If you read my last post on radio flash triggers, you would have gathered that it was time to retire the RD-616’s and pick up some new gear.  I started using the RD-616’s back in 2008, since then the technology and quality of the cheaper radio trigger systems has vastly improved.  I still want to stay away from Pocket Wizard, I simply just can’t afford them and don’t need to have to worry if I will be overlapping channels with anyone.After spending  some time reading Strobist and POTN, I was up to speed on the latest and greatest.  I hit Ebay and picked up some Yongnuo RF-602’s.  Because I have 4 flashes and 2 camera bodies, I picked up one pack with a transmitter and 4 receivers, and 1 extra transmitter. Total cost was about $140 shipped. (edit: go figure, Yongnuo has since released the RF-603’s, which I have not had my hands on)

They arrived from Hong Kong in about two weeks. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty as dozens of people have already reviewed them on various photography review sites – what I will share with you is my impressions of these and why I will be using these from now on.

The Yongnuo’s are solid – great build quality. The showstopper in my case was sync speed.  I shoot fast cars, I need the ability to have a fast shutter speed to stop motion if I want to, and the flashes have to be able to sync. The Yongnuo would sync just as fast  as the RD-616’s at 1/320 without banding when mounted on the hotshoe.  I always shoot with my 580EXII on the hotshoe in case I need some extra fill or I am shooting something that the flashes are not pointed at.  This means the Yongnuo would have to go on top of the flash and connect via PC cord, like I did with the RD-616.

Unfortunately for me, the Yongnuo’s have a wakeup  function where if the transmitter is in the hotshoe, and you half-press the shutter, it (this is my terminology) prepares the receiver for the upcoming signal, or wakes up the flash if it’s asleep.  The 1/320 sync speed I enjoyed on the hotshoe dwindled down to 1/200 when connected via PC port.  Coupled with the funny batteries on the transmitter, no locking collar on the transmitter, and not being able to reach the power switches when a flash is mounted – showstopper for me.

Don’t get me wrong – these are great radios, if you’re not running around a drag strip and needing high sync speed. I  HIGHLY recommend these for just about everyone besides myself.  (edit: go with the Yongnuo RF-603’s if you want to have a flash connected to a hotshoe-mounted transceiver.  However, they STILL don’t have locking collars – WTF Yongnuo?)

Phottix Stratto 4-in-1 Boxes

Dejected that the highly regarded RF-602’s wouldn’t work for me, it was back to the drawing board.  After lots more reading, the next system to try was the relatively new Phottix Strato 4-in-1.  Like the Yongnuo RF-602’s, this system also operates at 2.4ghz, as opposed to 433mhz like my old RD-616’s.

The benefits of the Phottix Strato’s over the Yongnuo’s are:

I ordered them on the 3rd of March and they arrived from HK on the 17th.  Total cost for 2 transmitters and 4 receivers from the Phottix store: $280.  Ouch.Testing Results  Scenario 1:Canon 40D, Transmitter on hotshoe

Results: Full sync at 1/250 and 1/320.  What I call ‘good enough sync’ at 1/400, good enough meaning I can shoot a car a little wide if I want, and the dark band will be on the drag strip – no big deal.    I’m very happy with these results – I now can sync at a higher speed than I previously could with the RD616’s.  FYI 1/500 looks like this.  On top of that, NO sync cords and a fully capable ETTL 580EXii on the hotshoe.  Scenario 2:Canon 40D, Phottix Strato connected via PC port

Results: Full sync at 1/250 . An extremely minute bit of shutter encroachment at 1/320, and a tiny bit more of it at 1/400 versus connected to the hotshoe. 1/500 looks like this. Again, I’m happy with the results, as the Yongnuo RF-602’s could not sync past 1/200 via the PC port. It seems that Phottix has figured out how to get around that ‘wake-up lag’ and go straight to firing, a big feature over the Yongnuo’s in my book.  Luckily, due to the trusty hotshoe on top of the transmitter, I won’t be using the PC port on the transmitter any time soon!Scenario 3: Canon Rebel XTi (400D) with Phottix Strato on the hotshoe (remember, XTi’s don’t have PC ports)Results: No need for pics. Same results as the 40D connected via PC port. Barely noticed banding at 1/320.  Not bad!

 Overall impressions The Strato’s are everything I was looking for, and even at double the price of Yongnuo RF-602’s, they are still worth it in my book.  Equivalent Pocket Wizard equipment would cost over $1000.  I bought them direct from the Phottix Store.  When you buy the transmitter + receiver combo, it comes with a shutter release cable specific to your body- it does not mean that a transmitter branded as 400D compatible will not work on a 40D hotshoe.Note that after all of this, Yongnuo released the RF-603’s.  Like the Strato’s, they also have full TTL passthrough to a flash on the hotshoe.  Great! Except they still forgot a mechanism to lock the transmitter on the hotshoe – WTF ???  The price is still great, but I can’t use them because I’m running around a drag strip all day and don’t need my $400 flash flying off the top of the camera body.