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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Phottix Strato II Radio Triggers

I don't tend to do gear reviews. One because I'm not really a gear head. I tend to buy equipment and use it as it was designed, a tool to help me create images that I love. And two, I'm not particularly technically minded when it comes to that equipment. I don't read DXO charts when evaluating lenses or cameras. I give them a whirl and pick the ones I like the best.

But every so often I come across a piece of gear that intrigues me and I lay down some cold, hard cash to figure out if they're as good as they seem. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

In this particular case I definitely got it right. As long-time readers of this blog will know I fell in love with off-camera flash a couple of  years ago after being converted by David Hobby over at Strobist. Not much revolutionary there - many of us followed the same path.

But I was always a TTL guy. Before I really knew what I was doing I bought the Canon infrared trigger (known as the ST-E2) and have been using it pretty successfully for a number of years. Sure it has its limitations but Syl Arena's book  Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon  Speedlites showed me what I could do with a long TTL cord from Flashzebra.com. (Wow I think I've just mentioned more gear in one paragraph then I usually do in a whole year!)

Anyway for the most part I was managing to work around its limitations. But I had an environmental portrait shoot the other day where I needed to light the inside of an ambulance whilst the portrait subject was outside the ambulance. And I found it really difficult to get line-of-sight with that interior flash and ended up having to put it in not-quite the optimum position. It still worked OK in the end thanks to a bit of ingenuity but I thought 'there's got to be a better way'.

But I didn't want to sacrifice the advantages of TTL and run everything manually off radio triggers. And I couldn't justify spending a small fortune to have a whole series of Radio Poppers. I sat down and worked out what I really needed, and that was a TTL fired key light and fill, with the option to manually trigger background lights in awkward places. But I couldn't find anything that would let me do that.

Until I stumbled across these. Again, I'm not the most technical of photographers so forgive me if I mess up the mechanics of how these babies work but in a nutshell they have some sort of TTL pass-through system which lets you place the trigger on the hotshoe of your camera and the receiver on a remote flash. The remote flash will be fired in Manual mode by the radio signal from the trigger. No biggie there - that's how all radio triggers work.

But here's the thing that I fell in love with - the trigger (which is on my camera) has a hotshoe on the top of it into which I can then plug a TTL flash or a TTL trigger. So I can fire my TTL flashes the same as I always have, whilst at the same time firing hidden flashes manally. A beautiful combination of TTL and radio trigger technology.

It's enabled me to pull a couple of Canon 540EZ flashes (which don't work in TTL on digital cameras) out of my cupboard and bring them into my speedlite line-up. And it works brilliantly. I've tested them successfully up to about 100 metres or so through walls not a problem. I can't wait to think of new compositions I can make now that I'm not limited to only using line-of-sight flashes but still having the convenience of using TTL for those flashes that are close to the camera.

Oh, and the triggers can also be used to remotely fire the camera. I haven't thought of a way to utilise that function yet but believe me I've got the thinking cap on!

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