Cactus RF60 Review

Competition

The Cactus RF60 is a truly unique offering. No other flash model currently on the market provides all of the RF60’s features. In particular, the combination of Cactus V6 and RF60 is quite remarkable. The V6’s ability to control the power of RF60s, digital, and analogue TTL flashes to calibrated output levels with 0.1 EV precision in a completely brand-agnostic manner is an industry first.

In-the-Box-2
Competition
The other flashes shown here, the Canon 540EZ and the Metz 58 AF-2, were used in testing for comparisons but are not current competitors due to being discontinued (540 EZ) and being a much more expensive P-TTL model (58 AF-2).

A number of other flash models on the market could be considered competitors to the Cactus RF60 due to similar feature sets and/or price points. I did not include any P-TTL capable models in the following comparison because they are much more expensive than the Cactus RF60.

I also believe that P-TTL capable flashes appeal to a different type of photographer who is looking for automated flash exposure. Pentax P-TTL can be very convenient in this regard but is extremely limited when it comes to working with more than one flash. In particular, there is no support for flexibly controlling the lighting ratios of more than two groups. As a result, it does not make much sense for a flash photographer who desires predictable and consistent results from potentially multiple flashes to pay a hefty price premium for P-TTL.

LumoPro LP180

The LumoPro LP180 Quad-Sync is the third iteration of the original LP120, a basic manual flash that together with the Yongnuo YN460 and the Cactus KF36 (a Vivitar 285HV clone) for the first time provided an affordable alternative to purchasing pricey equipment made by camera manufacturers and/or searching for old manual flashes on the used market.

The LP180’s power output was measured to be the same as the Yongnuo YN560-III by lightingrumours.com, so do not be misguided by the specified guide number of 34 in the table below, because it is based on a 35mm zoom setting, rather than the usual 105mm. Manufacturers like to state the guide number at the highest zoom setting because by concentrating the light in a beam at high zoom levels, the intensity of the light is higher per illuminated square metre. However, in reality the flash tube’s nominal maximum power is fixed and independent of the zoom setting.

With a price tag of $199.99, the LP180 is the most expensive flash in this line up. It comes with an integrated gel holder and in the US with a two-year warranty. Another nice feature is that the head swivels 360°. Many heads, like that of the RF60 only swivel 270°. While a full swivel range is more important for a flash that relies on optical triggering, it is still very convenient to be able to swivel into any direction.

The LP180 has a major disadvantage, though: It lacks a built-in radio receiver. One can, of course, combine it with an external radio trigger, but one will still not be able to remote control the LP180’s power level.

The LP180’s LCD display is hard to read and the red window at the front serves no purpose; it is just a pretend part. The LP180’s much touted “Quad-Sync” connectivity is exceeded by the RF60. The RF60 matches the hot-shoe, 3.5mm port, and optical triggering options. It does not feature the outdated legacy PC (Prontor-Compur) port with its infamous reliability issues, but adds radio trigger support, easily the most useful of all triggering alternatives.

Yongnuo YN560-III

The Yongnuo YN560-III was the first flash model to feature a built-in radio trigger. So far the built-in receiver only supports remote triggering, but it is said to also support remote power control in combination with the yet to appear YN-560 transmitter. The latter was announced to be available by the end of 2013 but has not been released yet.

The YN560-III’s biggest plus is the low price of just $88. One of the cost cutting measures taken to achieve this price was to rip off the Canon 580’s case design. Another is to apparently reuse button and LCD layouts that are not quite up to the job. The YN560-III requires the user to use quite a number of two simultaneous button presses and sometimes uses very cryptic display messages, in particular for the menu. There is only one zoom button that cycles through all zoom settings. This is an approach that is very common among flashes but nevertheless tedious to use and unnecessarily straining on zoom motor and batteries. If one wants to reduce the zoom setting by one step, one has to cycle through all other available steps first.

The YN560-III does not offer many of the extra features of the RF60 such as a master mode, HSS, second-curtain sync emulation, integrated tripod thread, etc.

It is a bit of a mystery why the YN560-III features a PC-sync port instead of the much more reliable 3.5mm alternative.

The announced YN-560 transmitter that will be the on-camera partner to the YN560-III, will most likely avoid most of the following past issues of Yongnuo radio triggers:

  • usability issues (e.g., channel switches inside the battery compartment).
  • required CR2 batteries instead of plain AA(A)s.
  • missing locking mechanism.
  • required some workarounds / DIY-solutions to work with Pentax cameras at full 1/180s sync-speed.
  • limited compatibility; there are several incompatible systems within the Yongnuo trigger and flash line up.

However, it would be a big surprise if it came close to offering the features of the upcoming Cactus V6.

Quality control has been a major issue with past Yongnuo products but it appears that later products, including the YN560-III, are more reliable. Finally, the manual is said to be written in “Chinglish” (a hard to comprehend version of Chinese English).

Triopo TR-850EX

Even more so than the Yongnuo YN560-III, the Triopo TR-850EX appears to be built to a price. The buttons have a mushy feel and the battery door is not confidence inspiring. Triopo’s TR-120 bare bulb model apparently had some build quality issues; the TR-850EX may be more reliable, though.

It seems that the TR-850EX could do with some more refinement because it is possible to fire it before the capacitor has reached the charge required, thus allowing underexposure to occur. Unlike the Cactus RF60, which can disable the “quick flash” option to prevent premature flashes and alternatively offers to issue warning beeps in case underexposure is to be expected, the TR-850EX offers no such options.

A further source of concern is that the TR-850EX produces banding even at shutter speeds as slow as 1/160s.

Note that the TR-850EX’s guide number of 56 is associated to a 180mm zoom setting. While this maximum setting of 180mm comfortably exceeds that (105mm) of all other flash models considered here, it also very likely indicates that the flash is probably less powerful than the other flashes at comparable zoom settings.

While the TR-850EX features a master mode like the Cactus RF60, the TR-850EX only controls three instead of four groups and, more importantly, has no matching external trigger. This means that for remote power control, one either needs to use one TR-850EX on-camera, or use an additional triggering system to fire the master remotely.

Godox V850 VING

The Godox V850 VING is the world’s first external speedlight-type flash that is powered by a Lithium-Ion accumulator, rather than the typical 4 x AA batteries. This unique feature enables the V850 to recycle within 1.5s and shoot about six times more full power shots than a typical flash. Other flash models need external power packs to approach or match these impressive figures.

Unfortunately, Godox have been having massive problems with battery quality with batteries arriving dead, taking only half-charge, dying in a short period, swelling, etc. The batteries use multiple cells internally and if these are not well-matched in terms of their capacity in the factory, the imbalance will grow until the battery becomes unusable, as the Godox charger does not contain a respective balancing circuit. There have been reports that batches of batteries since 2015 perform better, but there are no clear figures. Whether the fact that the Godox TT685C will be using four AA batteries instead of the V850 battery type is an indication that Godox gave up on the idea of Li-Ion batteries is hard to say.

Assuming that the battery has been solved, when considering both Godox V850 and Cactus RF60 the first point in a trade off analysis is whether one wants quick recycling and very impressive stamina, but a proprietary battery ($39.95 to replace, compared to $13.91 for four AA Sanyo Eneloop, or $39.60 for 12 AA Sanyo Eneloop when using an external power pack with the RF60) with an extra charger added to your collection, or the use of widely available AA batteries/rechargeables with more cumbersome handling, in particular if the recycling and stamina are matched through an external power pack ($36.95) that will add considerable bulk even though it can attach to the side of an RF60 using the tripod thread.

An alternative to using an external power pack in order to match the V850's recycling times and also get better stamina compared to a single RF60, is to use two RF60 in tandem. This obviously comes at a much increased price but also has the advantage of providing better thermal stability. Both V850 and RF60 go into an overheat protection mode after 20 flashes at full power in very quick succession that will slow down recycling in order to protect the flash tube. If one needs a longer sustained performance then doubling or even tripling up flashes and firing them at a lower power individually is the only solution. Obviously, one can do this with V850's as well but for most purposes then the combined stamina would be complete overkill. In this sense, the V850's battery could be regarded as being too powerful, considering what the flash tube can take.

However, for those that do not need sustained high-performance shooting rates, the V850's battery still has the great benefit of very fast recycling with incredible stamina in a very compact package.

The V850’s price of $119.95 includes the proprietary battery and charger, but if one wants remote triggering/control it, one also needs to add a Godox FT-16s for $45.99. The good news is that this trigger does not need its own batteries since it receives its power from the flash. The bad news is that it remains an external component that may be knocked off during handling. On the plus side, being an external component means that it can be upgraded in the future. Some testers are already asking for an upgrade from the 433Mhz platform to the more modern 2.4GHz platform that the RF60 is already using.

If one wants to match the HSS capability of the Cactus RF60, one needs the “Cells II” version of the transmitter which sells for $47.95 (currently available for Canon only; a Nikon version is in preparation). Therefore, in order to match the functionality of the Cactus RF60, one not only has to attach an external receiver to the V850, but also spend considerably more than just the price of the bare flash. Note, however, that the Godox V850 also appears to sell as the “NEEWER TT850” with equivalent accessories for a bit less money. As a big plus, the “Cells II” trigger emulates an HSS-capable flash on a Canon camera, so there is no need to manually set delay times, etc.

Godox Triggering System

Unfortunately, the Godox V850's triggering system is very basic. Channel selection has to be done be moving DIP switches and groups are labelled using HEX code (0-F).

The Godox transmitter does not provide a way to change the power levels of all groups at the same time. If you change the f-stop on the camera to change the DOF but do not want to change the flash exposure, you will have to step through all groups one by one and make sure you adjust them all by the same amount in order to compensate. On the Cactus V6 you simply turn a dial. When using the RF60 in master mode, you can select "ALL GROUPS" to adjust all power levels by the same amount with key presses.

With the Godox transmitter, there is also no way to quickly turn individual groups on and off. One can effectively turn groups off by setting their power to zero, but that implies a lot of time wasted clicking through 1/3 EV increments and the necessity to remember which power values to restore.

For instance, imagine you are using using three groups and only want to see the effect of a single group to judge its contribution in terms of quality and power level. Using the Godox FT-16 transmitter you'd have to:

  1. memorise the two power settings for the two groups you need to turn off temporarily,
  2. scroll the power levels of both groups down to zero (through 1/3 steps),
  3. take the test shot, and then
  4. scroll the power levels of both groups up to the two levels you memorised earlier.

On the Cactus V6, all of the above requires four button presses in total (two to deactivate two groups, two to activate them again). On an RF60 in master mode, you have to cycle through the four groups and the master level to navigate to the groups you want to (de-)activate, but you can (de-)activate groups with a single button press. There is no need to remember their power levels.

Finally, the Cactus V6 also has an absolute power mode which is very useful to work with multiple flashes with different maximum power levels, but is not available in the Godox system.

In summary, the Godox trigger system only really works well for one group. Its functionality is so basic that two or more groups are not adequately supported, as far as I'm concerned. It is of course possible to work with multiple groups, but it is a lot slower and error prone that it should be. It would be surprising if Godox did not update their trigger system at some point in the future, but not even rumours are known at this point in time.

The RF60 in Comparison

In comparison to similar flash models, the Cactus RF60 comes out really well. If one is after the fastest recycle times and best stamina in a compact package and does not mind minimal support for working with multiple groups then the Godox V850 is the best choice. Note, however, that by adding an external power pack to any of the other flashes discussed here, one can achieve similar recycle and endurance performance. For those that dread managing eight AA batteries per power pack, there is at least one Li-Ion solution available with the Godox PB820; for a price, though.

Both Yongnuo YN560-II and Triopo TR-850EX are cheaper than the Cactus RF60 (based on my estimate of the RF60's price), but in terms of features, such as remote zoom control, HSS, delay function for second-curtain sync, etc. the RF60 has the upper hand. One of the main advantages of the RF60, however, is its upcoming on-camera trigger partner, the Cactus V6.

As already mentioned, the Cactus V6 will be able to remote control the power of RF60s, and many digital TTL + legacy TTL flash models. I feel that in particular the V6’s ability to turn many legacy TTL flashes into ones that support remote controlling the power with 0.1 stop step precision will make the V6 an extremely attractive offering for owners of such flashes. Again, the V6 can control TTL flashes in an absolute fashion so that when one asks for 11.3 EV from a flash, one will get 11.3 EV worth of light, independently of what the latter’s maximum guide number is. I therefore believe that many photographers will acquire V6 triggers to breathe new life into their legacy TTL flashes and/or use their P-TTL flashes off-camera with remote radio power control. As far as I am concerned, even if the RF60 had no advantages over its competitor flash models, the fact that the RF60 has the V6 as its native partner makes is a very attractive choice straight away.

Cactus V5 / LV5 owners will appreciate that they can continue using their units in conjunction with the RF60 and the V6 for triggering both ways. The V5/LV5 do not support groups but will only trigger RF60/V6 that are in active groups instead of indiscriminately triggering every RF60/V6. This makes it possible to integrate the V5/LV5 into an RF60/V6 environment quite nicely.

Returning to the flash model comparison as such, the below table of features is designed to provide an overview in what way the different flash models differ from each other. Note, however, that some aspects are hard to quantify. Consider checking out the later “About Cactus” section in order to appreciate how Cactus understand themselves as an innovator with in-house research and development, designing and building a product to a standard, rather than just a price.

Feature Table

The flash models compared here share a lot of specifications (e.g., power adjustable from 1/1 to 1/128 in 1/3 stop steps, 24-105mm zoom settings, built-in diffuser panel, etc.). The below table hence only lists those features where flash models actually differ from each other.

Cactus
RF60

LumoPro
LP 180

Yongnuo
YN560-III

Triopo
TR-850EX

Godox
V850+ FT-16

Price

$139.95

$199.99

$88.00

$69.00

$119.95+$45.99

Guide Number

56 @
105mm

34 @
35mm

58 @
105mm

56 @
180mm

58 @
105mm

Recycle Time

3.3s

2.5s

3s

3s

1.5s

Batteries

4 x AA

4 x AA

4 x AA

4 x AA

Lithium Ion

Remote Zoom

?

HSS

semi-
automatic

with extra Cells II transmitter

Delay

Master

4 groups

3 groups

Tripod thread

Trigger port(s)

3.5mm

3.5mm, PC

PC

PC

2.5mm

Bounce card

Other points

RF60 master can also control the power of flashes attached to V6 receivers

no built-in wireless receiver, i.e., no remote power level control

attention required regarding compatibility to other Yongnuo products & Pentax cameras

build quality may be a concern; has no matching on-camera trigger

need to add special radio trigger for remote power control; current transmitters are rather basic


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