Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: The Mighty Yongnou RF-603

 Once you start using of camera flash, pretty soon you get to a point where you'll need a way to trigger your flash. And when a cord just won't do it, you'll want a wireless trigger. After doing some digging around I figured Pocket Wizard Plus is probably the best one can buy. But that again, spending over 700NIS for a single Rx/Tx unit was not really an option.  Considering the fact you need at least 2 to do anything, it's a lot of money.  Luckily, there is a decent option for much less.

I ended up buying the Yongnuo RF-603 triggers. Yongnuo is a Chinese company developing & manufacturing affordable lighting equipment, from TTL Remote Cords, to wireless triggers and Manual and E-TTL flashes (In a previous post, I shared some of my experience with Yongnuo's YN-560II flash).

If price is the reason I got the RF-603, let's start with that. Here you can get it for 125 NIS for a single unit. That's almost six times cheaper that the Pocket Wizard! You can also order them direct from the manufacturer on eBay and get a pair for the same price (Or even less from an unofficial seller for 24$ - 85 NIS). Considering eBay buyer protection and how easy it is to buy it, I'm really not sure who orders it from a local internet store. Of course, as with everything that come cheap, the question is do you get what you paid for? Well, if the shipment was not lost, you do. And it turns out, in the case of the RF-603, you get a very good product with a few quirks.

You get a pair of transceivers and an awesome slogan!
And all that for 30$
The units are very well built. The overall size is small and the low profile and lack of external antenna makes them easy to work with. The hot shoe is metal and the rest is nice, solid plastic. The ergonomics and design are nice and I appreciate that unlike their YN-560 flash the physical design is original (i hope...). Each unit has an on/off switch and a test/shutter release button.
The placement of the on/off switch is not ideal. Once you insert the flash in the unit's hotshoe mount, you can no longer reach the switch. It's a bit annoying but not a big issue. The lack of  a locking hot-shoe is a bigger problem. It's not a problem when attaching the unit to a flash mount, but when it's on camera there's not much holding it (and a much more expensive flash) in place. It would also be nice to have a tripod screw socket.
The unit works on two AAA batteries, which is nice. The batteries last for a really long time (never quantified it) but unfortunately you don't get any indication when it's running out of juice.

I get consistent syncing in any environment, I've never encountered any interference despite the 2.4 GHz frequency band used b the units (This is in the globally unlicensed Industrial, Scientific and Medical band used by Bluetooth, WI-FI, Microwave ovens and shitload of other stuff). The furthest I used them was around 20-30 meters and still had no problem syncing at high shutter speeds. At closer range it's faster than my Canon's sync speed (1/200 sec). Another great option that I used quite a lot lately is using them as a remote shutter release. The unit is supplied with a cable allowing you to trigger your camera from away. The button on any other unit act's as your camera button - pressing it half way will focus and pressing all the way will take the picture.

Each unit being both a transmitter and receiver gives you a lot of flexibility. What doesn't give you flexibility is a little weird and annoying design feature - One of your units must be inside a Canon (or Nikon if you have the 603N version) hotshoe for the whole thing to work. You see, the unit relies on the Canon E-TTL "wake up" signal from the hotshoe on the camera in order to decide that it is the transmitter that needs to trigger the other units to fire their flash. That really is by far my main problem with the RF-603's. Unlike the pocket wizards it's system dependent. Being a non-TTL triggers this is just plain annoying bug/feature. In some scenarios this can really be frustrating and it limits the transmitter unit to be brand specific. The units are available for Nikon and Canon (Canon unit can be adapted to Panasonic with some tinkering & soldering). I'm thinking of buying a Fuji X100s and I'm hoping the RF-603 will work with it (UPDATE: I did and they do!). That's one problem you won't get with the Pocket Wizard.

 I used a pair for about 6 month now and I'm quite pleased with them. So far it's been reliable and despite it's aforementioned shortcomings it's an mighty good product for the price. In fact, I just received my send pair of these little transponders.

* Worth noting is that Yongnuo recently released the YN-560III flash, which comes with RF-602 and RF-603 2.4G compatible radio receivers built-in to the unit. Nice feature that saves space and batteries in your kit.


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