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RadioPopper JrX Will Make You Fat and Happy [Full Review]

Do you shoot with flashes on manual? Do you burn needless calories walking over to your AlienBees, Nikon or Canon flashes merely to adjust power settings?

Fear not my lean friends. Soon, you too will be soft and rotund from a complete lack of exercise -- just like the portly people in Wall-E, the publicity photo for which I am both transforming and parodying above.

Now, onto the wireless goodness ...

I have spent the weekend testing and shooting with the newest wireless trigger to come out of the Phoenix Skunkworks. The oft-delayed, er, much-anticipated RadioPopper JrX system.

Reader's Digest version: They are excellent remotes that offer significant range over 16 channels and have thus far been 100% reliable for me under normal shooting conditions. They also allow remote power level changes with White Lightning/AlienBees and/or legacy Nikon and Canon TTL flashes.

The remote power setting feature works simply and brilliantly. Three physical knobs, functioning just like volume controls, for each of three groups on any of the 16 channels.

These triggers make a strong, value-oriented case for any photographer looking to move into a quality set of remotes. And according to the website, RadioPopper expects availability within Europe and Australia shortly after the North American debut.

So, How Much?

The folks at RadioPopper originally wanted to make a bare-bones, reliable trigger at a rock-bottom price. But over the course of the design phase they decided to expand the feature set while working to keep the triggers accessible to budget-minded photographers.

In the end, they ended up with a very capable remote that still comes in at significantly less than than the gold standard PocketWizard transceivers. Transmitters will be $69.95, with the two flavors of receivers clocking in at $69.95 and $89.95, respectively.

The "Basic" model receiver ($69.95) is a "dumb" remote -- simply a substitute for a sync cord. Albeit a very long sync cord, as I find them to be very reliable out to distances of at least 100 yards. The "Studio" model receiver adds the remote power plus remote modeling light level control on WL/AB strobes and will go for $89.95.

Kits are priced at $119.95 and $139.95, respectively. You can upgrade a Basic to a Studio after the fact for $39.95.

Interestingly, there is no physical difference in the two receivers -- firmware alone differentiates the two. Props to RP for allowing us the choice. There clearly was more margin in the "Studio" receivers. But talking to RP Head Cheese Kevin King, he said the thinking was to let the more expensive models carry the freight to some extent and allow entry level photogs a solid Basic system for less money if they so chose.

I Know What You are Thinking

And the answer is, yes, it is technically possible to hack a Basic into a Studio. So, you DEFCON® types can go ahead and give it your best shot. They said if you can hack it, they might even want to hire you.

So in addition to untold riches (well, an extra $20) there might even be gainful employment on the line.

At the Firing Range

Right out of the blocks I took them out for a range test. The were solid at 100 yards, which is sufficient for all but the most extreme circumstances.

Above is three, separate WL's on ten-foot stands firing at 100 yards. The antennae appeared to be pretty omnidirectional, too, as this distance held up even when I was not aiming at the strobes.

In this wide open environment, they held up beyond a hundred yards (I even got a pop or two at 500 yards) but they were not rock-solid reliable beyond the length of the football field.

Radio is a fickle lady, and your mileage will certainly vary. In fact, given the particular physical environment and radio noise environment, you can expect significant differences in performance levels in any brand of radio remotes.

For the record, I think the PocketWizard Plus II's still are the standard bearers, but you can get a full set of JrX's for the price of one PW transceiver. Let your range needs and your wallet be your guide.

In the Studio

I shot indoors with them this weekend, too, using WLs to photograph Dasha, seen at left.

This is where the ironically named "Studio" receivers come into their own. I say ironically, because I would think the biggest advantage to being able to control power at a distance would be for location shooters who light over large areas.

But I successfully avoided burning any unnecessary calories in my makeshift home studio, too. (It is a work in progress at this point, more on that soon.)

In this environment, the JrX's really come into their own. First of all -- knobs. Not dials, not menus, but KNOBS. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The three knobs control flash groups A, B and C, with "A" being closest to your camera's eyepiece.

They are fast, intuitive and you can even disable them so you do not accidently change your flash levels after you get them set. Just dial them up or down. No f/stop calibrations, as that would be impossible given the large number of flashes they can work with. But it is easy to do it by feel -- and you can set the modeling lights to track as well. (Although, to be clear, I am really not a modeling light tracking kinda guy. I just need enough light for old eyes to focus in a dark studio.)

As a bonus menu option, you can even configure the dials to be able to turn off various flashes at the bottom setting on the dial. Nice touch.

I loved working this way -- with the combo of the digital back and the remote volume controls, zeroing in a three-light shot like the one at left was a breeze.

I started with the key, and used that to base my exposure. Then I dialed up the ring (coulda done that without the remote, obviously, but still...) And having volume control on the background light was especially nice. I would not have started out this dark back there, but in the end I took it down to almost nothing.

(Lighting particulars, for both photos: Gridded beauty dish key, high right. ABR800 with a small Moon Unit soft box as a ring fill, and a tiny bit of light on the grey background from the BG light.

Not Just for the Big Guns, Either

So, here's why you'll want the "Studio" models. That volume control works with many, many legacy speedlights via ingenius use of the "quench pin." This is something the open source trigger guys are doing, too, and RP has wired it through use of a stereo 1/8" jack for the sync port.

Adapters for Nikon and Canon are coming shortly. They have not announced pricing, so I will not scoop them here. But I was pleasantly surprised when they told me the planned amount, given that they will be multi-pinned hot shoe-to-1/8 jack cords.

No word on whether they can control an LP 120 yet, but I would guess not. The technique uses the quench pin in a TTL environment, so I would not hold out hope. But old Nikon flashes like SB-24s, '25's, 26's are said to work, along with '600's and '800's. Nikon switched into a new system with the '900's, so they are out.

Canon has a similarly long list of compatible volume control flashes. Check with the RP website for the latest info on that as it becomes available.

Nice Power Touches

Battery life is said to be at approximately 40 hours of usage, whether triggering or in standby. But the transmitters, at least, will turn themselves off after an hour of non-use.

And all units have a built-in battery meter using flashing patterns on the power light. This is especially important, given the choice of a CR123A battery for power.

Regrets, I Have a Few...

Let me preface this but saying they are great little remotes, and will be standard kit for me when shooting with WLs and ABs. I am a lazy somebody and these remotes have my name written all over them.

But no gear is perfect, and the JrX's are no exception. So, herewith, a pissy little list of nit picks.

1. The CR123A battery. It is three volts, so they could have gone AA or even AAA. I would have taken on some additional size to stay with my AA standard for flashes, but I understand that was a design choice.

CR123A's are not as widely available as AA's, so I would suggest going online for great pricing. www.CR123Batteries.com (see update, below) has alkaline CR123A's for under a buck, but they also have well-regarded NiMH CR123A's and chargers for very reasonable, too. And yes, I stocked up before I told you guys about it.

[UPDATE: Ni-MH's work fine, and Amazon has a much better deal on them than the above store.

While we are on the subject, the remotes do ship with batts and a good selection of sync cords (props for that). But they do not ship with the standard 1/8-to-PC cord needed for straight, dumb manual Nikon SB operation. Hopefully, RP will source that cord. Or maybe hook up with Lon at Flash Zebra or something.

2. DIP switches. Argh. I know, I know -- they had a lot of configurations to accommodate. But fat-fingered nail biters like myself will need to carry a ball point pen. There is a lot to remember, until you get acquainted with them, too. I will prolly work up a PDF cheat sheet and shrink it down to fit one of the blank areas on the units. Labels, gentlemen, labels. This should be an unnecessary hack.

3. Speaking of needed hacks: There are no strap lugs on the receivers. This means that a lot of receivers will be hanging by the sync cords or the (supplied) phone cords that interface with the WL/ABs. I am prolly gonna go the velcro route here. Which might be a good thing, as it will allow me to orient the antenna the way I want (perpendicular) rather than letting gravity set the angle.

4. Lastly, an easy fix I would like to see in a future firmware upgrade: Make the standard "on" indicator on the LED to be a slow flashing, like PW does. That is easier to confirm in bright daylight, which is especially important when you want to make sure they are off for packing. I had to cup my hands around them to be sure.

But, like I said, these are small gripes. These are great little triggers.

Kudos to RP for re-setting the bar for quality and features in a small, modestly priced remote. With the JrX's, RadioPopper has established itself as a major player in the photo gear industry.

More info at RadioPopper.


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