Pixel have released the Soldier TF-371 , an upgraded version of the 361 (Pawn), which itself was an upgraded version of the very popular YongNuo RF-602 2.4 GHz radio trigger
The main added feature over the Pawn being separate multiple flash groups A, B, and C, allowing you to quickly switch on and off each light (or group) from the camera, for fast set up etc.
Please note – I wrote this review a few years ago in search of a trigger that addressed the basic shortfalls of the YongNuo RF-602. The RF-602 was the first great budget trigger available but it had its shortcomings.
Come 2012 there is still not an ideal alternative to the RF-602 available in the same price range, but if you’re prepared to spend a bit more the Phottix Strato II are currently a more refined option. The Rook trigger would be closest to the Strato II in the Pixel range, but they are still not quite up to the same standard as the Strato II.
The Pixel Soldiers do still have one impressive feature that has not quite been matched since (even by Pixel themselves) and that is the very fast 1/320th sync speed (at least with the Canon version). Triggers like the Strato II come closer these days, much better than the RF-602, but still not quite up to the Soldiers speed. The Strato are overall much more refined in a number of other areas though.
One issue to look out for with the Soldier is to be very careful with the transmitter battery. It doesn’t help that it’s clipped in so tight, but the clip can be soldered to the main circuit board very lightly and this can be a weak point. If you break it there is not much chance of resoldering it back again. My set are still going strong after a few years now, but I do treat them as “handle with care” quality.
Back to the Review
The main upgrades the Pixels have over the RF-602 –
– Multiple Groups – A,B,C
– Higher Sync Speed (often 1/320th!)
– A lock down ring on the transmitter with locking pin
– A lock down ring on the receiver
– An On-Off switch on the Transmitter
– An Accessible On-Off switch on the Receiver
– Standard 2.5mm miniphone plug
– Higher trigger voltage 60 volts vs 12 volts
– Longer battery life – 10 x Longer!
Some features both the TF-371 and RF-602 share –
– Most Important, they are reliable, great range, and no misfires etc
– Also operate as a simple shutter remote control
– Flash wake up feature, wakes compatible flashes from sleep mode
– 16 Channels
The main added feature of the TF-371 is the multiple groups.
The advantage to this is it allows you to quickly turn on and off different lights straight from the camera so you can meter them separately without having to reach each light to switch them on and off.
This can be a big advantage using a light meter or not, it’s great to be able to quickly see exactly what each light is doing individually.
Offcourse this could also be used in many different applications, like setting a number of lights around a room or dance floor etc and just turning on the ones you want at a particular time.
GROUP BUTTON –
First impression … why not just a simple manual switch? But the button probably does have its merits because even in pitch darkness you can’t get it wrong. You can’t miss the button or the resulting group selected.
The Rx on the other hand does have a simple manual switch, its very small though and would be useless on the transmitter as it would be too hard to tell which group/s you had selected (works fine on the receiver though where it’s not changed much)
You simply press the button on the Tx once and all groups are selected (3 red lights) then keep pressing to scroll through –
– A only
– B only
– C only
– A and B
– A and C
– B and C
– A, B and C (all)
Even when turned off and back on, the transmitter remembers the last group selection. To see which groups are currently selected just press the button once and they show on the Tx, press again to scroll through changing them again.
The other good thing is the receivers have a nice big light on the end which can be seen from the side or the top. This glows bright green for a few seconds on half press of the camera shutter letting you know exactly which flash is going to fire (on full shutter press).
So that’s the groups, very simple to use. Maybe something you wouldn’t think you would need all that much, but the ability to quickly turn lights on and off from the camera is a great convenience.
I’ll go straight into this one now because this was a surprise and may be quite an advantage for some.
Even on 1/250th sync speed cameras the TF-371 are getting an almost complete frame at 1/320th!
Even at 1/400th there is still a usable amount of frame left to work with.
Many of the previous inexpensive triggers would start showing more shutter than that 1/320th result above at 1/250th and it’s common to go back to 1/200th to be safe.
This may also be a big help to 5D users that are often getting 1/160th at best. I haven’t tested a 5D/II but that would be very good to hear if anyone tries one please let us know.
Unlike the RF-602 Pixel has added Lock Down Rings to both the RX and TX
This one is no competition – the RF-602 Tx (shown right) has nothing holding it in place on the cameras hot shoe except the little bit of spring tension on the shoe itself. Depending on which camera model this may or may not be a big issue.
The Pixel has a locking ring and locking pin that locates in the hotshoe. It can’t fall off and won’t move off the contacts causing misfires.
I’m actually in 2 minds about this one, the RF-602 doesn’t have a locking ring but that allows the receiver to be a bit more compact and also keep the flash a little lower/closer to an umbrella if used on the shoe of a flash. And I would only attach them to a swivel via the screw thread in the base as the plastic feet often break.
The locking ring on the Pixel is also too small (diameter) to get your fingers around to tighten in many places anyway (ok on the camera hotshoe). This is the same with all their locking rings.
On a base stand I can not get to the ring anyway, though I was able to tighten the locking ring first so its tight to slide onto the stand to start with. That works ok and is much more secure than the RF-602 with nothing securing it, but the flash is not going to fall far on a small stand anyway.
Transmitter On Off Switch
I’m not sure if this is a big deal, but the RF-602 has no On/Off switch (like most of the cheap triggers before them). This means they could be wasting batteries if the test button accidently gets held down in your bag etc. They could also be draining some battery power all the time on standby too. But the Tx battery use is so low I’m not sure its an issue.
The Pixel has an On Off button, just hold the group button down for 2 seconds.
Accessible On-Off switch on the Receiver
Pixel has placed the On-Off switch at the end of the receiver where it can easily be accessed when the flash is in place. Where as the RF-602 switch can not be reached with many flashes on the shoe.
This one I am surprised to say is a big convenience. The ability to turn the receiver off leaving the flash in place just feels like a luxury. Nothing worse than locking the flash down on the 602 just to find you didn’t switch it on first grrrr!
If you’re only connecting via a sync port though this is a non issue.
Standard 2.5mm Miniphone Plug
This is another one we’ve been banging on about forever. Just like batteries it would be so much easier if everyone would just used the standard 3.5mm headphone plugs (you can pick up cords and adapters for anywhere).
Pixel have used the 2.5mm miniphone plug which is a step forward, but at the same time the proprietary plug on the RF-602 in that application is not really much of a problem.
Both cords are widely available on the net and neither are going to be found easily at your local stereo dept (or camera store unless you’re really lucky). Still +1 for Pixel, but in reality I don’t think its huge issue with the 602’s either.
Higher trigger voltage
Pixel TF-371 – 60 volts
YN RF-602 – 12 volts
This just means more monolights mainly will be compatible with the Pixels. Older speedlights (like Vivitar 283 for example) are well over 200 volts trigger voltage and would not be usable with either.
Longer Battery Life – 10 x
Both TR-371 and RF-602 use the same standard AAA batteries for the receivers. A+ for Both!
Pixel claim to have 10 times longer battery life though. I can’t confirm or deny that but they are pretty clever, and squeezing battery life and sync speed out of no where is what they like to do. See the battery pack comparison here for example.
Neither are using standard AAA batteries here unfortunately.
On this side of the world at least the CR2032 button cell used in the Pixels are cheap and available in any battery department. Where as the CR2 in the RF-602 are not cheap and only available online.
The transmitter draws very little power though so replacing them is not something that needs to be done that often.
Also note in the image above the channel selector is hidden/protected in the battery compartments. At first I though that was a bad idea, but considering they are very seldom changed it’s actually quite good. It’s only the groups that are changed often and they are easily accessible.
Shoe Clip & Protector
Another nice feature of the Soldier is they come with a hotshoe protector cap, and also a stick on shoe clip to mount the receiver on when it’s being used via a sync cord. These are great, someone should be selling them separately.
Transmitter Sync Port?
This is the one place the Pixel falls down, there is no sync port on the transmitter of any kind. This was easily fixed by adding a hotshoe adapter to the shoe of the transmitter with a port in it like this, but it seems crazy they would not have a sync port built in. The RF-602 is ahead here with a screw lock type PC port built in.
A sync port in the transmitter is used to connect directly to a light meter or to the cameras PC sync port when there is already a flash in the cameras hotshoe. Using an additional hotshoe as stated above does provide a solution if needed though.
It was pretty much equal here, at about 110m line of sight they both started misfiring, if anything the Pixels got a few more fires at the extreme. That’s ridiculously far in any case (the image is not wide angle, that’s a wide cul-de-sac and I’m back further with a 70-200 lens).
Call that even and great range from both.
I have to give the advantage to the RF-602 Rx here. They are just a slightly smaller but tighter neater package. Its things like standard plugs, batteries, and locking rings etc I mentioned earlier that take up extra space though, so I can’t complain about a bit of extra size if its contributing to greater convenience. They are both still a fraction of the size and weight of PocketWizards.
The shutter release function is basically the same for the Soldier and RF-602. You will require a second transmitter and receiver if you would like to fire the camera shutter as well as remote flashes at the same time. Its a good idea to have a back up set anyway so I don’t think that is a big issue.
It was never really a fair competition, Pixel have had the luxury of building on what was the first great budget flash trigger in the RF-602.
The TF-371 groups are obviously a nice feature but the other advantages are the extra sync speed, locking ring on the transmitter, and being able to use the Rx power switch without pulling the flash off all the time!, as well as the big green ready lights on the receivers.
Price & Availability
The TF-371 are on ebay around $50 a set with shipping.
The other models available are –
TF-371 – Canon
TF-372 – Nikon
TF-373 – Sony
TF-374 – Olympus & Panasonic 4/3
Just for interest, this is how the rear curtain sync hack is done for Canon. Simply attach the transmitter to an optic slave and place that in front of a flash on camera, with the camera set to rear curtain sync. The transmitter will then trigger the radio slaves on the rear curtain.
This is also the same hack used for “hypersync” high speed sync with manual lights. Just use an ETTL flash on camera set to HSS. Set any manual slaves to full power and shoot at any sync speed. The results may vary, and I haven’t tested this a great deal with these triggers yet. These hacks can be done with RF-602 just the same.