If your after ETTL or Remote Manual radio triggers on a budget Pixel have a great option with the King ETTL Triggers .
Pixel TTL triggers have come a long over the last few years and the Kings do work very well now. At this point they are the best bang for buck radio ETTL available, and they’re pretty much the cheapest ETTL triggers available.
Offcourse with that low price you have to expect some limitations and compromise in quality and service levels compared to the higher priced options. If you are after something at the cheaper end though the Kings are definitely still worth considering.
I should mention that I know them pretty well because I’ve been involved in a lot of beta testing and development, starting from the very first versions of the earlier Pixel Knights ETTL triggers a number of years ago now.
What They Do
The Kings allow you to fire one or more flashes off camera, with full ETTL or Remote Manual power level control directly from the camera, without any cords or line of sight required.
The ETTL is ideal for fast paced run and gun shooting where the subjects may be constantly moving around and changing distance from the lights. There are no ETTL ratios with the Kings though – EDIT- Ratios Now Added as of firmware v1030/v1013
And Remote Manual Power setting can save a lot of time running back and forth, climbing up and down lightstands and inside softboxes etc to change the power directly on the flash units. With the Kings it can be done quickly and easily straight from the camera flash control menu. The catch here is you need MK II Canon EX Flashes, and camera bodies with a flash control menu to do remote manual power setting (YN-565ex also works). With older flashes and bodies the Kings are mainly just for ETTL use.
- ETTL Off Camera
- With most Canon EX flashes (and some other brands like the YN-565ex)
- With most Canon ETTL II camera bodies, from the 20D onwards
- One or more flashes (but No ETTL ratios )
- FEC – Flash Exposure Compensation – set from the camera.
- Remote Manual Power Level Control
- Change manual power levels of remote flashes directly from the camera flash control menu
- This requires Canon EX II flashes (or some third party flashes like the YN-565ex)
- Up to 3 separate groups in remote manual
- See an example in the video here – youtu.be/r2xn8piXLQU?t=6m48s
- HSS – FP high speed sync up to 1/8000th with Canon EX or similar ETTL flashes
- Hypersync – high speed sync up to 1/8000th with manual flashes & studio lights.
- Second Curtain Sync
- FEL – Flash Exposure Lock works with ETTL
- 3 Groups and 3 Channels
- AF Focus Assit Light on Transmitter
- Remote flash zoom head follows the lense focal length
- Test Fire Button on Transmitter
- USB Port for Firmware Updates
What They Don’t Do
- No ETTL Ratios – EDIT- Ratios Now Added as of firmware v1030/v1013
- No Mixing ETTL and Remote Manual groups
- No Flash on Camera (pass thru hotshoe on transmitter is disabled)
The Good Points
- ETTL exposures are very good
- Remote manual works well
- Good range and very few misfires
- 3 separate groups when using manual power setting
- Easy group and channel selection
- FEC (flash exposure compensation) from the camera
- HSS (high speed sync) up to 1/8000th
- Hypersync – up to 1/8000th with studio lights (depends on camera & lights used)
- Second Curtain Sync
- FEL (flash exposure lock)
- Test Fire Button on TX (allows lightmeter use in remote manual)
- AF auto focus assist light on transmitter – (only mildly useful)
- AF assist lights work on remote flashes
- All regular AA batteries
- Compatible with Pixel Opas manual triggers
- At the price a great alternative to a long ETTL cord
- Works with the inexpensive (& questionable reliability) YongNuo YN-565ex flashes
- Comes with a great soft case!
- No ETTL Ratios – EDIT- Ratios Now Added as of firmware v1030/v1013
- Remote Manual Power setting requires Canon Ex MK II flashes
- Remote Manual Power setting requires camera bodies with flash control menu
- No mixing ETTL and Remote Manual Groups
- No on-camera flash (pass thru hotshoe on transmitter is disabled)
- Auto flash zoom is mainly just a hassle, though it can usually be turned off (more hassle)
- Canon 550ex flashes are not compatible (they worked in beta versions so may get fixed)
- Transmitter locking ring is tiny and a pain to lock on/off the camera
- Transmitter PC sync port is disabled
- Receivers still use PC sync port instead of regular 3.5mm headphone socket
- Some people have had issues with the firmware updating software
- Pixels documentation of version and changes is very limited
- Support for issues is very limited, you will likely get better answers from forums etc
- Build quality is “handle with care” (be careful laying flash/receivers on their side)
The functions available with the Kings 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 – FEC in 3 groups from the camera menu, No ratio control
1Ds III, 1D IV, 1D III,
5D III, 5D II,
7D, 60D, 50D, 40D,
600D T3i, 550D T2i, 500D T1i, 450D XSi,
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, No ratios control.
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 ETTL and FEC in 3 groups from the camera menu, No ratio control, FEC can not be set directly on the flash.
Canon - 600EX(RT), 580EX II, 430EX II, 320EX, 270EX II,
YongNuo – YN565EX C (no HSS),
Nissin – Di866 II
Metz – 56 AF, 50AF, 48 AF
Flashes that do not support remote 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. No ratio control, FEC can not be set directly on the flash.
Canon – 580EX, 430EX
Note – 550ex is no longer compatible with any remote ability, basic flash fire only (HSS still works)
Basic Trigger Only
Studio lights or manual speedlights with a trigger voltage less than 60 volts – Hotshoe flash trigger voltage checklist here
Communication is very good with the Kings now, they’re fast and really don’t feel all that much different to using manual triggers. In the early days you could almost see just how much communication was constantly going back and forth and feel a slight delay in being able to fire the camera shutter. That’s all gone these days and the Kings are fairly seamless now.
Range is great (around 60metres) and there are no misfires or random fires. They do still have their moments when they will stop communicating. This is easy to see though as the light on the transmitter stops responding, and all you do is switch the camera off and back on quickly to reset them ,and away you go again. That doesn’t happen very often now so it’s really very little concern, but it does still happen.
They do still use more batteries than manual triggers, but again it looks like they have made improvements there too. The main thing is they use common AA’s anyway, so batteries like Eneloop rechargeable are ideal.
Pixel products have always tended to be fairly light duty. I’ve always considered them “handle with care” quality. If you’re reasonably careful with them they tend to hold up ok but I don’t expect they will last forever. At the price though you can afford to replace a failed unit down the track if needed.
It’s not uncommon to see the metal ETTL feet attached to the case on a slight angle either, this has been common with many Pixel products. Otherwise they generally have a nice look to the finish.
No Pass Through Hotshoe
This still catches a lot of buyers out. The hotshoe on the transmitter has been completely disabled so no flash will fire on that hotshoe now at all.
Although its a shame to loose that feature, I think this was actually a good decision by Pixel as we already had concerns with the beta models. A flash mounted on the transmitter was causing stress on the case and communication issues with the camera. Now there is no stress put on the TX case at all so its likely to be reliable and last a lot longer as they are now.
Pixel also mention a possible N-ETTL zone controller type device in the manual which would mount on the Tx hotshoe, but there has been no more information on that as yet.
AF Focus Asisst Light
This is Pixels first attempt at an Auto Focus Assist Light. I’ve been harassing them to make one for years, so although I really appreciate the efforts, unfortunately this one is not quite there yet.
The image shows the first production version which was a clear lense. That has since been updated to a red lense, with much more powerfull LED light. But it still does not project any contrast pattern to help the camera focus system lock onto. EDIT – now updated with a pattern projection.
There is also no on/off switch for the AF light. A small piece of gaffer tape will fix that easily, its just that you’re wasting battery power then still for no reason.
I’m sure we will see improved versions in the future, but props to Pixel for atleast getting started. This is something even PocketWizard have continually overlooked, and now even Canon with the new St-E3 which is disappointing.
RX Locking Ring (& Pin)
This is a welcome addition as Pixel’s locking rings have been ridiculously small on all of their products. This ring is much better but it could well be bigger still.
The other interesting thing here is the Rx locking pin which is a great addition, possibly a first for receivers?
The Tx locking ring has currently still not been updated though, and that’s an issue because with the shape of the King/Bishop case I’ve found they are already the most difficult trigger to get on and off the camera. The tiny locking ring only compounds that issue. EDIT – Updated to the ring above, which is still smaller than ideal.
Test Fire Button
This is a really important feature for anyone using a light meter. Pixel have added a test fire button using the original channel and group button pressed at the same time (same as the Pixel Bishop’s).
I have suggested a number of times they use just the one Channel button as the test fire button, but I doubt they will change that again now. Pressing 2 buttons at once is not that bad, it would have been more convenient with one though.
Faster Group/Channel Selection
To set the Groups or Channels on the triggers directly the Kings still use one button to scroll through all the options. This is now quicker as you don’t have to hold for 2 seconds before starting to change settings, just tap the button a second time and change.
The single button / scroll has hopefully seen its last days though as Pixel’s latest manual trigger (the Opas) now have a button for each group!
Second Curtain Sync – Off Camera
This is no small feat, one of very few radio triggers which allow second curtain sync off camera with Canon. This requires a camera body with a flash control menu to select the rear curtain option.
Hypersync HSS is working well with manual speedlights, the timing is correct for a full frame at any shutter speed up to 1/8000th (flash must be set at full power)
There is no adjustment for Hypersync 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, though there are user reports of good results with a number of common monolights.
Backward / Forward – Compatibility
The Kings are now compatible with Pixels latest manual triggers the Opas transceivers. This is very significant as it shows Pixel have started considering cross and backward compatibility. Its yet to be seen if Pixel will continue this compatibility to new models.
The Kings TX will fire the Opas with corresponding groups and channels. But not only that, I discovered Hypersync HSS will still work using a manual Opas receiver with a King as Tx.
The manual triggers work well in combination with the ETTL flashes, without any negative effect on the TTL metering.
One bug I have found though is they King will not test fire the Opas. I’m not sure if Pixel has updated this.
Knights – The current Kings appear not be compatible at all now with the previous Knight ETTL triggers. That is a bit unfortunate, but the Knights won’t work with the Canon flash control menu, so you would likely be switching to all new Kings anyway.
The King manual mentions an optional USB cord for shutter release, I have the cord but so far the shutter release is not working. I’m not sure if Pixel has updated this at any point.
One thing I found, if your using Canon speedlights, even if they are set to manual they do still put out a pre-flash. So if your trying to fire extra flashes or your studio strobes via optic slave they will not fire in sync!
I was able to use the S2 slave mode on YN-560’s flashes to overcome this pre flash. The only other option is to connect the Canon flashes via a sync cord to the Rx and not directly to the hotshoe (so you would loose remote power control).
USB port Firmware Updates
The USB port is now enabled and the Firmware downloads available on the Pixel site. The instructions are here – pixelhk.com/Down/Help.aspx
There have been some reports of issues with the updating software not working properly, though persistence usually pays off.
EDIT – Ratios Now Added as of firmware v1030/v1013
A:B C ETTL ratios are now supported just as the Canon optic wireless system provides.
Some good discussions –
CliveyBoy (on POTN) aka SeedyBee2008 (on Strobist) deserves a huge amount of credit as the un-official, un-paid and mostly un-thanked resource for the Pixel Kings.
You can see his Pixel King Summary here – https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B77…RiODY0MTYyZmU2
27-10-2012 – V1030 V1031
Pixel HK have released a major “3rd generation” firmware update V1030 for the Canon version Pixel King radio triggers, which now brings ETTL Ratios, as well as support for the Canon 1DX in a separate V1031.
The new firmware versions, as well as previous ones can be downloaded from the Pixel HK website HERE.
Content for King For Canon 3rd Generation Firmware Upgrade V1030
- Modify the camera setup for flash power ratio output.
- Modify support FEB function.
- Modify the compatibility of camera, such as60D, 5D Mark III.
- Modify the test flash output mode, such as flash under E-TTL mode, pre-flash ratio output. Under M mode, the output ratio is according to the flash setting.
- The modification can support the zoom settings, M mode and ETTL mode on flash
- Firmware upgrade operating instruction is in the zip file you download
The Kings are selling for less than $140 a set on Ebay and Amazon etc, so if your after budget ETTL, or Remote Manual power (and you have the EX II flashes for that), they are a bargain, there is no competition at that price.
Feature wise the main thing holding them back from being more of an alternative to PocketWizard, Radiopopper and the new Phottix Odin is the lack of ETTL ratios (EDIT- Ratios Now Added as of firmware v1030/v1013) . But that is not something everyone is needing anyway. Build quality and support could be better, but what the Kings do they do well considering the price tag .
At the price they are at the very least a great alternative to a long ETTL cord.
The Kings are available on eBay, but for low prices Amazon is often considered a good option as they have an excellent return policy should there be an issue, avoiding the time and expense of returning to China.