Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Apututre Trigmaster Plus 2.4G

From time to time I will post my impression of certain gear that I come across.  If I like it, I'll test it, and post my results here.

This time it is the Trigmaster plus 2.4G by Chinese photographic accessory manufacturer Aputure Limited.

The last few years have shown an influx of lower cost alternatives to the industry standard PocketWizard flash triggers, primarily from Chinese companies.  The earliest incantations of Chinese triggers dubbed PovertyWizards by the online community had very mixed to dismal results (think about PT-04's and Cactus V2's - Shutters!).  The next generation were more reliable, but still questionable for anything other than casual use.  This last generation of Chinese made triggers has brought a revolution of features, build quality, and reliability, previously only available in much higher cost Pro models.  Companies like Cactus (Gadget Infinity) and Yongnuo have all -seemingly- forsaken their poor manufacturing and designing pasts and have opted to listen to their market, and produce products which maintain a very tight margin, but also improved on design, manufacturing, and QC.  Another reason some of these Chinese manufacturers have been criticized is for their lack of backward compatibility between models released.  When a trigger was released, you had to completely abandon the previous set if you wanted to upgrade.  Yongnuo shook things up in this area when their YN-04II triggers maintained compatibility with the previous ctr-301 model.  A positive step forward, I think.  Also, companies like Phottix, Pixel, and Aputure have emerged offering high quality products while in some measure avoiding the stigma that has plagued the reputations of the previously mentioned companies by coming into the game a little later, and offering products that work, and work well at initial release.

Aputure is well known for making a number of camera and flash remote triggers.  Their shutter release remotes have become very popular, as well as their remote live-view  - Gigtube wireless.

I am limiting this review to my experiences with the Trigmaster Plus 2.4G  Smart Sensing Transceiver.

Type 2.4G Half duplex mode radio system
Transmitter distance 100 meters (Any angle for triggering both camera shutter and flash)
Channel 6 different channels
Sync-speed 1/250 sec
Continuous trigger frequency 8 frames/second
Dimensions 85 x 47 x 28 mm
Power supply 1.5V AAA battery x 2

Basic features:
  • Transmitter and Receiver built-in-one
  • Auto-Sensing Technology
  • Interlink Triggering Mode
  • Strobe, Speedlight, and Camera all controllable
  • Ultra-fast microchips enable sync speeds of 1/250sec
  • Reliable, long range and speedy.

What exactly does Smart Sensing (Auto-Sensing) mean?  here is what Aputure's website says:

                        The Auto-Sensing technology analyzes the status of the Trigmaster Plus' 
                        connection to determine which mode to utilize (transmitter or receiver).

How is this significant?  Well, a feature which sets this trigger apart from basically any other out there (except perhaps PocketWizards with relay mode.  If i am wrong, please correct me in the comments).  And this feature is the Interlink triggering mode.  Interlink allows you to trigger your camera and flashes simotaniously with only one trigger on camera.  It works like this; 
You put one transceiver on camera set to tx/rx mode, then attach the included shutter release cable  to the camera's appropriate receptacle.  You have another (or more) unit connected your flash(s) (either on the hotshoe or the 2.5mm sync port on the Trigmaster plus) on rx mode.  Then you hold another unit in your hand set to tx/rx mode.  this allows you to half press the shutter release button (large button on unit) to set auto focus, then a full press to release the shutter, and simultaneously trigger your flashes.  Other flash triggers like the Cactus V5 requires an additional transceiver to act as your shutter release, set to a different channel than the one triggering your flash.  this really streamlines your remote shooting options, and is a pretty big perk for many shooters. 


I will get to the performance, but first, let's talk design.  The Trigmaster plus has been designed to stand vertically on the camera (similar to PocketWizard Plus II).  It has a standard hotshoe (non TTL pass through) on top, but because of it's vertical design, it is impossible to mount a flash on top of the trigger to provide fill or focus assist beam while on camera.  The hot shoe is for attaching off camera hot shoe flashes in rx mode.  The articulating antenna is a nice design touch here, it can be raised to the vertical position when the trigger is flat hosting a flash in it's hotshoe.  The unit also allows connection to flashes via a 2.5mm sync port (would have preferred 3.5mm), and shipps with 2.5mm to pc cables (not the highest quality locking type, but they do the job).  The unit also ships with 2.5mm to 3.5mm  mono plug with 1/4" adapter for large lights and a shutter release cable appropriate for your model camera..  

The Aputure Trigmaster Plus 2.6G is shipped in several versions for various Camera makers and models, but I have been assured that the units are all identical.  The only difference is the shutter release cable included, which has no standard, and differs from maker to maker, and even between models on one camera manufacturer.  For instance, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II has a different shutter release cable/port than the Digital Rebel models.  Go figure.  There is also 2.5mm PC in port which allows you to connect your camera's PC port to the unit to trigger your flashes in the case your hot shoe is occupied, or otherwise unavailable.

The top of the unit has the large shutter release button, as well as the channel selector, which cycles through 6 channels, as well as the mode switch (between tx/rx mode and rx mode).  It is important to note, that do to the design, the shutter release button cannot be used alone as a test button for your flashes.  In order to manually fire your flashes you must simultaneously hit the shutter button, and the channel button, which can be quite inconvenient, especially if you are trying to meter your lights, and only have one free hand to hit a test button.  Pocket Wizards have overcome this obstacle, with a similar feature list, so I see no reason why Aputure engineers can't fix this in a future product.  Not a deal breaker, but it can be inconvenient.

The left side includes jacks for flash sync, camera shutter, and PC in.  Right side has the ever so valuable on/off switch and swiveling antenna, and the bottom has the 1/4"x20 brass thread which allows you to screw the unit onto a light stand or umbrella swivel stud with 1/4"x20 threads on top. also on the bottom is the battery cover which houses convenient AAA alkaline batteries.  The tail end hosts the hot shoe foot which though not metal, it seems to be constructed well.  Also, though the Trigmaster plus 2.8G does NOT have a locking nut for the foot.  There is a plastic tab which allows it to fit snugly in any hot shoe preventing it from falling out.

After multiple uses, I have discovered an issue which may be a problem for some users.  Even though the tab on the hot shoe foot prevents the transceiver from falling off the camera, I believe the vertical design plus the lack of a locking nut contributes to an issue I encountered on multiple cameras (Canon Digital Rebel, 5D Mark II as well as Nikon D700 and D300s).  There seems to be a little play in the hot shoe when the transceiver is on camera, it is possible this occurs more to camera hot shoes which are more used/worn than newer cameras.  This play is enough for the contacts to become sporadically disconnected creating some reliability issues.  At first I thought it was a problem with the triggers themselves, but closer inspection revealed that it was with the contacts indeed.  A locking nut, in addition to preventing slippage also would serve to keep those contacts firmly planted in place without any play (see conclusion for more info on this).

One item that has been omitted which I am a little disappointed about is a small plastic stand which would be very helpful in balancing the Trigmaster Plus 2.4G on the ground (or table, or other semi flat surface) with a speedlight sitting on top.  Balancing the unit with a flash on it is not very easy to do, and I wouldn't even try if it were on a table or elevated platform that it can take a serious tumble off of.  Again, not a deal breaker for me, but it would be very handy when traveling with a very small kit (thinking beach shoot).

(semi) Technical Evaluation
The Aputure Trigmaster unit's I tested were pre-production models.  I was contacted by the company to conduct an unbiased objective evaluation of these units and am in no other way affiliated or sponsored by Aperture, their employees, or any other affiliated body.

Additionally, the triggers I received were tested on Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Digital rebel XTi/400D camera bodies, so I can not attest to their performance on other cameras.


The range tests I conducted were in line with what Aptuture suggests.  I easily got 100 meters, plus a little more.  once you go beyond say 125 or so meters, reliability is a little hit or miss, but i did find playing with the antenna position did help a little.

I found that my units were rock solid reliable when they had fresh batteries, and the sync cord is properly seated in the jack (I had to check my connection a few times during my testing).  As long as you don't hang the units by the sync cord (as you never should anyway) you'll be fine!  There is a loop on the side to add a lanyard, but i found the holes too small to be used by my large clumsy hands.  Instead i attached a lanyard on the antenna base, and it worked fine for me.  Also, see above regarding the play on the hot shoe due to lack of locking nut.

Sync Speed

I can safely report that I consistently got a clean 1/200th sync on both the 5D Mark II and Rebel XTi/400D as long as the batteries were fresh.  The 5D lagged a little with slightly duller batteries (still a clean 1/160th-1/125th).

Build Quality
Seems to be well built, a sold plastic construction throughout. The battery door seems like a decent enough design, I don't foresee any problems here.  The antenna on a couple of my units got a little loose, but there is a tightening screw that allows you to remedy that without too much trouble.  I've dropped one of mine from the top of an 8' stand onto concrete, and only the battery door popped off, and went back on without a problem.  Still works fine for me.  The tab on the hotshoe foot that keeps it snug on camera is not something that bothers me, it doesn't look like it will break off.  it's actually a pretty decent design, but again, I still would prefer a locking nut for reasons stated above.

After several months to use the Trigmaster Plus 2.4G i've really had the chance to put it through it's paces.  I've found many reviews jump the gun, and really miss points that come out after extensive field use.

I can now say that the Trigmaster Plus 2.4G is a well made, attractive, and very functional piece of equipment.  The lack of a locking nut to secure the transceiver to the camera keeping the pins in in contact with the camera hot shoe seems to be the only major design flaw.  When the pins are in contact the trigger is rock solid reliable.

Aputure seems commited to providing backwards compatibility for their customers.  here is a note from the manual:  All 2.4G products from the Aputure Trigmaster family are compatible with one another.  I can only assume this means all future products will be compatible, in addition to their current Trigmaster and Trigmaster Plus Products.

  • build quality
  • looks great
  • articulating antena
  • Interlink triggering mode
  • channels easily changable
  • 2.4ghz - good range
  • Lack of locking nut
  • Vertical design prevents mounting flash on camera at same time (can always use pc port on camera - if available)
  • not shipped with mini stand
After sharing my findings regarding the rocking/hot shoe contact issue with the Aputure rep, I was assured that this was only an issue on a number of beta units that were sent out, and that it has been resolved in the production release.  Though I cannot independently verify this, based on my experience with how this company does business, I am inclined to believe them.

From Aperture Rep:
You can see that the newest version does not have the latches on the side, and that the prongs are a bit larger. These are the design changes that have been made to address the problems that you are having. I put both units on two cameras (Canon 60D and Nikon D90) and the newest version was by far, the tightest fit.

Photo sent to me by Aputure Rep (posted with permission). Left is the Beta model
that was sent to me.  Right is the production model which apparently mitigates
 the issue I encountered while still keeping a firm fit in the hot shoe.

Would I recommend purchasing this Item? If the rocking issue is truly resolved, then an unequivocal Yes, otherwise, only if the Interlink triggering mode is essential to you (you can probably mitigate the issue with some DIY ingenuity).  I really like the design, and I really wanted to recommend it.  My initial tests were stellar, and I was prepared to provide a flying colors review, but after a bit of use, it's vulnerability showed itself, and I feel obligated to report it.

I am really looking forward to future announcements from this company that from all accounts looks very interested in fulfilling the needs of their clients.  When offering some suggestions for features that should be included on future releases, the Aputure rep seemed very receptive, and willing to work with the engineers to include them in the next product they design. (i.e. channel grouping, single test button and locking nut).  Another thing that was appealing to me regarding this company is they way they do business.  They seem to have adopted the tried and true supply train distribution model.  They are working with distributors to have their products sold in retail stores, as well as online venues like eBay and Amazon.

Please hit me with any questions in the comments, or email me at eyphoto@hotmail.com - twitter @EYPhotoStudio - Facebook http://www.facebook.com/EYPhotoStudio

Some shots using the Aputure Trigmaster Plus 2.4G

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