Imagine my surprise about a week ago when my friend Jody over at Roberts Distributors here in Indianapolis called and asked if I wanted to review a new piece of equipment for him that they were thinking of becoming a dealer of. Of course I said yes! Especially since it was to write a review for the RadioPopper PX system. If you don’t know what that system is, check out the link because it’s a really interesting technology that totally baffled me as to how it really worked. It’s not complicated to use though, in fact that’s exactly the opposite, being very intuitive considering it uses the flash units exactly as they are designed to be used. This is unlike the Pocket Wizard beta Flex units that I tested last year, which as production models are still are incredibly effective and awesome but they change your work flow a little bit in order to be that way. The Radiopopper system comes with a piece of velcro, and that’s all you really need to get started. (Only of course if you’re smarter than I am.) As usual though, as a fair warning to people that do read this blog and are not epic photo nerds, this is about to be a very technical, very image heavy blog. If you don’t like the technical readings, then I hope you at least like the pictures. On another note I’d like to mention that I am in no way being compensated or paid for this review by either Roberts Distributors OR Radiopopper other than the opportunity to try some equipment that I don’t currently own.
Onward to the nitty gritty. So yea, It took me about 45 minutes to get the system set up straight out of the box. I commend RadioPopper for being green by having all of their instructional material online instead of printing manuals. This saves on paper for manuals, as well as it makes the box smaller. Nice work RadioPopper. Instead of fumbling through instructions they simply tell you how to set up the system via video, showing you what you need to do from right out of the box, to shooting. It only takes a couple of minutes actually, and is really pretty awesome. Problem is that I didn’t watch this video right away I just tried to make it work. In my defense, if a package is labeled for Nikon it should come programmed to work with Nikon equipment. It turns out there is a hardware mode in the menu that allows you to program the units for Canon, or Nikon use. WAIT, WHAT?! CANON OR NIKON? I’ll come back to that later…
(Nikon D3s, 800ISO, Nikon AFS28-70F2.8@56mm, 1/100th@F4.5. Nikon SB900 Set to master with a RadioPopper PX Transmitter on the camera set to not fire, Nikon SB-900 Speedlight inside the box set to group A iTTL +1 with a RadioPopper PX Receiver to fire it.)
Yup. Like any respectable photographer the first thing I did was take a photo of my cat. Not exactly, in fact I hate when photographers do stuff like that but after 45 minutes of struggling to get the units to work until I was smart enough to watch the instructions; I just wanted to shoot something and she was an easy target. No, this is not going to be a blog filled with cat photos, but as it was my first experience with the units, I thought I’d post it on here; especially since they performed flawlessly. I was very impressed. The units responded just as though they were being controlled via the line of sight infra red that they normally functioned under. Exactly what I was looking for, especially since I was going to take them on assignment the next day.
(Nikon D3s, 1600ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2N@200mm, 1/1250th@F5. Nikon SB-900 SPeedlight on the camera set to Master iTTL-1 shot at a 45 degree angle up above the swimmer with a RadioPopperPX transmitter attached. Single Nikon SB-900 Speedlight) on the far side of the pool zoomed to 200mm set to iTTL +2 shot back towards me aimed down at the water fired by a RadioPopperPX Reciever)
In this instance I ran into a few issues with the units, but nothing insurmountable. I was only given one PX Reciever and one PX transmitter to evaluate so right off the get-go I was sort of limited as to what I could do, but in the end I was pleased with this shot. In terms of the units, from time to time my far SB-900 wouldn’t fire leaving my frame about a 1/3 stop dark. I jiggled the Transmitter a little bit and that seemed to fix the problem in all cases. It could have either been the transmitters placement on my flash, or it could have been the batteries in my far speedlight. Not real sure, but it wasn’t very tragic. In this case, the light did exactly what I wanted. It highlighted the swimmer with a bit of a backlight, while also providing me with a fast enough shutterspeed to freeze her and the water. The image is sharp, the client is happy. Sounds like a victory to me. I continued to test the transmitter and receiver unit from various angles and distances around the pool and more often than not I had a bad angle against my light or I was just shooting stupid as opposed to the units malfunctioning or mis-performing. Later that afternoon I also shot some Exercise bikers using slow sync, and the units also performed exactly as expected freezing the parts of the frame that I wanted, yet leaving me a motion blur where I wanted it.
(Nikon D3s set to -0.3EV, 200ISO, Nikon AFS50F1.4, 1/8000th@F2. Nikon Sb-900 Speedlight on the camera set to master iTTL -3 pointed at the Bennett family with a RadioPopperPX Transmitter velcroed to the top, Single SB-900 Speedlight about 10 feet to camera right zoomed to 200mm set to group A, iTTL +2 shot through a 32″ translucent umbrella for fill.)
This is the Bennett Family. This is their first home. They were interviewed for a section that I believe is running today in the zone sections in the Indystar in the Tour of Affordable homes section. It was strange doing this photoshoot as growing up in Rockford Illinois I lived in a house that was almost identical. Even down to the Color. They were a very nice family, and they too were impressed by the function of the RadioPopperPX system….. Ok well, maybe they were more impressed by the fact that I carried 3 bags, and a toolbox into their house and really didn’t use anything but the Radiopopper PX system and the two speedlights. OR, maybe I’m just confusing their excitement about being in the paper after achieving their goal of purchasing this home with my impressions of how the Radiopoppers worked. There were a few frames that the flash didn’t fire in this case, but that was a recycle thing and not a Radiopopper thing. In this case in broad daylight the radiopoppers didn’t disappoint yet again. Keeping with the high speed sync, and consistently firing with the iTTL in the daylight. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a sunny, or cloudy day so there was no epic sky to show with this family’s first home. It was really just grey, but that’s ok as I had something more colorful in mind for later anyway.
(Nikon D3s, 1,000ISO, Nikon AFS28-70F2.8@28mm, 1/320th@f5. Nikon SB-900 on camera set to not fire in master mode aimed to camera left with a RadioPopperPX transmitter velcroed to the top. Single Nikon SB-900 Speedlight to about 8 feet camera right zoomed to 200mm with a snoot aimed directly at Bryan’s face. The unit was set to iTTL +/-0 wearing a 1/2CTO fired by RadioPopperPX reciever.)
When I did the Pocketwizard Flex Beta unit review I was required to build a few shoots as nothing that I shot could be published until I was given the go ahead by LPA Designs. In this case, Radiopoppers have been around for a while so I could shoot some newspaper assignments. Usually the newspaper isn’t looking for things as colorful as I like to make them so I set this up. This is my pal Bryan from the Indianapolis Star. I set this up, and it took about 15 minutes to take. I wish I would have been able to use a second light to do more with his BMW, but as I mentioned earlier I was only provided a single receiver, and single transmitter to test, and adding lights not controlled via RadioPoppers for this review wouldn’t have been fair. Anyway, I digress. As I was saying this shot only took about 15 minutes from set up to tear down. The Radiopopper PX system once again did it’s job with no unnatural arguments; even with the Gels; just like the Nikon CLS would perform. (Unnatural arguments being anything other than a brain fart from myself…) Speaking of brain farts from myself…
(Canon 5D Mark II, 200ISO, Canon EF100mmF2.8Macro, 1/500th@F20. Canon 580EX Speedlight on the camera pointed directly up set to eTTL master with the RadioPopperPX units veclcroed to the top. Single Canon 580EX Speedlight set to eTTL slave zoomed to 105mm pointed at a Red CD Jewel case above these paperclips, and the unfolded RadioPopper PX reciever box to the paperclips right)
So yea. Speaking of brain farts. Like I said at the very beginning, I had trouble with the hardware mode. Turns out the Canon and Nikon units are mainly different because of the stand that they come with. Cool beans for someone like me that owns Nikon equipment, but has Canon equipment provided for me to use for newspaper assignments. Turns out changing the hardware mode to canon, and a little bit of Duct tape is all you need to get the units to function as two sport athletes. (yes I used duct tape, I was out of gaff tape. I even used enough to make sure no extra light was getting to the 580EX sensor. Don’t judge me.) I took a number of shots other than the one above, and not just of paperclips but that’s the one I liked the best. One thing I will say is that this would be the first time I’ve really ever had my Canon wireless eTTL function correctly. Just about ever.
To be quite frank the Radiopopper system is awesome, but not without flaws. One thing that I think they could benefit by doing is package Canon and Nikon units together for sale to larger corporations. Examples being the Indianapolis Star newspaper that I work for. Why is this? This is primarily because newspapers tend to have shooters that have different sets of equipment. Examples being that we have several Nikon shooters and several Canon shooters on staff that would really dig these. They would dig them moreso because they could easily be pool equipment considering that we wouldn’t have to get brand specific devices like the Pocket Wizard Flex TT units. It wouldn’t take much and I’d bet there wouldn’t even need to be a price change as they are just including a different piece of plastic to attach the receiver to a speedlight. Just a thought, not a complaint.
Another thing to point out is that the nicest part about the Pocket Wizard units is that you can fire any strobe on manual using them. With the RadioPoppers you have to get their JrX system if you want to use the PX system to do that which at $79 more puts them much more expensive than the than the Pocket Wizard counterparts that already do both TTL AND manual triggering of speedlights OR studio strobes. On the complete other side of this coin, I don’t know a way to trigger multiple speedlights via TTL using the Pocket Wizard units, where as as far as I know you can trigger up to 4 Speedlights at a time with a single RadioPopperPX receiver. Don’t believe me? No I didn’t go and do it personally, but check out Dave Black’s stuff. (Make sure you check out Dave’s videos at the end). He does it ALL THE TIME. Honestly I shoot about 75% of everything I do with speedlights, and frankly being able to shoot iTTL on 4 speedlights with a single RadiopopperPX receiver and some Michael Bass Fiber optic bundles sounds like a very solid way to go. It would cost about the same as Large sport strobes for Arena sports lighting, but you can use high speed sync to get faster than a 1/250th of a second, which for sports? Awesome.
I wish I’d have been able to test more than one receiver unit to see what I could come up with in terms of more colorful and creative shoots, but this was a good one light exercise. It came at a strange time with my family, and a very strange time in the weather where outside was more miss than hit out of the hit or miss equation, but that’s ok. It was good to see how the units would perform in an every day environment and despite my rocky start by not following directions the units performed exactly as advertised. I had more problems with the way than I shoot than could be blamed on the units, and that’s exactly the kind of gear that I like because it helps me become better as opposed to making excuses for why I didn’t get a shot. No piece of equipment is perfect, but there’s a lot of solid stuff out there. The RadioPopper PX system, just like the Pocket Wizard units are very solid, and I could easily see using them in every day shooting situations. (even moreso since I did for a week.) More Soon.
For more information visit RadioPoppers website at http://www.radiopopper.com.
In conjunction with this review Roberts Distributors has decided to become a Distributor for the Radiopopper units so pop on over there and check em out/ get yourself some. http://www.Robertscamera.com