My dear friend and fellow tenured photographer, the incredible Joseph Leduc, introduces me as Mister Flash. Sounds great, and potentially creepy but he's right that I love using flash to make better images. Sometimes other photographers find flash frustrating and often very expensive. I recently had a chance to use in production some new Cameron products available exclusively from Henry's, Canada's largest independent photo-video retailer.
Some flash photographers live in terror of TTL. It sounds like a black art to them. But manual flash sounds like it requires some kind of blood sacrifice. So they become "natural light photographers". TTL flash is the same thing as the exposure meter in the camera that you use every day. Your "natural light" meter, measures the light through the lens (TTL) as it impacts the sensor. It's right 90% of the time. TTL flash meters the flash output through the lens, cutting power to the flash when it senses correct exposure. It's right 90% of the time. So for fast and accurate flash pictures, set the flash to TTL and forget it.
In fact, this is what Canon with the 600 EX and Nikon with the SB-910 speed light units would like you to do. They even make it possible to use the flash off camera using the built in popup flash on your camera to communicate with the flash using infrared light to control the exposure. Nikon calls their system CLS, and Canon, well they missed the marketing opportunity to give it a name, but it works the same way.
The downside to both the Canon and Nikon units is that they are rather expensive. Excellent to be sure, but pricey. For some buyers, too pricey and so those buyers look at smaller OEM flashes that compromise on power and features to achieve a price point.
Hence the Camerons. These units are built in China, and if one might be so bold as to call them clones of the OEM units, one could. And by clone, I mean right down to the LCD panels, the buttons and the layout. The reality for photographers, is that they cost less and work the same as the OEM units. They may not be built quite as tough, but having put them through their paces in a very aggressive classroom situation, they proved themselves better than many offshore copies because they worked consistently and did not overheat. Moreover, the camera control systems talked to them without incident or any indication that there was anything non-brand connected anywhere. Often offshore units have manuals that on their best day may be good birdcage liners. The Cameron manuals are clear, well-written and easy to follow. They are short and to the point, so very quick.
The flashes are rated with a guide number of 60 in meters making them similar in output power to the brand name flash units. They have tilt and swivel heads and come with a light stand mountable flash stand and a dome diffuser to spread the light when using ultra wide lenses. The heads incorporate a diffusion panel for wide angle lenses, and the popular white popup to throw a catchlight when the head is in bounce mode. At a suggested retail of approximately $350 you cannot find an alternative with this level of features and functions at a better price that is supported by a local seller. I am well aware that there are other offshore clones that sell for less, but if you ever have a problem, or actually want to read the manual, consider yourself screwed.
Certainly infrared is limited to line of sight and may not work consistently outdoors, but for many photographers it absolutely gets the job done. But when it just won't cut it, we have always been able to go to radio transceivers from third parties, albeit at relatively high cost.
This is where the Cameron HSS240 Radio Kit comes into play. Each kit contains a transmitter and a receiver. Each supports four distinct channels and three distinct groups. Each group can be set to TTL or Manual mode independently of the other. In TTL mode, you have a wide range of possible Flash Exposure Compensation settings and in Manual mode you have full power control. The range of the radio system is rated at 100m and my testing indicated that this is very reasonable. The units worked around corners even in a cinder block basement.
It's obvious which one is which and both units have USB ports presumably for firmware and support options, although this was not well documented during my testing period. The receivers are fitted with a ¼-20 opening for mounting to light stands or other standard brackets. Not having to worry about line of sight is a real bonus so you can place your speed lights where you need them to be and be assured of reliable triggering and consistent pops.
My personal perspective for many years has been that for off camera flash to be successfully managed from the camera requires radio. I can use the infrared systems that most all OEMs offer, but none of them offer the range and reliability of radio. Moreover, radio systems are more often designed to handle mixed mode flash use and the idea of grouping flashes together. Certainly groups are doable using Nikon's and Canon's infrared systems, but where it counts is where all the parts come together. I have the Canon radio system for the 600 EX RT lights and it works a charm. I have radio control for my Elinchroms and radio with TTL for my Profotos. Prior to switching to the 600 EX RT speed lights, I used Pocket Wizards with Metz flashes. On that note, I should have stayed with the Metz/PW combination, but that's water under the bridge as I learned too late that Canon does some truly stupid things in their flashes and their off camera flash software.
Where the Cameron system wins is twofold. It's so blindingly easy to use, you might be cracking the manual to see what voodoo step you missed. You didn't. Set the remote flashes to TTL mode and put them on the receiver. Set the proper channel and group on the receiver. Now go back to the transmitter and set your output option to TTL or Manual for each group and adjust either flash exposure compensation or power level for each group. It just works and will save a lot of money over the other similar offerings. Certainly the group controls are much easier than the Pocket Wizard AC3 add on piece. Initially the Cameron HSS240s are available as a kit with transmitter and receiver, but I received confirmation today from the folks at Henry's (Cameron is a Henry's exclusive) that separate receiver kits will be in stores and online shortly. For $200 approximate street price for the transmitter and receiver, you cannot beat the functionality and ease of use, coupled with local support.
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace.
UPDATE FALL 2016
It's a year later and a lot more experience has come by. I find that the HSS240 triggers work pretty well in production with the Cameron flash but don't work with other off brand flashes. They also don't work with Canon's radio enabled flashes or with Nikon's SB5000. It's your money, but I have stopped recommending that folks consider them.