The popularity of radio for flash triggering reached a new level when triggers offering more than the "normal" flash sync opened new doors of experimentation to photographers. I'll show you how to use the Phottix Odin, a product quickly gaining ground in the industry. Keep in mind that these instructions are adaptable to many other radio flash triggers.
Until recently there was only one popular name when it came to TTL (Through The Lens) radio flash triggers: Pocket Wizard. You would find other brands mentioned, such as Radio Popper, but in general terms Pocket Wizard was the way to go. It still is for many people, but since Eastern companies started to offer their cheap non-TTL solutions over eBay, the user demographics have expanded while we saw better and better systems appear on the market. Phottix is the evolution of this process.
Radio Trigger Sync Speeds
In terms of triggers, there are two different categories: the cheap, manual, non-TTL, which simply triggers flashes, and the TTL, which let you control remotely your flashes. Most people will buy the simpler manual models, which have a limit of 1/250 or below sync speed, enough for most uses and the needs of most people. But the most interesting triggers are those that offer TTL, because besides the option to remotely control flash units they're can also be used with higher sync speeds.
When your flash can work at speeds up to 1/8000, a new horizon opens to your photography. You have to be aware that when you use shutter speeds so high, your flash will not be able to fire a full blast of light. It uses a lower power, shorter burst. In bright sunlight, this will translate to a subject no more than a few inches away from your flash, but these wireless triggers allow you to place your flash that close if you need to.
The Phottix Odin
This article focuses on the use of Phottix Odin radio flash trigger for Canon, which is the one I use. The Phottix Odin is also available for Nikon and Sony; most of the instructions presented here are the same for all brands. You just have to be aware that Nikon's metering system and flash have a different philosophy than Canon's, and adapt to it. The same goes for Sony.
There's a good reason to rely on a flash radio trigger system, as I've outlined in my previous article, How to Use Your Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT: you have full time reliable communication between flash and camera, something you can not assure you'll get using infra red, that needs line of sight and has limitation in terms of distance. If, like me, you work placing flashes in strange locations, like behind trees, rocks, walls, or use them outside under the sun, IR can be more of a headache than a working method.
Using a radio flash trigger will spare you for trouble. So, let's look at the system.
A Complete TTL Radio Trigger System
The basic Phottix Odin kit is comprised of the TCU (Transmitter Control Unit) and the receiver. That's all you need to free your flash from your camera. The TCU has a large LCD display that lets you control everything from the flash head zoom to flash ratio or exposure in 1/3rd stops.
The TCU sits in an upright position on your camera's hot shoe. It doesn't have as additional hot shoe on top of it, something some people want for a bit of fill flash.
You need to be careful with the TCU unit mounted on your hot shoe, so you do not knock it. Being big, though, means two things: you get a generous LCD and also big enough buttons to make the control easy. Also, you can use AA batteries to power the unit.
The receiver unit has no LCD, just a small LED light on the front, lighting up in different colors (red or green) according to the conditions. It has a sync plug for times when you don't want to use the hotshoe.
My particular system has been built to work with Canon flashes, and is also be compatible with older units, like the Speedlite 420 EX and even the 430 EZ, offering possibilities when working remotely that you can not get within Canon's own wireless system.
Mapping the Phottix Odin Radio Flash Trigger TCU
Understanding the interface on any piece of equipment is the best way to make it easier to work with. The Phottix Odin has a lot of functions available, but the interface is easy, once you get to know it.
- The LCD displays all the information you need to adjust your flashes. You do not need to use the camera LCD as all the flash functions are available from here.
- This area shows whether the flash unit is working in High Speed Mode or Second Curtain Sync. If no icon appears you're working in normal first curtain mode.
- The Odin TCU can control three groups of flashes (A, B and C) and adjust each of them independently. Here Group A is working in TTL mode with -2 stops exposure compensation.
- The flash in Group B is working in Manual Mode with the power set at 1/8. The power setting in Manual can be adjusted all the way between 1/1 to 1/128 in 1/3rd stops.
- The third flash, Group C, is working in TTL with +2 stops exposure compensation. The compensation can be adjusted between +3/-3 in 1/3rd stops.
- The channel in use appears in this position. The system offers four channels so different photographers can be using similar systems in the same place without interfering with each other.
- The battery charge indicator. The Phottix Odin TCU uses regular AA batteries and works well with recycled batteries.
- Most buttons on the TCU do just one function so it is easy to learn. The Option button changes between the two main function screens: TTL/Mixed and Ratio. TTL/Mixed mode allows groups A, B and C to be set to TTL, Manual or OFF with adjustments to EV or power levels. Ratio mode is similar to Canon’s native TTL system. The ratio of groups A and B can be set from 8:1 to 1:8. EV levels can also be adjusted.
- The Mode button lets you change the groups A, B or C between TTL, (M) Manual, or Off.
- The Zoom button allows the zoom level of flashes to be set wirelessly. Zoom can be set as TTL or Manual. When TTL is selected the flash zoom setting will change as you zoom the lens. In Manual mode, the flash zoom can be changed to the desired zoom setting (as long as it is not pointing upwards).
- The On/Off button does what it says but is also a way to get back to the main screen quickly. Just press it instead of the Set button. This option was enhanced through a firmware update, something the USB port on the unit (not shown on the image) allows.
- The LED on the TCU turns green when the camera is focusing and red when a photo is being taken. The same happens with the LED in the receiver units.
- The SEL button lets you choose between the different options present in the TCU. The +/- buttons on each side are used for adjusting values for different options.
- The Test button fires, sequentially, all flashes connected to Phottix Odin receivers that are on the same channel as the TCU.
- The Clear Button will erase any setting currently in the TCU.
- To cycle between High Speed Sync, Second Curtain Sync and standard operations press this button. The correspondent icon appears on the LCD.
- The Modeling Light Button will cause all flashes attached to Odin receivers to flash for one second. This is useful as a preview of lighting setups.
Mapping The Phottix Odin Receiver
The second half of the Phottix Odin system is the receiver. You only need one to free your flash from your camera, but you can buy more if you need to use more than one flash.
- The Channel Selection Switch. Remember to set the same channel on the TCU and on each different receiver.
- Shoe Mount / ¼” tripod lug with locking ring to place the receiver and flash on a tripod or any other support.
- USB Port For updating firmware. This allows your system can be upgraded with new functions.
- 5V DC Power Port to use external power instead of the two AA batteries.
- The Group Selection Switch lets you select which group the receiver belongs to.
- Power Switch.
- Battery Compartment.
- LED. If your system seems unresponsive, check the light here. When the battery power on receivers is very low, the LED will flash red light every 2 seconds. Change the batteries.
- Hot Shoe.
- 3.5mm Output Port to connect the receiver to studio lights.
Good Reasons to Buy a TTL System!
Although systems like the Phottix Odin are made with TTL in mind, you'll find, once you start to use flash, that you might prefer to use the flash in Manual for much precise control, especially in situations where you know the distance between flashes and subject is not going to change. This could be in a studio situation or outdoors or even at sports events. Using Manual also lets you control the power of light in a way that makes your flash recycle faster.
I prefer to use my flashes in Manual, as I like to control the exact amount of light. I will use TTL for fast situations, when the distance to subjects changes drastically from one moment to the other. It's not a matter of doing it the right or wrong way, it's just my way of working, even with the Phottix Odin. Once you buy into a system like this you'll define the working method you prefer.
Even if you do not need TTL, the zoom function of the head and the ability to set manual power directly from the camera is a good reason to buy the Odin or any system that has TTL and offers the same options. No more need to go to each individual flash to set the zoom and or power! And High Speed Sync, as I said, opens other venues. Give it at try and you will discover new horizons in your flash photography.