Saturday, 13 February 2010

Breaking out of CLS - First Impressions

Don't get me wrong, after struggling with SB-50DX flashes as optical slaves back on my old Nikon D100, I absolutely love the Nikon Creating Lighting System (CLS).  Now I can control all my flashes without ever moving my position, or putting down the wonderous chunk of plastic, metal, glass & silicon cradled in my hands.  It's a lazy photographer's dream. :)

But, CLS does have its limitations.  The biggy being that light (which is a pretty fundamental requirement for CLS) doesn't travel all too well through opaque objects.  If you're shooting an interior, for example, and you want to put a flash outside firing through a window, things can start to get pretty tricky if you want to also trigger flashes inside the room too.  Or, a little simpler, you just want to throw an extra flash behind a couch or under a table to light up the wall behind it a bit.  CLS isn't the ideal solution for these sorts of problems.

So, I finally decided to invest in some wireless radio triggers.  I say invest, but they weren't that expensive.  I'm far too cheap to fork over for PocketWizards just yet, especially as they're still slacking on the Nikon TTL compatible jobbies.

I went for the Yong Nuo RF602 transmitter & receiver (which you may see me refer to throughout the rest of this post as Tx and Rx for the sake of brevity) kit and a couple of extra receivers, which were extremely inexpensive.  The kit, comprising a transmitter, receiver, sync cord and Nikon 10-pin cord, was a mere £28.  Two extra receivers cost me £17.50 each for a grand total of only £63.  Seemed like an absolute bargain to me, a little over a quarter the price of a single PocketWizard transceiver.

As well as the obvious lighting solutions radio that wireless triggers bring, I had another motive for going with this system.  I wanted something that would allow my D200 to fire and take a shot every time I pressed the shutter button on my D300s (I'll explain the how and why of all that lot in another post after I do a bit more research), but so far my tests are showing positive results.

I have to say that I have absolutely zero prior experience with wireless radio triggers for flash.  After reading reviews of intermittent faults with some of the eBay triggers, as well as having to rely on mail systems in the UK and Hong Kong to sort out replacements should something break, I decided to just save up and eventually get some PocketWizards, but then these came along, and from a decent supplier already in the UK too (Scotland, to be precise).

Immediately upon opening the packaging, I was quite struck by how good they look, and how solid they felt; far beyond the quality I had expected.  So, first visual impressions are good.  There was a CR2 battery and a pair of random generic AAA batteries included with the Tx/Rx kit, but no extra batteries with the extra individual receivers.  So, I popped the supplied CR2 into the Tx, and tore open a big pack of Duracell Ultra AAA batteries for the receivers.

The transmitter is pretty basic; trigger button on top with hotshoe and channel selection switches underneath.  There's also a sync socket and an LED on the front indicating transmitter status (green for half-pressed, red for fully pressed).

The receivers have a very solid on/off switch with "ON" written in big letters so there's no confusion as to which way is which, an LED that changes colour depending on the state, and blinks while idle when the system is turned on (just to let you know you've forgotten to turn it off).  The top also contains a hotshoe mount for sliding in your flash, as well as the same channel selection switches as on the Tx.  On the bottom there is a plastic coldshoe for mounting on your brolly adapter or, in the case of the remote camera trigger, your camera's hotshoe mount.  Finally, on the back of the receiver is a 3 pin socket into which you can connect one of various cables for triggering flashes or a camera body (my particular kit came with a sync cable and a 10-Pin Nikon cable, but this may vary, so check which cables your kit comes with before you order).

As mentioned above, one of my reasons for getting these (actually, the main one at the time) was to trigger one camera with another.  So that was my first test.  Initially I hooked up an Rx to the 10-pin port of the Nikon D200 using the supplied cable, and just used the button on the Tx manually.  Half-press, AF light comes on, lens whirs into action.  Full press and the shot is taken, so far so good.

For my next test I put the D200 into full manual mode, 1/250th, f/4, ISO200 with the lens also preset in manual focus mode (the 50mm f/1.8D if anybody's curious).  Then I popped the transmitter into the hotshoe of the D300s.  Half-pressing the shutter release on the D300s body lit up the Tx's LED green to indicate its current half-pressed status, and the LCD on the D200 also indicated that it was in half-press mode by showing me the number of free image slots remaining in the buffer.  Firing the D300s trigger all the way triggered the D200.  Success!

I don't want to get too much into the whole multi-camera thing at the moment, as I said earlier, as I want to do some more testing an research.  In fact, my testing so far is so limited, I don't really want to get into too much of anything other than first impressions and detailing my quick trials of the system.  This was a very brief playing around.  I'll post more on them as I get to use them and really put them through their paces.

Now it's time to test the flashes though. So, Tx on the D300s hotshoe, two SB-900 flashes and an SB-600, each on their own receiver, and fire the shutter.  All three went off, although they were all only about 15ft from the transmitter.  Fire a few more shots, no misfires, still happy.

Now time to do a quick rapid fire test.  D300s, MB-D10 grip, 8xAA batteries, 1/250th of a second, f/4, ISO200 @ 7.7fps.  Held the button down long enough to get about 20 shots, the flashes fired flawlessly every time, not a misfire.  Tried that again a couple more times, again, still not a single misfire.

Just as a sidenote, I use GP 2700mAh AA rechargeable batteries in my MB-D10 grip and Speedlights.  I've always found them to be the most solid and reliable rechargeable AAs, and they've not let me down yet (and they fully charge in only 15 minutes).  I've just ordered some GP 1000mAh rechargeable AAA batteries for the receivers too, so those should be here in a couple of days.

That's pretty much it at the moment.  I did warn you that it was pretty limited testing.  I found that they had been delivered late on Thursday night when I'd arrived home from the Spring Fair at Birmingham, so I was already half asleep when I walked through the door.  Since then I've just been too exhausted/lazy/busy to get them out and really put them through their paces.

I am quite chuffed with these at the moment though, and they seem to work quite well.  I will be getting another Tx/Rx set and a couple more receivers to do some better testing, and to have backups handy, so once I get them and do that testing I'll be updating the blog.

Do be warned that you should remove the CR2 from the Tx after use.  The button on it is kind of sensitive to a half-press (and is essentially the only "on/off switch"), so it can drain the batteries if it gets depressed while being carted around in your camera bag.

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