I picked up a set of Cactus Wireless Flash Triggers from Gadget Infinity many months back, and never got to review them. Now seems like a good time…
The first thing to know is that they are cheap. This is the good part, and the bad part, depending on how you look at it. In the photo studio at work we use Pocket Wizards. They are high quality wireless flash triggers that work properly every time. They’re also about 10 times the cost of the Cactus triggers. If you are a professional photographer who wants close to 100% reliable operation, Pocket Wizards are the choice. (At least, that’s what every review tells me, as well as my limited experience using them.)
Of course for the Strobist on a budget, you’ve got to get started somewhere. I did a lot of reading in the Strobist group on Flickr (and elsewhere) on the Cactus triggers, and finally decided that for under $35 I should find out for myself. I ended up ordering the V2s (version 2) triggers as the v4 (version 4) triggers were not available at the time. (These triggers are also often called “ebay triggers” as you can get cheap, wireless triggers on ebay quite easily, but I did order directly from Gadget Infinity.)
My first tests involved putting in the batteries and pressing the “test” button on the transmitter. I’d press the button maybe 50 times, and it would make the LED on the receiver light up maybe 30 times. Not exactly great. These were all at close range too, so distance was not a factor in these tests. I then connected the receiver to an old Sunpak auto 433 D and took some real photos. Again, the results were good but not great. It would fire most of the time, but on occasion it would go maybe 4 or 5 times in a row without firing. The distance for these tests was maybe 25 feet.
I did a bit more reading of reviews and comments around the web (there’s a great one here, by the way) and one comment I found mentioned that replacing the batteries would help with the reliability. I ended up getting some new batteries from DealExtreme, a 5 pack of Panasonic CR2s for under $7.
A new battery in the receiver made all the difference for me. I’ve been shooting with a Sunpak auto 144 D and a Sunpak auto 433 AF with good results. Again, keep in mind that I’m not a pro doing half-day photo shoots with models, but just a guy who wants to learn more about off-camera lighting techniques on a tight budget. (I’ve tested the triggers with our studio strobes via a sync cable plugged into the receiver, and that works great as well.)
Just for fun I tried the “test” button again to light up the LED on the receiver, and out of 200+ tests, I only saw the LED not light up twice. Much better results than before the new battery was installed.
Keep in mind, these are the V2s models, not the newer V4 models. I’m actually pretty satisfied with the v2s for now and see no need to upgrade to the V4s. With everything right in the world, the V4s should be an improvement on the V2s’ but things are not always right in the world.
If I had to sum up it, I’d say the Cactus Triggers are “good but not great.” They’re definitely a good value, and a great way to get started in off-camera lighting. Heck, even if you do have Pocket Wizards or another well-known name in wireless triggers, these Cactus triggers might make a cheap backup solution in case of an emergency.
(Just a note, I actually have the V2s model, not the V2. I believe the V2s is a newer version of the V2.)