… or Elinchrom Skyport vs. Cactus V2s
UPDATE January 11, 2011: I noticed that the number of different Elinchrom Skyport versions is increasing, so to clarify: This review considers Elinchrom Skyport Universal 19351 (transmitter) and 19352 (receiver), which are battery-powered wireless triggers for any flash. There are also Elinchrom Skyport RX products, which can trigger only Elinchrom flashes, and also newer versions of the Universal series with the Speed designation and/or different number with 20 % more range and some new features like better positioned power button, so it should not turn on in your bag.
As a Strobist fan, I am user of three camera flashes, that can be triggered remotely by a wireless signal from camera. For about a year I was using cheap “Cactus” triggers from China (older version PT-04 and slightly newer V2s), but due to its unreliability I recently bought more expensive solution – the Skyport made by Switzerland company Elinchrom. Both units can be seen on the upper picture, the Cactus transmitter includes antenna modification to increase triggering distance.
So far I was very happy with Skyports and I would like to share some of my findings about this system:
- Reliability. Basically 100 % reliable in studio. Cactuses were so unreliable that with a three flash setup I was lucky to get two shots in a row with all flashes activated. This was driving me nuts!
- Range. Skyport specifications state that it should work up to 120 meters (394 feet) outdoors, which I can confirm. They should work up to 50 m/164 feet indoors, but I am unable to test that. With the Cactuses I wasn’t able to exceed 15 meter range, even with the transmitter antenna mod.
- Sync speed. I am using my camera’s maximum sync speed (1/250 s) without bigger problems. The Skyports should be able to sync up to 1/1000 s. Cactuses worked sometimes at 1/200 s, but mostly only to 1/125 s and sometimes even longer times were required.
There is one problem though: Nikon SB-24 flash seems to have longer flash duration (or maybe it’s too old and slower reacting), so if set to 1/1 or 1/2 power, it only synchronizes up to 1/200 s even with Skyports. At 1/250 s the bottom of the image is slightly darker. At 1/4 power + 1/250 s everything is ok. The Nikon SB-28 and Canon 430EX seems to be working without problems up to 1/250 s with full output power.
- Automatic stand-by. The triggers will turn itself off after four hours of inactivity. This will save the battery power, if you accidentally turn it on during transport or forgot to turn it off after a shooting session.
- Control buttons on the transmitter.Both system posses the Test button, but Elinchrom transmitter has few more buttons to perform some useful actions: You can turn it off easily (with Cactuses you have to put it away from camera or at least slide it a bit in the hotshoe) and you can also assign flashes to three different groups and then trigger only a specific group or all three groups at once just by moving a slider on the transmitter.
- Price, of course. Not counting the cables, to control three flashes you will pay about $70 for Cactus solution and about $460 for Elinchrom Skyports.
- Battery. Each Skyport receiver has built-in rechargeable Li-ion battery. After two or three years it may die and I am not sure if a replacement can be ordered or a completely new receiver will be necessary. Also, you cannot take a spare battery with you on shooting. (On the other hand, the Skyport transmitter has ordinary replaceable battery.) All Cactuses has replaceable batteries.
- Cables. For Skyports special cables are necessary to connect it with the flash. I can highly recommend FlashZebra.com and its product Female Hotshoe to PW/CyberSync/Elinchrom, which is several things combined into one for a nice price. Communication with the company was also excellent, so if I will add another flashes into my setup I will definitely buy here another set of cables (or anything else that might come handy).
- Both Cactuses and Skyports are very small, compared to the traditional Pocket Wizards.
- Cactuses can serve as flash holders, but I haven’t had the courage to use it this way… they seemed too fragile and I didn’t want to put my flashes into danger. So at the end I needed a set of cables for the Cactus system too, but these are more common.
The current gold standard – Pocket Wizards – may have even better range, but I probably won’t even need those 120 meters offered by Elinchrom, so there is a little point for me to buy more expensive solution. All in all I consider this acquisition a great investment, which will save me from lots of troubles and stressful situations.