Phottix Strato II wireless trigger review

Every photographer who 'knows their stuff' knows that the worst place you can park your speedlite is directly on top of your camera, right? Shooting someone with your flash straight on isn't going to help you create anything special - it's a snap, nothing more. Yes, I know there are times when it may be our only option, so we try to bounce it off walls, ceilings etc. but I'm talking about the times when you need to produce something more. I'm talking about the times when you want to deliver something special for your bride or client. I'm talking about the times when a snap isn't good enough. I'm talking about shooting professional images.
Okay, we all agree that getting the speedlite off of the camera is a good thing but how do we do that? Assuming that we don't want to be tied down by cables, we need to get a set of wireless triggers. Now, we all know that the name 'Pocket-Wizard' is synonymous with flash triggers - in much the same way that 'Hoover' is with vacuum cleaners etc. but is that your only option? Hell no! Just have a look on eBay and you'll find loads of budget options starting around the £25 mark that are worth having a shot with to try OCF (off-camera-flash) if you're just starting out. I've tried some and found them a little unreliable, so they live in the back of a cupboard now.
So, I set about finding my perfect triggers. Reluctant to spend the hundreds of pounds on PW's straight away (although resigned to the fact that if they were my best option, in terms of function and reliability, I would have no choice) I set about looking for an alternative. My criteria was brutally simple, but absolutely cast in stone - there was NO margin for flexibility! They needed to be 100% reliable! As I've already stated, this is why I dismissed the cheaper ones - I feed my family with my ability to deliver the shots I am asked to take - when I need to take them - so they needed to be able to perform flawlessly. When I shoot OCF I use my speedlites in Manual mode, so TTL wasn't a big deal-breaker. The ability to switch channels and groups was a must-have as I sometimes have a 2nd shooter at weddings and I wanted to ensure there was no interference between triggers. High-Speed Sync (HSS) isn't something I use a lot, so, again, this wasn't much of a consideration. They should also function reliably over a decent distance - at least 50 metres away. Admittedly, there aren't many times I can see me using my speedlites much further away than that, but I feel that it's good to have a safety margin just in case I need it. I found my perfect solution in the shape of Phottix Strato II Multi 5-in-1's ( )

With 4 channels, 4 groups and a range of - wait for it - up to 150 metres (!) these wee gems are an absolute dream to use. They come with a full set of connector cables to allow them to trigger a wide variety of studio strobes as well as speedlites and they can even be used as a remote trigger for your camera! On top of all that, the transmitter unit has a hot-shoe on top of it which gives you 'shoot-through-TTL, which is handy at wedding receptions or events where you may have your lights set up to cover the dance-floor or red-carpet area and someone asks for a quick snap of them elsewhere - just switch the transmitter off, power up your speedlite on TTL and grab a shot (I've already written a blogpost on how I use the Strato II's to help me light my 1st dance shots at weddings. In case you missed it, you can find it here: ). The best bit is the price, as these wonderful wee triggers can be found as a single transmitter for as little as £80 and additional receivers are around £45!
Now, one thing I simply cannot abide is a review where the writer has just taken delivery of an item and has barely used it before he/she then reads off the list of specifications and hasn't really used it much - if at all (and don't even get me started on 'unboxing videos' - seriously? Why the hell would I want to see you opening a bloody box?! Calm down, Kev - get back to your story) So, when I review a piece of kit I like to make sure I'm giving you my honest opinion based on many weeks or months (or in the case of my Billingham 550 - 15 years, ahem) of using it as often as I can. If it fails, it's gone - simple as that. No 2nd chances - if I can't rely on it to deliver what it should I am pretty ruthless. Admittedly, I should have written this review a while ago, as I've been using these triggers now for around a year and a half, but better late than never. During that time my triggers have shot some of the worlds best mountain bikers as they competed at the UCI World Cup in Fort William, they've helped me provide some incredible memories for many brides & grooms, they've been rained on (not for long, but still), blown over and still continue to deliver the goods.

Bare speedlite at camera-right, zoomed to 50mm.

Speedlite through a 30cm soft-box  (seconds before the clouds burst and soaked us and my kit)

Snoot fitted to a single speedlite, approx. 30 degrees to camera left

Shortly after falling from over 6 feet high as I knocked it over - Speedlite through an octabox.

A quick shot between the main course and dessert - speedlite, unmodified, with zoom set to 85mm

Soft-box on the beach for a pre-wedding shoot.

 They've been used in old farmyards for a trash the dress shoot
Bare speedlite, zoomed to 85mm/105mm for a slightly harsher and tighter spot-effect (stay tuned for a blogpost about this shoot and the wedding that went before it)

They've been used in local community halls and family homes to provide family portraits & head shots for Olympic athletes and performed just as well at St James Palace, in London, when HRH The Duke of Kent was in front of the lens. 

2 speedlites fired through white translucent umbrellas.

Studio strobes can be triggered using the connector cables which are included.

Shot in their living room with a combination of speedlite and strobe.

Strato II's even turn my wee G15 compact into an effective studio tool which can use studio strobes!

In all this time I can find only one, small issue with them. The feet on the receivers is plastic, which do tend to bend easily and break if the light is accidentally knocked over. However, there is still a threaded screw on the bottom which accepts a tripod foot screw which can be found one bay for 99 pence - so far, I have only had one foot break off and this cheap fix means the unit is still in almost daily use.

Until recently my second shooter had used an other brand of triggers for several years, but he often complained about mis-fires. Now, I've never owned a set from this company, but what I can say - from personal experience - is that at every single wedding or shoot he has attended as my 2nd shooter/ assistant, he has had issues with his triggers either mis-firing or not firing at all. This is a full-time pro, with 30+ years behind him in the industry, and I've been with him as he went through his full set up 3 times, so I'm confident that it wasn't user-error. Maybe he has some faulty units - I know other pro's who use these and haven't reported any issues - so, to remind you  - these are only my comments based on what I have personally witnessed. He actually accompanied me at the wedding where I fell into a pond - knocking my light stand over as I went ( ) - and during the wedding breakfast (after a good old moan about his own triggers which had stopped working after only 2 or 3 shots at the grooms home, then seeing one of my triggers falling from over 6 feet and still working perfectly) he used his iPhone to order two sets of Strato II's from an online supplier, so he must have seen something in the Phottix triggers to inspire him.

If you have never used OCF before, and are looking for a reliable and cost-effective alternative, then I cannot recommend the Phottix Strato II Multi 5-in-1 highly enough. They break your speedlite free from the hot-shoe and allow you to truly 'draw with light' - the true meaning of the word 'photography'. They allow you to use a multitude of different umbrellas, softboxes, snoots and other light-shaping tools which you simply can't use when it's sitting 1 inch above your lens. Studio-lighting techniques, such as; 3-point lighting, rembrandt lighting, butterfly lighting, broad lighting, short lighting, adding a rim/hair-light and more, will be achievable wherever you take your little speedlites! (assuming, of course, that you know how to set your lights up to deliver those looks - and you practise the techniques) And you can still use them to trigger your bigger studio lights as well!

Making a fraction of a second... last a lifetime


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