Pocket Wizard versus Phottix Odin versus Radio Popper flash triggering

Having recently sold my Pocket Wizard Mini/Flex units due to  continued and unacceptable lack of support from Pocket Wizard to make these units functional with the Canon 5D MK iii, and having acquired Phottix Odin triggers to replace them, I thought I would update this article with further thoughts on these flash triggers. I am leaving my comments on the Radio Poppers as they were, which are based on an analysis of the specifications as I have never had the opportunity to have a proper play with them and do not own them.

All I can say about the Phottix Odin triggers is that they are rock solid. They offer a very intuitive user interface on the front panel of the Tx unit, allowing one to flick between ETTL and Manual mode, high speed sync or rear curtain sync, and set ratios all with a few presses of the control buttons – very simple. I have been disappointed and slightly frustrated by the lack of fractional stop control of the flash output in Manual mode. One third stop controls have always been possible in TTL, but only full stop increments were possible in Manual mode. Not ideal. However, and a big drum roll…., Phottix Odin have now released updated firmware which does support one third stop control of flash output in Manual mode. Fantastic! I upgraded the firmware in my units today and ran a quick test of measured light out of my 580ex (version 1) and 430ex ii flashguns, of course using a light meter. The pre-flash fools my Sekonic L-308s flash meter, so the workaround is to set the flashguns to rear curtain sync, set a shutter speed of a few seconds, press the shutter, then press the button on the light meter to measure the flash output. This way it measures only the main flash dump at the end of the shutter period.

The results are shown in the image below. They are pretty good and more than useable, especially using the 580ex flashgun, even though there are a couple of flat spots in the response. The 430ex ii response exhibited four flat spots, which isn’t ideal but still not a big issue for me. I have also included “ideal” responses, which are normalised to 1/16th power for each of the flashguns.

Phottix Odin One Third Stop Manual Power

In summary, I am very pleased with this new firmware update and it will certainly allow more flexibility on my wedding shoots. Versus the Pocket Wizard Mini and Flex units, the Phottix Odins clean up. Simple as that. They just work, and very reliably. I have no regrets moving over to these units.

Below are my original thoughts on the three different brands of triggers, with a slight update for the Phottix Odins:

Pocket Wizards (Mini, Flex & AC-3):

These offer the cleanest, neatest setup and the addition of the AC-3 controller makes adjusting flash output – Manual or FEC – a breeze. Adjustments are possible in 1/3rd stop increments via a physical dial on the tiny AC-3 unit so you don’t have to press any buttons. This system supports manual as well as TTL flash control.

Unfortunately due to the operating frequency (433MHz in Europe and maybe a bit lower in the USA), the antennas on these units are very sub-optimal meaning they are not very efficient. This means poor range. Range is mainly determined by the power of the transmission, the sensitivity of the receiver and the efficiency of the antennas for any given scenario. Then in the USA you have severe issues with noise from the 580EX ii interfering with the PWs, further reducing range. The countermeasure is to fit an RF shield over the flashgun. These are sold by PW. This is not as much of an issue in the non-USA (CE) PW units as they operate at a frequency where there is less noise interference from the 580EX ii. There are also different ways of mounting the PW + flashgun to a light stand which will improve range, such as separating them and linking them together with a cable – more separation means lower interference by the flashgun and thus increased range

Pocket Wizard themselves told me that the 430EX ii is the recommended flashgun to use as it emits the lowest noise of all their flashguns.

Phottix Odin:

See all my comments above. These are bullet proof flash triggers offering rock solid performance with a wide range of options for controlling ratios, setting rear or high curtain sync, selecting ETTL or Manual flash (both with 1/3rd stop control increments), all from the interface on the Tx unit which sits on the camera hotshoe. My only remaining thought for improvement is the lack of focus assist. I realise other triggers do not offer this feature, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an IR focus assist feature on the Tx unit to help achieving focus in dark environments? Maybe even a “pass though” unit which slots inbetween the camera hotshoe and the Tx unit, but which contains the focus assist functionality…

Radio Poppers:

Haven’t looked into these too much but people seem to like them. I have never used them in earnest. Disadvantages for me are firstly the requirement for a “master device” unit on the camera. This means you need a flashgun or ST-E2 mounted on the camera. I really don’t like this requirement as for me it wastes another flashgun. The operating frequency is once again in the 2.4GHz band so range should be excellent. Once again button presses are required to adjust the flash output power. The PW AC-3 controller wins every time in the department.

Cost:

At the time of writing (April 2012), purchasing one transmitter unit and two receiver units of each system would cost the following in the UK:

Pocket Wizards: £525 (this also includes the AC-3 zone controller)

Phottix Odins: £379

Radio Poppers: £590 (PX European system @ $249 each. Convert exchange rate and add at least 25% for UK VAT, shipping etc. and possible import duty)

Final thoughts:

If you are debating which brand of triggers to purchase, I can highly recommend purchasing the Phottix Odin triggers!

Here is one of my OCF shots using the Phottix Odin triggers.

Old Royal Naval College Wedding Photography Greenwich

 

Regarding the 5D MK iii, I recently completed a high ISO test and an in-camera HDR test. The high ISO test result images were processed in DPP, which shipped with the camera. There are issues with it, one of which is that all the MK iii images seem soft (even at low ISO settings) and I believe Canon will be issuing an update very soon. I am currently using ACR which is great.

BellissimaPhotoPocket Wizard versus Phottix Odin versus Radio Popper flash triggering

Comments 7

  1. Kirk

    Great post mate. Thanks for the info. I shoot Nikon and am looking for a small, reliable trigger that I can control the power output from camera. Nikon CLS does it but is only line of sight.
    I really appreciate you sharing about this. I think I’ll strongly consider the Pocket Wizards.

    Kirk

  2. Si Young

    That’s a lovely bridal shot using OCF. I use the Pocketwizards when I can be bothered to get them out and set them up, they work perfectly for me on Nikon D3. Maybe the newness of the 5D3 is the problem.
    All best

    Si

  3. Graham Baker

    Excellent write up David! I’ve done some further research across the internet and I’m sold! They have everything that I need – very handy to adjust power settings remotely when using modifiers too.

    Many thanks
    Graham

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    Author
  5. Gary Gray

    Thanks for this information
    The only problem I see is these Phottix Odin units work in the 2.4Ghz band. The 2.4Ghz band is used for Wireless Networks,and cordless phones, I would be concerned about interference from these networks. Most audio visual gear transmitting on 2.4Ghz band is unusable in and near city CBD areas these days

    Thanks

    Gary

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      Author
      BellissimaPhoto

      Thanks for the comment Gary. I definitely see you point about the 2.4GHz band, but even though this is the band used by Bluetooth, Wifi and other ISM Band radios, it does seem very resilient and overall a lot better than the compromises associated with operating at 433MHz. I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I have experienced zero problem with the Phottix Odin units and neither have I read of any issues with them. They really are very well engineering products and in my opinion, very highly recommended.

  6. Tim Stubbings

    Thanks for such a good article. The thing that’s still an issue for me is the light meter and the pre-flash. I’m so used to walking around and making readings from multiple lights (away from the camera)I’m not sure I could live with the workaround you suggest. I hope they’ll fix this with a firmware upgrade.

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