Commlite have released the new Comtrig TL680 TTL & HSS enabled radio flash triggers, and they have kindly sent a set for testing and review.
The TL680 are transceivers, currently designed for Canon ETTL cameras, and their function is very similar to the very popular YongNuo YN-622C TTL triggers. So similar in fact I thought the TL680 may have been a collaboration with YongNuo, but Commlite have actually developed the TL680 independently, and they are not compatible with the current YN-622C at all.
The Comtrig TL680 allow full ETTL with ratios, FP HSS to 1/8000th, and Remote Manual Power Control in 3 separate groups. All from the Canon cameras Flash Control Menu. Canon Mk II flashes are required to allow full control, though YongNuo ETTL flashes appear to be working ok as well. Super Sync to 1/8000th shutter speed with some studio lights may also be possible.
And like the YN-622C there is also an ETTL pass through hotshoe on the transmitter, allowing an “on top” flash to be mounted on the camera at the same time as the transmitter, with full ETTL or manual function.
If all that sounds confusing, the TL680 quite simply allow you to reliably use the flash wirelessly away from the camera, with all the functions available as if it was actually mounted on the camera hotshoe. And they can be as simple to use as mounting the flash on a receiver instead of the camera hotshoe.
The Short Version
The Commlite TL680 are very similar in function to the very popular YN-622C. The TL680 appear to work just as well and the range is virtually the same as the YN-622C.
The main differences are that the YN-622C have an AF (auto focus) assist light, and they use larger AA batteries, so the case is considerably larger as well. The YN-622C case is also more solid, so it will support a flash mounted on the transmitter pass through hotshoe (on-camera) better. LED lights are also larger and easier to see.
The main advantage of the TL680 is simply the more compact size and lighter weight, due to the smaller AAA batteries used. The TL680 also have a more reliable 3.5mm sync port instead of the old PC sync style port. Buttons are easier to feel, and the instruction manual is also much easier to understand.
The YN-622C are currently the lowest priced TTL triggers available, and pretty much the best bang for buck budget TTL triggers available, at around $85 a pair. The TL680 may even sell a little lower, so either trigger really are incredible value for the money.
TL680 FEATURES –
- 2.4 GHz with 80 metre range
- Remote Manual Power Control in 3 groups from the camera menu
- ETTL Ratios and FEC set from the camera menu (ALL/ A:B/ A:B C)
- Flash On Camera in ETTL or Manual via Pass Through Hotshoe
- Mix ETTL on camera flash with manual off camera (must be set directly on flash)
- HSS (FP high speed sync) up to 1/8000th (with compatible flashes)
- FEL (flash exposure lock)
- FEB (flash exposure bracketing)
- Second Curtain Sync
- Test Fire Button on TX – Allows lightmeter use in remote manual
- Up to 6 stops of FEC Flash Exposure Compensation in TTL (3 stops set direct on the flash)
- Remote Flash Zoom Setting from camera (can override).
- Super Sync – up to 1/8000th shutter speed with studio lights (results vary with camera & lights used)
- LCD Live view triggering
- Settings saved automatically
- Transceivers means there are back up transmitter units
- Supports single contact pin camera & flash triggering, and non Canon camera use like Nikon etc.
- A number of inexpensive compatible flash options (YongNuo etc)
- Regular AAA batteries
- 300v safe trigger voltage via PC sync port (Hotshoe may only be 6–12v safe trigger voltage)
- No USB Port for firmware updates
- Canon Flash Control Menu is not an ideal interface (but much better than no remote control)
- ETTL Ratios are limited to 1:1, 1:2 style ratios instead of FEC via groups (like ST-E3 etc allow).
- Turning a group off remotely in manual power control is limited to choosing A:B or A:B:C
- Mixing ETTL and manual groups is not possible via the remote menu (can be set directly on the flash)
- Locking rings are smaller than ideal
- Case is not very solid for pass through hotshoe use
- Test Fire Button use is easy to bump Channel Button off channel
- No shutter release feature (not uncommon with ETTL triggers)
The first thing you notice about the TL680 is the obvious resemblance to the PocketWizard Mini TT1 and TT5. Which is surprising, and a little unfortunate to see from Commlite, who have previously created their own completely original designs. Not always the prettiest, but some functionally very good like the Comtrig T320, which are likely still the best minimum priced basic manual trigger available.
Commlite have already said though they will not be going further down the track of emulating other designs like this, and next time they will have a unique case design again.
Throwing some batteries in the TL680, the cool little pin light LED’s light up, completing what is really quite a slick looking little unit. Unfortunately the LED’s are actually pretty a hard to see outside, though Commlite are already intending to make them brighter.
The Channel and Test Fire button (seen above) are strangely in opposite positions to the current YN-622C. And they would really have been better left the same way around, as its easier to bump the channel button now while trying to press the Test Fire button.
Ease of bumping the Channel button off channel, is probably the biggest (silly) issue with the YN-622C, and the TL680 has inherited the same problem. The TL680 design has made the buttons much easier to feel, but then spoiled that advantage by putting the Channel button under your thumb while pressing the Test Fire.
If the flashes stop firing at any time though, you know the first thing to check is that the transmitter is simply actually still on the same channel !
The other side of the transceiver has a simple ON – OFF switch, and a Group selection button.
Using smaller AAA batteries instead of the more commonly used AA’s, the TL680 are smaller than most TTL capable transceivers, and actually somewhere in between the size of a PocketWizard Mini TT1 and larger TT5.
Again in similar style to the Mini TT1, batteries are accessed via a simple flip open door underneath the unit, which seems to work fine.
The smaller AAA batteries used in the TL680 are an interesting choice though, as most TTL triggers are quite heavy on battery use. And that’s with the much larger AA batteries. I did have some issues with the receiver not responding after a few of hours of use. The Duracell’s were only half used at most though, and Commlite have said they are still tweaking and will make improvements yet around the low battery level threshold, etc.
One thing is for sure though, you will be changing batteries more often with the TL680 than with larger AA trigger units. This may actually suit some people better though, as AAA batteries are cheaper, and putting a new set of good Alkaline’s in before a shoot is always the best way to absolutely ensure the most reliable results.
Pass Through Hotshoe
The TL680 may look attractive, but they are built fairly light duty. The YN-622C feel like a solid block in comparison.
The main place this is going to be any issue is with a flash mounted on-camera, on top of the TL680 pass through hotshoe. I’m constantly saying TTL pass through hotshoes are rarely a good option for serious long term on camera use in most cases. But the TL680 are definitely only going to sustain light use with a reasonable size flash mounted on top.
The first thing is the case itself lifts at the rear seam if you press forward on the flash. There are 3 screws close around the TL680 foot, so the case is not actually going to split apart in any hurry. But only one of those screws is actually positioned behind the foot, at the very back of the case where it needs the most support. So the corner where you see the lanyard strap hole will actually lift a little at the seam.
The main issue with pass through hotshoes though, is actually the side to side movement in the shoe and foot connections, which slop around as you try to swivel the flash head on the camera. If you do that enough the TTL contacts eventually loose contact and become unreliable. And the TL680 foot is even smaller than the YN-622C (and YongNuo are already know for small sloppy fitting feet). The locking ring is not particularly large either.
So I would only use a smaller 430EX II or YN-500EX style flash on camera at most for anything more than a short period, and even then be very gentle when swiveling the flash head. The pass through hotshoe is still very useful for attaching an ETTL cord though (to a flash mounted on a bracket).
Major points to Commlite for using a standard 3.5mm mini-phone sync port as seen above.
Like the YN-622C, for full control, the TL680 rely on later model Canon DSLR cameras which have a Flash Control Menu. And also MK II style Canon Flashes (or similar compatible flashes like YongNuo ETTL flashes).
So functions available basically follow those already available in the Canon Flash Control Menu. Full remote Manual Power setting in the separate groups, or ETTL, with A:B and A:B C ratios. Flash exposure compensations is set through the camera as normal, or can be set on each flash directly as well.
FP HSS, 2nd Curtain Sync, FEL and all the available Canon functions are supported.
So this is very impressive use of the Canon Flash Control Menu system, and incredible function for the price. Though using the camera menus, particularly for continual manual power level changes, can be lot slower than other triggers with a built in interface like the the Phottix Odin, and Pixel King Pro.
The main limitation of the Canon menu system (apart from the speed of access) is the ability to mix ETTL, and Remote Manual Power Setting groups at the same time.
I will run through some of the TL680 features below, but please also see the YN-622C review for more in depth comments.
Flash Remote Control
The flash remote control capability of the TL680 is determined (and to some degree limited by) the Canon flash control menu.
To start controlling more than one group (on or off camera) you first go to the Wireless Function and select Enable (the flash on camera will always be treated as group A) –
Manual – You can select up to 3 groups and simply adjust the manual power level of each separately in 1/3rd stops (or the graduations as set in your camera options). Three groups on would be set to A:B:C. The other options are A:B for 2 groups, or ALL to fire all groups at the same setting. One small catch here is that you can’t simply turn off say group B for example from the camera. You would need to switch the flash off itself, or possibly just dial the power right down on the camera.
ETTL Ratio – With the Canon system you really only have a ratio available between 2 groups at most (A & B). The third group C can only be a background light, if you aim C at the subject it can blow out the exposure. The group C is therefore adjusted with separate FEC.
The A & B ratio is adjusted in the old system of 1:1, 1:2, 1:4 etc. That’s pretty outdated and a bit counter intuitive compared to the ST-E3, Phottix Odins, and PocketWizard AC3 which allow you to simply adjust FEC up and down on each flash. But its certainly better than no controllable ratio at all. You can actually set FEC for each flash directly on the flash itself though.
In Mixed Mode you could also create a 3 way ratio in ETTL, by setting FEC individually on the flash units themselves to first create the ratio, and then adjusting global FEC up and down from the camera as needed.
This is an important feature, allowing you to make setting directly on the flash itself, which will not be overridden by the transmitters setting. This means you can control some flashes in ETTL via the camera, and still mix in manual flashes. Even using HSS with all flashes.
The second mixed mode purpose is for older Type B cameras which do not have a Flash Control Menu. With these cameras you can still use ETTL and set ratios by setting FEC directly on the flash units. Remote Manual power control is not possible though.
FEC – Flash Exposure Compensation
Flash Exposure Compensation is adjustable from the camera with Type A or B cameras. But FEC can also be set on the individual flash units themselves, and that will add or subtract from the camera setting. So you can get up to 6 stops of exposure compensation which can be a big help.
Super Sync (often know as Hypersync, which is PocketWizard’s trademark term) is a method of achieving higher sync speeds than your cameras x-sync speed with manual studio lights and speedlights. Sync speeds over the cameras x-sync are working well with manual speedlights, the timing is correct for a clean frame at any shutter speed up to 1/8000th (flash must be set at full power, and this was tested using a 1.6 crop frame camera). This is basically the standard timing so results should be similar to that of the Pixel Kings and Phottix Odin etc which also allow this feature.
Super Sync with the TL680 only works for lights attached to the receiver via a PC sync cord (a sync cord is supplied).
There is no adjustment for Supersync timing though (like PocketWizards) so different monolights and camera bodies will achieve different results. You will have to try with your gear and accept what you get there. This is often best with inexpensive monolights that have a long flash duration. The main advantage of Supersync is for freezing action with a high shutter speed in bright ambient light (daylight etc), which is quite difficult to achieve otherwise.
FP HSS (High Speed Sync)
FP HSS works when a compatible HSS enabled flash is attached to the TL680 hotshoe, on or off camera.
HSS looses up to a couple of stops of power, but its main purpose is for fill flash while allowing higher shutter speeds in bright ambient light, so that larger apertures can be used to blur out the background and create a nice bokeh.
ND filters can achieve a similar result with a stop or two more power, but HSS is much faster and easier to change in a fast paced environment than messing with ND filters. Good variable ND filters like the Singh Ray are also not that cheap either.
HSS off camera is not for everyone, but many wedding, event, and portrait photographers would hate to be without it now, on or off camera. The freedom of selecting any shutter speed is fantastic, and the TL680 certainly helps makes HSS more affordable off camera now too.
Second Curtain Sync
Second Curtain Sync works with the off camera flashes, but not with the wireless menu function enabled. So you no longer have remote control of more than one group. But that is still much better than no second curtain sync at all off camera (like Canons RF system).
The FEL button works when using ETTL. I find this really important for off camera ETTL as it acts like a spot meter and really lets you make the ETTL exposure decision yourself by choosing a tone in the image to meter. For people I normally just meter on the face / skin while focusing on the eyes, and its very rare for the ETTL exposure to go amiss this way even in difficult conditions.
Test Fire Button / Light Meter Use
The Test Fire Button on the TL680, like on the YN-622C and Pixel Kings, has a small delay, but that’s not really any practical issue. The important thing is the test button fires the flash at the correct power setting so a light meter can be used to take readings.
Another separate TL680 unit held in hand (and away from the camera) can also be used to test fire all the flashes at the correct power level, even when using remote manual power settings from the camera.
Also when using remote manual power levels there is no pre flash, so you can fire the camera shutter as well to take a reading (possibly with a remote shutter release as well).
You can actually select which groups you would like to test fire at once, by scrolling through the groups while holding the test fire button. I don’t know how practical that would really be for quick light meter use though.
The TL680 are transceivers, meaning the transmitter and receiver are exactly the same units. And they automatically know when they are meant to be acting as a transmitter or receiver. Being the same units you can have back up transmitters as well as receivers.
The functions available with the TL680 depend on camera and flash models used, and they are basically split into Type A & B Cameras (and Mark I & II style flashes).
TYPE A Cameras – with Camera Flash Control Menu
Manual – Full Remote Manual Power Control in 3 groups from the camera menu
ETTL – Full ETTL Ratio Control and FEC in 3 groups from the camera menu
1Dx?, 1Ds III, 1D IV, 1D III,
6D?, 5D III, 5D II,
7D, 60D, 50D, 40D,
650D T4i, 600D T3i, 550D T2i, 500D T1i, 450D XSi,
1100D T3, 1000D XS, EOSM.
TYPE B Cameras – without external flash control menu
Manual – You must set the manual power level directly on the flash
ETTL – Global FEC control is available from the camera, but not ratios. Individual FEC can be set directly on each flash to achieve a ratio though.
1D II, 1D
30D, 20D, 10D,
350D XT, 400D XTi, 300D D-Rebel,
Full Remote Control
Flashes that will support remote flash control through the camera menu.
Manual – Full Remote Manual Power Control in 3 groups from the camera menu.
ETTL – Full ETT Ratio Control and FEC in 3 groups from the camera menu.
Canon – 600EX(RT), 580EX II, 430EX II, 320EX, 270EX II
YongNuo (with HSS) – YN568EX II, YN-568EX, YN-500EX
YongNuo (without HSS) – YN565EX C, YN565 II C, YN468 II C, YN467 II C, YN465 C
Flashes that do not support remote manual flash control through the camera menu.
Manual – You must set the manual power level directly on the flash.
ETTL – Global FEC control is available from the camera. Ratios may be available, though individual FEC can also be set directly on each flash to achieve a ratio if needed.
Canon – 580EX, 550EX, 430EX
For other brand flashes which are likely to be compatible please see the YN-622C compatibility list.
- System type: Digital FSK 2.4GHz wireless transceiver
- Distance: 80M
- Channel: 7
- Flash mode: E-TTL(II), Manual flash, Multi flash
- Sync mode: 1st curtain, 2nd curtain, Hi-speed sync
- Groups: 3Groups (A/B/C)
- Sync speed: 1/8000s*
- Input: Hot-shoe(TTL,main contact)
- Output: Hoe shoe, 3.5mm PC Sync Jack (300v no Polarity)
- Applicable battery: AAAx2 (support 1.2 V rechargeable battery)
- Stand-by time: 40h
- Dimensions: 72×55×36.5mm
The YN-622C have already set a very high standard for budget priced TTL triggers, offering incredible value for money.
The Commlite Comtrig TL680 offer very similar function but in a more compact, lightweight, and some may say more attractive package. The TL680 case is not as sturdy at the pass through hotshoe though, and AAA batteries will run out faster.
Either are currently the most bang for minimum buck ETTL triggers currently available.
Price and Availability
The Comtrig TL680 for Canon should be available very soon with prices expected from around $80 a pair.
Commlite – on Amazon
Commlite – Website