Every photographer made the choice once. Some have changed their choice afterwards. Some have chosen Nikon, others Canon or Fuji, Sony maybe even Pentax. However, if you wanted to remotely adjust power of a Nikon i-TTL flash, you need a Nikon camera and specific triggers. I can understand this if you want to use TTL, since this is brand specific. However, why would it not be possible to trigger Nikon flashes using a Fuji camera and retain the remote power adjustment.
With the introduction of the Cactus V6 triggers it was shown that this is possible. This is not the first time Cactus releases wireless triggers, but it is the first time that it can be used for wireless power adjustment. The same trigger can be used on any camera and still adjust power of Nikon, Canon and Pentax flashes. Cactus enabled Canon, Nikon and Pentax users to stop fighting and play together. Irrespective of the brand that I am using to shoot my pictures with, I can mix any Nikon, Canon or Pentax TTL flashes and still retain remote power adjustment.
Simultaneously Cactus also released the RF60 flash, a speedlite with a built in V6 transceiver. Basically this flash features the same functions as a SB-910 that would be placed on a V6 transceiver, but in a more elegant package. Also the RF60 can be used to trigger other RF60s and V6 receivers. During this review I will work with a combination of speedlites placed on the V6 transceivers and RF60 flashes.
How does it work?
Remote power adjustment with the Cactus V6 only works if flashes have a TTL mode. A common misunderstanding is that these trigger will also transmit TTL signals or activate AF assist beams . This is not the case. TTL mode on the speedlites is required since the receivers of the trigger simulate a TTL quench signal. A TTL quench signal is used to limit the amount of light that a flash emits, basicly the quench signal says “Stop, there is enough light now”. By giving the quench signal later a flash would emit more light.
By giving the quench signal at a specific time it is possible to simulate manual power settings. This technique can be illustrated with an example. When a flash released all its power after 100 ms, a quench signal given after 50 ms should result in ½ power. In this way the TTL protocol is used to give a flash output with a predetermined value. In practice it is a bit more difficult than this, but basically this is what most triggers with remote power adjustment do.
But I can hear you that we have had this before with the Yongnuo 622 for example, why is the Cactus V6 is so special? This is because the V6 transmitter doesn’t talk to the camera, i.e. it is a dumb trigger, but the V6 receicer are not. These receivers simulate a smart trigger with TTL. A Nikon Yongnuo placed on a Canon camera won’t trigger the flashes since it doesn’t detect a camera. Unlike the Yongnuo, the Cactus can be used to shoot with any camera and the trigger will still fire.
First impressions – Cactus V6
After the lengthy introductions the moment is here to tell you about the units itself. My first impression was that these triggers are actually quite big, much wider than most triggers that I have used before. This does mean that there is more space for buttons and a screen, but this extra space is not utilized. The screen is quite small and there are less buttons than for example on a Pixel King Pro. I don’t mind the lack of buttons or a smaller screen size as long as the ergonomics are good.
An important aspect in the first impressions of a product is the way how they feel even without turning them on. The cactus triggers certainly passed this aspect of the test. The plastic has a nice touch to it, the construction feels rigid and the different parts connect well to each other. No surprises here, they are as I would expect them to be.
The triggers are transceivers which means that any unit can be used either as a trigger or as a receiver. After 2 AA batteries are inserted in the unit, a sliding button is used to turn on the V6 in the desired function. After that flash groups can be selected using four buttons labeled A through D and power is adjusted by rotating a dial. If one wants to change the power of one group, only that groups button has to be held while the button is rotated. Some more buttons are available for changing menu settings or to fire a test flash.
First impressions – RF60
Like the V6 triggers, the RF60 features a similar build quality. Feeling the plastic of the flashgun reveals the fact that these are made by the same manufacturer as the V6 triggers. The flash does look nice and clean, but due to the excessive amount of manual power flashes that are available nowadays they don’t leave a long lasting impression. The flash seems to compete directly with other high end manual power flashes, but are not unique.
Similar to other flashes, the RF60 has a list of features that you would commonly find with other manual power flashes. Zoom, a clear LCD, ¼” mounting thread and two different slave functions to mention a few. Besides these features the RF60 also has the V6 functionality build in, meaning that the flash can either trigger or by triggered by other RF60 or V6 units.
What I did notice is that these units are slightly bigger than my SB-910. This meant that they did not fit inside one of my favorite flash modifiers, the Saberstrip. Although the size increase is not significant, I dislike the fact that the trend of speedlites is to keep growing in size. Cactus should not be blamed for this, since every manufacturer in the market is doing it.
Besides the fact that the Cactus V6 triggers are able to control flash power from any camera body, there are more special features that I have to mention. Both the RF60 and the V6 can be updated through USB. The V6 triggers can be also used as remote camera trigger when the appropriate cable is bought.
People that have collected several legacy flashes, such as the popular Nikon SB-28, are in luck since the Cactus can also control power of these flashes. In general, all flashes from either Nikon, Canon or Pentax that have a TTL signal (ETTL, iTTL, D-TTL etc) can be controlled. There are a few exceptions to this statement, for full compatibility please check the Cactus website.
If your (legacy) flash is in not supported you can select the “custom profile” option in the menu of the V6 which helps you to create a custom flash profile for your flash. First you have to demonstrate some flash settings such as full or half power and afterwards the V6 trigger tries to reproduce the light output by adjusting the timing of the TTL quench signal. For the complete process I refer to the manual of the Cactus V6 trigger. Unfortunately I was not able to test this myself since all the TTL flashes I own are already supported by Cactus, but other people that are using the Cactus V6 have confirmed that this function works well.
There are one important feature missing on the triggers, which is HSS. Cactus tried to compensate for this fact by implementing a HSS alternative called “HSS Sympathy mode”. When this mode is enabled the RF60 tries to replicate the HSS pulses that are coming from a TTL flash which is mounted on camera (or on a TTL trigger). One of the applications with which you can use this function is by mounting one SB-910 (or other HSS flash) on a HSS trigger in a sofbox and ‘supporting’ the SB-910 with Cactus RF60 flashes.
Using the system
I have used the system for most of my shoots over the course of the summer. What surprised me is the great ergonomics that these triggers have. Initially I thought that due to the lack of buttons and the small screen it would be very unnatural to use them. Instead of using buttons to change power Cactus implemented a dial to quickly change settings. All groups can be adjusted together or when the dial is rotated while holding the button of a single group that only group is adjusted. What they are designed to do, they do extremely well. I didn’t test reliability or range, but ever since the introduction of the 2.4 GHz technology this is not a problem anymore. It should be noted that I never had any misfires.
The biggest caveat of using this system for triggering is the lack of high powered strobes that can be controlled over a TTL signal. Therefore if you want to use a high powered strobe you need to use an additional triggering system to control that light. Often I used the Cactus V6 and RF60’s in combination with a Godox Witstro AD360, with the appropriate trigger located on top of the V6 transmitter. This combination worked very well since I was able to use the Godox as main light and use all the TTL flashes that I have lying around as fill.
Another issue for the V6 is the lack of high speed triggering. Due to the compatibility with different brands it is difficult, almost impossible to enable high speed synchronization. Similarly it is not possible to fire a Nikon TTL flash with a Canon camera. You should question yourself if you need HSS and if you do, these are not the triggers that you should go for. They are focused on ergonomics and practicality, not on high speed synchronization.
Adjusting flash power has never been as easy and quick as with the Cactus V6. Other systems come close, but the Cactus V6 and RF60 combination makes me worry less about triggers and focus more on the shoot. Almost in a way they made my shooting experience more enjoyable. They are really easy to use to use, even without reading a manual. I never have liked complex triggers or flashes, since if I don’t know how to use it during a shoot I won’t use it, there is simply no time to resort to the manual then.
The RF60 falls a bit in the shadow of other manual power flashes. There are so many alternatives that do basically the same (not all alternatives have equal power). As a manual power flash they are good, but lack functions such as HSS and lithium-ion power. My opinion is that they are meant to be used in combination with other RF60 flashes or V6 triggers. Only this way you use all the potential that this speedlite has. And I can assure you that when you have V6 trigger they are amazing, finally no more fuss with attaching receivers. I am not sure if I would recommend one to buy the RF60 flash without the V6 triggers, since their functionality is limited then. The same can be said about the Godox Ving V850, since this requires the Godox triggers to do remote power adjustment as well.
I have to stress the fact that these triggers are very well thought of. They do what they need to do very well and I love the ability to control flashes that are not of the same brand as my camera body. However, this comes with at a price. Since the camera does not detect that there is a flash attached, it will never be able to shoot HSS. Also, you need to have TTL flashes, not manual power flashes to enjoy the potential of the V6 system. For somebody that has a few (legacy) flashes lying around and is looking for a versatile triggering system, the Cactus V6 and RF60 are definitely recommended!
The Cactus V6 and RF60 are available now from the Cactus Store.