As you progress in the world of photography, it’s safe to assume that you will outgrow the needs of your on-camera flash and will certainly experiment with an off-camera flash. As you get into off-camera flash, you are eventually going to come upon the question that everyone must ask themselves: What’s the best way for your camera to communicate with your flash? You may start with wired solutions. Or you may work with optical slave triggers (be them IR or visible light). But you will eventually find that each of those has their shortcomings. So you will eventually find that radio triggers are the way to go. Unfortunately, the market is filled with a number of options and the tradeoff is either dependability or affordability. There’s few and far between. But then Fotodiox Pro – who you may recognize as a manufacturer of high quality filters and other camera accessories – introduced the WonderBurst System. It was brought to our attention and they were kind enough to provide us a sample of the system for review.
The system is pretty robust and so I would like to start by clarifying the product configurations. You can use the WonderBurst system as a flash trigger, or you can use it as a camera trigger. It is capable of a 300 foot range and high speed sync (HSS) up to 1/8000 (assuming your flash and camera are also capable). For most cameras, the root of the system is the HSS8000 Transmitter (TX-CA) and the HSS8000 Receiver (RX-CK). But as you look into the system, you may see several different packages specifically designed for Canon, Nikon (of which is further divided into pro and mid-range cameras). Be aware that the main differences between these packages are the included adapter cables. If you don’t have Nikon or Canon, the system is still functional – but you may have to buy additional adapters to enable the camera-trigger mode or the high-speed sync feature. As for Sony NEX, which has a non-standard flash port (no hot-shoe), there is a completely different set that can connect to Sony’s proprietary flash port. This may be especially nice for NEX users as it would enable you to use any hot-shoe capable flash off-camera with your NEX camera. However, I’d like to point out that since the Sony NEX version of the WonderBurst is very different, our findings within this review may not apply.
At the most basic configuration for triggering a flash, all you technically need is the TX Transmitter and the RX receiver. The Transmitter fits into the hot-shoe on your camera and simply sends a signal to the receiver. Any hot-shoe capable flash that is mounted to the receiver will then be triggered. The transmitter and the receiver are separate units in the WonderBurst system. Other systems you may find will use what they call “transceivers”, which is a transmitter and receiver all-in-one. On one hand, the transmitter/receiver solution is much simpler from an engineering perspective, which ultimately makes it more affordable. On the other hand, if you’re using it to trigger your camera, the receiver now needs to be mounted on the camera while the transmitter is in your hand. This means that a single transmitter/receiver pair is only able to trigger the camera or the flash, not both – at least not without a more complicated setup.
The WonderBurst system is intended for full-manual control and it will not pass command data from the transmitter to the reciever. That means that TTL or proprietary systems like Nikon’s CLS are not supported. While this might be a concern to some beginners, TTL support among wireless triggers is fairly uncommon (and those that do support it are quite expensive). But as the true power and drama behind flash photography lies in manual control, I feel that most flash photographers move quickly beyond these automated systems. It would be a nice convenience to be able to control each flash group manually from the back of the camera, but this isn’t a serious desire, in my opinion. Of course it is important to know that your flashes need to be set in manual mode. I say this from experience: It took me several minutes to pinpoint why my Nikon flashes weren’t working while my manual flashes were. I simply had forgotten to move the Nikon flashes into manual mode. Problem solved. The rest was easy.
I predominantly used the WonderBurst to trigger flashes. And for that purpose it was ideal. Where a radio trigger system has a serious advantage over optical systems is that it is far more dependable. Bright light or obscured line of view between the commander (usually camera-mounted) and the flash would hinder optical systems. But this is where radio systems thrive as they don’t seem affected at all. The WonderBurst operates at 2.4 Ghz, which is not unlike many devices in your home. Many mobile phones or wireless house phones use the same frequency. Your Wifi device could be using the same range as well. So you probably already know how dependable this frequency range is. It will go through walls. While strong electrical fields or dense materials can affect the signal, it is likely not going to cause serious problems for you .
The WonderBurst is also suitable for triggering your camera from a remote location. To do so, you do need to change the setup. As I mentioned, the WonderBurst uses dedicated transmitters and receivers in lieu of a transceiver. So the receiver - which would normally be hooked to your flashes – needs to be mounted on the camera with a cable attached to the trigger port. The transmitter takes up residence in your hand. The button on the transmitter works very much like your camera’s shutter button. A half-press tells the camera to focus. Full-press takes the photograph. Self portrait photographers will love this because the trigger does not need line of sight like the IR triggers. That means you can hide it and won’t need to photoshop the trigger out later. But there is a disadvantage…since the transmitter is in your hand, there’s no easy way to also trigger your flashes using the WonderBurst system. I guess, in theory, one could use two pairs of WonderBursts on different channels to control everything, but that grows cumbersome.
For the general consumer, the HSS8000 is pretty dependable. When operating within the published range, I simply didn’t experience any lags, misfires or other problems. I tested the system in a number of environments at a number of distances. I do believe that in some cases, the published 300 foot range is pushing the envelope. In the suburbs and in the country, I had no issues. In fact, I may have been a little beyond 300 feet with successful fires of my trusty flash. But deep in the city – where bandwidth noise is common – I didn’t always make it to 300 feet. Now I simply don’t work with flashes 300 feet away – I rarely even have my camera that far away. I suspect that very few photographers will have use for that feature. Considering a 100’ range – which is more than reasonable for most of us – the system synced my flash flawlessly.
High-Speed Sync (Maybe)
The published feature set of this system includes High-Speed Sync (HSS, also known as Focal Plane or FP Sync). HSS is a special protocol available for some flashes and some cameras that gives the photographer the ability to use much higher shutter speeds than you could with a standard flash setup.
Why would you want to do that? There are many reasons to do so, but here’s one: You want to shoot a portrait at sunset with the sun in the shot, but still want light on the subject. You need to have a high shutter-speed to control the sun, and you need a flash that can deliver the light onto the subject at that high speed. At very fast shutter speeds, a single curtain cannot physically move fast enough to create the exposure. So the camera actually has two shutter curtains that will slide across the frame to make faster exposures – exposing only a tiny slit of the frame at a time (the faster the shutter speed, the smaller the slit). Without HSS, your rear shutter curtain will partially block some of the exposure and that portion of the shot will appear way under-exposed – an obvious line across the image. With HSS, the flash pulses as the shutter curtain crosses the frame, delivering an equal amount of light all the way through the shot while the slit travels across the frame. So HSS is pretty handy, but there’s a catch: Every component in the chain must support HSS, including your triggers.
Here’s a caveat: HSS isn’t supported by all cameras. You can expect a pro body to support HSS. But not all consumer-grade bodies will support it. Nikon, for example, doesn’t support it on it’s bodies below the D7100. Canon offers support on more of their bodies, even at the consumer level, but is still missing in a few. You would have to check your camera to see if it does support HSS. Without HSS support, you won’t be able to use the HS8000′s most promising feature.
Here’s the problem: The majority of the cameras on the market that support HSS are full-framed sensors. And that’s inconvenient seeing as WonderBurst was recently discovered to have incompatibilities with Full-framed digital cameras. Not even half of Canon’s current lineup and only a single camera from Nikon (The D7100) will both support the WonderBurst and HSS. That’s not very much of the market left to support this signature product feature. Sadly, we can’t even test that as we don’t even have a compatible setup. We simply cannot overlook the fact that the full-frame incompatibility issue eliminates more than half of the HSS-supporting market.
Meanwhile, there isn’t much detail on the WonderBurst site about the full-frame incompatibility. I suspect that Fotodiox is still trying to figure out the problem as they didn’t have much information to give me. It’s a problem with no known solution. In fact, Fotodiox is offering refunds for those experiencing this problem.
As a very basic system, the Fotodiox WonderBurst does it’s job to trigger flashes and the camera, if need be. Unfortunately, it’s most promising feature, the HSS support, might as well not exist because of the problem with full-framed cameras, which is a great majority of the HSS-supporting cameras on the market. If the system were a transceiver style system or if it supported command data, I could overlook the HSS. But I can’t help but to think that even at this price point, the WonderBurst simply is not enough value. On the other hand, the WonderBurst is quite dependable when it comes to delivering those flashes. And I really did like using it to trigger my camera, especially for my self portraits.
If you’re in the market for a basic radio trigger system, or if you have a camera that fully supports the advanced features offered by the WonderBurst, then you can get a set for about $70 USD. A complete kit includes the transmitter, receiver and all the cables necessary to connect it to your camera and flashes (you’ll need to select a kit that matches your camera). The WonderBurst HSS8000 system is available direct from Fotodiox’s Website. The system is also available at Amazon.com.
Things We Liked
- Durable design
- Easy to use
- Very dependable
Things We Didn’t Like
- Known problems with full-frame cameras
- Transmitter & receiver are dedicated units, requiring complicated setups