Sunday, November 7, 2010

RadioPoppers : How I use them

PX Transmitter
PX Receiver

I would like to go over what RadioPoppers are as well as how and why I use them.

RadioPoppers are Radio Frequency(RF) transmitters that convert the flash signals sent from the master flash into radio signals which are then transmitted to the receivers which then convert the radio signals back to infrared signals so that the remote flashes can interpret the commands from the master flash in the same way they would using the native Nikon CLS system or Canon E-TTL. For the nikon CLS system you can look at or any of the information from Nikon.

In a small space and ideal conditions I can use the built in Nikon CLS system, which is based on signals sent out from the master flash during its pre-flash sequence and then received by the remote flashes prior to the full flash output. The Nikon CLS will automatically tune the flash level to provide the correct exposure. I say ideal because the remote flashes have to have a direct line of sight to the master flash to receive the signals. This requires placing the remote flashes in a way that their receive window (located on the right side on the SB-900 if facing the rear of the flash) is facing the master flash. At times this can be quite difficult or impossible and the range is very limited.

This is where the RadioPoppers come in. Converting the light signals to radio signals allows them to be transmitted longer distances and through walls and other objects. I have used these things several hundred yards away and inside of metal buildings without a problem. Recently I had to light the inside of a metal building so that the inside and the piece of test equipment was lit as well as the test subjects over a 200 yard area outside of the building in bright sunlight. The RadioPopper PX transmitter and receivers were able to cover the distance and the inside of a solid metal building (The rolling door was open) from 200 yards away.

With RadioPoppers I am able to put my SB-900's any place I want on location, as well as use any type of light modifier without having to worry about line of sight to the receiver window.

The question comes up " What about Pocket Wizards?" Well, they work well too. I use Pocket Wizards as a trigger for my camera. What I can't do with the Pocket Wizards is adjust the remote flashes from the master flash. There are ways to do this with the newer Pocket Wizard MultiMax triggers on specific systems.  RadioPoppers allow me to use my SB-900 flashes in iTTL or any other mode as designed by Nikon. The Pocket Wizard system requires me to go to each SB-900 and set them manually. Since I swap out cameras, flash positions and groups many times during a shoot, the ability to control everything from the master flash is essential. When used properly, using the RadioPoppers allows me to use the Nikon CLS system seamlessly as designed. Currently there is no other system that does this.

The next question is "What about studio flashes?"  Now RadioPoppers has the JrX system that works with the PX system. I have not tried these yet, but if they work anywhere near as well as the PX system, I am sure that I will love those as well.

I frequently travel light, so I carry 7 SB-900's with me in a backpack with 3 umbrellas, 3 Lastolite Triflash brackets, and 3 Manfrotto 5001b light stands. It all fits in a Tamrac Expedition 8x backpack. I also have a Lastolite Trigrip and a bunch of other cables, etc.  For me RadioPoppers provide the best solution by far.

One serious advantage of the RadioPopper PX system is the ability to use the High Speed Sync.  This allows the flashes to sync with the camera at over the usual 1/250th of a second. With High Speed Sync I can set the speed of the flash sync up to 1/8000th of a second. This allows me to absolutely freeze subjects in a well lit area. At a slower sync speed there would be trails from subject motion. More than that, I can literally turn night into day in my photos if I need to. I can set the shutter speed so high that all of the ambient light, even in bright sunlight has no effect on the photo. The flash becomes the only source of light in the photo. For this type of lighting High Speed Sync is the only option, and for the Nikon CLS system that I use RadioPoppers are the only way to do this at any distance outside of the range of the Nikon optical system.  With this setup, I have taken many photos with a 400mm lens over 200 yards away from the subject and the flashes at speeds up to 1/8000th of a second. This works well for animals in the wild and for and high speed tests that require a safe distance.

How I set up the RadioPoppers:

RadioPoppers PX Receiver and SB-900

 While RadioPoppers provides nice mounting brackets for the PX receiver and transmitter, I prefer to use velcro and gaffers tape to secure the receivers and rubber bands for the transmitter. This method allows me to keep my flashes conveniently packed in my old Nikon bag and pull them out ready to go at a moment's notice. I can also put them on any one of the hotshoe mounts or light modifiers that I want.

Above and to the left I show the RadioPoppers PX Receiver on an SB-900. The mount works quite well, but I prefer to use the setup below.

The gaffers tape that I used is typical for how I normally use the RadioPoppers. It may not look pretty, but it works like a charm. The gaffers tape serves to block out any stray light from coming in between the light output port on the RadioPopper PX receiver and the light sensor window on the SB-900.

The Transmitter, as I said, I rubber band to the master flash. I leave rubber bands on my flashes almost all of the time. I use them to hold light modifiers in place. They have also saved me a cracked flash once or twice when I dropped one on the ground. (Pure luck really.)

Below is a picture on my bag with 5 flashes stacked inside. They fit in there with the Radio Poppers attached and ready to go.

I am not sure that the people at RadioPoppers would like the way some of their stuff looks when I use it, but I am sure that no one will argue with the results. These things have saved me time and allowed me to accomplish feats that would have been impossible using any other system.

Update: You can buy the Radio Popper PX system that I am referring to at Radio Popper 

Update: I took a look at Gavin Seim's take on Radio Poppers and Pocket Wizards and I have to agree with him. It is good to keep in mind that it is not the brand, but the product that matters.  Find the product that works well for you and go with that. (Sony made great reel-to-reel tape recorders, and the walkmans and sports walkman, but their stereos were sub-par. A company may make a few good products, but that does not make every product great. Sony does have some really good engineers and lately they are a brand to look out for with innovations in the DSLR arena.)

Update: Due to continued questions on radiopoppers px versus the pocketwizard flex system here are two links:
TriCoast Photography
Pro Photo Show


  1. I came across your post as I was searching for information on why my radio poppers are giving me such inconsistent results. I'll test them before a shoot (I have a super simple set up - one sb900 on camera with transmitter velcroed on and then one sb900 with receiver used with bracket), and they'll work fine. I'll start shooting, and ok, and then after a few shots, they'll just QUIT firing. It drives me absolutely crazy, and looks terrible in front of clients. When this happens I end up either adjusting them (occasionally I can get them to work again - I find the bracket mount is just terrible and finicky and is always coming out of place)... or I'll Just rip them off and use the built in Nikon wireless system.

    I'm wondering if tape and rubber bands may be a better solution for me in this case. Maybe I'm just having problems with the transmitters/receivers moving out of place and this is causing misfires? I have been so unhappy with these radiopoppers all year last season - they failed on me so much. Is it all user error?

    I'm looking forward to possibly moving on from them and investing in the new pocket wizard radio system. Any thoughts on that?

  2. Rachel,
    I appreciate your comments. I am not sure without seeing your exact setup what is the best method to use to solve your problem. I understand how frustrating that can be.

    On the receiver: What I can say is that if there is light leakage to the IR sensor on the side of the SB-900 you will have problems. This is due to the light (IR signals from the other SB-900 flash) interfering with the IR signal coming out of the window on the radiopopper. When I use black gaffers tape that blocks all light transmission from all sources but the window on the back of the radiopopper I don't experience any problems. That is why I use that method.

    On the transmitter: I use two rubber bands because a permanent piece of velcro causes me problems with my other light modifiers. What is important to do with the transmitter is to not have your hand or other conductive material near the front of the transmitter or flash head. Having conductive material there interferes with the way the radiopopper transmitter receives the flash output signal. I usually point my master flash with transmitter straight up and away from the camera to avoid this problem.

    One problem that you will experience when going to longer lenses is that the flash will not fire. This happens on any lenses that go to 200mm or above. In this case I have to make sure that the setting for focal length (usually around 70mm) is set on the master flash manually. This has to do with the way the nikon system controls the flash. (Nikon system setup - not radiopoppers or pocketwizards)

    About the pocket wizard solution: If your desire is to seamlessly utilize the full capabilities of the nikon CLS system, it has been my experience that the radiopoppers are the best way to go. I use pocket wizards for camera and strobe triggers, but not when I want to be able to adjust the flash settings from the master flash, use high speed sync, or use iTTL. In those cases I use the radiopoppers. I have not had the chance to try the new pocketwizards that do allow the use of the full nikon CLS system. I have read some reports online that have discussed their limited range etc., but I cannot talk from personal experience.

    I would encourage you to try some of the solutions I suggested and then talk to the people at radiopoppers. I am sure that they will be more than happy to help you with your problem. Who knows, you may have gotten the one piece of electronics that has an intermittent problem and they will replace it. Most companies are very good about this, this includes pocketwizard people as well.

    I hope that you find this helpful.


  3. On Rachel's question, one thing that I forgot to add:
    I use alkaline batteries, specifically duracell procell batteries in the radiopoppers. You will have to speak with the radiopoppers people to see if rechargeable batteries work fine too. I am not sure if you are using rechargeables in yours or not. The reason why I mention this is because alkaline AAA batteries produce 1.5 volts each for a total of 3 volts, while rechargeables produce 1.2 volts each for a total of 2.4 volts. This does not normally cause a problem, I just wanted to mention what I have used since I have not tried using rechargeables.


  4. Thank you for responding! I didn't see that you had responded until just now. I tried your method for a concert (using just black electrical tape) I was shooting and had flawless performance of the radio poppers for the whole night in a huge auditorium. I then haven't had a need for the external flash for a while, so it's been sitting in the corner on the lightstand taped up. I have a few jobs this week so brought everything back out to test and it had all stopped working. I had to retape the receiver a few times onto the flash with fresh tape and reset the poppers about 6x each, and finally got it to start working again. So we'll see. I just find these things to be so finicky - and finicky is not good while shooting a fast paced wedding. The brackets are crap so this tape is really my best bet. Thanks for your help and I will be bookmarking this page so I can ensure I tape them correctly.

    The only thing I don't like about this is that it obstructs the on/off switch which I like to turn off when not using to preserve battery for the reception - and also if my batteries DID happen to run out (which they usually don't)... I'd have to remove the entire taped receiver and retape it again after switching them out. sort of a pain... Are you just used to this?

  5. I am happy that I found this page. I have the same issue that Rachel had. I bought my first Radiopopper units about 2 + years back. Ever since it behaves the same exact way Rachel explained above. Only difference is that I am using it with Canon 550EX units. I spoke to Radiopopper and they are so nice and sent me replacement units (One transmitter and two receivers) Still I had the problems and I had been talking to them continuously for many months and they asked me to send the units once again. They tested it and found no issues and sent the same units back. But again it was very inconsistent results that I was getting. Finally they asked me to make a video of my setups and I did not get time to do it and I gave up and stopped using Radiopoppers.

    Now that I learned few things from your posts and going to try it this weekend. Hope it is going to work. Also the problem that happens with long lenses is also something new to me and no one from Radiopopper told me this earlier. And I experienced it many times and never thought it was because of this. I will try manual focal length setup on master flash next time I use my 70-200mm....

    Thanks a lot guys! Keep posting if you find any thing new.

    George Mathew