I have been a PocketWizard user for years. In my collection of wireless studio flash triggers are the PocketWizard Plus, PocketWizard Plus II, PocketWizard Flex TT5, and PocketWizard Mini TT1. About 8 years ago, I tried the cheaper eBay triggers that came out of China and had such a horrible experience with them that I refused to look at any trigger designed by a Chinese company. There was a long period of time when PocketWizard was the only brand I trusted when it came to wireless flash triggers, but how times have changed.
I am now in a transition period, where I am beginning to phase out my PocketWizard collection and adopting some Chinese brand triggers with complete confidence. Why the change?
– Because these new triggers come from China are reliable (so far), and they offer coveted features for the fraction of the price of more expensive PocketWizard remote triggers.
My move away from PocketWizard began with the PocketWizard (PW) Flex and Mini versions of the triggers. I was an early adopter of those triggers when they first arrived in the marketplace. I was excited by the promise of wireless ETTL and PocketWizard’s Hypersync features, but in reality, these new flash triggers gave me nothing but grief and a lighter wallet.
The first PW Flex I purchased fried my Canon 580EX II flash. I emailed LPA Design to make them aware of the situation, only to have them point to my Canon Speedlite for the failure. There were many stories from other people about the risks of the PW Flex with Canon’s 580EX II flashes, which I ignored, but when it came my turn to lose an expensive flash unit, I couldn’t just chalk it up to coincidence that my flash happened to fail when paired with the PW Flex TT5.
Since I own a couple of Canon 430 EXIIs, I decided to try the PWs with them, and they fired fine at close range. At longer ranges during real world events, the PW Mini TT1 and Flex TT5s were completely unreliable, so I lost all confidence in the PW Flex and Mini system.
When an event photographer loses all confidence in a wireless system, it basically means it’s time to get rid of that system. But what was I going to replace that system with? Enter the Phottix Strato II.
There was a time when I was a brand snob. I wouldn’t use any equipment that the top photographers wouldn’t consider, but after a lot of researching, I discovered all the positive reviews of the Phottix Strato and Odin systems, so I had to give it a try.
Having used the Phottix Strato II for about four weeks now, I can say with full confidence that they work!
Phottix Strato II – Yes, they simply work.
The PocketWizard Plus IIs I own also work well, but they don’t have the ETTL pass through functionality I so desperately need for my event work. The PW Plus IIs also don’t have a hotshoe connector for the receiver, so I was always reliant on caddies and cables to connect my PW Plus IIs to my speedlites. For light use, this isn’t a problem, but every once in a while, a loose cable meant lots of wasted time and money trying to get my speedlite flash to fire.
ETTL pass-through: Why is ETTL pass-through so important? With the Phottix Strato II, I could now manually trigger speedlites from across the room, but also have a speedlite connected to my camera via the Strato II. This enabled me to use the on camera flash for fill or bounce light (either in manual or ETTL mode), while using the off-camera flash as a back light, rim light, or also for fill. This configuration worked wonders during events such as weddings.
Focusing in dark environments: Here’s another benefit. Because I could attach my 580EX II speedlite to my camera, I could use the speedlite’s IR focus assist for autofocusing in very dark environments, which still having access to my off camera speedlites across the room. This feature has been extremely useful during dances at event receptions and other times when the lights went dim.
Manual trigger: The Phottix Strato II triggers are easy to use because they are mainly a manual trigger (i.e. there’s not wireless TTL functionality). In many ways, this is a major benefit to me because I never really needed the ETTL functionality for my off camera flashes, and this extra feature added to the higher price tag of the PW Flex and Mini triggers, not to mention very unpredictable flash output on the few occasions when off camera TTL worked for me.
AAA batteries: This many seem to be a minor benefit, but for me, it’s actually a big one. The PocketWizard Mini-TT1 remotes used button cell batteries, which were relatively expensive and sometimes difficult to find. I ended up buying a button cell battery recharger to help keep long term costs down, but now I really appreciate that the Phottix Strato II triggers use standard AAA batteries, which I can buy just about anywhere.
Build quality: This is one point that worried me about the Phottix Strato II units, but having used them for a few weeks, I can confidently say that the build quality almost as good as the PW triggers. I say “almost” because the PWs do feel a little more solid, and the Plus IIs have lasted for years. Nonetheless, I’m satisfied with the build quality of the Strato IIs for now.
Need ETTL? Get the Phottix Odin: Yes, Phottix has a line of triggers for those who need remote ETTL and remote flash control – it’s called the Phottix Odin. With the Odin, you get the ETTL and the ability to control both ETTL ratios and manual power on your remote speedlites. I haven’t purchased any Odins yet because I don’t use ETTL for off camera speedlites and because the Odin doesn’t have a ETTL hotshoe pass-through on the remote. When Phottix decides to offer the features of the Odin with an ETTL pass-through, I’ll be all over it like pigs in mud. In the meantime, you can also check out the Yongnuo Y-622C triggers if you are interested in wireless ETTL and a transceiver with a hotshoe ETTL pass-through.
PocketWizards: I still like much of what PocketWizard is doing. They’re continuing to release firmware updates that may make the Flex and Mini triggers a workable system, but for me, I need remotes that work now, not months or years down the road. A few of my fellow photographer friends have Flex-TT5 and Mini-TT1 units that work reliably, while others don’t. When it comes to professional work, I need something that works 100% of the time, so for now the Phottix Strato II speedlite triggers are my go-to remotes.
There are several other pros and cons for both systems as well, but instead of rambling on, here’s an abridged list:
PocketWizard Flex-TT5 and Mini-TT1
(I’ve only used the Canon version, so this list applies to the units I’ve owned and used)
- Well built
- Has HyperSync capabilities (if you can get it to work properly, which I never did)
- Control TL for off camera auto flash exposure (if you can get it to work properly, which I rarely did)
- Able to control Einstein strobes (PCB) with optional PowerMC2 receiver
- Able to control Elinchrom RX and Ranger strobes with optional power ST4 receiver
- Firmware upgradeable
- Flex-TT5 units are transceivers (you can use them to receive or transmit)
- Mini-TT1 units are small and lightweight
- Backwards compatible with Plus II and Plus triggers (manual mode only)
- 20 ControlTL channels and 32 standard channels (great when there are a lot of other photographers around using PWs)
- Many people have complained about remote reliability issues (including myself)
- May need to use an RF shield (AC5 or AC7 shields) if using with a Canon 580 EXII speedlite
- Canon 430 EXII are recommended for long range use
- One of the more expensive trigger systems
- Difficult to use firmware settings configuration system
- PW Mini-TT1 use button cell batteries
Phottix Strato II Multi 5-in-1 Flash Triggers
- Relatively inexpensive
- Good build quality for the price
- Comes with Energizer batteries and varies sync cables right out of the box
- Very reliable at far distances (2.4Ghz frequency)
- Manual trigger only
- Wireless shutter release
- Uses 2 AAA batteries
- Relatively small form factor
- Hotshoe ETTL pass-through
- Metal foot on the receiver unit
- 1/8″ socket on the receiver unit
- Compatible with Odin and other Strato triggers (manual mode only)
- 4 channels and 4 groups
- Build quality is good, but just a tiny step behind the PocketWizard Flex-TT5 system
- No ETTL remote functionality (if you need that sort of thing)
- Separate receiver/transmitter units instead of each one being a transceiver
- Plastic foot on the transmitter unit
- No high-speed sync capabilities
Conclusion: When it comes to remote triggers, reliability has to be the most important feature. No headshot photographer (like me) wants to have to walk across a room multiple times to check on why a speedlite isn’t firing, and for an event photographer, an unreliable remote trigger is like having no remote trigger at all. When I used only PocketWizard Plus II transceivers, triggering speedlites and strobes was a happy experience, but when I adopted the Flex-TT5 and Mini-TT1 units, that all changed – Off camera flash photography became unreliable, even when I was only using the manual trigger option set in firmware. The came the Phottix Strato II system and I was a happy photographer again. The Strato II are a less expensive system with none of the ETTL or PW HyperSync (or high-speed sync) capabilities so desired by many photographers, but at least they are well built, easy to use and maintain, and very reliable. For now, the Phottix Strato II are my flash remotes of choice and whatever PocketWizards I have left have been designated to the sell on Craigslist box in the closet of my office.