I just received a couple of sets of Yongnuo RF-602 Wireless Remote Control units in the mail. I got them primarily to use for triggering my off-camera flashes and as an added bonus they can also be used to wirelessly trigger a camera including activating an autofocus lens prior to the shutter being released. Professional photographers (also known as photographers with an equipment budget) usually choose PocketWizard brand radio triggers for their paid gigs and no serious (or semi-serious) trigger review can get by without at least mentioning PocketWizards as the standard by which all other wireless remotes are measured. Most people will tell you that if you can afford the PocketWizards to just go ahead and buy them and have no more worries.
In case you are not aware of the cost, the current price of a PocketWizard Plus II Transceiver/Relay Radio Slave – Combined Transmitter or Receiver in One Unit is $169. The thing you need to remember is that you need at least two units to do anything, which is basically to trigger your flash units (or camera) with solid reliability over ridiculously long distances while never being bothered about tripping over a bunch of messy sync cables.
For those of us without expense accounts or annual hardware budgets, there are inexpensive though “somewhat” unreliable flash triggers that can be purchased under various brand names from online retailers and auction sites. Low cost, sketchy construction and the reliability of a love stricken teenager have given them affectionate nicknames such as “PovertyWizards” and “FleeBay Triggers.” The good news is that there are a lot more choices now than in the past for budget priced flash triggers. Since my old Cactus V2 units were getting long in the tooth and didn’t seem to be cutting the flash mustard for outdoor shoots; I decided to go in search of the illusive, legendary, low cost and reliable remote flash trigger. If I want it bad enough and have faith it must exist.
A good place to start looking for anything related to flash photography is over at the strobist group on www.flickr.com where you will find lots of useful information along with colorful opinions about what works and what does not. The Yongnuo 602 triggers seemed to be getting the most chatter lately so after careful consideration and the realization of my lack of available funds for anything more expensive, I decided to order a couple of sets of the Yongnuo remotes and test them for myself.
I guess if you somehow stumbled over here by accident you might be asking, “Why do I need wireless flash triggers anyway?” Simple – there are no wires; and no wires means you can put your lights almost anywhere you want to without being restricted to the length of a sync cord or even tripping over the wire and knocking over your expensive flash or precious camera. Without wires you have better working range and greater flexibility so you can back up or move around easily. You can also put the flash behind things or even outside a closed window, which is sort of like having the power to walk through walls. Trust me, wireless triggers are a good thing and you want them. With Nikon cameras and dedicated flashes we have something called the Creative Lighting System or CLS for short. It works great in places where the flashes can directly “see” another flash on the camera that is set to send command signals with exposure information from the camera metering system or in other setups where the camera command signals can bounce off of walls or ceilings to be seen when the flash units do not have a direct line of sight. CLS works great for a lot of applications but has some limitations like range and the need for a direct (or semi direct) line of sight in order to communicate with the on camera commander flash or dedicated commander unit. In case you have not already guessed, you need Nikon flashes to use the CLS system.
In this review I am going to be talking about using the RF-602 with Nikon cameras and flashes in manual mode. Specifically the Nikon D300 camera and Nikon SB600 flash units. The Yongnuo transmitters and receivers come in different versions, which basically relate to the pin configuration on the camera hot shoe and the matching foot on the remote transmitter and receivers. There is supposed to be a wake-up function for flash units that have a standby or power saving option and that requires the correct pin layout to be able to communicate with the flash. My initial test of that function using an SB600 flash failed. The work around for now is to disable the standby mode in the custom setting menu on the flash. I hate to say it but that particular “feature” on the SB600 flash is more trouble than it is worth. When used directly on the camera the flash wakes up whenever you half-press the shutter release and it should work the same way on the triggers as well, or at least that is what I was led to believe based on the RF-602 instruction manual. I doubt if there is actually much of a savings in battery power using the standby mode unless you were to inadvertently leave the camera on all day and night. Just remember to turn off the standby mode on the SB600 and everything should be fine. If I find a better solution I’ll post an update. I suspect the problem is with the receiver wiring to the hot shoe because the half press function works fine when used with the 3 pin shutter release cable and the indicator light on the receiver turns green when the shutter is pressed half way.
I did send an email to Yongnuo asking about the wake up feature and got a response back that basically asked me to try it on a different flash like an SB800. I don’t happen to have one of those handy at the moment and I’m not likely to be buying one in the future since they have been discontinued by Nikon. I may try to borrow one sometime soon just to satisfy my own curiosity. I’m pretty confident that it will not work on the hot shoe either but I have a feeling that if I had a three pin to pc sync port cable that it would. The three pin connector seems to be wired correctly but the hot shoe does not. That’s my theory but if I was truely adventurous, I would take one of the receivers apart and verify my suspicions.
I sent another email to Yongnuo this afternoon because when I was doing my range tests today the metal foot came off of the transmitter when I tried sliding it on to the camera hot shoe. I was a little confused at first and thought that the pins where sticking out of the base too far so I looked over at the hot shoe on the camera and saw that the metal foot from the transmitter was still in the hot shoe and that the three screws used to hold it to the transmitter casing had come out inside the transmitter. I was sort of in disbelief for a few seconds until I remembered that these are inexpensive Chinese remotes. Of course something is going to go wrong, that’s just part of the deal. I decided that this would at least be a good test for Yongnuo’s customer service department but I was a little unhappy to have my plans for the rest of the sunny afternoon interrupted by a defective piece of equipment.
Back to the range testing… Preliminary tests in front of my high rise building last night showed reliable triggering at 120 feet. When I got up this morning I did a scan from my front window and found 47 wireless network signals. I don’t know if these two things are related or not but it seemed worth noting that radio interference may affect range and reliability. Based on the results that other people have posted online, I decided to retest in a different location. I went over to Forest Park where there are a couple of big soccer fields surrounded by more open space. I brought along a thirty-foot tape measure and put a Sunpak 383 flash on a light stand so it was about four feet off the ground. Since I was by myself I had to walk back and forth to move the flash but it was a nice day so I didn’t really mind. I was able to fire consistently at 250 feet holding the transmitter in my hand.
Some people claim that the range is increased when you touch the transmitter because your body acts as an additional antenna. I’m not sure if that is true or not and since the metal mounting plate fell off the trigger I was not able to verify that the shutter was actually syncing beyond 200 feet even though the flash continued to fire when I measured it for the last time at 250 feet. In fact I could fire the flash with just the transmitter in my hand all the way from goal to goal. Unfortunately I didn’t measure that distance and when I went to check the standard dimensions for a soccer field online, I found out that soccer fields actually vary depending on where they are. It’s no wonder that soccer is not the national sport here.
The bottom line is that I am very happy with the increase in range of these remotes over my Cactus V2 triggers. I’m sure that everyone will have slightly different results depending on their local conditions anyway, not to mention a few people who are prone to making wildly exaggerated claims to impress their internet peers. I don’t have a lens long enough to really need that much range but on the other hand I would not want to be constantly working at the limit of useable range either. It’s good to have more range than you need or think you need.
I’ve already hinted at quality concerns. Some people may want to compare the RF-602 remotes to the Cactus triggers which up until recently were among the favorite choices for inexpensive remote flash triggers. One thing I didn’t like was the little swivel foot on the Cactus triggers and I was sure that one day I would break one by accidentally over-tightening it in an effort to support the weight of the flash (so far so good). On the RF-602 I’m not wild about the little battery (trap) door on the transmitter but at least it has a door so you don’t need a screwdriver just to change the battery. It’s hard to say if one or the other of these kits could stand up better to abuse. It’s like asking which would bruise easier, an apple or a pear? I’m sure the answer is both. I guess the idea is that these remotes are cheap enough to be easily replaced when the time comes. My recommendation is to use some of the savings from your low cost triggers to buy a backup set so that when one of the receivers or transmitter units eventually fails (possibly on the first day out) that you are not out of business.
The RF-602 remotes have several features I like. The direct mount to a hot shoe means I don’t have to buy any additional connectors or cables. In fact I was happy to discover that these units ship with a couple of useful cables as part of the kit. What kind and how many may vary depending on who your supplier is and what brand of camera you order them for. Be sure to verify what is included in your order when you buy anything online. I was a little suspicious about the quality of the cables before I saw them but for the money I think they are actually pretty nice. I’m hoping they hold up in use but since most people will be using the remotes primarily for hot shoe flashes the cables should not be a problem.
I also like the lower profile of the RF-602 receivers compared to the Cactus V2 for using on umbrella mounts so that the flash sits a little closer to the center of the light modifier. For some reason it just looks a little more professional and less prone to accidental movement.
It’s pretty cool that this set can also function as a wireless shutter release (or cable-less cable release if you prefer). Unfortunately the length of your exposure is going to be limited to 30 seconds because the transmitter does not lock the shutter when in bulb mode. You could hold the button down on the transmitter for thirty minutes to take star trail photos but I’m guessing you wouldn’t enjoy that very much and at the same time it would kill your batteries. For most things short of 30 minute bulb exposures I usually get by with just using the cameras self timer. I think the remote shutter release might be very useful for sporting events where you could place a remote camera near a goal line to take a wide shot at the same time you where taking a close-up with a long lens on another camera.
I also like the function lights on the 602 transmitters and how the flashing light on the receiver reminds me that it is still turned on. The switch on the receiver is flush and has a solid feel when you turn the unit on or off, plus it is clearly labeled so there is no guessing which direction is off or on unlike the tiny switch on the Cactus receivers.
The hot shoe on the receivers is brand specific and the lock on my SB600 flash works well with those. On the Cactus V2 there was a real danger of the flash sliding out of the hot shoe because there is no hole for the locking pin. My Sunpak flash has a little locking wheel that works fine on just about anything so there are no problems with the Cactus V2 if you have that sort of arrangement on your flash
Another interesting feature is that it looks like it is possible to use two transmitters on different channels as a radio relay or signal repeater to increase your effective trigger range, though this is probably going to reduce your maximum sync speed at the same time. Since my second transmitter fell apart today I won’t be able to test this trick feature but others have and say it works. I can’t say how or when that might be useful but it sounds pretty cool.
Another hot topic of discussion of discussion when it comes to wireless flash triggers is maximum sync speed or the maximum shutter speed that can be used when taking flash photos. Basically the shutter has to be open at the same time that the flash goes off. It’s actually a little more complicated than that because most camera shutters have what is known as front and rear curtain shutters. In simple terms this means that the shutter opening is really a moving slit that travels across the frame and in order to get a proper exposure the flash has to fire between the time that the first curtain opens and the second curtain closes. That timing in what really determines the maximum sync speed.
Many people seem to be confused about why the flash triggers do not seem to be able to sync above a certain shutter speed on different brands of cameras. The short answer is that sync speed is limited by the maximum sync speed of each camera. On the Nikon D300 the maximum sync speed is 1/250th of a second. There are times when it does not seem to work at the stated maximum sync speed and the most common cause generally appears to be low or weak batteries in the transmitter or receivers of the wireless remote system. Electrical interference and physical obstructions may also prevent syncing the flash at the maximum available speed.
The main thing to remember is that you are not going to be able to sync correctly at a shutter speed that is higher than what the camera manufacturer states as the maximum. There may be some crazy exceptions to the rule if the specifications actually lean to the conservative side in favor of reliability. I decided to run another unscientific test for maximum sync speed and grabbed my trusty old retired Nikon D70 out of the closet. The D70 has a maximum sync speed of 1/500th of a second because of its electronic shutter. I tested the D70 at 1/500th with the Yongnuo triggers and got perfectly synced photos with no problems working indoors at close range. That was not a very demanding test but it did show that the system was able to sync to the maximum available speed with that camera. Yongnuo claims the ability to sync up to 1/250th second but the triggers do not seem to be a limiting factor if the camera has a higher sync speed available.
Something else that other reviews have pointed out is the need to be cautious about using older high voltage flashes with the RF-602 triggers. I guess you will have to read the specifications for your older flashes or have them tested to see if they exceed the allowed voltage for the Yongnuo remotes. I’ve already had the pleasure of blowing up all my old flashes so I can’t help you sort out any compatibility issues. The rule seems to be never to mount anything on the RF-602 receivers that you wouldn’t dare to mount directly on your camera.
My initial conclusion (barring any troubles getting my defective transmitter replaced) is that the RF-602 transmitter and receivers are a big improvement over my old Cactus V2 wireless flash triggers. For occasional use they may be all you ever need to control your off-camera flashes in manual mode. For prime time use they might still keep me awake at night worrying about what could go wrong on the next day’s photo shoot but to offset my concerns I could probably afford to purchase a spare set (or two) of the RF-602 wireless triggers and still be under the cost of a set of PocketWizards, Cybersyncs, or RadioPopper remotes.