Strobe Slave: Infrared vs True Radio TTL

There are so many brands and models of radio transmitters out on the market today. PocketWizards, RadioPoppers, CyberSyncs, FreeXwire, Skyport and more… All share one thing with each other. They transmit their signal through the radio waves. Each also has an advantage or disadvantage with one another. RadioPoppers pack a range of 1500 feet even when the average photographer may only need a distance of 100 feet. Why not, right? PocketWizards have proven themselves over and over again since the birth of sliced bread and they ‘only’ reach 300 feet.

Now many photographers who purchase these triggers are using them to avoid using their branded TTL slaves that Nikon & Canon built in to their systems. TTL is great for a quick snapshot but not when a professional photographer really wants to control the lighting from the bottom up. Most photographers who use these trigger put their strobes on manual and adjust in such small increments and even huge steps to achieve the most accurate light to their desire.

However, there are still a large number of photographers that really do love to utilize the TTL system of their cameras. In fact, there are even well known professionals like Joe McNally who really promote the use of the branded TTL system. Joe utilizes Nikon TTL system and pushes it to the limits. Joe manages to create light that makes you really think how he did it. Fortunately, Joe McNally is also the type of person who loves sharing what he did, how he did it and will even teach you to do it the same. We should all be thankful for people like Joe McNally, David Hobby & David Tejada for sharing their thoughts and teaching us all through their blogs and workshops.

Nikon SU-800

Keeping in mind that RadioPopper’s ‘thing’ is to give you radio signal and leaving the TTL available for the photographer. They released their first product a while ago which utilized a fiber optic cable which must be placed over the infrared port of your strobes. This would allow the RadioPopper to read the TTL signal and transmit the data. The problem with this is that you must rely on your infrared yet again and a fiber optic cable. People were running into problems with the cable moving or too much ambient light getting in the mix causing the signal to get misread or not read at all. People would make their own mods with tape, velcro, cloth materials and more in order for the insurance of accuracy.

Moving right along… The main reason for this blog post is that yesterday RadioPopper announced their new system. A system which was talked about for a long time and rumors were popping up, and exclusive reviews were popping up. All we were hearing was that it would blow everything out of the water. You would never need for mods or extra cables again. Well, RadioPopper announced their new X system with a huge flaw in my eyes. It still relies on the infrared signal but instead of a fiber optic cable it mounts flush to the strobe. However, they did add some extra sweet features like compatibility with non-TTL strobes and Alienbees. So I’m not saying the RadioPoppers are bad because all the reviews have been amazing since the beginning. I’m just saying I don’t like relying on infrared signals. So please don’t take this as a RadioPopper hate post. This is just my view on things.

The solution. Let’s start with the camera body. A Nikon for instance. The camera body sends its TTL signal to the hot shoe which passes it through to the TTL transmitter (Nikon SU-800) which then would typically flash its IR (infrared) signal into the world. For those who say that the IR must go through the infrared and not the hot shoe. I already proved you wrong. How does the signal GET to the infrared transmitter? Through the hot shoe!

PocketWizard MultiMax TTL

Step One: Design a transmitter (brand specific) that is hot shoe mounted with an LCD for control just like the PocketWizard MultiMax. This will give you the full TTL control over the lighting.

I know, you’re asking what about the Strobe side of things? How can the TTL signal go through the PC port of the strobe. It can’t, which is why we go back to the trusty hot shoe that I’ve been stressing. Strobists all over the world have been buying up the light stand / umbrella mount to use their strobes with. Most current shoe mount strobes come with a light stand adapters which would screw onto their light stand / umbrella mounts. What if you didn’t use that? What if what you used was the receiver portion of this TTL radio kit that screws onto your light stand mount and your Strobe slides right onto the receiver? Sort of like Nikon SU-4 but fancier and more technical.

Nikon SU-4

Step Two: Design a receiver (brand specific) that is light stand adaptable with its own TTL hot shoe. This will give you the full TTL transmission both direction to and from the receiver.

Wait… did I just invent something? Unfortunately no I did not. This is something that has been in the works for quite some time now from a few companies. And the best part is that it will be affordable for most. The new RadioPopper X system costs $250 for the transmitter and another $250 for each receiver. The ever so popular PocketWizard Plus II’s sell for $185 and one unit acts as either a transmitter or a receiver.

Imagine buying a PocketWizard TTL transmitter for $200 and then as many TTL receivers for $200. You then have the reliability of a PocketWizard for an easier price than the RadioPoppers.

But this is just my rant. Don’t listen to me.


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