I just received a set of Flash Waves II Digital Radio Slaves recently and to be honest, I haven’t played around with it too much yet as I’m a relatively new when it comes to using off-camera flash, especially with radio triggers.
This is a brief review of the Korean-made Flash Waves II trigger manufactured by S.M Development Co. (SMDV), and I got my unit through Aperture Trading in Manila, Philippines c/o a good friend of mine, Ronald and brought back to Singapore by another friend, Mike (thanks guys!).
For those who aren’t aware, traditionally, a flash (or studio strobe) can only be triggered, or activated, through a sync cord. There is a physical wire, often at least 2-5 meters in length, that connects between the camera’s sync port or hotshoe and the flash unit itself. It’s a very simple and reliable way to fire a flash that’s not mounted on the camera and it has worked really well ever since it was introduced.
Unfortunately, having wires would also mean that your flash-to-camera distance is limited by the length of your wire. In addition, the longer the wire, the larger the odds that somebody will trip over the wire and knock both your flash and camera gear to the ground.
Later on, optical triggers were invented. These little triggers are usually tiny peanut-sized sensors that are very sensitive to sudden bursts of light. The way it works is a small flash (usually the mounted or built-into the camera) will fire a weak flash and the optical sensor mounted to the remote flash will then trigger. Since the remote flash is usually set to a much higher power than the on-camera flash, the on-camera flash’s exposure will barely register onto the image.
Now that eliminated the need for wires, however, optical triggers require line-of-sight, and that pretty much takes out a lot of different angles where you can place your flash, especially if you want to place your flash behind the subject.
Infra-red triggering systems are usually proprietary. While these usually retain most, if not all, of the OEM flash’s functions such as TTL metering, AF assist lamp, etc, they still require line-of-sight and are limited to a certain brand’s equipment.
Radio triggers, on the other hand, uses radio waves and are not affected by line-of-sight. You can place the remote flash behind walls and subjects, place them several yards away, and they’ll fire when you need it. No wires, no mess. Down side is, you’ll lose any automation in metering and flash control with most radio triggers, just like the Flash Waves.
Newer radio triggers (Pocket Wizard TT series and Radio Poppers) can even retain OEM functions mentioned, such as auto-focus assist, TTL metering, and so forth.
Back to the review.
First thing you’ll notice is the box. While it doesn’t scream “high-end”, it won’t shout “cheap” either. The packaging is well labeled and the items inside are well protected and isolated. The instructions are typical Chinese/Korean translated English, though.
Inside the box, you’ll find:
- FlashWaves Tx – The transmitter unit with pre-installed 23A battery
- FlashWaves Rx – The receiver unit
- A mini table-top tripod
- Two stick-on cold-shoe adapters (to mount the receiver to a flash unit’s body)
- One 3.5-3.5 mini sync cable
- One 3.5-3.5 sync jack
- One 3.5-6.3 sync adapter
- One set of Ansmann AAA batteries for the receiver
- Extra 23A battery for the transmitter
- One carrying pouch
- and One extra tightening knob.
One unique aspect of the Flash Waves Rx (receiver) is the availability of a built-in hotshoe. This is a very handy feature for Canon users as most Canon flashes prior to the current 580EX II Speedlight don’t come with a PC-sync port. With this built-in hotshoe, I can mount the flash straight onto the receiver and mount the receiver onto a flash bracket or even a tripod, as the Flash Waves Rx comes with a tripod socket as well.
The FlashWaves Tx transmitter is very sleek and light. Unlike other brands where the receiver protrudes like a mini flashgun, the Flash Waves Tx is roughly the size of a standard matchbox. The difference between the older Flash Waves transmitter would be that the current version includes an aerial which extends the range of the signal quite considerably. Not Pocket Wizards territory, but definitely more than a full length soccer pitch.
As mentioned, the package includes a table-top tripod, which is very handy if you’ve already lost your flash’s OEM plastic stand. I suggest you buy yourself a gorilla-pod for more flexibility, but the supplied tripod is quite decent in quality.
The build is very good for all the components. The seams are nice and tight, with no visible loose plastic edges. The buttons and knobs all operate with a very good tactile feel, the LEDs are very easy to read, as are the printed markings on both the Rx and Tx.
When attaching the flash onto the receiver, the rails on the receiver’s hotshoe has a 2-tier sliding mount, which makes the flash mount very securely onto the receiver even before the flash’s locking mechanism is tightened. Another benefit of the hotshoe is you can really have no wires in your set-up, no sync cords between the flash and the receiver at all.
When you’re using the receiver’s hotshoe, one thing you’ll notice that the power switch will most likely be blocked by the flash itself. So remember to turn the receiver on before mounting the flash. However, even if the flash is already attached, it doesn’t really take too much effort to insert a key or toothpick to slide the power button. No biggies here.
The Flash Waves II come with 10-channels of user-selectable frequencies to work with. While this is flexible, I doubt that anyone would really use more than a couple of channels anyway.
Using radio triggers is pretty straight-forward. You attach the transmitter to your camera’s hotshoe or through your camera’s PC ports (using the supplied sync cables), while attaching the flash to the receiver either through the hotshoe or using the sync ports, as well.
You can use multiple Flash Waves receivers as long as they’re on the same frequency, or if you don’t want to shell out another Php4,500 (SGD 140/USD 90) for an extra receiver, the Rx receiver sports a sync port that allow you to daisy-chain multiple flashes via traditional sync cables.
Bottom-line, these are very good alternatives to the cheap, but rather unreliable eBay China triggers (aka Cactus, or PT-04), or to the expensive (but longer range) Pocket Wizards. It seems that the main comparison for the Korean made Flash Waves II would be the Elinchrom Skyport system, which is not only more expensive, but also requires a proprietary battery and doesn’t sport a hotshoe on the receiver, necessitating more wires in your set-up.
Anyway, here are some preliminary images for you.
I highly recommend the Flash Waves II system.