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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Phottix Tetra

For 3 years now I've been doing off-camera flash photography with a Canon ST-E2 Speedlite transmitter.  While it had its limitations, they were not that much of an issue to me before because most of my photoshoots were done indoors.  The outdoor shoots I did were usually in the evening and very rare do I shoot with bright sunlight.  But soon enough as my skills and knowledge improved, the limitations of IR based triggers became apparent and the numerous misfires due to line-of-sight and bright light issues became annoying.  I realized I had to work with a different system.

Pocket Wizards are out of the question because of its ridiculous high price.  Personally, I think they are overpriced for what they are designed to do.  They're very good, but very expensive.  As I was looking for cheaper options, I stumbled into this Phottix Tetra PT04 at's online store.  For the price advertised (US$ 73) that included 1 transmitter and 2 receivers plus batteries, PC cords, PC adapters, this has got to be the affordable alternative I was looking for.  And so I placed my order (GPP is based in Dubai, UAE) on a Thursday and over the weekend (which means Friday and Saturday here in the Middle East) my order was processed.  They were delivered to my desk the following Sunday.

As I have expected, it's cheap, looks cheap and feels cheap.  But initial tests shows that they do work.  It fires my flashes when my ST-E2 usually won't.  Great, I said to myself!  I gotta test it further and find out when and how it will fail.  Hey, for this price, it is going to fail me somehow.  That's for sure.  Last Friday's photoshoot with my photo club here in Doha was the perfect opportunity - 5 models in Fuwairit under dull sunlight.  But I am not going to show sample photos here because they are irrelevant to this impression (not review).
Build Quality

Not the best in the world.  In fact, not really good.  During the photoshoot, the battery cover went off a couple of times as we move the lights around.  Of course a couple of times too, batteries went flying out.  The L-bracket isn't that sturdy also to support the heavier 580EX II.  No it didn't break but the knob cannot be tightened enough to keep the flash in its position.


I'm not so sure what happened during the early stages of the photoshoot.  My speedlites were shared by many of the club members who have Phottix triggers as well.  The problem was flash cannot recycle flash enough even though they were set to just 1/16th power.  However, one of the members were triggering the same flashes with an ST-E2, continuously, and without any trouble at all (as long as it has direct sightline with the speedlites' IR sensor).  I just can't think of anything else to blame but the Phottix receivers.

Eventually, the rest of the members got frustrated and decided to shoot with available light.  Some of them moved to photographing other models so I was left with the Phottix triggers all for myself.  The flashes fired just fine almost everytime.  There were misfires when I'm shooting in portrait mode - I'm not really sure what that was.  But they do misfire.

Battery Efficiency

It's hard to say now.  Those batteries, a pair of AAA alkalines for each receiver, have just been thru one photoshoot and, yes, they lasted for the entire duration of the shoot - over three hundred shots in all.


What else is there to write about?  I guess that's it.  Will I recommend this product?  Sure, for those on a budget.  In a more controlled environment, durability issue may not be that much of a problem.  In a more harsh environment, this will easily breakup.  However, outdoors is where I intend to use this gadget because it is not affected by bright light and does not require sight line.  Indoors, I'll stick with my ST-E2, simply because setting up my speedlites with Phottix is a more complicated and flimsy exercise.  Good enough for what I intended it to do.  My expectations for this product are not all that high so for what it managed to deliver, I cannot be disappointed.


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