Phottix Tetra PT-04II: Features
ePz expert tester, Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at the Phottix Tetra PT-04II.
One of the many appeals of using small shoe-mount flashguns for off-camera lighting is that basic equipment can be sourced at a lower cost, with many using older flashguns bought second-hand. Cheaper options for triggering the lights are very popular, but with the quality of some of the cheaper options available via ebay being quite variable, many look for a lower-priced brand they can trust to provide a reliable solution. This is where these Tetra triggers from Phottix come in costing under £55 for a set with one transmitter and two receivers.
The units are well-enough specified to be tempting. They can be used with both shoe-mounted flashes via the hot-shoe connector on top of the unit, or with studio lights via the supplied PC sync cable and have a maximum working distance of 30metres, which should satisfy most photographer's needs. It is claimed they will also work with almost any hot-shoe flash with a trigger voltage of 12volts or less, which leaves plenty of option open when choosing flashes to use with this device.
Other options available
Camera manufacturer's own wireless solutions such Canon's ST-E2 (£170) and Nikon's SU-800 (£269) are both offer TTL wireless control, but suffer from limited range, due to their reliance on infra-red, which can reduce their usability in bright light conditions. They also require line-of-sight between the transmitter and the receiver, unless there is a suitable surface to bounce light off. This is where radio triggering systems come into their own, as they are unaffected by ambient light levels, and do not require line of sight either.
Other third-party solution include Pocket Wizard Plus IIs, which cost £319 for a set of two, which are generally regarded to be the most reliable remote triggering solution. These units can also be used to trigger cameras remotely by using an optional cable to connect them to your camera. This additional extra can cost over £100 though. The Seculine Twin Link T2D is another third-party solution, which cost £120. Both of these offer extended triggering range and have been compared in this review.
Pocket wizard Plus II vs Seculine Twin Link T2D
Phottix Tetra PT-04II: Build Quality
For a budget solution, the Tetra triggers feel well put together. The metal bracket feels nice and secure and there are no external antennas to damage. The battery cover on the rear of the receivers can be quite difficult to remove, and doing so reveals the electronics inside as there is no separate battery compartment, so care may need to be taken if replacing batteries in a hurry. The cover snaps back into place firmly, so I can't see it going missing too easily. Two AAA batteries provide power for the receivers which are easily sourced. Rechargeable batteries could even be used so long as care is taken to ensure they are sufficiently charged before use. The transmitter uses a slightly more obscure 12volt 23A battery, but even these can be purchased at most camera shops and electronics retailers.
The units themselves are quite compact and lightweight and can easily be mounted on a lighting stand, tripod or even the plastic foot manufacturers supply with many flashguns.
On both the transmitter and the receivers there are two small switches to select the channel you wish to use to fire your lights. This could be useful if someone else is using the same equipment as you on a shoot to ensure you don't end up interfering with each other. A test button is located on top of the transmitter. Pressing this will fire any receivers on the same channel so you can check everything is working as it should.
Phottix Tetra PT-04II: Performance
I tested these units with three flashguns, a Nikon SB-800, an older Canon 420EZ and an even older Sunpak Auto 26DX, which all have the ability to set the power level manually making them perfect for this application. The Tetra receivers had no compatibility issues with any of these strobes, with each one firing as reliably as the next. The only flashgun related issue I found was that the SB-800 kept going into standby mode when connected to the receiver. I had to turn off any power saving functions on the flash to ensure it would fire each and every time.
||Above: Outdoors I managed to get around 15m away from the receiver before it didn't fire occasionally, and the reliability decreases with more distance.
Left: I also tried firing a flash placed indoors while I was outside and this worked reliably for up to 10metres. These distances are much less than would be expected from a system like the Pocket Wizards, but is certainly more flexible than infra-red based systems.
Below: Indoors and at close quarters these Tetra triggers work very reliably firing the flashes each time.
The battery life of the receivers also seems good. With the supplied alkaline batteries I used them intermittently for two weeks, leaving them switched on when not in use and they are still going strong.
Phottix Tetra PT-04II: Verdict
Those looking to build a wireless flash system on a budget will definitely find the price and features of the Phottix Tetra system compelling and they should be mostly satisfied with their performance also.
Their working range and reliability are both good enough to satisfy all but the most demanding users most of the time and they are priced keenly enough to represent good value for money, provided they are used within their capabilities.
Phottix Tetra PT-04II: Pros
Reliable within their range
Radio doesn't require line of sight
Compact and lightweight
Good battery life
Phottix Tetra PT-04II: Cons
Range isn't as good as more expensive options
Transmitter battery type
The Phottix Tetra PT-04II costs around £54 and is available direct from the Phottix website here:
Phottix Tetra PT-04II