Wednesday

Radiopopper Review: a first look, with some add-ons

Please note: Since writing this first posting about RadioPoppers I've have many more chances to use them and test their capabilities. Those of you wanting to know a little more about them can click on the links at right. Almost every post has something about my experience with RadioPoppers and lighting techinque. -January 2009-


Roughly ten days ago my RadioPopper Transmitter & Receiver package arrived, on a Friday evening. The next day I had a difficult wedding (logistically -- the bride and groom were great, but the conditions were tough, shooting on a historic Civil-War-era warship) and I tried the system out. Two days later I ordered more receivers, because I was so impressed at how they performed. In fact if the lazy slobs who make RadioPoppers would work on Sundays, I only wouldn’t have had to wait that long. (Just kidding. I'm sure they work really hard.)


I-ttl might have worked here, but RadioPoppers
definitely fired my flash hidden inside the booth.


There are a lot of situations where I “need” RadioPoppers. It’s not for shooting people five feet away who are making me point my camera directly at the sun. You can do that without Poppers. What I do want them for is shooting around corners, where I might have a flash in the next room or in an alley that wouldn’t fire if I was just using the regular i-ttl capabilities of my gear. Or I may be 50 yards away, trying to shoot a nice portrait at dusk under ambient conditions that change by the moment where I have to balance the flash differently as the twilight fades. Poppers let me do that Even more frequently, I might have strobes set up on stands to shoot a wedding party, and to loosen everyone up I will move in very close to shoot right in their faces (this always cracks up bridesmaids, for some reason) and once you get outside that 30-degree visibility window with normal i-ttl you’re not able to rely on the system to give you good exposures. For some of those situations I can use my Pocket Wizards, and believe me I still will rely very heavily on those in my pantheon of lighting tools.


The pantheon, minus the Bees and a couple hundred smaller accessories

One thing I should point out up front: there are a few times when the Poppers, well, failed. But it didn’t take me long to realize that they only seem to fail under the same conditions where your flashes are going to fail on their own anyway. For instance, when your batteries get really low, particularly on your “commander” unit, you’re gonna have problems with or without the Poppers. Or if you get too far away. But the nice thing is, with the Poppers, it’s pretty hard to get too far away.

I'm fairly sure regular i-ttl would NOT have worked here,
but RadioPoppers did just fine from 40 yards away.


But now I can use my Nikon (D200)and Fuji (s5) gear with the four SB-800’s I own and really take advantage of the creative possibilities of Nikon’s i-ttl and worry less about technical stuff. If you work with an assistant, as I do, one really nice feature of having RadioPoppers is that you don't have to twist the entire flash around every time your assistant chances positions in order to get the sensor to "see" the commander flash. That one problem alone caused me to miss any number of shots, and now I don't have to worry about it.

But I’ve had to do a little bit of work on my own to get everything working the way I want it, to "bend it to my will," so to speak.

Sweeeeeeeet. And the tube is more flexible than you first might think.

Here are some issues I identified right away and changed..

First off, the “residue-free” gaffer’s tape patch that was sent with the components wasn’t really working for me. Not only does it leave residue on my flashes, but it’s not really the best way to hold the fiber optic tube up to the sensor window on my SB-800s. Change the angle of your flash head to the "bounce" position, and you often put enough stress on the tube to pull the tape off the flash. On the flip side, the tape was sometimes so sticky I couldn’t even get it off the plastic bags that the RadioPoppers came in!

I used my own tape for a few hours, but that created a gooey mess as well and the bottom line is that tape just doesn’t provide a very secure hold for the tube. I didn’t want to cover up my battery compartment because I generally change batteries at least once in these speedlights when I’m shooting a wedding.

Using gaffer’s tape also creates the situation where any flash that you’ve got taped up can ONLY be used with a RadioPopper, and if you’ve only got one transmitter you have to keep switching your triggering flash (or SU-800) back and forth between bodies. But I’ve found there are plenty circumstances where your unaided i-ttl system would work and you don’t have the time to untape everything. For instance, I might have my assistant holding one flash on a monopod while we’re shooting dancing, firing on a Popper, and then in short order we’ve gone in to the next room to cut the cake, where I might be able to get by by just bouncing an on-camera flash at the wall and have my assistant’s flash fire off the visible light pulse from mine.

I know that sounds convoluted, but it’s not uncommon that I find myself shooting something 40 feet away (great for Poppers) and then suddenly have to shift to shooting something right in front of me. The last thing I want to do is fumble with shifting my flash or my SU-800 back and forth while the grandmother of the bride waits for me to appear halfway competent.

Basically, I want to use the RadioPoppers most of the time, but there are times when I want to be able to have the sensor uncovered so that I can use the flash as a regular slaved unit or use it in i-ttl mode without the Popper. Now I’ve found a way to do this, and the solution is cleaner and more versatile than the gaffer’s tape.

For some years now I’ve had a supply of wire clips that I use on my Pocket Wizards to hold their cords, which keep me from damaging the unit in case I catch it on something while I’m moving around. The little clips I order from Mouser Electronics hold like steel welds and don’t clutter up my gear with a bunch of gooey junk that looks like I tried to make it in my basement.

The tip of the fiber optic tube slides down in to the clip and hovers
just over the sensor window. This lets me use the RadioPopper

or just trigger the flash with a "commander" unit by itself.

Using the clip makes it easier to store my flash when I’m done with the. Because the tube comes down along the body of the flash, I can simply pull the other end out of the body of the Popper and either fasten it along the top of the flash or put it somewhere else, and the flash slides neatly in to one of the pockets of my bag. When I had them taped on, the tube had to be gently worked around in such a way that it didn’t catch on anything when I put it away, and most of the time that put enough stress on the tape that it pulled it off anyway.

The tube "bulb" stays put when I go vertical,
thanks to the clip, and makes storage easier.


One last modification I’ve done is to put a couple small pieces of Velcro on the sides of the transmitter so that I can more securely fasten it to either my SU-800 or my flash. Over the years I’ve knocked enough accessories off the tops and sides of my flashes that I don’t like to take chances. It’s not pretty, but I feel better about having the addition.

Ahhhh, the wonderful uses of all those
extra
little pieces of Velcro lying around.

My one frustration using these in my two outings so far is that I haven't been in situations where I can really put them to the test. Both weddings I've shot with them were outdoors, for one thing, and I only had one Popper to try on the ship. The week I ordered them, I would have loved to be able to try them out at this wedding. But as I get more time with these babies I'll be sure to let you know how they fare. I'm betting they hold up quite well.

One final thought: at one point in last weekend's wedding I noticed that my remote flashes weren't firing, and the link/power lights on the receivers were doing some sort of voodoo-induced spasm. After some seconds of panic, I realized that the battery in my transmitter was dead. The manual says that you should get 5-10 hours of transmitting time out of any given AA, so I'll probably be putting a freshly-charged NiMh in each unit before I set out every Saturday.

You can order those clips from the folks at Mouser Electronics. The part number is 561-AWC187B , and when I bought them they were about three for a buck. A pretty good deal for the kind of peace of mind I get from them.

19 comments:

John Makely said...

hey Thomas, tell the poppers folks they owe you a commission on a couple of units- I'm ordering a couple- thanks for the articles - cheers, Makely

Jason Hall said...

I found I had the same issues with my Canon 580EX and 580EXII. I came up with a different solution than you. My concern with your idea is this: Will the fact that the end of the tube is open to ambient light cause a problem in bright sun light. Seems that it would, but if not, I will most likely be changeing to your set up with the little clips.

I really look forward to seeing what kevin king does with the radio popper and as the design is refined and improved. Pretty good for a first run.

Jason

Anonymous said...

I have a simpler way to attach the Poppers to an SB800 or SB600. You might want to check it out.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/716355@N24/
discuss/72157605794648534/

Thomas said...

Hey, John.. Glad that was useful to you. Hope you're enjoying your new job in NYC. Send me your contact info!

Also, anonymous: My concern about the way you have the Popper mounted is that it seems like it would be pretty easy to knock it loose. The amount of shearing force it takes to break that bond isn't much, and if someone whacks against your flash you could lose the setup. Also, it seems like you'd have to watch your alignment.

Jason, I haven't experienced a problem in bright sunlight -- yet. I'd be curious to hear if you have problems with how I've constructed it.

Fotografo Matrimonio said...

Nice review and interesting tips. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The Mouser cable clip idea is brilliant! I found the gaffer tape solution to be... well... tacky, at best. I sent away for the clips and they arrived this afternoon. Now my RP-equipped SB-800 looks like a real piece of professional gear. If the RP guys don't start packaging thes clips with the RP units, they are nuts.

Thanks!

-- Russ

Harry said...

Thanks alot.
This is very helpful.
You are filling a big void of info
on dynamic use of ttl flash.

Thomas said...

The Mouser clips do indeed make the unit look professional, and I have to admit that I'm pretty selfish about that. As much as I love making things in my basement, I would rather not show up to photograph a client looking like I put my gear together in, well, my basement.

I've had a couple chances to use them in bright sunlight since Jason wrote his comment, and haven't had any problems with them.

bob davis said...

great tip on the mouser clips, i just ordered some. i have been using the poppers since april and love them. i just shot an event and combined my canon strobes with quantums all ttl fired with poppers.

thanks bob davis

pnmd said...

Nice pics!

So do you STILL like the Radiopoppers? No buyer's remorse?

Have you seen some of the P1 mods with the fiberoptic cable? Necessary?

http://www.erickochphoto.com/main/ph...oto-geek-alert

I'm thinking about purchasing the RP's but have read some negative reviews however reviews are so user skill biased, IMO. For example, I read a few negative reviews about the BlackRapid camera strap, but now that I have it, I will never return to a regular strap!

Finally, have you considered the Hildozine pocket wizard caddy to attach the RP's?
Pocket wizards are similar in size to RP's.

BTW- I'm skilled with manual flash but ETTL is so convenient and quick! Extremely undervalued, IMO. And having hi shutter sync and on camera setting without having to walk about is a time saver.

Thx,
Peter

Because. said...

Hi, PNMD --

I still do love the poppers, and one of the reasons I haven't updated my postings is that I've been so busy using them. They have dramatically changed the way that I shoot (by making it much easier!)I hope to do a post soon on how they, combined with the D3 and D700's high-ISO capabilities, have opened up a whole new frontier for me in shooting.

Haven't seen the modifications you're talking about. So far I've had no problems with my fiber cables.

Because I've already got the velcro on my flashes, I haven't worried about the fastener-pouch thingy for pocket wizards. I usually just let my wizards hang anyway, and with their weight I do sometimes feel better about having them hang below the shoe mount rather than making the flash top-heavy on the stand.

Glad you're enjoying ettl! It is great to have this sort of flexibility. Have fun with it. Feel free to make mistakes, because that's the only way to learn. I do it ALL the time.

-Thomas-

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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