The Nikon CLS/AWS (Creative Lighting System/Advanced Wireless System) flash system does many amazing things, with off-camera flash from strobing, full TTL metering with up to 3 groups of flash at independent power settings to just simple manual control of power output from camera. However, it has one big weakness: it send the data from the camera to the flashes with light pulses from either the on-board pop-up flash, or a Speedlight/SU800 infrared trigger attached to the camera hotshoe. This means there must be a way for the light to get from the camera flash to the little sensor on the side of the Speedlight. Some people call this “line of sight”. It’s not quite that bad – you can bounce it off walls and ceilings etc as long as it reaches the sensor it will work.
But what if I put the flashes in a softbox? Or outside/in another room? If you’ve read Joe McNally’s “The Hot Shoe Diaries” you’ll know just how much of the setup on his shoots is spent getting the lights to trigger, with daisy-chained SC29 cords from the hotshoe to the master flash pointing out of a window and bouncing off a satellite…Well anyway, you get the idea – it’s frigging unreliable outside, and unworkable if the light is out of sight.
So, what if we could do the same over radio? Pocket Wizard came up with the FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 system that does just that, however many reported it to be unreliable and there was no display on the trigger – the closest you could get was to buy a 3rd thing – the “AC3 Zone controller” that supplied the missing controls on the FlexTT5 to adjust up to 3 groups of flashes with thumbwheels. Still no display mind you, and the whole thing cost a Gazillion pounds. Radio poppers captured the light data and re-transmitted over the wire to a device that than re-emitted the light signals into the flash sensor. Again, very expensive, but they did work perfectly. Dave Black has used these to excellent effect over the years. In later months Phottix launched the Odins which seemed to work well, but again, very very expensive at £150 per receiver. Pixel had the Kings and again no display…
Now - Yongnuo enters the fray! All the goodness of Nikon iTTL/CLS but over radio from#Yongnuo, for less than the GDP of a small country. They work like a charm too. The user interface is marginally easier than the Nikon one – and I didn’t have to look in the manual to figure out any of it – my guess on how something worked, was what the designers had chosen – every time. Some really nice touches are adjustments in full stops or thirds using the up/down and left/right buttons respectively; you can control the zoom of each group from camera (as the flashes think they are on the camera) – nice. You can mix modes – iTTL, Manual and SuperSync with dumb old long duration studio lights – all in the same shot!
I’ve had 4 SB900’s mounted on a YN622N each on a Lastolite quad mount inside a 1.2meter Octa and it works brilliantly. I lit a group of 60 people with the same SB900’s and YN622N’s last week and again they all worked faultlessly. They take standard AA cells too – which means they are quite big, but do last for quite a while on one battery.
And the best bit? You won’t need to sell your granny – the normal transceivers are £25 each and these dedicated TX units are now settling around £43 shipped from a UK based supplier (search eBay for YN622N-TX). One last thing – if you attach the supplied cable from the output port to the control port on your camera, you can take the pictures from any of the light transceivers (or just hold one)!