As a reviewer for LightingRumours I come in contact with a lot of products. But it happens only seldom that I review products that are really different compared to what already exists on the market. Often it is the case that one new innovative product is introduced and then a lot of others follow with similar products that are more like slight improvements of the original product. One brand innovates and the rest follows.
Recently I came into contact with such a truly unique product called the RoboSHOOT from Serene Automation. The RoboSHOOT is a TTL trigger for Fuji X-series cameras. TTL triggers have already been available for Canon and Nikon cameras for a long while, but this is the first TTL trigger for Fuji. Although this is already quite interesting, it is by far not the most intriguing feature of the RoboSHOOT triggers. The RoboSHOOT triggers have the ability to use Nikon TTL speedlites on Fuji X-series cameras. They are able to translate the Nikon i-TTL protocol into something which Fuji cameras can use.
Sounds too good to be true right? Exactly, that was my initial thought was well when I first heard about the company. Serene Automation has no track record of producing photography equipment and now they announced the first TTL triggers that work cross brand, and for Fuji of all brands. I was rather sceptical. Without trying these ‘magic’ triggers myself I did not believe what they were trying to promise. So I managed to get my hands on an evaluation kit to see how these triggers would work myself.
In this review I’ll be using a X-E2 with a MX-20 trigger and a RX-20 receiver. Serene Automation also offers a MX-15 and a RX-15, which are cheaper versions of the triggers with reduced functionality. The main difference between the 15 and 20 series is that the 20 series works with Nikon speedlites while the 15 does not and that the 20 series offer additional control by using an iOS app.
First impressions and build quality
The first thought I had when I looked at the triggers was that they look a bit geeky. In a way their appearance matches their high tech specs. For instance, when compared to other triggers such as the Cactus V6 or the Godox X1 they look less refined. It looks like a technician designed the units and preferred to put more thought in the inside of the units rather than the outside. Anyway, real beauty is on the inside.
Build quality of the units is great. You can feel and see that it has been put together with care. All components fit well together and feel well made, including the two buttons that are on both the trigger and receiver. Besides these two buttons there is a 2.5mm sync port on the receiver and two ports on the trigger to plug in a sensor or a cable to connect the camera. The trigger is also able to accommodate an additional flash in the TTL ‘pass through’ hot shoe. Both the trigger and the receiver are able to accept a flash made for the Nikon or Fuji system.
Each unit requires a set of 2 AAA batteries to be turned on after which a bright multi-colour LED lights up. I would have preferred to see this LED on the back of the triggers to increase visibility, not in the front. Especially when a flash is mounted on the TTL pass-through hotshoe, it is difficult to see is the trigger is connected or not.
Operation – Fuji speedlites
When using the RoboSHOOT with speedlites made for Fuji cameras, the trigger does exactly what you expect it to do. It functions as a wireless TTL cord, tricking the camera into thinking that there is a flash located in the hot shoe. Exposure, TTL consistency, red-eye preflash and others all functions normally as they would do when a flash would be located in the regular hot shoe on camera. The triggers even block the camera from firing another exposure unless the flash has fully recycled, as is normal with Fuji camera (and is highly annoying). Since Fuji lacks HSS and rear curtain synchronization these features are obviously not supported. Fast synchronization with the X100-series that feature an leaf-shutter is supported, however.
For the tests I have tried multiple different flashes for Fuji, such as the Fuji EF-42, MeiKe MK320 and Nissin i40. All of these function nearly identically to each other with no noteworthy differences.
Operation – Nikon speedlites
Personally for me this was the part of the review for which I was the interested in. I simply did not believe it was possible to have a Fuji camera talk with Nikon speedlites and be reliable at the same time. My idea was that there must be a number of flaws and caveats when working with triggers that offer cross-brand functionality. During this review I wanted to stress-test the triggers in order to identify these issues so I could make a fair and honest review.
I can make it sound much more dramatic than it actually is, but the short conclusion is that I really did my best to identify all issues with the triggers, but I found none. And this is not because of lack of testing. TTL exposure is bang on and very consistent from shot to shot. Everything that I said in the previous section about operation with speedlites for Fuji can also be said about speedlites for Nikon. The first time I plugged the Nikon flash into the Fuji camera I felt excited like a little kid and in a way I still am. I’m very surprised that it is possible.
The triggers work perfectly with most original Nikon flashes, with the exception of the SB-800. This speedlite can be used in manual mode but in TTL mode it might be less reliable because this speedlite is the oldest i-TTL speedlite for Nikon (and doesn’t support firmware updates. -Ed.) and therefore the timings are a bit different than the newer ones. I also used some other flashes such as the Pixel X800N and the MeiKe MK320N which work well, but unfortunately not all. For instance the Godox AD360II-N, TT685N and Shanny SN910EX-RF do not work. Some other users have reported that the YN-568 from YongNuo works as well, but I haven’t had the chance to try this myself. On the Serene Automation web site a list of compatible flashes can be found, but for best performance I would stick to the SB-900/SB-910. And off-camera. An SB-900 on a mirrorless camera looks just silly.
App (version 1.05)
It is possible to connect your smartphone (Android or iPhone) to the MX-20 via Bluetooth for additional control. Once connected the app displays the current settings for the four different flash groups. By rotating the virtual rotary dials you can change the mode, power and zoom for each group as you like.
If new firmware is available for the RoboSHOOT triggers this can also be downloaded through the app. Uploading it to the MX-20 receiver takes a bit of time due to the fact that the Bluetooth connection has limited bandwidth, but it works well. Once uploaded to the trigger it updates itself and afterwards it will send the new firmware to the receivers. Only the MX-20 unit allows firmware updates through the app; if a firmware update is needed for the MX-15 that unit has to be shipped back.
The appearance and functionality of the app is a bit similar to the triggers. It works well, but does not look extremely refined. The GUI is fairly simple and the design is basic. However, the most important for me is that it is stable and works reliably. In a later version I would to see that the rotary style buttons that are used for adjustments are changed. While rotary style buttons do allow quick big adjustments, it is rather fiddly to make small adjustments.
I have to say that all this app connectivity is nice, but in the end I still prefer a LCD display on the trigger, such as the one found on the YN-622TX. It is easier to make quick adjustments using such a screen instead of having to grab your phone. Personally I would like to see some sort of AC3 ZoneController-style unit like that available for PocketWizard.
Besides the wireless triggering the MX-20 offers some additional functionality. Just next to the 2.5 mm port which is used to connect a camera there is an additional 2.5 mm port. This second port is meant to be used to connect additional sensors to the MX-20, such as a laser or sound sensor. Using the app you can configure the MX-20 in such a way that once the sensor reached a certain threshold the camera will be fired.
At the moment of writing these sensors were not yet available, so unfortunately I could not test this yet. However, if the sensors become available I can publish a follow up on LightingRumours. Serene Automation stated that over the sensors should be available starting in the next six months. Starting with an audio sensor, others include digital (for example light interrupting) and optical. Nothing is set in stone yet, since this will depend on demand.
As I stated in the introduction, it is not often that I encounter truly innovative products. The RoboSHOOT has certainly managed to surprise me. It is not only a well functioning TTL trigger for Fuji X-series cameras, it can do much more. Serene Automation managed to give Fuji users access to the wonderful world of Nikon flashes. In a certain way they have managed to bring the brands closer together.
For Fuji users the ability to use speedlites designed for Nikon means a lot. Most Fuji speedlites are small and unpowered, meant to complement the small size of the Fuji cameras. In general, the higher end speedlites made for Nikon are more powerful and less fragile. These bigger and more reliable speedlites are better suited for professional photographers. The real question is how many professional photographers use Fuji?
At $369 (USD) it is certainly not cheap for a transmitter and a receiver. Especially when you consider that for other brands TTL triggers are less than $75, albeit these do not offer cross brand compatibility. Maybe the advanced technology that is inside the triggers can justify a part of the price, but for many consumers it will be too expensive. However, for (semi-)professional photographers I do think it is an interesting investment.
If you are looking for good and reliable triggers for your Fuji camera that also give you access to a world of great speedlites, I can certainly recommend buying the RoboSHOOT MX-20/RX-20 if you can afford them. Although they are a rather expensive, you are getting some high tech units with extremely solid performance.