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Friday, June 17, 2011

Yongnuo RF-603C Radio Flash Trigger Review


I've been using a set of inexpensive "Cactus" flash radio triggers for a few years now. And I've used them *hard.* With all the Strobist-inspired progress in radio triggers over the past few years, I decided it was time to try out some of the latest models, and purchased a pair of Yongnuo RF-603C transceivers to try out; here's a rundown on my experience with these interesting flash triggers.

Yongnuo, a Chinese company, got into the radio trigger market a few years ago with the PT/YN-04 model, a separate trigger-receiver pair. Updated models came out pretty quickly, including the CTR-301, YN-04II, and YN-16 models. Their latest release is the RF-603 group, where they've ditched the separate trigger/receiver and made each unit into a transceiver that can be either a trigger or receiver. The RF-603 products also include the ability to be a remote camera trigger, and so are broken up into Nikon and Canon specific models (with two different Canon models, differing only in the camera trigger cord that's included for the different Canon models). I bought the RF-603C1 model, which comes with a trigger cord for the Canon Rebel/XT/XS cameras. They were $31.15 for a pair of Yongnuo RF-603 C1 transceivers from Amazon, but also available direct from Yongnuo or on E-Bay.

The RF-603 has a number of nice features, indicating that Yongnuo has been listening (somewhat) to their customer base. They got rid of the expensive and hard to find CR-2 batteries, going for two AAA alkalines for power. They went to the unregulated 2.4GHz radio band, for greater range and less interference with flash units. They included a full Canon TTL-aware hot shoe and pass-through -- the hot shoes on both the top and the bottom of the transceivers have the full Canon electrical contacts, letting them "wake up" Canon E-TTL flashes when they're in the transceiver hot shoe, and allowing pass-through of E-TTL signals to a Canon (or compatible) flash in the unit's hot shoe when it's acting as a transmitter in your camera's hot shoe. They have a PC-cord output socket (for triggering flashes using a PC cord, including studio monolights), and a 4-position DIP switch under the battery compartment for setting the channel to use (16 different channels).

The build quality of the units is very good. They're mostly plastic, but solidly made and well assembled. The bottom shoe foot is metal for strength, as is the top-mounted trigger hot shoe. Unfortunately, in a major oversight, the bottom foot lacks a locking ring or lever, so they rely on a friction fit for holding them in either the camera's hot shoe or on a stand adapter when being used as a receiver. The foot is very slightly oversized, so the friction fit is tight, but it's not enough to reliably hold the units in place. As the units also lack a tripod socket for securely attaching them to a tripod or light stand, attaching them securely is a major issue.

The on-off switch for the transceiver can also be a minor problem -- it's located just in front of the top hot shoe, and with several flash units on the market (most notably the Canon EX series), the front bulge of the flash goes right over the switch, making it very hard to turn them on or off when the flash is mounted in the hot shoe. As the photo above shows, it's less of a problem with other flashes (that's a Vivitar 285HV mounted), but the switch location is problematic.

The good news: they work very well for basic operations. The "smart" transceivers figure out whether they're in a hotshoe on your camera or acting as a receiver; slip one in your camera's hot shoe, stick a flash in another one, turn them both on, and when you half-press your camera's shutter button the unit on the camera figures out it's the transmitter, talks to the remote unit, and you're off and flashing.


The claimed range of the RF-603 is 100 yards -- I paced off a 100-yard distance, set up a flash there, and reliably got the flash to trigger every time, without a single mis-fire (see image above). More good news: they're quick to trigger, meaning you can use your camera's full flash sync speed reliably. My older "Cactus" triggers are only reliable at about 1/3 stop below the full sync speed -- on my XTi camera, with a sync speed of 1/200th sec., about 1 in 5 shots at that speed would show a dark band, indicating incorrect sync. I had to use 1/160th sec. to get reliable syncing (and 1/200th on my 5D Mk II with a 1/250th sync speed). The RF-603s have yet to have a problem at the top sync speed of either of my cameras.
The bad news: these "smart" transceivers are a little too smart for their own good. The unit relies on the Canon E-TTL "wake up" signal from the hot shoe on the camera to figure out it should be a transmitter, which means that if you want to trigger your flashes by simply hand-holding one transceiver (with the other one attached to a flash), you're out of luck. No amount of pushing the built-in "test" button will convince the unit in your hand that it's supposed to be the transmitter, and it just sits there doing nothing. It also won't turn itself into a trigger if it's in a non-Canon hot shoe -- such as the shoe in my older "Cactus" remotes. And with no PC-cord *input* to trigger from, it won't work as a trigger from sound or optical triggers for high-speed flash, either. This is a camera hot-shoe only setup, reducing flexibility considerably.
As I mentioned, the units also include a camera-specific shutter release cable, for remote firing of the camera. You put a transceiver in the camera's hot shoe, attach the cable from the transceiver to the camera's remote release input, and then hold another transceiver in your hand. When you half-press the "test" button, the unit in the camera figures out it's supposed to be a camera trigger, the two units sync up, and a full press releases the camera shutter. This also works reliably in my tests, and up to 100 yards away. But *one* of the transceivers MUST be in a Canon camera hot shoe for the "smart" units to figure out their configuration -- no amount of twiddling or trying to fake them out (using a Canon off-camera cord, for example) would get them working in any mode without one of the units being in a camera hot shoe.

Overall, I'm a bit disappointed with the RF-603. They have some real, useful improvements over previous Yongnuo models (and other inexpensive Chinese models), but the limitations (no locking foot, no tripod socket, no triggering unless one of them is in a camera hot shoe, poorly-placed on/off switch) are problematic. They're just not nearly as flexible in operation as some other units (including Yongnuo's own previous models), and securely mounting them is difficult if not impossible. That said, I will be using these in my studio at home, where a simple one-in-the-camera, one-on-a-flash setup works fine, with the rest of my strobes going off with optical slaves (and they *do* reliably trigger my AlienBees and Adorama flashes). But I'll still be looking for another solution for outdoor speedlight work, and for my high-speed flash work. If all you need is a simple setup, these are a great bargain at about $32 a pair. If you need more flexibility or secure mounting, you'll have to look elsewhere for the time being, or wait and see what Yongnuo does next (which from past experience, should be in just a few months!).



25 comments:

  1. i am getting my first wireless trigger set, so would you say that these are better than the RF-602?....they are both the same price, so which do you think should i get?
    Thanks you.

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  2. Hi, this is Mark from the Yorhoo blog. Just wondering if you'd like to exchange blogroll links with us.

    If yes, just leave us a comment on any one of our blog posts at http://yorhoo.com/blog

    We'll link to you first and then confirm the link by commenting on your blog. Then when you have some time, link back ok? If you're not interested, that's ok too. In which case, have yourself a great day and happy blogging. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Mina,
    The 603's are "better" in that there's no separate transmitter, the range is a bit better, and the build quality has improved. But since the 602 receivers have a tripod socket for much more secure mounting, and the transmitter doesn't have to be in the camera hot shoe to work (you can fire it by just hand holding it), honestly I'd recommend the 602s for now. They're still being made, but if you go with them get *all* that you need (as many receivers as you're going to need) now, since Yongnuo may stop making them in the next year or so. For the price, they're probably a better option for you. Good luck!

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  4. Thanks for the mention of how the 603s differ from the 602s. I think I am going to go for the 602s.

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  5. Great review. If I have one in a Canon hotshoe but everything is set to Manual (i.e. no TTL) will it still work as a trigger?

    Thanks,
    jds

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  6. If only I had seen this review before buying a RF603C set! Now I have it laying around uselessly. I wanted to trigger the RF603C from a optical trigger using only middle contact.

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  7. I have found a simple fix to make the RF603C work with any hotshoe. Open it, solder a 120 kohm resistor to the + battery connector labeled Vin, solder a short piece of wire to the other end, insulate, and solder the other end of the wire to the J6 connection (E-TTL wakeup signal).
    Voila, this RF603C will now always setup as transmitter.

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    Replies
    1. Crix,
      Great tip, I've seen that on the web. If you don't mind giving one up to be a permanent transmitter, that is :)

      Paul

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    2. if this were done, would you be able to remotely fire the flash without having the transmitter on the hotshoe?

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    3. Yes, using the trigger button on the RF-603. As they come from the factory, they only put themselves in "transmitter" (trigger) mode when they're in a Canon hot shoe.

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  8. Update: I tried the E-TTL pass-through function (put one transceiver on your camera's hot shoe, and put an E-TTL flash in the transceiver's hot shoe) using my Sigma EF-530 DG Super flash (which is Canon E-TTL compatible). It does work with the Sigma units. Other folks have reported the E-TTL pass-through does *not* work with Canon speedlights. Just FYI. Most folks won't buy these to put another flash on top of one...but if that's what you want, this won't work with Canon speedlights unless you put the flash in manual.

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  9. If something useful should be done with these units a rewrite of the instructions would be great. Any intructions that begin with:"Thank you for purchasing YongNuo products in advance.", has to get worse.

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    Replies
    1. Thankfully, they're not that hard to figure out without the manual, which is indeed in pretty poor English!

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  10. Hi Paul,

    Will this transrecevier will work with Canon Speedlite 600ex-rt as on-camera flash and a legacy 430/580 EX II as off-camera flash? If so, does ETTL in the on-camera 600ex-rt is funcational?

    Thanks

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  11. Yes, and no.

    Yes, it will work fine with a Canon 600ex-rt in the pass-through hot shoe; it will fire the on-camera flash and your legacy flash off-camera attached to another transceiver.

    No, it won't do E-TTL in the on-camera 600.

    Generally, though, if you're using off-camera flashes in non E-TTL modes (fired by radio remotes), you don't *want* to have your on-camera flash in E-TTL mode anyway. The off-camera flashes will confuse the on-camera E-TTL one. Set them all to manual, and it's all good!
    Paul

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  12. how long will a pair of eneloop lasts on a regular usage in the unit?

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    Replies
    1. I've got AAA eneloops in all 4 of mine. I last charged them about two weeks ago -- since then I've done 6 jobs using them, a total of around 1,000 - 1,200 triggerings. After the shoot I did last night, I'm putting them back on the charger today :)
      In other words...quite a while!

      Paul

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  13. I'm hoping you can tell about using these as both off-camera remote flash triggers AND remote shutter release AT THE SAME TIME.

    Sorry for the caps but that's the important bit. I do multi-flash setups and often need to trigger the cameras shutter and the flashes remotely as I'm in the shot. So if I buy 2 sets (totaling 4 units), one on each flash, one on the camera and one in my hand, can I remotely trigger my shutter and have the flashes fire too?

    Oh please say yes. Thanks and great review.

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    Replies
    1. Steve - just make sure you buy the right unit for your camera. There is a cable included which you can connect from the camera-mounted unit into the remote socket and then you can trigger the camera remotely with it.

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  14. Will these triggers work on lumix g3 as transmitter to yn 560III flash?

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  15. I need your help on flash triggers. I bought a pair of YN RF-603C tranceivers.

    Its written in the manual that it can work as both trigger and receiver. In my setup, I want to trigger a (YN560II + RF603) with the other RF603.

    I can trigger the flash when I attach the other RF603 to my camera hotshoe. But, I want to trigger the flash wirelessly using the shutter button at RF603 without attaching it to the hotshoe.

    Is there anyway I can do that ?

    Reason for this setup -
    Canon doesn't support off camera external flash triggering at 2nd curtain. Hence I need the setup to trigger the flash manually just before the 2nd curtain closes.

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  16. actually you CAN wireless trigger these away from camera. Buy 2 sets 4 (total). plug on on top of camera with wireless sync cord attached and the other 2 flash. Any spare triggers will trigger the flash wireless.

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  17. Hi, I have the same radio, but I would change the pc-sync to be input, output, and that is only the pc-sync, you know something of the amendment?

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  18. Hi, thanks for your review.... How to set up 603 to be used in more than 1 group? Is there any trick?

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  19. Hi! great review ;) but, one question regarding to remote shutter release, would it be possible to trigger the remote camera if, instead of holding the transmitter in the hand, we plug it in the hot-shoe of another camera for synchronizing the shutter of the latter with the remote one?

    ReplyDelete