I've been using the my Pocket Wizard TT1/TT5 system for quite some time now and have come to love it. I've also over this time learned its shortcomings. Here, I'd like to do a review of the Yongnuo YN-622N trigger system. My plan was to evaluate if I am willing to use the Yongno's as either a backup or to replace my TT1/TT5 system as my main triggering system when shooting weddings.
I use speedlights and TTL for indoor weddings. I have a system that I like to use learned from Bob Davis called the triangle of light. I find works very well for me. I find this setup lets me keep the feel of the room and not completely change it with my lighting. I also feel that it gives me creative abilities to tailor detail shots in a great way from the camera position when using these trigger systems. Bob Davis uses Radio Popper triggers when he uses these techniques. I'd like to review these but the requirement that you have to have a high dollar speedlight on your camera is a bit of a downfall for me. Only the Nikon SB-900 and SB-910 can control 3 remote zones. These things aren't cheap even used! My Nikon SB-700s can only control 2 zones.
The first shortcoming of the Pocket Wizard system is of course the price. A full 5 light set of radios will set you back almost $1200 dollars (this is why I got mine used). Whereas a 5 light setup from Yongnuo can be had for a little over $230. Strangely, a 5 light complete setup costs about as much as a single Pocket Wizard TT5.
Pocket Wizard claims a range of 30-800 feet for TTL triggering mode (but this also includes when using non TTL exposure with manual power control from the camera). While shooting weddings, I've been in large churches that are big enough to give me reliability issues because of the range on my Pocket Wizards.
I tested these radios by walking down the street with the two lights on opposite legs of a tripod to keep them a bit apart. They were about 3 feet off the ground. The Pocket Wizard setup starts to get reliability issues at about 130 feet. Granted this is within the range of 30-800 that Pocket Wizard claims but I'd be happier if it were closer to the 800 than to the 30.
As far as range goes with the YN-622N-TX and YN-622N combo I'm quite impressed. The claimed range from Yongnuo is 100 meters (328 feet). However in my testing of the units I didn't really start getting much in the way of misfires until I was about 140 meters (460 feet) away. These are numbers that I'd be really happy to see out of my Pocket Wizards.
So a lot of people who buy these triggers expect and wish to use them as TTL triggers. If you don't want or need TTL there are other options that can be had for less money with better compatibility. So I setup two flashes (both Nikon SB700's) on a stand about 7.5 feet high and 10 feet away from a set of white, black and 18% grey cards.
The setup looked like this:
TTL Test Setup: 2 Nikon SB-700's Pocket Wizard TT5-N Left, Yongnuo YN-622N Right
For this test I wanted to see not only how consistent the results were from frame to frame but also to see how accurate the exposure results were. This should have been a fairly neutral exposure scene and thus I set the triggers for TTL mode 0 compensation and no compensation was set on the camera. The camera was set to spot meter and the spot was always placed over the 18% grey card. This should have given us very consistent exposure results even though we were in TTL and should have given fairly accurate exposure results. I took 4 images with each system. I recomposed and refocused on a different spot for each shot.
I must admit I was a bit surprised when I first started trying the Yongnuo triggers and felt like my images were consistently under exposed from what I was used to. I sorta figured all the metering was being done by the camera and thus I wouldn't expect an exposure difference from a radio trigger system.
However, I found that I usually needed +0.7 to +1.0 of exposure compensation to get the images to look like I was used to with the Pocket Wizard setup. Thankfully the results are very consistent and once you understand the system you can get very consistent results with both systems. However you do need to realize that if you use one as a backup to the other that there is a pretty big difference between them.
In order to get the white card to 245 white I needed 1.75 stops of exposure increase on the Yongnuo image and 1.1 stops on the Pocket Wizard. So there is a little over a half stop difference between the two.
The first thing about these systems that makes me happy is that they both use AA style batteries. I'm not a fan of the AAA style of battery in a trigger system as they get less battery life and they make for another type of battery you have to carry around. I already am hauling around AA batteries for the speedlights and thus having spares is just part of doing business. Using the same battery in a trigger just makes sense.
That being said this is one spot where I'd give a very slight edge to Pocket Wizard. That has to do with the battery compartments. The pocket wizard TT5 has a captured battery door that you simply flick with a finger and it pops open yet stays attached to the unit. You can then simply dump the batteries into your hand and drop new ones in pretty easily even while holding onto other things (like we often are).
The Yongnuo system has a more standard battery door configuration where the door comes completely off. Then you have to pick the batteries out of the unit one by one which is a two hands required kinda thing for the most part. Then the battery door becomes kinda like a lens cap. Usually they are pretty easy to find but sometimes you forget where it was you set it. I find the Pocket Wizard a bit more convenient when I have a lot of things in my hands and things going on to swap out batteries and its harder to lose a door.
And after having said this I've broken those battery doors off of the Pocket Wizards before in dropping them. Usually they just snap back on. However, once I really broke it and the plastic snapped. I called up Pocket Wizard and for just a few bucks they mailed me a new battery door that simply snapped into place. The door that actually broke still however was useable with a piece of gaff tape so the unit continued to function throughout the shoot even after the drop. Pocket Wizard has people answering phones... I'm not so sure that You could contact Yongnuo and get replacement parts. I also hope that Pocket Wizard continues their ability to support their products!
Both systems seem to give excellent battery life and I'll need to do a good bit more shooting with the Yongnuo's before I'll fully believe these results. However, preliminary results seem to show that the Yongnuo's give better battery life out of a set of Eneloop rechargeable batteries.
I also find that the Yongnuo's explicitly state that they are designed to work with rechargeable batteries in their manual. Whereas, if you are having any issues with TT1/TT5 systems they tell you to make sure you are using alkaline batteries. They state that the timing may change and that they may not be able to get things done in time with the lower voltage from rechargeable cells.
Battery indication is something that I consider fairly important as well. The Pocket Wizards have a light that blinks green when the system is functioning normally and the battery is at a good level. When the battery is getting low the light changes to an amber. You can still use it for quite a while when its in this amber state. But, you are at least given a good early warning that its time to put new batteries in before it starts to fail to fire due to lack of charge.
The Yongnuo TX unit has a 3 segment battery indicator on the transmitter unit
but the transceiver units at the flashes don't seem to have an indication of a low battery. A search through the manual still confirms that they have no low battery notification. They seem to be giving great battery life but still its always nice to know when things are about to go south. Edit: The transceivers will go into a high frequency blink rate of the channel and group indicators along with the status LED when power is getting low. So it seems that both systems have indication and the TX unit is even a bit nicer in that you get a 3 segment display letting you know.
Perhaps this is a good place to mention that Yongnuo's website and manuals are quite lack luster. Pocket Wizard's manual and Wiki are pretty darn handy and you can often find information that explains exactly how things will work with different gear right from the site as they do a LOT of third party testing.
Last but not least. If you forget to power the Pocket Wizards off you'll come back to a dead set of batteries in short order. Forget to turn the Yongnuo units off and you'll come back to a setup that is still sitting there patiently waiting for you ready to go.
It should also be noted that the Pocket Wizard TT1 battery flat out sucks. It was done only to make the unit smaller and having to buy those coin cells sucks. I bought a cable that powers the TT1 off my camera so I can run it without those terrible batteries. However, after finding out that my range seemed to be even worse when using the TT1 I pretty much never use the TT1 and only use a TT5 on top of my camera now.
Both units perform this function equally well.
I've found that in talking to people that many don't know what FVL is. So first I'll provide a quick explanation. I like to think of it as a hybrid between TTL and manual flash control. Many people know that your exposure on TTL will vary based on the content of your frame. Much like shooting in aperture priority if you have a lot of light colored things in your frame you can tend to underexpose; if you have a lot of dark things in your frame it can tend to overexpose. This problem is usually resolved by using exposure compensation to tell the camera something about the scene which is being photographed or to just shooting in manual.
FVL is a way to allow you to do something similar to shooting in manual with flash. Often you configure a function button on your camera to be your FVL button. When you press the button the camera emits a test flash and meters that exposure. The camera decides the appropriate flash power for proper exposure and locks that power in. The power then remains constant and is not changed based on the contents of your frame. You're now using manual flash and everything stays constant until the lock is cleared and a new one is acquired. So its somewhat like taking a picture in aperture priority and then using the settings the camera chose and locking them into manual mode.
This is where it gets interesting. Pocket Wizard explicitly states that FVL is not supported by their triggers. Yongnuo states that they fully support this feature. However, the opposite happens to be true. The Pocket Wizards that don't support this functionality perform the task perfectly and everything works as expected. Whereas, on the Yongnuo units the lock function locks and the first picture you take comes out properly exposed. But, every image after that comes out 3+ stops under exposed and totally not usable.
While this is not a feature that I use too often it is something that I expected to work on the Yongnuo system. I've seen others complaining about their units having the same issue and I've written this all up and sent my findings to the company. I'll add to this report later if/when I hear back from them.
Some of the lesser triggers can't wake up a flash in low power sleep mode and if the flash goes to sleep your first shot will be a failure to fire that just wakes up the flash. If your system does this this is a good thing to know and understand. The last system I used that had this problem was the NPT-04 triggers from Cowboy Studio. When I'm using these I usually disable the sleep timer on my flashes to combat the issue.
Both of these units support waking up flash units that have a low power sleep mode. But, the Yongnuo sends the flashes into this lower power standby mode the instant that your camera goes into sleep mode. Essentially when your camera's LCD goes dark the flashes are in sleep. The transceivers also go into a low power mode and none of the lights flash. But as soon as you wake up the camera the whole system wakes up with it instantly.
With the Pocket Wizards let the speedlights time out into their low power mode on their own and simply send the wakeup signals when the camera wakes up. So everything works but the integration isn't as well done and the power savings isn't any where near as good.
This is yet another place where the story isn't so cut and dry. The Pocket Wizards have been with me for a lot of shoots now. I've dropped every one of them at least once (I'm an equal opportunity klutz). Usually the battery door comes flying off and just snaps right back on.
I've also seen where people rip the hot shoes off of them and or chip them to bits. I'm assuming that this is when the wind blows them over while on the stand. I've had them blow over before but I've yet to break a hot shoe. But, I can totally see how its possible. Pocket Wizard's hot shoes are plastic whereas the hot shoe on the Yongnuo's are metal.
But, on the Pocket Wizard the top and bottom shoe are part of one physical assembly that can be dropped out of the unit and replaced. If you break the top shoe or the bottom shoe at all you simply replace that piece. The Yongnuo shoe is not replaceable to the best of my knowledge. This all being said however, I believe the cost of the hot shoe replacement part for the Pocket Wizard is not much less than the price of an entirely new transceiver from Yongnuo.
It should also be noted that my wife, who is a mechanical engineer, points out that the Yongnuo triggers are using a much higher quality and more reliable pogo pin on their hot shoe than Pocket Wizard. Practically speaking she says they are both probably just fine but it should be noted that Yongnuo spent a bit more money on both the shoe and the pins.
As can be seen in the photo above the Pocket Wizard units have a metal 1/4-20 thread mount molded into the case. This makes for much more secure mounting options on light stands. This option is much less prone to coming lose and/or falling off. Usually when I drop one of the Pocket Wizards its because I'm being lazy and using the shoe mount. This less secure shoe mounting option is the only one available on the Yongnuo's. But, the metal shoe does make it a bit easier to crank down hard on and have it hold tighter.
Both units have nice lanyard points built into them for those that like to hang them off of light stands while they are cabled to their lights.
The Pocket Wizards use a 3.5mm headphone jack for cabling to flashes where as the Yongnuo's use the older style PC Sync cord. They both get kudos for allowing them to cable into studio lights easily but Pocket Wizard gets the edge for using the cheaper to buy and more reliable 3.5mm headphone jack.
It should be also noted that both systems can be used to trigger your camera shutter wirelessly as well if you're so inclined.
Unless you're a serious sports or action photographer you can probably skip reading this section. The Pocket Wizards allow you to setup 3 lights into 3 zones and have the zones fire in turn. In other words on your first picture is lit by lights only in Zone A, then only B then only C and back to A. This allows you to setup 3 sets of lights and fire them in turn to increase your cycle time and let you snap more pictures more quickly with out waiting for recycle times. Is it cool? Yea. Is it all that necessary? No, and its such a pain to set things up for that mode I've never even tested it. It is safe to say Yongnuo doesn't do this but I don't really care. However, in trying to be complete I mention it.
The user interface on the two systems is quite different. One has easily accessible knobs and switches that give immediate access to make the changes you wish, while the other has an LCD that you have to navigate around. Both are very simple to use. The Yongnuo takes quite a bit longer to go from all zones TTL to all zones manual than the Pocket Wizard. Equally so bumping all zones up by one stop or something of that nature also takes well less time on the Pocket Wizard.
The only advantage I can give to the Yongnuo system in this area is that their unit can adjust the zoom of the lights from camera position. Pocket Wizard has no provision to adjust zoom.
Here are some shots of the control interface of each of the systems:
Compatibility is something that has to be considered in a few different ways. The Yongnuo system is very tightly integrated with the Nikon communications system and thus is why the system doesn't really function all that well on other camera systems. The Pocket Wizard system can be used on pretty much any camera with a standard hot shoe and you can still use the lights in manual mode and adjust their power from the camera position. We use this capability of the Pocket Wizard system when we put a trigger onto 3 or 4 different camera's and let them all shoot away at a model together and it just works. We run into all sorts of different cameras and everything runs smoothly.
I will say that the multi master capability of the Yongnuo triggers is quite good. You can use a Transceiver on another camera and use two cameras at once with one set of lights and the TTL exposes properly even if the cameras are set differently. So, if you are one who likes to carry two camera bodies for a wedding; You can put the TX unit (with the LCD) on one camera, then stick a transceiver unit on your other camera, and shoot away. Everything works seamlessly as you'd expect and want it to. As long as both camera's are the same brand!
Pocket Wizard has excellent industry acceptance and there are a lot of studio lights that have triggers for their system built in. Also, Pocket Wizard has the AC9 which allows me to control manual power of my Alien Bee lights from the camera. I love the special radios that simply insert into my Paul C. Buff Einstein lights and allow me to control those as well. The Yongnuo system becomes nothing more than simple dumb triggers once you cable them into studio lights. Where as the Pocket Wizards still allow manual control on many studio light systems and also have a great tracking feature that lets you lock in exposure and adjust camera settings and have your lights all follow you.
The Yongnuo system incorporates an AF assist beam into all of its units. I've read a lot of reports of people stating that it doesn't work. Make sure that you are in AF-S or single focus mode (not continuous). However you do NOT have to make sure you are using the center focus point (like you do in order for the in body AF lamp to help you). The pattern projected looks about like this:
When shooting with my D800 I never really felt like it was that huge of a deal as that camera can grab focus in really low light situations. However, when I started using my D7000 backup camera I started missing a bunch of shots because I was in AF-C mode (using back button focus as always). In this really dark environment that I was testing things it was too much for the D7000. Simply dropping into AF-S mode so that the AF assist beam fired solved pretty much all my issues and I was able to get sharp images out of my D7000 in light that I'd be manually focusing for every shot on that camera. So if you're having AF issues this could be a HUGE win for you!
After spending about a week with these controllers and having done several setups and shot about 2500 images with them I feel confident enough in them that they will probably be my primary triggers at the next wedding I shoot. I completely trust them and they will still allow me to shoot with two cameras in full TTL with no hangups what-so-ever. Their range is good enough that I don't really think I'll ever bump into an issue with them as I have my Pocket Wizards.
However, with all that being said. The Pocket Wizards being fully compatible with my Alien Bee and Einstein studio lights and allowing me to adjust them from the camera position is quite huge. The Yongnuo's only become simple dumb triggers when used with studio lighting systems. So for this reason I will have to still yet keep the Pocket Wizard setup.
Another reason that has me keeping the Pocket Wizard system is that I feel for wedding photographers redundancy is important. I feel that anything that has the capability of severely limiting your ability to do your job properly should have a backup in the event it fails. Previously, I considered that because I had an extra Pocket Wizard transceiver that I was covered. Now I have two complete systems capable of handling the task and that simply makes my odds of an equipment failure reducing my capability to do the job that much lower. As a wedding photographer you can't just schedule a re-shoot. Failure at a wedding will follow you for a LONG time. It is simply NOT and option!
At the time of this writing all units that are upgradeable are running the latest software possible. TT5's = 3.800 and Yongnuo = 1.06