Well finally after months and months of testing here is my review. There was a great amount of work done between the testers, and cactus to make this a refined and useful product. I feel we accomplished that.
Disclaimer: I do not work for Cactus, nor do I get paid by cactus for my testing, and reviews. Theses reviews are my own opinion and experiences with the product.
I over the years have acquired flashes as I could afford them. This means I have even different brand flashes. Back in 2008 I did not have enough $ to buy the flash I wanted was the Canon 580EXII. I needed a flash that was powerful enough so I bought a SB-24 for 80$ and I used it for my first wedding I shoot even though I had canon. At the time there was not much on the market relatively low price. After I got the flash I wanted to start trying off camera flash. I bought a Cactus v4 set in the winter of 2009 and was hooked. Over time I acquired a mixed bag of flashes. Most of the older flashes I have had been moth balled until I got the Cactus V6. With the Cactus V6 I was able to wake my SB24 from the dead. I have got to use many different types of triggers from full TTL HSS triggers for use with my Canon E-TTL flashes, to standard single pin triggers. This fits some where in between and I like it.
In the past I found my self losing time in having to walk over to my stands and collapse the stand tilt it change the power setting then put it back where it was. This was not a good way of doing things. However at the time it was the only options. I am a big advocate of speed and being able to do things quickly. I don’t want to waist my clients time nor mine. The quicker and easier I can do something the less stressed I get in time sensitive shoots. This is where triggers that can remotely adjust power come in.
Now days there are some options, you have third party TTL that are brand locked in. Also you have a few limited manual triggers that do similar things that the V6 does but are also brand locked in and very limited compatibility.
I like the control of using manual power adjustments, but now I enjoy the freedom of doing this very quickly remotely.
This is where the Cactus V6 comes into play and they have done well.
History of Cactus:
So some people don’t understand why theses are not a certain brand. Cactus over the years has centered its self around brand agnostic philosophy. This is good because I have and work with people who have multiple brand equipment. I always thought ok so they will always stick with one pin firing, and not get into anything to complicated. I was wrong. They were able to innovate and create a multi vendor compatible hot shoe to allow ttl pass through for multiple vendors “canon, fuji-film, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax”. In addition the multi shoe or what they call the MSS “Multi System Shoe” supports manual power control to most major Nikon, Canon, and Pentax compatible flashes. They do however need to have analog or digital ttl pins for power control. This system is more of a platform so more features may come later via firmware. Who knows. To me the sky’s the limit. However they want to stay backwards compatible.
Overview of Cactus V6
What is the Cactus V6 and what can it do?
- The V6 is a transceiver, so it can act as a radio master or slave receiver in one single unit. So no need to order a specific receiver or transmitter.
- The Cactus V6 is a optical slave, S1 and S2.
- It is a Wireless remote shutter trigger.
- It is a safe-sync hotshoe adapter for high-voltage flashes
- It is a trigger delay.
- Wireless manual power control of a list of current and previous Canon, Nikon, and Pentax compatible flashes. Over 30 built-in flash profiles more will be added in firmware updates
- Users flash profile learning to add additional user analogue-TTL flash profiles.
- Full manipulation of power levels to 1/10, 1/3, 1/2 and 1EV steps
- Adds 0.1EV adjustment to RF60 and ttl flashes that do not have that refined of adjustments.
- Lo Power mode fires the flash for extremely short lengths of time. e.g. high speed photography
- Absolute Power Mode benchmarks the power output of different flash models to the same light intensity.
- TTL pass-through with Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Fuji film via one single unit.
- Built-in optical trigger enables pre-flash triggering.
- Group control allows you to control up to four groups.
- User selectable dial direction
- Shutter release with bulb mode
- Relay mode triggers the camera shutter and flash in sync.
- Delay timer is configurable from 1 millisecond to 10 seconds.
- Ability to be controlled by RF60 Master
- 100+M range with automatic temperature adaptation for reliability in changing temps
- Compatible with old flashes voltage range 0-300v
- Compatible with low-voltage flashes
- Low battery indicator
- All settings saved on power off including power levels, and settings.
- Mini-USB port for optional power supply and firmware updates.
- Uses standard AA, including rechargeable’s
- Working radio frequency: 2.4 GHz
- Number of channels: 16
- Number of groups: 4
- Support sync speed up to 1/1,000 second (subject to camera’s sync speed
- Maximum effective distance: 100 meters. ** Note: Very conservative. I never lost signal even at 467meters
- Operating temperature: -20°C to +50°C
- Camera voltage handling: up to 6V
- Flash voltage handling: up to 300V
- Dimensions: 72mm (L) x 72mm (W) x 42 mm (H)
- Weight: 68g
- Power input: Two AA batteries; mini USB 2.0, DC input 5V, 500mA~1A
Cactus has built in over 30 flash profiles. Theses span Canon, Nikon, and Pentax compatible models.
Current built in profiles are:
Cactus AF 45P, AF 50P
Metz 36AF-5, 44AF-1, 50AF-1, 58AF-2
Pentax AF360FGZ, AF540FGZ
Canon: 320EX, 430EX, 540EZ, 580EX2, 600EX (Note: 580Ex works with the 580EXII profile. )
Cactus: AF 45C, AF 50C
Metz: 36AF-5, 44AF-1, 50AF-1, 52AF-1, 58AF-1, 58AF-2
Nisson Di866, MG8000
Youngnuo 568EX2 (568EX works also with this I tested with mine.)
Nikon i-TTL Profiles:
Nikon :SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB900, SB910
Cactus: AF-45N AF-50N
Metz: 36AF-5, 44AF-1, 50AF-1, 58AF-2
Nisson: Di700, Di866
Nikon A-TTL Profiles:
Nikon: SB-24, SB28
The V6 comes in a nice package. The V6 is securely paced in the box with a molded cardboard insert. You get the V6 transceiver, stand, sample book, and a manual. The manual is well thought out and easy to read. The sample book has some nice examples of what you can do with off camera flashes and radio triggers. Most are from photos taken with Cactus V5’s and LV5’s.
To use remote power you need at least 2 transceivers or 1 transceiver, and one RF60 for the flash. To use its quite simple.
1. Put one transceiver on camera set to TX mode.
2. Put other transceiver off camera with a compatible TTL flash slide to RX. Select via menu the flash brand and model. Set group the group you want it on.
3. From the camera make sure the group’s you want to control are active, Now you can adjust power remotely and take pictures. To adjust individual groups you hold down the group button while turning the dial. To adjust all at the same time just turn the dial. More on that later:
The Cactus V6 works with a wider variety of flashes. I was able to test the v6 with the following flashes. Canon 580EXII, YN568EX, Nikon SB800, Nikon SB900 Nikon SB24. It worked great with the flashes. The cactus v6 allows you to remotely control power levels across Pentax , Canon, and Nikon flashes. There is absolute and relative power modes. More on that later. You have 4 groups you can change power levels on. With Cactus RF60 flashes you can actually also adjust zoom.
As you know lighting is done in layers. Different components adding to each other. What can be challenging is getting the components to all be at the levels you want easily. Most of the time you have to go to each flash and manually adjust the power setting traditionally or use a TTL solution. TTL has its positives and negatives. It becomes additionally difficult if the light is up higher or in a soft box to change settings. This is where the Cactus V6 comes into play. From the on camera unit you can quickly change power settings individually in groups or adjust and keep the ratios across all 4 of the groups. This is handy when just changing one setting like the aperture, ISO, or moving the subject distance.
You can have multiple flashes in a single group of one flash. If you have multiple flashes it is good for things like faster recycle time for key and so on.
The V6 transceiver has some intuitive ways to control it. A great deal of hard work went into refining this by the testers and cactus over the past few months. The main control buttons that you mainly will be working with are menu, the ok button, the dial, push-in on dial, and the group buttons.
Navigating menus have become intuitive. When you go into menus now you have 2 options for ok. You can push in the scroll wheel where you don’t ever have to move your finger, or you can use the ok button. As for changing power on each individual group all you have to do is hold down the group button while turning the dial. If you want to adjust all groups together you just turn the dial. If you want to lock in one group. You just hold the group tell it is highlighted. You also can adjust the direction of the scroll wheel, the functionality of the push in scroll in the sub menu.
One of the most important things for me was to have the power adjustment as quick as possible. This is where the all important scroll wheel is taken into use. The cool thing is you can individual adjust each group by either holding down a group button while scrolling. You can do a global adjustment by not touching any group buttons and it will adjust and keep the ratios tell their max and min limits. You also can hold down one of the group buttons for a few seconds to lock adjustment to just that group only.
You can see in the following video showing quick adjust. You cant see it but there is a v6 on the foot of the YN568EX flash. Also Note the triggers in the video are alpha models So the door is different along with the finish.
Quick power adjustment mode:
One cool thing is so the V6 has 1/10, 1/5, and 1/3 adjustment levels if you are at 1/10 you will be scrolling a while say from going to 1/128-1/1. So all you do is you push in the scroll button it switches to full stop power changes, then you push it again and it switches back to your previous finer adjustment level. I actual sort of happened across this by accident, it was a very pleasant surprise.
Relative Power Mode:
The v6 has two different modes the first one is Relative mode. This is the traditional power settings in regards to the power levels in off of the full power of the flash. So for example 1/2 is half the strength of full power. Levels that do not coincide to full stops theses are shown in the + so for example 1/16 +0.3 is 16th power with on third of a stop of power added to that.
So in the below image you can see that Group A is 1/4 Group B is 1/4+3, and C and D are 1/2. The 1/4+3 is Quarter power + 1/3 of a stop.
Absolute Power Mode:
Absolute power is a little different. It uses ev values. The cool thing with this feature, is by using flash profiles either pre defined or user created we know the flash output of each flash at the different settings. This means that a mix of different flashes we can keep a matched power output at each ev even if they are different powered flashes. For this feature to work the V6 transmitter needs to know all the power levels of the flashes it controls. When enabling absolute mode, the V6 transceiver will go out ant talk to all the other transceivers and get the information on the flash and report back to the tx v6 what they are so it can keep the same output per flash. Many people have a mixed bag of flashes with different power outputs so this is quite useful.
Creating flash profile’s:
One very interesting and unique feature with the Cactus v6 is you are able to create your own flash profiles with most analog ttl flashes. Some newer digital only TTL flashes would need a profile created if possible by cactus via firmware update. Cactus plans on doing this for customers if possibly.
Note: the video was created with the alpha trigger. The finish and battery door spacing has been changed.
The Cactus V6 can also be used as a shutter release. This allows you to use the radio trigger as a release for triggering the camera or bulb mode for long exposures. You do however need to get a separate shutter release cable. you can use any 3.5 to your shutter port cables. Cactus sells some relatively cheep.
I like strobist self portraits and one way I had to do this in the past is when useing the v5 for example as the remote shutter, it would not trigger the flashes correctly also. So what you needed to do is have one radio set for triggering the camera and another radio set to trigger the flashes.
With relay mode, now you only need 1 transceiver on the camera instead of 2. Then you need one hand held transceiver, and your off camera flash receivers. So now with only one transceiver on camera it will trigger the shutter and the flashes in sync.
One cool thing with the Cactus V6 and the RF60 is that a delay is built in. You can set a delay between 1 ms and 10 seconds. You can either set this on the transmitter or each receiver. You have the option of flat out turning off and when turning it back on it saves the delay. On the receiver the delay and delay value is displayed on the screen if set from there. Which is the optimal method. Because of the lack of space in the LCD on TX mode it is not displayed as set of done from the TX so just be aware. This could however change of course.
What can you do with delay?
- Adjust hyper sync delay when triggered optically from a HSS flash. “A additional post will come that will go over how to mix TTL radio triggers to add HSS pre flash radio capabilities. “
- Emulate second curtain sync. Since the v6 is a universal trigger no actual ttl signals from the camera are sent. However via the delay you can set a second curtain sync. It may take some playing round but it works.
- You can achieve multiple exposure from different flashes at different angles. Sort of like multi mode but at multiple angles.
The cactus V6 comes with a s1 and s2 optical trigger. Meaning it can either fire the flash on the first pules, or ignore ttl pre flash. You may be thinking really do I need to fire a flash on the initial pulse. The cool thing by having this option we now can do high speed sync. When doing high speed sync with a TTL HSS flash on camera. The camera first has to detect a HSS capable flash on it. Once it has it goes into high speed sync mode. This means you will get a HSS pre signal that will fire before the curtain even starts moving. This is needed for any triggering past your x-syn range. You can either use a manual HSS capable flash that you can set into HSS mode, or you can use flashes with flash durations long enough to fill the frame. Some companies call this hyper sync so lets just use that word.
RF60: Non HSS hyper sync can be done with studio strobes and manual flashes with long durations. *Note you can see the peak and fall off
RF60: Manual HSS mode triggered by V6 from TTL pre signal: *Note more even.
On camera Power Adjustment:
The nice thing about the Cactus V6 is that you can use flashes on camera while still controlling the flash’s off camera. The V6 has ttl pass through for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Fuji film flashes. For Canon Nikon and Pentax just make sure to set the appropriate profile for the flash that is on camera. When you put the V6 on camera it actual will also become a safe sync like the “Wein Safe-Sync” for high high voltage flashes.
You can use the on camera flash as a regular ttl flash like at wedding receptions, then you could have other flashes staged through the reception hall and adjust the power of each group from the on camera V6. It is a setup that photographers have been using for years however now you can remotely adjust those flashes staged around the reception hall saving time.
If you own a Cactus RF60. You now from the Cactus V6 to control zoom levels although it is either or you either have zoom levels as a quick adjust or power acceleration. Unfortunately this is not available for any other flash besides the RF60 because of technical limitations.
Lo Power mode:
This allows for a option for analog ttl flashes to have power go lower than the minimum 1/128 power setting. This allows for very short pules of light that is helpful when doing things like High speed photography to reverse the blurring side effect.
This example is NOT with Lo Power you can see how the water further out in the splash can blur some because of the speed it is moving Lo Power helps reduce this. Another users calculated it to be about 1/256 power level. This means the flash duration is very very quick.
The nice thing about the Cactus V6 and the RF60 both have the ability of firmware upgrades. This allows for bug fixes, Compatibility issues, built-in flash profiles, and the possibility for future new features.
Currently the firmware program is only for windows. There are plans to make it available for OSX. Currently you can create a virtual machine or use boot camp to upgrade the firmware if you ahve a MAC or even linux. The virtual machine just needs to have usb pass-through support.
The mini usb cable you can get extra, however it is pretty much a universal cable that you can use. One even came with most Canon camera kits. Also the cable can be used to power the v6 in studio setups without the need for AA’s.
LCD Backlight and Sleep mode:
With the Cactus V6 is you are able to adjust the timeouts for sleep and back light. For back light you can select always on or always off, or have it turn off in 5s or 15s.
Sleep mode can also be off or turn its self off at 15min or 60Min. Note: the V6 will not wake up from radio signal also that would defeat the purpose to power save.
There is a battery symbol on the lcd that would show the battery level. If it gets real low the LED will start blinking every 3 seconds indicating the batteries are very low.
Reliability and Range:
One thing about cactus is the reliability of their triggers. The V5 was really reliable, and I had no issues really with the V4 except when the batteries were low. The V6 is no exception. I have not had a single misfire with any of my units.
One way I test reliability is through walls and by distance to measure strength. The V6 triggered without issues outside of a building a teach my classes in so about 3 dry wall walls and one brick wall over about 20M. The second way I test the signal is by distance. With the V5 it was rated at 100M and I was able to get 200M easily I actualy ran out of room to test. The v6 is rated at 100M again however my tests show this to be quite a bit longer. I again walked tell I ran out of room. *Note: this picture is at 200mm an a 1.6 crop. So 320mm in full frame equivalent. So really I am much bigger than I was. I was able to walk as far as we could line of sight which was 467.48 meters. Almost 5 US football fields.
I found out that cactus went as far as ~800 meters before the signal became unstable. This shows me that the signal strength is strong enough to over come interference. The official range is 100M although that is very very very conservative. This was a V6 to an RF60. Which both have the same transceiver in them. However the RF60 has an thicker case so it supposedly should reduce the range but it did not seem to.
The Cactus V6 will trigger on cameras any cameras with standard universal hot shoe that has at least a single pin fire, or a camera with a sync port. Some propitiatory hot shoes like the propitiatory sony hot shoes you will need an adapter. TTL pass through works on the following cameras “Canon, fuji-film, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax”. You are able to remote control the power of supported “Canon, Nikon and Pentax” flashes.
The Cactus V6 is directly wireless computable with Cactus V5, Cactus LV5 Laser Trigger, RF60 radio flash, and Other Cactus V6’s. Of course you can add any flash, or any strobe through the sync port.
When I first saw the specs for the Cactus V6 it was pleasantly surprising. I was not expecting Cactus to come up with this level of functionality while still keeping as universal as possible. The usability and quickness of adjustment is very well done. The Multi-system Hot Shoe is very innovative and unique. The ability to mix and match systems together is in my opinion is awesome. I do a great deal of shooting with second shooters at weddings with other brand cameras and flashes. We now can share the same triggers and mix and match equipment. I also own flashes from Nikon and Canon that I now can use together. The reliability of theses triggers is awesome. Not a single miss fire even at almost 5 US football fields. The ability to expand and learn additional flashes and features makes it where this trigger will keep changing and growing over the years. The extra features like relay, ttl passthrough, delay and so on are icing on the cake.
Pros & Cons
- Being able to manual remote control power across four groups
- Brand agnostic triggers, able to control many different brand flashes together.
- Reliability – even at long distance
- Transceiver – do not need a separate transmitter and receivers
- sold build quality
- USB for firmware upgrade.
- TTL pass-trhoughRelay mode, Absolute power mode, and time delay
- Fully compatible with Cactus RF60 flash, including zoom control.
- Backwards compatible with the Cactus v5 , LV5 laser trigger and Cactus RF60 radio flash.
- Locking pin and locking quick lever
- Some what large size
- 1/4-20 thread a little close to the hot-shoe causing some umbrella swivels to not work with the tread, and the need for them to use cold shoe mounts.
- No wireless ttl only pass-through on camera.
- No included cables
The Cactus V6 transmitter is being released today 5/17 for release at Gadget infinity. They will release to other distributors hopefully next month. http://www.gadgetinfinity.com/cactus-wireless-flash-transceiver-v6.html
54.95$ USD each transceiver.
Note: Header image, and diagrams provided by cactus by product images and manual.