Mar 16 2011

Poverty Wizards – Ebay Radio Triggers

Posted by Seth in Photography
RD616 Radio transmitters/receivers for flashes

My RD616 radio transmitters/receivers

When I started shooting drag racing back in 2008, I quickly realized that I’d need flashes to complement my photography equipment.  My requirements were to keep it cheap and reliable, which unfortunately in the photography world, do not go hand in hand.

I spent a good bit of time perusing photography catalogs such as B&H, and drooled over the cadillac of radio triggers at the time – Pocket Wizards.  At over $200 per device, though, these were out of the question for me.

I spent a good bit of time reading POTN and Strobist, and decided to go with some Ebay ‘Poverty Wizards’ care of our friends in China.  I went with the RD-616 transmitter/receiver combo, with some modifications.  The original source for my modifications is located here, along with a parts list. I’ll list the components you’ll need anyways (more for my reference, as I keep losing the original link).

  • 433 MHZ Antenna – Digi-Key Part #ANT-433-CW-RH
  • Antenna Connector – Digi-Key Part # CONREVSMA004

Be sure to follow the original instructions regarding wire length to keep the wavelength correct.

My impressions?  I used these triggers for 2.5 full seasons of racing, and for what I paid, they worked (still do work) great.  You have to realize that 433mhz radios around concrete and electronics (read: the drag strip) are doomed for failure, but I learned what I could and could not get away with, and adjusted my techniques. My max sync speed with no banding was 1/250, while I could easily get away with 1/320 as the band would only be the bottom 10% of the frame.  Range was a good 150 feet.  All of the real photogs have pocket wizards and not enough channels to use, with these, I never had any sort of overlap problem.

Here’s a thread on YellowBullet where I was talking to the other guys about how I use my slave flashes..  easier to link than type it all again!! YMMV, that is just the way *I* use them.   Side flashes give me the versatility to shoot at night in many different ways, I’m not just limited to a hotshoe flash with the camera at ISO 5 million.  During the day, they are perfect for fill, removing unwanted shadows from the fronts of cars. Shots come out of the camera great, without having to touch anything up.

Flashes in use at Englishtown

Flashes in use at Englishtown

The Cons: Sync cables.  I think they are a pain in the ass, personally. I found whatever I possibly needed at FlashZebra (don’t get me wrong, the products themselves are GREAT from FZ) but eventually with my hard use and storage of the cables, I’d have to get new ones once a year.  The 1/4″ connection from receiver to flash sync cord is “goofy,” sometimes I would have to rotate them or push on them for the flashes to fire properly. On a windy day, this became annoying, especially if I was far away.  I tried cords that go directly to the sync port on the 285HV’s, hot shoe adaptors, and while they worked 90% of the time, the other 10% when I had to screw with them was annoying.  In cold weather they seemed to get weird on me.  Also, having the transmitter hanging off a sync cord from the camera and dangling by velcro means sometimes I’d knock it off by accident.

If I were in a studio, or inside, these triggers are awesome for the money – I have 2 transmitters and 5 receivers, and I think I paid $80 for everything.  Not bad considering the price tag of Pocket Wizards.   I adapted to them at the drag strip, and yes they worked great, but time to move on.

The future? Some new gear has come out of China since 2008 when I started using radio triggers, I have some new ones on the way and will post up when they are put through my testing.

Lebanon Valley Dragway

Taken from the roof of LVD tower (4 stories)

Tommy Kasper

Flashes in use, night time at MIR World Cup 2010

  • .(don’t mind me, just making space for pics)