Hello Lighting Rumours readers, my name is Rick Bradbury and I am a portrait photographer based in Stockport, UK. I have written for LR before with a review of the Pixel King ETTL triggers back in 2011. Now I will be reviewing Triopo’s newest three flashes, the TR-961, TR-586EX and TR-982.
In full disclosure, I have been given these units to review and keep; that will not change how I review or what I think of the lights, I am known for calling a spade a spade.
Lighting-wise I am currently using:
- Canon 430EXII * 3
- Canon 600EX-RT
- Yongnuo YN560II
- Phottix Strato II (Canon) triggers
- Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 60D cameras
I get that I am running older gear in terms of cameras, so no idea what these will do with the latest generation of Canon cameras like the 5D3 and 1DX. But I will test what I can. So I will be comparing the Triopo lights to the above list. In particular, we will look at build quality, feature set, price point, power (metered), AF-assist beam and how they behave with Canon E-TTL. I don’t own or have access to any Nikon gear so won’t be looking at those features.
You can see the video review below or read on. The video is quite long as its covers all three flashes at once instead of splitting it into three 10-minute videos, but you can pause and resume at your own pace.
Upon receiving these lights, my first impressions were they are well packaged and come with the expected items – flash, case, lambency diffuser, stand, manual. OK, that’s all good. Now when you look at the boxes and flash units, they all look identical apart from model number labels.
The manuals are in Chinese and English. The spec sheets inside are all the same; you only notice the difference when you flick through the instructions. With this in mind, it took some time and experimentation to figure out exactly which flash does what and what the differences are.
At the moment, none of the three lights are on the Triopo website, which is also mainly in Chinese. I think that manufacturers like Triopo could probably improve their marketing efforts, starting with up-to-date websites with better English-language sections. Chinese companies are starting to produce some solid units offering genuine alternatives to the more expensive Canon and Nikon Speedlights.
Comparing these units to my other lights, they are built well and are equally as good as the current generation of Yongnuo flashes. Canon does have the edge for build quality, but you would expect that given the price. The zoom on the TR-series flash heads is a little noisy, but hardly a deal-breaker, and the confirmation/ready beeps are loud, which is good, and can also be turned off.
One thing I do like about the Triopos is the feel of the buttons, with the positive “click” you get. Yes, it’s noisy, but you know when you have pressed the button; in contrast the spongy buttons on the Canon 430EX II are irritating at times, especially with cold hands.
Now, I have dropped my Canon lights off 13ft light stands and they have survived, which is a testament to their durability. Don’t worry Triopo: I wont be testing your lights like this, but having said that, they seem well built enough to take a knock or two.
Also, it’s worth noting the main adjustment buttons (power/zoom etc.) on the D-pad are easy to use and stop at max/min power, rather than cycling through the whole range like the YN560-II. Think of it this way: your light is in a softbox on a 7 ft stand and you reach up to change power. It’s nice to have a positive click and a flash that won’t keep going through the power range, so you can find the setting you want without seeing the screen.
As you can see from the images, the three Triopo flashes are almost identical in appearance, using the same chassis, buttons and LCD, so it is easy to mix them up. Their shared form factor is a cross between the Canon 430EX II (buttons) and 600EX (display). The main differences are in TTL modes/functions.
- Guide number 56 (ISO 100, 180mm)
- M, S1, S2, wireless TTL slave, stroboscopic
- 2.9 second recycle time
- Manual power control to 1/128 in 1/3-stop increments
- 97° vertical tilt; +/- 180° horizontal swivel
- Manual zoom: 18–180mm
- Flash duration 1/200s at full power; 1/20,000s at 1/128
- PC sync port
- External power input
- Metal hotshoe
- Built-in diffuser panel and bounce card
Triopo TR-961 — manual flashgun with TTL slave
To me the TR961 is the most basic light; it’s more a manual light with an added TTL bonus. Yes, OK, it has i-TTL and E-TTL slave modes so it will talk nicely to a master/commander unit, but that’s where the TTL functionality ends. It will do both Canon (E-TTL) and Nikon (i-TTL) slave work and manual flash. And of course it does stroboscopic / multi flash.
I can also confirm that it works as expected on-camera (60D and 5D2) and as an (optical) slave to my Canon 600EX-RT and the built-in commander on the 60D. E-TTL works as expected. I also tested this unit on the TTL-pass-through of my Phottix Strato II triggers and it worked fine in manual mode as well as manual on-camera.
Triopo TR-586EX — all-round TTL flashgun
Everything in the TR-961, plus:
- On-camera TTL for Canon or Nikon
- Flash exposure compensation (FEC)
- Rear-curtain sync
Now with this light I had trouble with the 60D as it would not communicate properly with its hotshoe. It worked fine on the 5D2. Just to be sure I tried all the lights on the 60D and all but this one worked as expected on the hotshoe… so I will put it down to sample variation and being unlucky.
TTL pass-through on the Phottix Strato II doesn’t work either: the flash locks up completely and I have to take the batteries out. It’s not clear whether this is a fault of the TR-586EX, the Strato or both. Personally it doesn’t bother me as I prefer to use my Canon lights for AF-assist and on-camera duties.
Triopo TR-982 — TTL flashgun with HSS
Everything in the TR-961 and TR-586EX, plus:
- High-speed sync (HSS) up to 1/8000 second
For Canon, this works fine on the 5D2 and 60D, both on-camera and off-camera as a slave to the 60D or 600EX-RT. This is the light that I will be keeping — the others are being handed over to friends if they want them. Like the TR-586, this one shuts down on the Phottix Strato TTL pass-through hot shoe, whereas my Canon lights work fine. It’s just one of those things.
In-depth look at the units
One thing to note is all three flashes lack an E-TTL confirmation light like seen on the Canon units. Deal-breaker? Maybe for some, but I’m not bothered as I rarely use TTL anyway. Now I also want to make it clear that none of these units are master-capable units but they can act as E-TTL slave units or trigger each other via S1 and S2 optical modes in manual.
I only shoot TTL if the situation needs it, much preferring manual for consistency. The TTL function works fine on all the lights and give the expected level of consistency that comes with TTL. I have noted an issue with one light (TR-586EX) on my Canon 60D body though: it seems somewhat fussy about its position in the hot shoe on the camera.
TTL features like Flash Exposure Lock work fine, as does Flash Exposure Bracketing on the TR-982.
They can all do slave duties and the TR-586EX/TR-982 can also do on-camera Canon E-TTL.
One thing I will say is that if you are looking a these for the TTL feature set make sure you pick the right flash. Check the specs because they have a few differences when it comes down to TTL features.
The Triopos have a fair amount of power — about equal to a Canon 430EX II, but the guide number in the specs seems off. The 430EX II has a guide number of 43, the Triopo 56 which should put it equal or pretty close to a 580EX/600EX. Whilst this might disappoint some, it is still a usable amount of power. That said, in manual mode they are consistent enough shot-to-shot and offer a wide power range of 128–1/1 with 1/3-stop increments.
This is an interesting feature that I plan to play with some more. I now have a total of 7 lights that have this mode and a master (plus 1 trigger for the YN560-II) that can control them. It works fine as far as I can tell. I kind of wish I had access to a dance studio and a dancer but sadly I don’t. But it works and makes your house feel like a nightclub.
Yo Canon! Yeah, you. Will you please take a look at these cheaper speedlites and give yours optical slaves? It’s a nice back-up triggering feature to have and sometimes saves you buying an extra radio receiver. All the Triopos have S1 and S2 optical slave modes and they work fine, as expected.
Recycle speed is fine. Part-way through the video all the lights are tested against each other and found to have fairly similar recycle times. Nothing to worry about. I could only test with AA batteries in the lights as I don’t own any power packs yet, and to be honest have never felt the need nor desire to carry more stuff.
AF assistance… please
The autofocus illuminator simply does not work on any of the Triopo flashes. Well, it does, but only just. The LED is aimed way off to the top right and only just covers the centre AF point. A simple fix at the factory, I expect, but I won’t be using these for their AF assist light. You can see how far off it is in the image below, and it is the same on all of them. Shame really.
Below is a table of meter readings taken using a Sekonic L-358 meter and the flashes powered from fully-charged Sanyo Eneloops. The Triopos are all the same power as each other, so I tested their collective performance against all the other flashguns I own. The flash-to-meter distance was 7.5ft.
Three readings were taken at 24mm, 105mm, 180mm (Triopo only) and 200mm (600EX-RT only) zoom settings to measure the output of each light. Of course, you will see variation at most flash head zoom settings as the light spread changes, but to measure and display every single one would take far too long.
You can download the full dataset comparing meter readings of the Triopos against the Canon 430EX II, Canon 600EX-RT and Yongnuo YN560-II under identical conditions. The following two charts show each light’s performance at different whole-stop power levels for a wide (24mm) zoom setting and narrowish (105mm) one.
We have limitations on consistency when it comes to a set of 4 AA batteries and the current charge they have; that said if it were consistently off by 2/3 stop then generally I would not consider the lights usable. My Canon speedlites, whilst lacking power, far outperform the Bowens 500Ws studio lights I use regularly — enough to make me not even consider Bowens lights for future needs when it comes to reliability and consistency.
Whilst the Triopos are not what they seem power-wise, they are not bad, being equal to a 430EX II which is a good little unit especially when paired with a leaf shutter on (e.g.) the Fuji X100 and Phottix Stratos II. (1/1000 sec wireless sync anyone?) Also, given that the Triopo has S1 and S2 optical slave modes they should sync at even higher speeds (at lower power) when triggered using the X100’s flash, rather than a radio transmitter (which introduces a small delay).
The Triopos are good lights, cheaper than the big names, pack enough power for most and offer a good, solid feature set.
Now, which is for you will depend on how you shoot and what kit you have already, but they are a good option for backup or additional TTL-capable slave lights if you are an event portrait or wedding photographer using TTL. Also, they would be a good option if you shoot with two difference camera systems (Canon/Nikon) and regularly use TTL, as you can add to a light kit without having to buy a dedicated set of flashes for each system.
After my short time using these lights I cannot talk about long-term reliability — it’s too early to tell — but they seem solid and consistent enough. However, the AF-assist beam sucks… it really does. Triopo: you need to fix that on the production models if the 5D2 shooters are to leave their MagLites at home.
Would I buy a set? Yes. They would add a few additional lights to a kit and give TTL functionality to boot for when it’s needed. I would like the manufacturer to improve the instruction manuals, the AF-assist beam and the power output if they want to market them as GN56, but being equal to a 430EX II I would not make me call them weak lights by any means.
I used to be against these kind of cheaper lights, but that was in the early days of the frankly-crap YN460s and others. Things have got a lot better now and the feature sets are catching up with, if not matching, the premium lights from Canon and Nikon. With these being pre-production units I expect them to compete well with the Yongnuo lights when they finally go on sale. I’m looking forward to building a light bar for some stroboscopic work with these lights.