PocketWizards vs Cactus v4

 

I recently upgraded my triggers from the Cactus v4 wireless triggers to PocketWizard’s Mini TT1/Flex TT5 setup. The main motivation behind the switch was TTL/ETTL support and mainly, hypersync. With hypersync it makes it easy to overpower the sun with less powerful strobes, and even speedlights — Out of the box, with no setup, I was shooting 1/8000th with my 430 EXII and Bowens 750w/s heads. Very impressive.

Now one thing I’d read a lot about was the limited range of the pocketwizards, specifically with the 580EXII interfering with the radio — it’s become enough of a problem that the Flex TT5 includes an RF shield for 580 EXII flashes. I have 430 EXII‘s (and one 580EXII that I mostly use on-camera) so it shouldn’t be a problem, and even further, for this range test, I would use YongNuo YN-460 II flashes.

It’s a rather unscientific test, because all ranges are estimated. I measured 10 feet for the first shot and then took about 10 steps back each time, estimating that each step covers roughly 2 feet of distance, so each move was about a 20′ increase in distance from the flash triggers.

Here’s how I set up, and my method:

  • the mini TT1 was placed directly on the camera’s hotshoe and the Cactus v4’s Transmitter was piggybacked onto the TT1’s hotshoe
  • I set up the 2 flashes and gelled them Red (for the Cactus) and Blue (for the PocketWizard TT1/TT5 setup).
  • Placed them on light stands, and brought them about 7′ up and put them in the middle of the street for best/straightest line-of-sight.
  • I would take 10 shots at each distance to test the reliability of the trigger at that range, and then move onto the next distance.
  • Compile all photos/results.

Note: all batteries in all of the units were brand new, to make sure power wasn’t an issue.

You can view the results below. the results were very surprising, to say the least. The PocketWizards seemed to either be more susceptible to radio interference, or just don’t have the range that one would be led to believe. at approximately 100′, the PocketWizards would no longer fire, however the Cactus triggers would be reliable with a rate of 70-80% well beyond 200 feet, and only at near 300 feet was I starting to see below 50% firing rate. I’d like to conduct the test again soon, perhaps separately to take radio interference out of the equation, and maybe even use the Included TT5 RF shield.

The “cheap” cactus triggers have actually been very reliable for me in the year and a half that I’ve had them. Cactus also just released the v5 version of these triggers which are transcievers, and have slightly improved range and a host of other new features. I really think that these triggers are perfect for hobbyists, advanced amateurs and even pros. Being inexpensive compared to other remote triggers on the market and being just as reliable, they’re a definite buy if you want to get into off-camera flash.

Despite its lack of extended range (according to this informal test), I will, however, be keeping the PocketWizard Flex TT5/MiniTT1 setup — the main reasons for this are the service/support (in case anything breaks), the fact that they’re a “standard” (monolights, head/pack systems, and light meters come with PW receivers/triggers/chips built-in or have it as an option), and the reliability for the distances I’ll be working at. I rarely, if ever, have shot at such a long distance like 300′ from my flash. Further, the PW TT1/TT5 system offers awesome things like TTL and Hypersync, which could prove invaluable for events or on-location shoots when you want that extra “mood” when trying to overpower the sun. The Mini/Flex system is also upgradeable via USB in case PocketWizard decides to include any additional features or correct any issues through firmware in the future.

Hoping this was useful for everyone out there — I’ll do a better test soon (individually) and hopefully the PW’s range won’t be as disappointing as this test would show.

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