Mar 4, 2014

Cactus RF60 Review


Cactus RF60
Untethered with Full Control
Remote power and zoom control across 100m and in full sunlight.

The Cactus RF60 belongs to a new class of game changing flashes. At last, photographers can make use of the flexibility and reliability of radio communication for more than just triggering.

The new Cactus RF60 is unique in that it allows both its power level and zoom settings to be remote controlled via radio signals (from an RF60 in master mode or from a Cactus V6), without the need to attach an additional receiver to it.

Prior to the introduction of flashes with built-in radio receivers, photographers had to choose between a rock and a hard place:

The Rock

Equipment by the maker of the camera that supports remote control through optical (often referred to as “wireless”) communication

  • + supports automatic exposure.
  • - is very expensive.
  • - provides rather limited control
    (in particular with P-TTL).
  • - uses optical communication that is nowhere near as flexible and reliable as radio frequency communication.

The Hard Place

Third-party, manual flashes

  • + provide full control and consistency.
  • + are very affordable.
  • - require direct access for making adjustments.

Many serious flash photographers have been preferring “The Hard Place”, i.e., using flashes in manual mode for the predictability and consistency this method affords. If you are not using your flash in manual mode yet, see what David Hobby (aka “The Strobist”) has to say about what features a flash needs to have.

Manual flashes are also significantly more affordable than fully-featured equipment by the camera manufacturer and can easily be fired off-camera through affordable radio triggers.

Yet, until very recently, manual flashes had the major disadvantage of requiring photographers to leave the camera position in order to make adjustments to the flash settings. Such adjustment trips can be potentially very time-consuming for the following reasons:

  1. Multiple flashes sometimes all need some consistent adjustment.
  2. A flash can be difficult to access due to its position
    (e.g., due to it being very high on a light stand) or
  3. access is made difficulty by light modifiers
    (e.g., a softbox that requires partial disassembly and reassembly to access the flash).

For camera brands other than Pentax, systems like the Phottix Odin have provided photographers with remote control of flash settings for a while now, but they were not cheap and incompatible with Pentax cameras.

The Cactus RF60 is one of the first flash models that finally enable a Pentax shooter to adjust power levels and, uniquely, even zoom settings conveniently from the camera position. The RF60 furthermore supports semi-automatic versions of high-speed sync and second curtain sync, features that are normally exclusive to much more expensive flashes (and still are, if one wants full automation).

In the following, I (Class A @ Pentaxforums) will elaborate on why I believe the new Cactus RF60 is a seriously compelling offer on the market. I will also – in case you are not yet convinced about the need for off-camera lighting – explain why external flashes are a must if you are serious about portrait or event photography.

If you are already convinced regarding the utility of external flashes, you may directly jump to the “What’s in the Box” section.

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