Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 Review

December 12, 2014

Cactus is a wireless studio lighting equipment designer and manufacturer based in Hong Kong. It specialises in products such as wireless flash triggers, wireless portable flashes, laser triggers, and other lighting and camera accessories. One of these is the new Cactus V6.

While it may have started life as a humble flash trigger, the sixth generation of the Cactus offers something no other device does. It can fire a multitude of flash brands from almost any camera with a standard ISO hotshoe or PC sync port, while being able to adjust the power output remotely. Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Olympus or Panasonic cameras can be used to fire Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic or Pentax-fit flashes.

The V6 has a variety of uses for all sorts of different photographers, particularly those who use both a DSLR and a compact system camera. It allows photographers to use DSLR flashes with CSCs, without needing to buy a whole new flash kit. Equally, though, the V6 is useful for any photographer who wants to start using off-camera flash and is on a budget. With the Cactus V6, it’s possible to scout around for bargain-price flashes without being limited by compatibility.

Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 Review – Features

Most flash-triggering systems need a transmitter attached to the camera and a receiver attached to each flash that users wish to fire. The Cactus V6 works slightly differently, because it is what is known as a transceiver, meaning it can do the job of both the receiver and the transmitter. In order to use flash off-camera, you will need one Cactus V6 mounted on the camera and one on each flash. A button on the side of the unit can be switched to use it either as a receiver or a transmitter. Cactus also makes a flashgun called the RF60, which has the same transceiver technology built into the unit. It boasts a decent specification sheet and a street price of around £120, so if you’re buying into new kit, it’s worth taking a look at that option first.

There are some other triggering systems that can fire various brands of flashes from a different brand of camera, but their big drawback is that the flashes have to be in full manual mode. The Cactus V6 can be used in this way, but its unique feature is that users can program in the flash they are using and then remotely adjust the power output. Flashguns have varying guide numbers and ranges, so more than 30 different flashes have been profiled and pre-installed on the Cactus V6. This includes popular flashguns, such as Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, Metz, Nissin, Phottix, Yongnuo and Godox units. A full list can be found on Cactus’s website.

Cactus is also committed to adding more profiles with firmware updates, which are installed via a Micro USB port on the side. However, should the flash not be recognised, there’s a chance that the Cactus V6 will learn its profile, provided that it has analogue TTL.

Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 Review – Build and handling

Measuring 72mm both ways across and 42mm deep, the Cactus V6 weighs 62g, including its two AA batteries. For comparison, it’s similar in size to the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 transceiver.

The V6 has an all-metal hotshoe that I found very easy to slide on and off the camera, and a lever-locking mechanism secures the trigger in place. The body is constructed from plastic, and lacks the build quality of some of its more expensive competitors.

The menus are navigated using the buttons and scroll wheel at the rear of the unit, and all options are viewable on the LCD. They’re neatly displayed and easy to navigate, too.

Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 Review – Performance

The Cactus V6 is straightforward to use. Once the flash is programmed in on a receiver unit, users can adjust the power of the flash from another V6, in transmitter mode. Each additional flash attached to a separate receiver will be put into different groups – either A, B, C or D. Using the selection dial on the rear of the V6, users can set the power of each individual flash quickly and easily. You can also adjust the power of multiple flashes at the same time.

The tricky thing about mixing different flashes is that most will have different power levels. For this reason, there is an option called Absolute Power Control. This benchmarks the guide number of each flash and matches the light intensity. The flashes can then be adjusted in EV numbers. This means that no matter what brand of flash is being used, the power will be adjusted equally. Some models of flash can be adjusted in 0.1EV increments, even if this isn’t offered on the flashgun itself.

Cactus v6 image 2Image: Using a small softbox from the left of the subject and a macro lens I was able to finely control the power of the flashes and achieve this shot.

Optical slave triggering is also on offer. This means the V6 can be connected to a flashgun set to manual power, and it will be triggered by another flash. It’s even possible to set the device to ignore a metering pre-flash. I find optical slave functionality particularly useful in the studio to quickly and easily drop a backlight into the scene.

Programming in the flash profile is fairly straightforward. For my Canon 580EX II, the set-up took next to no time, and moments later I was using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 to fire two 580EX II flashes. However, when using a Nikon SB-700, it was more complicated and I needed a couple of tries to make it work.

I used a set of V6 units to shoot the fungi close-ups here, with a Canon DSLR and Nikon and Canon flash units. Macro subjects usually only need low flash power output, and I was able to sync the power of the two flashguns easily and use them at low power to add subtle lighting to my subjects. I found that once they were set up, they were super-easy to control.

During testing I found that the Cactus V6 misfired a couple of times, but this is quite normal with remote flash triggers.

Cactus V6 image 1

Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 Review – Our verdict

With technology moving on so quickly, and photographers themselves always exploring new areas and styles of working, it’s increasingly commonplace for them to change cameras or own a number of different types. While some photographers stick to the same brand, it’s not always possible to do so. For those who shoot with a variety of different brands, the Cactus V6 offers an inexpensive way to build an off-camera flash kit for all your cameras. Recently, a lot of photographers who use Fujifilm compact system cameras have adopted this as their off-camera triggering system for that very reason.

The more expensive flash triggers on the market usually have the ability to shoot with flashes in TTL mode. In short, this is like having flashes in auto mode. That’s fantastic for situations such as weddings and events where the photographer needs to capture the action in one shot and doesn’t have time to go back and make changes. However, in situations where the photographer has enough time to adjust the power manually, it’s normally by far the best option. Although TTL triggers can often be adjusted up and down, it’s only adjusting a prediction, while the Cactus V6 is adjusting an exact output. So, if time isn’t an issue, then the V6 offers everything a photographer is likely to need inside a trigger costing just £50.

The functionality the V6 boasts could easily cost four times that price. Of course, the downside of anything built to be inexpensive is that the construction quality doesn’t compare to many of the more expensive options. However, the device’s plastic case appears to be robust enough. In summary, the Cactus V6 is one of the best-value flash triggering systems currently available, and offers a wealth of features to satisfy everyone from the beginner to the enthusiast off-camera flash photographer.

SCORE: 5 out of 5

Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 – Data File

Price: £49.99
Radio frequency: 2.4 GHz
Maximum range: 100m
Sync speed: Up to 1/1000sec
Camera voltage: Up to 6V
Flash trigger voltage: Up to 300V
Power: 2 x AA
Dimensions: 72 x 72 x 42mm
Weight: 68g