Nikon’s Creative Lighting control for external flashes like the SB700, SB800 and SB900/910 works very well in enclosed spaces and when the flash units are in direct sight of the controller. For outdoors and remote flash, the infrared (IR) control is less reliable, leading to use of radio wireless control. The best known brand, the Pocket Wizards, work very well, but are rather expensive, running around $200 each for transceiver and transmitter. A set of 4 transceivers and one transmitter can be over $1000! Recently the Chinese brand Yongnuo has released a transmitter unit to compliment their previous transceiver units. A set of 4 transceivers and one transmitter now costs only $237. The question is how well do the work and what does one give up with the less expensive units?
Well, I had an opportunity to try the Pocket Wizards and Yongnuo solution during the past week. Worked with a friend’s pocket wizard setup with D800 and three SB800s in a studio setup. Everything worked very well, after a bit of a learning experience. My friend has a Sekonic flash meter that interfaces with the Pocket Wizards, allowing portable hand-held lighting setup and measurement, which is very convenient. However, for those used to the Nikon CLS user interface, some learning is necessary, but once programmed the system is easy to use.
The Yongnuo YN-622N transceivers are not the easiest to master, especially with the poorly written user manual. The best way to use them is to control everything from a Nikon compatable CLS flash such as the SB700 or 900/910 (the SB800 won’t work as master and neither will the D800) or the Nikon SU-800 flash controller. While this works OK, using a flash as the controller requires a flash on the camera or purchasing a $240 SU-800. Then Yongnuo recently introduced the $67 YN-622-TX transmitter with LCD screen. Now the system became user friendly and works just like the CLS user interface on the Nikon flashes. Set-up is a breeze – just attach the transceivers to the flashes, which are set for i-TTL and the transmitter to the camera hot-shoe and you are ready to go. Set all units to the same channel (one of 7) and assign groups, just like with the CLS. All flash functions are controlled from the transmitter on top of the camera. Not quite as nice as with the Sekonic, but quite workable. Three groups, A, B & C can be independently controlled in either i-TTL or manual mode and the flash focal length can be also set on each unit. There are other modes as well, but i have not used those as yet. The TX unit can also work as a remote camera trigger, using one of the transceivers to trigger the shutter and flash units.
The question is: How well does the inexpensive system work. Since it is too cold to do outdoor shooting now (Feb. 2014), I arranged a mini studio shot to test the control capabilities. i used my wife’s fisherman bear as a subject, since he stays put in the same position and doesn’t complain about setting for a long time. Three lights were used, a main light (A) at 45 degrees, a fill light (B) near and above the camera and an accent light (C) high and behind the subject. Both i-TTL and manual modes were tested.
First the manual modes. All images shown are JPEGs straight from the camera, just cropped and resized. No other exposure, contrast or other edits were done. The main light (A) was set to 1/8 power for all shots and the fill light was varied from off to 1/64 power. D800 exposure was manual at 1/250 s at f/5.6, ISO 200. about 30 seconds was allowed between shots to ensure full charge on the flash units. The resulting images were consistent with the settings. A final shot with the accent light at 1/16 power is shown at the end.
Next, the setup was changed over to i-TTL. All changes are made on the TX unit, everything else, except the f/stop remains the same. To test the i-TTL effectiveness, the main light was set to +0.7 stop, the fill to -1.0 stop and the accent is off. The f/stop on the D800 is then varied from f/4 to f/11, a 4 stop range or 8 to 1 light change. The i-TTL did farily well, just showing a slight increase in exposure at f/11. This variation appears to be consistent with performance of the Nikon CLS system using IR control.
The final test was remote shutter release, which worked up close and from the next room through a closed door. The maximum rated distance is 100M, which I did not try.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Yongnuo wireless system, now that the TX unit has been added. Not as many features as the Pocket Wizard, but it does a great job for the money. Don’t know about reliability, but time will tell on that. Certainly recommended for casual wireless work.