REVIEW : Phottix LASO Wireless Flash Control for Canon

 The Phottix LASO Transmitter and Receiver - Image courtesy Petapixel

The Phottix LASO Transmitter and Receiver - Image courtesy Petapixel

If you use Canon or Canon compatible flashes, whether they have radios in them or not, you know that getting the flash off camera, and being able to control all your flashes directly from the camera position and not have to chase all over the place visiting every flash individually to change settings.

Unlike Nikon, Canon has never really pushed their optical control system.  It works very much like Nikon's CLS system.  You can use your popup flash to control remote flashes or you could get an older infrared controller or additional flash to act as the master.  But like all optical control systems, distance is limited and is restricted to line of sight.  The better answer is always, and without question, to go radio.

When Phottix developed their original ODIN transmitter, they also built receivers and flashes that worked directly with the ODIN system.  I used the ODIN in the past and liked it very much, finding it a great value and reliable solution.  There are cheaper radio solutions, the best known being found under the Yongnuo label.  I've not had good consistent results, or reliability with that brand and recommend against it.

One of the criticisms of the ODIN was that the control system was Phottix proprietary, meaning it needed Phottix ODIN transmitters and ODIN receivers to work.  There's no difference between that and the well respected Pocket Wizard system, so the complaints are, in my opinion, a bit weak.

Phottix, to their credit, have listened.  Canon does not publish their control systems, so vendors have to reverse or independently engineer their systems if they want interoperability.  With the release of LASO system, Phottix has addressed this issue for Canon owners.

I purchased the system for Canon, buying both the transmitter and a receiver because I have a couple of flash systems from Metz and others that do TTL, but don't support radio. 

As I mentioned, there are two pieces that I purchased, the transmitter and a receiver.  As I always do with any product, the first thing that I checked was whether there were firmware updates for the units.  There were not but I do like that Phottix puts a tag in the box reminding the new owner to check firmware before first use.  I also downloaded PDFs of the documentation and installed them into iBooks so they will be on my smartphone or tablet whenever I need them.  I do this for all manuals because my memory is not perfect and doing so saves a lot of time.

The transmitter looks similar to the Canon ST-E3-RT.  It has a nominally different layout than the Canon product but is so close that I was connected to a Canon 600 EX-RT flash in about 10 seconds without checking the documentation.  The flash fired the first time and every time afterwards.  It really could not be simpler.

 The LASO Transmitter - Looks a lot like the Canon ST-E3-RT but is not a complete clone.  Much better built and reliable than the Yongnuo clone

The LASO Transmitter - Looks a lot like the Canon ST-E3-RT but is not a complete clone.  Much better built and reliable than the Yongnuo clone

The trigger supports five distinct groups and 15 separate channels.  You can also modify the system ID within a channel for further isolation capability.  You can set each group to a different mode, offering choices of TTL, Manual and Ext A.  You can of course have all groups behave the same way, but the real value proposition is being able to control the exposure of each group independently.  In a quick test, using three Canon 600 EX-RT flashes in three groups, I was able to create a controlled eTTL flash exposure right from the controller.  No diving into menus and very fast to use.  Just like the Canon ST-E3-RT but for a LOT less money.

This is the primary reason I got the LASO transmitter.  I use Canon's ST-E3-RT whenever I am using a Canon flash, because I hate the look of on camera flash.  Getting the flash off camera is very important to me, and I don't want to have to spend the money on a 600 EX-RT or the new RT II just for it to play controller.  The Canon unit is great, but having only one creates risk because if it fails, or more likely, Captain Clumsy here drops it, my efficiency drops and customer confidence suffers.  I did buy the Yongnuo YN-E3-RT when it came out on the argument that you could get three of them for the price of one Canon unit.  Crappy argument because the device failed in short order, and caused Duracell RED series batteries to leak.  This isn't the first time I have seen Yongnuo products cause battery destruction or have a constant drain.  Those who like them can buy them.  I think that they are junk and tell people to run the other way.

 You can see the infrared lens for focus assist on the front of the transmitter and also see the all metal foot for durability

You can see the infrared lens for focus assist on the front of the transmitter and also see the all metal foot for durability

The LASO Transmitter fits my needs precisely.  I can have one in the bag all the time, and the build quality is like the Canon product.  Unlike the Canon, the LASO has an infrared focus assist beam for working in the dark such as at a reception.  Why Canon would leave this out is beyond me.  Unlike the Yongnuo version, the LASO infrared focus assist actually points where the camera is aimed instead of off at some odd angle like every Yongnuo I've encountered or read about.

The LASO LCD is bright with nice large characters that are easy to read.  It differs from the Canon unit in that the on/off switch is a recessed push button, instead of the three position lever switch.  Having accidentally turned the Canon unit on inadvertently, I personally like the recessed button better.

 Rear view shows the size and very Canon-like mounting lock

Rear view shows the size and very Canon-like mounting lock

As I use my Canon speedlights outdoors for fill a lot, it's great that Hi Speed Sync is supported.  One should always check the specifications because there are limits on which cameras multiple groups and HSS work with.  This has nothing to do with Phottix as it is driven entirely by the firmware in the cameras from Canon.

I also have been experimenting with what Canon calls multi-flash and the rest of the world calls stroboscopic.   The LASO fully supports MULTI mode but only with Canon flashes designed for radio MULTI.  I tested it with the 600 EX-RT and it worked perfectly.  Phottix is clear that the LASO trigger receiver can not handle MULTI signalling.

For my studio strobes I use Profoto equipment.  In their AirTTL controller, Profoto managed to make rear curtain sync work for off camera flash.  I had hoped that Phottix had figured out the same trick, but sadly they have not.  Not their fault, this is again Canon disabling this functionality for any flash not in the hotshoe for reasons unknown, obscure and annoying, particularly since Profoto made it work a charm.

 The LASO receiver - Works with all Canon non-radio TTL flashes and tested well with several off brand flashes although such devices are not officially supported

The LASO receiver - Works with all Canon non-radio TTL flashes and tested well with several off brand flashes although such devices are not officially supported

I also got the LASO Trigger Receiver.  It is a well built piece of kit with a hotshoe and cold foot.  The cold foot is made of metal, not plastic, and contains a 1/4-20 socket for mounting on light stands or tripods.  I tested it with my Metz potato masher, a 76 MZ 5.  Once I had the receiver and the transmitter synced (about 10 seconds) I mounted the intelligent controller for the 76 MZ 5 onto the LASO receiver and set the flash for TTL.  I fired the camera with the transmitter on and the big Metz fired and produced a solid exposure.  I cannot say that it fired every time though.  Exposure was consistent throughout the initial test sequence, until the Metz battery pooped out.  Phottix doesn't guarantee full interoperability with non-Canon or non-Phottix flashes, and it worked inconsistently for me with my two TTL capable Metz flashes.  They are older models using the SCA interchangeable foot system. 

I confess this use case is not a big deal for me because all my production speedlights are Canon radio capable, so for customers with earlier Canon or true compatible flashes the LASO system could be a huge deal.  I did in fact try the receiver on a "questionable quality" offshore clone and it fired first time every time from the LASO and the resulting exposures were on the money every time.  Since I have been unable to get that particular flash to work consistently with its own brand of radio systems, I have to give high marks to Phottix.

The receiver includes a cable to connect to studio strobes as well.  Obviously this would mean triggering the strobes in manual mode but it works if you have a mixed environment.

The LASO system is very impressive.  They are widely available in the US but few Canadian retailers stock them, instead carrying only OEM flashes and cheap offshore clones.  Phottix, are a higher end product.  Fortunately for Canadians, Phottix is now distributed in Canada by Gentec International, the same good folks who handle Sigma.  Availability may be special order through your retailer but shipment was quick even when ordered at the tail end of the holiday season.

I did not get the LASO system as an evaluation.  I ordered them sight unseen based on past experience with the ODIN system and bought them with my own money.  The LASO system at time of writing is Canon only.  If you shoot Nikon or Sony, go with the ODIN II transmitter and ODIN receivers.  I definitely recommend Phottix products.  Mitros speedlights are excellent and the Mitros+ units have ODIN receivers built in.  The LASO system is excellent and I have no qualms about suggesting it, even if all your other flash products are Canon specific.  You will save a couple of hundred dollars over the Canon transmitter and get the same functionality.  You will not need to buy any receivers if you have any of Canon's RT flashes because they work directly with the transmitter.  If you want radio and have Canon non-radio flashes, just get a trigger receiver for each of your non-radio flashes with your transmitter and you will have a robust and reliable multi-group system.  Cost will be less than the other quality alternative, the Pocket Wizard system, and will be easier to use, particularly when dealing with multiple independent groups.

I am comfortable recommending the LASO system for Canon users, with one caveat.  Phottix documentation looks and reads like it was done off-planet.  To be blunt, it's lousy.  Online documentation options are no better.  This is one place where Phottix needs to step up its game.

Other than the poor documentation, I recommend the product.