself swimming in the vast wealth of knowledge, and garbage, that the internet has to provide. Weather it is searching through various photography forums, or dedicated off-camera lighting websites such as strobist.com, zarias.com, flickr.com, etc., you have probably found that there is so much information out there that your brain begins to hurt trying to remember just who made what system, and what the heck that system did? In my quest, I searched for over a month looking for reviews, head to head competitions, or flat out testimonials on the umpteen million remote triggering systems that were available. After that long month of research, I put my money down on a system I felt best suited my needs. The funny thing is, not one week later, 3 more companies came out with news of new flash triggering systems coming to the market… One week!

    Ugg…

    The following pages are a summary of my month’s worth of research. It is lengthy. It is detailed. You may find it compelling; you may develop a glossed over look in your eyes. I can’t guarantee what you will take away from this, but I hope that what I say is at least helpful to you. So with that said, let’s get started.

    Getting Started:

    The first thing, I believe, that is essential in anyone’s search is to clearly define what you need, not just what you want, in a remote trigger system. Some people don’t need all of the options that one manufacturer puts in to its system. Others may need everything, and then some. In the end, there is only one guarantee: There is no perfect system. No matter how hard you look, you will have to compromise on something when deciding on a triggering system. However, making a list of your needs vs. your wants will ensure that you do not compromise in the areas that are most important to you and your photography.

    When it came to me, I really liked what Nikon’s Advanced Wireless System (AWS) had to offer. Maybe it was because it was the first system I ever tried. Maybe it was because the system can do just about anything with an off-camera flash that it can do with an on-camera flash. Whatever it may be, I considered it my “baseline” for which to compare against. You might be asking, “If you liked it so much, why did you want to find something different?” Well, Nikon’s AWS is great, but it has its drawbacks.

    First, AWS is very expensive. Like many of you reading this, I’m not made of money. I can not afford to buy a bunch of Nikon AWS compatible speedlights to use as off camera flashes. The problem is if you want to use Nikon’s AWS system you must buy AWS compatible speedlights. The currently available Nikon AWS speedlights are the SB-600, 800, and 900. The SB-600 is the cheapest option at $220 and rarely sells for less than $180 used. It is a nice unit but it is relatively weak in power when it comes to off-camera lighting. The SB-800 is a very powerful flash and offers a host of bells and whistles that would make any photographer giddy. However, it is discontinued and still sells used for more than it was worth new (~$350). Then there is the SB-900, the grand “poobah” of Nikon’s speedlight line up. At a hefty $450 price tag, you can put together a complete off camera lighting set up for the price of just one of these.

    Secondly, the AWS system relies on infrared (IR) signals to transmit flash information from the “commander” flash to the “remote” flashes. This system can work very well in an indoor situation where the IR signal can bounce off walls to get to the remote flashes. However, in an outdoor situation direct line of sight is required to make the system operate properly. If you are in a shoot where you have any of your lights set up behind you, they will not be triggered by the IR signal unless you point the “commander” towards the rear units. If you have your lights set up to one side, or both sides, of the camera you must set up the flash units so the IR receiver on the flash is pointed towards the camera/commander unit. While this doesn’t sound like too much of a chore, you must realize that the second you move your camera to a different position around your subject your flashes may or may not trigger depending on the position of your camera/commander in relation to the IR signal receiver on the flash unit. To put it simply, your creative freedom and work flow is greatly inhibited by this limitation.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:00 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  2. #2
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    That last paragraph talked about things called “commander” and “remote” flashes. Let me explain these quickly. Nikon’s AWS system, just like any other remote triggering system, relies on communication from a “trigger” and a “receiver”. In the case of Nikon’s AWS, the trigger is referred to as a “commander.” The commander controls not only the signal to fire the remote flashes, but also can control the power levels of the remote flashes, the mode in which the flash will fire (red-eye, front curtain sync, rear curtain sync), use TTL exposure readings to control all the flash units (allowing total auto mode to the system), and can even be used as a flash itself (in the case of the SB-800 and SB-900). As for the “receivers”, all AWS compatible flashes have IR receivers built in to the bodies of the flashes. With everything bundled into the flash unit there is no extra packing of gadgets, no extra batteries to charge, and nothing to accidentally forget. You can see why I have made Nikon’s AWS system my baseline for comparison. It is very cool.

    But as you probably guessed it, you need to buy this “commander” in order to trigger your remote AWS flashes. This means you need to have either a commander capable flash unit (SB-800 or SB-900) or Nikon’s proprietary flash commander (SU-800 - ~$255) to trigger your remote flashes. As if it weren’t bad enough that you have to fork out hundreds of dollars on just one AWS flash unit, you now have to spend another two and a half bills just to control it. However, there is some light at the end of this tunnel for some of you. If you own a D70 and above (D80, 90, 200, 300, 700) camera you have a commander built in to your pop-up flash. Again you can only control Nikon’s AWS compatible speedlights, but it does save you the money on buying a dedicated commander to control your remote flashes. This is a nice feature built in to the semi-pro models that often gets overlooked in the great megapixel/high ISO race. Depending on your camera model you can control up to 3 groups, though one has to be on your camera.

    Regarding the IR signal in Nikon’s AWS system, not only is it inhibited by its line of sight, but it also does not have the greatest range. According to Nikon, the SU-800, a dedicated off camera IR signal transmitter, has a range of approximately 66 feet (20 meters). That doesn’t sound too bad does it? In reality, it’s probably the shortest range of any triggering system on the market today. In the world of remote triggering systems, 330 feet (100 meters) is becoming the benchmark. In addition to the short range of the IR signal, it also is inhibited by sunlight. The IR signal from the SU-800 can get “lost,” so to speak, in daylight and can decrease your usable range, sometimes eliminating it completely.

    So let’s look at Nikon’s AWS system and see just what it all has to offer:

    Pros:
    Very smart system offering TTL (auto) flash exposure
    Can control up to 3 groups of lights on 4 channels
    Can control red-eye reduction, rear curtain flash, flash exposure compensation
    Can use built-in “modeling light” to quickly determine lighting ratios
    Manual flash power is all at your fingertips and controllable from the camera

    Cons:
    Can drive you deep in to debt with its price tag
    Requires the use of Nikon AWS compatible flash units (SB- 600, 800, & 900)
    Infrared signal has very short range
    Infrared signal requires direct line of sight limiting freedom and workflow
    Infrared signal can get “lost” in direct sunlight causing misfires and decreased range

    I absolutely love the “Pros” of Nikon’s AWS system, but the “Cons” were just too much to bear in my mind and was inhibiting my photography. In the end, I love it, but I had to look at other options.

    This is where my great search began. I wanted the “pros” of the AWS system but I didn’t want to break the bank buying into all this expensive technology and didn’t want to deal with the hang-ups of the infrared signal.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:27 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  3. #3
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    The Search Begins:

    In my search I read about different companies like Pocket Wizard, Radiopoppers, Elinchrom, AlienBees, Cactus, YongNuo, Pixel, etc… They all offer different things: different controls, more range, more channels, groups, TTL capabilities, yada, yada, yada. It was enough to make your head spin. Fortunately, I put together a list of what I needed in a triggering system, not just what I wanted. This quickly eliminated a few of the competitors.

    First, I needed reliability. It didn’t make much sense to set up flashes if they weren’t going to fire when I triggered them. Based on my findings, this quickly eliminated YongNuo, Cactus, and Pixel. These triggers may work for some people, but reviews and testimonials showed great variation in build quality and reliability. I knew I couldn’t handle the frustration of inconsistent triggers so they were quickly eliminated from my search.

    Secondly, I needed to be able to group flashes together. This took AilienBees ‘Cybersync’ system out of the running. The system gets rave reviews from its users. It is a reliable system, at a fantastic price, but it just couldn’t do what I needed so it had to go.

    Thirdly, I needed to control the power of my off-camera flashes from the camera itself, eliminating the need to walk over to all my flashes to dial in power. This took the Elinchrom ‘Skyport’ system off my list as well. A great system with great reliability and the ability to group flash units, but without being able to control the flashes it was not going to work for me.

    All that was left on the list were two companies: Pocket Wizard and Radiopopper.

    I researched both companies and looked for reviews, comparisons, and testimonials on the different systems offered by both. The Pocket Wizards are considered to be the “go-to” system for professional photographers. Their quality, reputation, and technical specifications were all very high but unfortunately this was reflected in their price tag. The Pocket Wizard could do everything I wanted, but its price tag was a real turn off to me.

    A guy told me once that “Photography is expensive, get used to it.” Yeah, it can be expensive, but does it have to be?

    That is when I came across an up and coming company called Leap Devices, out of Washington State, and their remote triggering systems called “Radiopoppers.” They offer 2 lines or triggers and receivers, the PX and the JrX.

    The PX system is basically Nikon’s AWS system with no infrared signals. The IR signals from the commander flash are read by the Radiopopper PX trigger and are translated into a language that the Radiopopper system can communicate to the receivers. When the receivers get the signal from the transmitter (all in a matter of microseconds mind you) they are interpreted and translated back into Nikon AWS signals and the sent through an infrared transmitter to the flash’s IR signal receiver. It would be as if your flash were on a very long TTL cable receiving signals directly from your camera. But you don’t have any wires in your, and your range is upwards of 1500 feet (450+ meters)! You no longer have the problems plagued by infrared technology like line of sight, or the sunlight messing up the signals from the trigger to the receiver. This system offers all the “pros” of the Nikon AWS system with just a few of the “cons”.

    The cons to the Radiopopper PX system are that you still have to work within Nikon’s AWS system. This means that you need to use AWS capable speedlights. As mentioned above, these are expensive. You also need to have a “commander” flash, or SU-800 unit, to send out the IR signals to be read by the Radiopopper PX trigger. This again costs a lot of money, and you now have a big flash on top of your camera at all times.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:05 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  4. #4
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    While you maintain all the capabilities of Nikon’s AWS system, this technology is not cheap. One Radiopopper PX trigger is $250. The receivers are also $250 each. This is certainly a lot of money just to convert an infrared signal to radio frequency, however the engineering required to read, translate, send, receive, interpret, retranslate, and trigger your remote flashes (in a matter of milliseconds) while still using the same interface as Nikon’s elaborate AWS system is nothing short of amazing. As of this writing Radiopopper’s PX system is the only devise that is capable of handling this technological feat. Apparently, Pocket Wizard is coming out with something similar, but it is still in the testing phase. If it is anything like the Canon E-TTL system they currently offer, I believe people will be unhappy due to lack of range, greater rate of misfires, and potential radio interference issues. So if you want Nikon’s AWS without the IR signal, the Radiopopper PX system is for you.

    Fortunately, for us mere mortals who can not afford such technological wonders like the PX system, Radiopopper has a more affordable line of remote triggers called the JrX system. This system can trigger just about any flash or studio strobe on the market. This system is divided into two different styles with just a few differences between the two.

    The JrX “Basic” system is a simple radio frequency trigger that allows for full manual flash power of your off-camera flashes. This is just like what AlienBees “Cybersync” offer. It is a reliable system that has a great introductory kit price of $139.95 - (1)Transmitter and (1) Receiver. If you need more receivers to trigger more off-camera lights, they are priced at $79.95 each with the ability to upgrade down the road to the “Studio” version which is discussed below. At the time of this writing, I believe the upgrade is $30, but I can not find exact pricing on Radiopopper’s website.

    The JrX “Studio” system builds on the “Basic” kit by adding flash power control, in up to 3 groups, right from the transmitter mounted on top of your camera. This is great for us who do not want to walk hundreds of feet, or take down light stands, or lose track of what we were photographing just because a light needs to be adjusted. We all don’t work in a studio environment where you can “set it and forget it”. If you are on location and light is changing on you, you need to be able to adjust your flashes quickly with the ever changing light. Taking down light stands to make adjustments not only slows down your shooting, but can greatly inhibit your creativity and flow by breaking your concentration.

    In addition to the transmitter and receiver, the Radiopopper JrX “Studio” kit needs one more thing to get all its functions to work properly. Radiopopper is calling this an “RPcube.”



    Basically, it is a TTL hotshoe attachment that mounts on the foot of your flash to control the duration of the flash pulse through a “quench” signal. Shortening the flash pulse will make for a weaker flash. Lengthening it will make for a stronger flash burst. This is how the flash power is controlled. At the time of this writing Radiopopper has not come out with an RPcube for either Nikon of Canon. Do not fear, the internet is your friend, and people have already figured out a way to make your own RPcube for under $8. Below is a link to a do it yourself guild:

    http://lightandpixels.com/2009/11/06...-jrx-cube-diy/

    With the help of this little attachment you can control your flashes from full power to completely off, with every setting in between, all with the turn of a knob.

    The “Studio” kit is $159.95 for (1) transmitter and (1) receiver and additional receivers are $99.95 each.

    When I heard of this system, I was in shock that I actually found something that would fit my needs with a price tag that didn’t give me coronary heart failure. My month long search was finally over. I pulled out the credit card and placed my order.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:14 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  5. #5
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    Radiopopper JrX Studio Review:

    For this review we will discuss the Radiopopper JrX Studio system as this best suited my needs and hopefully suits yours.

    They say first impressions are important, so lets discuss the shipping and packaging of the items first. I placed my order for the “Studio” kit (one transmitter and receiver) along with 3 additional receivers on the 11th of March and received them on the 18th. They were in a regular cardboard box with no name on it, just a shipping label. Inside were a few “pillow” style bubble wrap pieces to take care of the extra space in the box with the various components all in their separate boxes.



    The presentation is all very nice with high quality packaging, vibrant colors, imagery, etc. I would not expect Pocket Wizard or Elinchrom to do any better. Needless to say, things were looking up.

    Inside each of the smaller boxes were a receiver, a CR123A battery, and a host of cables consisting of:

    (1) 8" Data "telephone" cable
    (1) 3.5mm optical slave disable plug
    (1) 12 inch, 3.5mm to 3.5mm sync cable
    (1) 2.5mm sync port adaptor
    (1) 1.4" sync port adaptor



    These various cables should give you the ability to attach the receivers to any AlienBees, White Lightning, or Zeus studio strobe.



    In the larger box there was one receiver, along with everything described above, and the transmitter along with a “cheat sheet” for the various DIP switch positions. On the back of the cheat sheet is a basic "start-up" guideline to follow to ensure proper operation. It’s small enough to put in your wallet or business card holder. Throw it in your bag, or just memorize it. It’s not too much information to retain.

    The units do not come with detailed instructions in the box, but you can download the manuals from their website: http://radiopopper.com

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:19 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  6. #6
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    Overall Impressions:



    So, now that we have all the parts together lets talk about build quality. If you have done any research on these units you might hear some remarks that the build quality/feel is poor. I will admit that the plastic itself has a “thin” feel to it. The best I can compare the feel to would be an old Canon Rebel XT or XTi. You hold it in your hand, and you know it’s not going to break on you, but something about it just feels strange. While it would be nice to get a higher quality feeling plastic, that may bring up the cost by $5-10 per unit and, to me, it would not be worth it.

    The DIP switches on both units have a solid “snap” into position feel. Some may argue that the DIP switches are hard to adjust, but even for a guy who cuts his finger nails to the quick it is not hard to adjust the switches into position. If this will bother you, just bring a pen or tooth pick to make the adjustments easier. You have a choice of 16 different channels depending on the location of the first 4 DIP switches on both the transmitter and receivers. The number of the channel does not matter, just the combination of dip switch locations. Just make sure all your receivers have the same DIP switch combination that your transmitter does and you are good to go.

    The little green light on each of the units lets you know when the units are powered on or off. They can be hard to see in daylight, but I don’t know of many small lights that aren’t hard to see in daylight. Supposedly it is an LED light, which shouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason it is just hard to see. The light itself can also tell you battery life within the unit. If you hit the test fire button next to the light the unit will flash in one of 3 speeds, faster to slower. A slow, constantly blinking light means that your battery life is very low and you should replace the batteries in the unit.

    Speaking of batteries, the JrX system uses CR123A batteries as opposed to AAA or AA batteries like in most other systems. This battery is a bit harder to come by, and certainly more expensive than the standard AA battery, so remember to bring some extras to a shoot or have rechargeable units ready to go. Battery life is said to be about 40-50 hours. From what I can tell, they is no automatic “sleep” mode on these triggers so remembering to turn the units off at the end of the shoot is important. A final note about batteries is that the battery compartment door on both the transmitter and receiver snaps solidly in to place and doesn’t rattle or bulge out because tolerances are too tight. I do not feel that the battery door will be of any issue down the road.

    Transmitter:

    The transmitter mounts directly in the hotshoe of your camera and snaps in to place. It does not have a dedicated “lock” per say but the unit does have safety stops to prevent it from sliding out while shooting. My initial testing showed that it would take nothing short of a paint shaker to get the transmitter to “accidentally” come off your camera. It takes force to get the unit in and out of the hotshoe, so that is very welcoming. The transmitter is very small, easily fitting into the palm of your hand, and light weight. This makes the unit hardly noticeable on top of the camera. There is a small antenna on the bottom of the transmitter, as opposed to the top like other competitor’s products, and to some it is a welcoming little “feature”. No more checking your top LCD screen and getting an eye taken out by the 2 inch antenna coming out of your camera. The antenna’s tolerances are very tight to the camera body, just 1mm in the case of my D300. So watch for that when installing the transmitter on the camera body. If for some reason the unit doesn’t want to fit in the hotshoe, the antenna may be hitting the camera causing it to not seat properly.

    The 3 adjustment knobs on the transmitter are to control the power of up to 3 groups of lights. They are well dampened but their proximity to each other is very close, so you must take caution when making adjustments to your power levels. A slip of a finger could accidentally adjust a group of flashes you didn’t want to change. You can change how these knobs adjust your flash’s power in one of two ways. You can either set them up so their lowest position is your flashes lowest power, or it can be set to turn off the power to the group. This latter option is nice for quick changes to lighting setups. You can individually turn off groups as you desire without walking over to the flash itself and turning it off. This option is selected through the 5th DIP switch on the transmitter. “On” allows the flashes to be turned off with the lowest position, and “off” sets the flashes to their lowest power. In the case of power adjustment, according to Radiopopper, the JrX Studio system can control up to 8 stops of power. That’s from full 1/1 to 1/128. The units were designed around the power of a Nikon SB-800, and every 1/8 turn represents one stop of power. Your measurements may vary depending on the speedlight you choose to use.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:22 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  7. #7
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    Regarding the power adjustments and knobs, there are no indicators on the transmitter body showing the various power levels. I suppose since all flashes are built differently, it would be impossible to trust any predetermined marking on the body. So, you can either just get used to eyeballing the approximate power and dialing it in as necessary, or do a series of tests against an identical light set up for manual power. From here you could make your own markings on the transmitter body to indicate approximate power levels.

    Another nice feature of the transmitter is that it has an external sync port in the form of a 1/8" jack for plugging in a light meter. This jack should offer remote test firing of your flashes for metering purposes. There might be more things this jack has to offer, but I have not explored all the various options. This section may be updated as more information comes in.

    The last DIP switch, number 6, on the transmitter controls how and when the signals are transmitted from the transmitter to the receiver. It is referred to as “Level Updates.” With this option disabled, every time you make an adjustment to the power level the receiver instantly receives the signal and adjusts power. You can actually watch the little green light on the receivers flickering as they receive the information from the transmitter. It is instant transmission of information. With this option enabled, you turn off the ability to adjust the flash power and the lights stay at whatever their last power setting was. How can this be beneficial, you ask? It can work in a situation where two people, each with their own transmitter, are controlling the same lights. Take for example a photographer and an assistant. The main photographer can have level updates enabled allowing for control of the power of the lights. The second shooter disables their level updates option and can only trigger the lights at the power level set by the main shooter. While I can not confirm just what the heck would happen if both shooters had level updates enabled, I can only assume that there would be a huge mis-communication in the system and either you would have erratic power levels coming from your lights, or complete failure to fire. With the system set up as prescribed by Radiopopper the second shooter's transmitter works like a dummy trigger sending out a signal to fire the flashes. This should eliminate any confusion in the system when two photographers are using the same lights.

    Receivers:

    The receivers have a 1/8” jack on the side where you connect to your flash unit. If you are using studio strobes that take a data cable, the phone jack on the side is where you will plug in to. The 1/8” jack port has a very tight fit and a good “snap” to hold the jack in place. You could just hang these receivers by the cord, as I feel this jack won’t let you down, but it would add unnecessary stress to the connections potentially leading to misfires, interrupted signals, or failure to fire. So I recommend either using a small amount of Velcro on the back to mount the receiver to your flash/strobe, or come up with another solution to support the receiver unit by the body. This will eliminate any undue stress and ensure long life out of the receivers. For now, I think I will use a rubber band with a small lanyard attached to it to hang off a light stand. If worse comes to worse, you could always try to drill a small hole in the battery compartment door and feed something through there. But that is entirely up to you.

    The receivers have fixed antennas and they can not be unscrewed to save on packing size. This shouldn’t be a problem as the entire unit, including antenna, fits in to the palm of your hand.

    There are 4 more DIP switches on the receivers in addition to the 4 switches that adjust the channel. Switches 5 and 6 are tied together to designate what group the receiver is set for. There are 4 options to choose from. What you say? 4 options? I thought there were only 3 groups you could control. Yes, this is true. You can control the flash power output of only 3 groups, but you can set up a 4th group as fully manual flash and still trigger them in sync with the other flash units. Pretty cool.

    Dip switch number 7 controls the “Error Checking” option of the receivers. Simply put this switch is designed to control the “junk” radio signals that are floating all around us from accidentally triggering your flashes. The Radiopopper system sends out a specific radio signal and with this switch enabled, the receivers filter out all other radio transmissions looking only for the Radioppopper transmission. There are two cases mentioned in the manual where you may want to turn this option off. One is where you are having issues with syncing your flash to 1/250 shutter speed. Apparently, some Canon bodies have had issues hitting this number, and turning off this option will make the receivers more sensitive to all radio signals, including the Radiopopper signal, allowing for a bit faster triggering. The second case is where you are at the far range of the system’s abilities. You can disable this option in hopes to get a few more meters of usable range but at the expense of potential false triggers. It is up to you.

    The final dip switch, number 8, is to control modeling lamps in AlienBees, White Lightning, and Zeus strobes. With this switch enabled you can have the modeling lamp track with the power adjustments made on the transmitter. This may or may not be of use to those who shoot with modeling lights, but if you are shooting with speedlights, this switch will do nothing for you as the modeling light ability within Nikon’s AWS system is disabled.



    This is how the whole thing goes together. You mount your flash on the DIY "RPcube" and plug that into the receiver. Pretty simple.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-24-2010 at 10:52 AM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  8. #8
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    Testing:

    I have done a few tests with the Radiopopper system that I wanted to bring up. Many people want to know about the reliability of the system they are buying in to: Is the system going to not fire when I want it to? Is the system going to give erratic flash power when triggered? Etc. So I went out and did some field tests in both an “urban” and “rural” environment.



    As you can see from the above photo the “Urban” test was quite stressful for a radio system. I set the flash on the sidewalk approximately 90 feet to one side of the overhead wiring and large meter box. The overhead wires are not just simple telephone lines, but major power lines to the various local businesses and apartment buildings. I walked down this sidewalk taking snap shots of the flash during my tests.

    The “Rural” test was done out at the beach! Hey, it was a beautiful day can you blame me? There were no overhead power or phone lines within eyesight and there were very few people on the beach, so cell phone use was minimal. I felt this would best represent a rural environment without actually driving out to the “boonies.”

    The tests were simple: Set up a flash with a JrX Studio receiver on a tripod mounted to the DIY RPcube for flash power adjustment capabilities. I tested at varying distances firing 10 shots in a row with the final shot being a flash power adjustment to make sure the signals were all being received. Here were the results:



    As you can see from the results above, the system performed flawlessly within Nikon’s AWS maximum range of ~66 feet then continued to perform without much more than a minor hiccup for an additional 150 feet. I never once experienced an accidental full power dump, or erratic flash power levels with this system.

    In the urban tests you can see that minor issues started to arise as I hit the 90 foot (27 meter) mark. This could be because I was standing directly below the overhead power lines and radio interference was messing with the system. This interference is shown in the false triggers I experience at distances between 90 and 180 feet. As I moved further away from the power lines, the false triggers disappeared and reliability stayed very steady with almost 90% of all shots triggering the flash. Considering the level of interference, the system still performed very admirably all the way past 200 feet, however at 240 feet (73 meters) the system lost all communication. I had to move forward about 5 steps to get the system working again firing at an 80% trigger ratio. Does this mean that 225 feet (68 meters) is the maximum range you will get in an urban environment? It would require more testing but I would say that the reliability of the system is dependant on the total amount of radio interference you experience. You may be able to get more range, or less depending on the situation.

    In the rural tests the system performed almost flawlessly at all distances up to 300 feet (91 meters). Once 300 feet was exceeded, the transmitter could not send out strong enough signals to the receiver to fire the flash. You will notice that I had no false triggers in the rural situation indicating I had no radio interference issues. I can not explain the random misfires I experienced in the rural shots, as I gave the flash 5 seconds to recharge between shots, but they were few and far in between.

    What you may notice is that the 240 foot (73 meters) mark caused the system to act it’s least reliably in both the urban and rural testing. Again, I can not explain what caused this phenomenon, but it is worth noting that you may have reliability issues in this range in any shooting situation.

    Another noteworthy observation is the very sharp falloff in triggering when reaching the system’s maximum range. While the system does maintain a very high triggering ratio at almost any distance within its workable range it does not give you any warning that you have gone beyond this distance. If you find yourself far from your lights, it is a smart idea to test the system by pressing the “test” button on the transmitter. This will send the trigger signal to the receivers and fire the flash. If you do not get a flash, it is best to step forward a few steps and test again.

    A final note is in regard to lights that have a “standby” function on them. If you have this option enabled on your lights, pressing the shutter button half way will not wake the lights up. The Radiopopper transmitter does not send out a signal until the shutter is released. If you are unsure if your lights are in standby, you should press the “test” button on the transmitter to send the signal to the receivers. The flash test signal will wake up your lights and you will be ready to go. If you forget to press this test button your first shoot will not have any flash exposure in it. Your second shot will. So, if you have spent some time working with your subject on posing, repositioning your lights, or in general have taken some time between shots, it is wise to just hit the test button to make sure your lights are ready to go.

    To be continued...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 04:48 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Chicago, IL USA
    Posts
    935
    Nikon AWS vs. Radiopoppers JrX Studio:

    I mentioned above that I really liked Nikon’s AWS system, but it had its drawbacks. Since I mentioned I would make that the benchmark on which I would base my tests, let’s go head to head with these two systems now that both have been tested.

    Here is a little table of various options that might be helpful when comparing Nikon’s AWS to the Radiopopper JrX Studio system in an off-camera lighting situation:



    As you can see, the Radiopopper JrX Studio system has a lot of the same features as Nikon’s AWS system, but can be used with more freedom of lighting choices and greater range. While TTL and high-speed sync may be deal breakers to some, there is the Radiopopper PX system which can handle these functions, but it comes at a cost. If you need those capabilities, I highly suggest researching Radiopopper’s PX system and even Pocket Wizard’s systems to find out what is best for you. Which ever system you plan on using remember you will need to purchase the proper speedlights to work within the confines of the system. If you shoot Canon and want to use all the E-TTL functions, you need E-TTL compatible speedlights. The same goes with Nikon and its AWS (i-TTL) compatible speedlights.

    Conclusion:

    The Radiopopper JrX Studio system offers 85% of the functions that Nikon’s CLS has but can allow you the freedom of greater range, greater flexibility (not only in your lighting options but in your ability to work around your subject), and does this all with a cheaper price tag. The overall build quality and professional look of the Radiopopper system leaves hardly anything to criticize. While a higher quality feeling plastic may be a welcoming addition, it is but a small blemish that quickly gets forgotten the second you start shooting. The Radiopopper JrX Studio system offers full power control, upwards of 8 stops, to the remote flash units through 3 different groups by means of simple knobs on the transmitter. A fourth group can also be triggered with this system but it is limited to manual flash power only. Overall test shooting showed excellent reliability (80-90% trigger ratio) up to 225 feet (68 meters) in both urban and rural settings, with rural settings seeing excellent reliability all the way to 300 feet (91 meters). The system never experienced any flash power inconsistencies during any of the tests, and flash power was adjustable at all tested distances. While TTL functions may have been eliminated from this system, the ease of flash power adjustability makes for quick, consistent adjustments in the changing light.

    The system retails as a kit (1 transmitter and 1 receiver) for $159.95 with additional receivers coming in at $99.95 each. The “Basic” system retails for $20 cheaper on both the kit and individual receivers. For more information please visit http://radiopopper.com

    To be concluded...
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-24-2010 at 12:06 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Chicago, IL USA
    Posts
    935
    Final thoughts:

    In the end, I chose to go against Nikon’s Advanced Wireless System because I am not made of money. As beautiful as AWS may be, I would rather have more flashes with greater range and reliability than pay through the nose for expensive flash units that can’t be triggered all that well outside of a studio environment. I have found TTL to be nice for on-camera flash, but inconsistent for off-camera work. I much prefer to have manual power control of my off-camera lights. This makes light ratios very simple to adjust, and control of the ambient light a cinch.

    What most attracted me to the Radiopopper system were the various lighting options you have at your disposal. I do not use studio strobes, but if I want to, I can trigger them with this system. I am not limited to modern, expensive flash units that perform exactly the same as older, cheaper flash units do.

    My lighting setup consists of (1) SB-800 for on-camera i-TTL capabilities and (4) SB-80dx’s for off camera work. The SB-80dx has all the same features as the SB-800 but without the i-TTL capabilities and it costs about 1/3rd the price of the 800. The Radiopopper system can control the power levels of any Nikon TTL flash so your options are very open to cheaper units. If you want to mix and match studio strobes with small flash units, the Radiopopper JrX system can do that as well. The possibilities are almost endless.

    I hope that my long winded tale of the perfect wireless trigger kept you engaged and hopefully helped you in your search. I will again repeat that it is important to have a list of “needs” when searching for a system. The Radiopopper system offers a lot of features, but it does have a cost factor involved. If you are comfortable using manual flash power control and don't need to make adjustments from the camera, the JrX Studio kit is not worth your money. You can look in to the Basic kit, or at other competitor’s products to fit your needs. We are living in a time where competition is driving ingenuity up, and prices down. So do your research and buy with confidence.

    Happy Shooting,
    Tom DeCoste
    Last edited by VTEC_EATER; 03-23-2010 at 05:41 PM.
    Nikon D300 | MB-D10 | Nikkor 12-24/4 | Nikkor 50/1.8 | Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRI | Sigma 18-50/2.8 | SB-800 | SB-80DX (x4) | Radiopopper JrX Studio |

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