This isn’t going to be a detailed operational review of these transceivers, those already exist on the internet, however this is a quick review of Cactus V6 on the job. First a little back story as to why I even bought the Cactus V6 transceivers. I’ve actually been a Radiopopper user for quite some time. I usually use the JrX Studio series but also own the PX system. Love the JrX triggers but the PX triggers have been a continuous source of frustration for me. I prefer manual flash control anyway but sometimes TTL comes in handy.
In the post prior to this one you saw some digital images of Greta that I used flash with. It was a windy day so light modifiers were going to be out the window for this session. My plan was to use one flash off camera and one on camera with the PX system. The off camera flash would be my main light and the on camera flash would just open up the shadows a bit and all done TTL. It worked great….for the first 15 minutes of the session. Then the remote trigger just quit firing. They had fresh batteries and were indicating they were getting the signal but it wasn’t firing the flash. Thankfully I had brought the JrX remotes as backup and quickly switched over to them and did the rest of the two hour session without a hiccup. However this also meant no on camera flash to open up the shadows. I successfully worked around the issue but you know, sometimes you just need that on camera flash working along with an off camera unit or two or three. For example during a wedding reception it is almost a requirement.
So off to the internet I went in search of the holy grail. Radiopopper has a new unit which looks awesome and would still operate my Alien Bees but no flash on camera abilities unless of course you rig up a flash bracket deal. I hate flash brackets! I had avoided the Chinese flash triggers because of early quality issues but Cactus seemed to be improving their offerings and the V6 triggers caught my eye. The price was more than right and I could use an on camera flash with them. With an overnight delivery bringing a pair to me on Friday, I tested them on Saturday and used them on Sunday for an outdoor portrait session.
One gottcha and a word to the wise, do a firmware update as soon as you get your transceivers. The gottcha is you can only update with a Windows computer and not a Mac. I only use Macs. Uggh!!! My Nikon SB900s did not work correctly with the units but I had already read that the firmware update would fix that. Well it wouldn’t fix it in time for my Sunday photo session so out came the SB800s. Yippie, worked like a charm! I was ready but I packed the Radiopopper JrX system in the bag as backup.
My plan for the session was to keep it simple. I knew going in this was going to be a one hour, full speed sprint of a photo shoot so I had one flash on a stick shooting through an umbrella and a flash on my camera using the TTL passthrough technology of the Cactus V6. The flash on the stick was attached to the second of my two Cactus units running on group A. The flash on group A is a manually adjusted flash not TTL. Cactus by their design are not TTL units, they just offer the TTL passthrough feature for the on camera flash. My subjects arrived and it was off to the races with two children that didn’t want to be there. One was sick and the little boy just wanted to run not sit still for some silly photographs. Did I mention I only had an hour?
How did the Cactus V6 do? It never missed a beat. I had very little time to make adjustments and no time for anything to go wrong. They fired every time. Why was the TTL passthrough so important? During this session I was shooting my subjects in one direction when another photo opportunity suddenly happened behind me. With only seconds to respond I spun around and took the shot of my very backlit subjects. The TTL flash allowed me to get the photo which otherwise would have been missed. Awesome! Adjustments of power to the remote flash were easily done with the easily understood layout of the device. Adjustments to the on camera flash were done on the flash itself since it was in the TTL passthrough mode. If you don’t select the passthrough mode you can adjust the flash through the Cactus that is acting as the transmitter.
So I was a happy photographer but I still wanted to make sure they would work with my SB900 flashes. A friend of mine kindly hooked them up to her PC and we did the latest updates. Easy enough. I came home and hooked up the SB900 flashes and Houston we have ignition! They worked perfectly. Now here is the discovery! This is not listed as a capability in the instruction manual but it indeed works. If you put the on camera flash in the TTL passthrough mode with the transmitting Cactus, in this case I was using the SB900, and then put the flash unit in it’s Commander mode, you can shoot using a combination of the Cactus system and the Nikon wireless system. I am sure it would work for Canon too. The photo of the Cactus V6 and the Radiopoppers were shot this way. I had one SB900 attached to a V6 in remote mode. I had the other SB900 attached to the second V6 which was acting as the transmitter. This was in the hotshoe of my camera. This flash was put in the TTL passthrough mode via the V6 giving it full TTL capabilities and then the flash itself was put into Nikon’s built in Commander mode. That flash fired a third flash, which was an SB800 set up as a remote via Nikon’s wireless system. I was able to fire all three flashes at once. The transmitting Cactus adjusted the power of the first SB900 which was attached to the receiving Cactus and the on camera SB900 adjusted the SB800 and itself through it’s Commander mode. I hope that all made sense. Way freaking cool!
I like the Cactus units a lot and will do some more experimenting with them. If something ugly shows up I will let you know. So far the only thing I don’t like is the PC only firmware updating. There site says they are looking into a possible Mac solution. Also be aware these are not small units so they will take up more space in a camera bag but compared to my Radiopopper JrX units, I don’t need a bag of wires to hook these up. Plug and play!
That is it for now…except I want a couple more of these things.