Gear Review: RadioPopper P1 radio flash triggers

These things have been around for a while and have been obsoleted by the newer Radiopopper Px and JrX systems, but are still available in the original form. Some of my criticisms have gone away with the newer systems, but some haven’t, so still valid. The Radiopopper system uses a system of sensing the light signals from a master flash and converting them to radio signals. This beats one of the big limitations of the Nikon CLS system, limited range and angle of sight. I bought into the system when it first came out, expanding to two receivers and one transmitter. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the system, there is plenty of material on their operation and use. I’m more going to discuss how I use them, what I like and what I don’t.


 I keep mine in an Air France business class amenities clamshell case that I picked up years ago. This keeps the antennas, the fiber optic cables and the units themselves in one place where I can find them. You have to appreciate that this is a first gen system, so there are design issues that are a little weak. I’m not going to belabour those flaws, but rather focus on functionality and usability. Bear in mind the 2nd gen system has addressed a lot of those issues.
What I do love about them is that they do what they are supposed to. I’ve set up a couple of SB-800 flashes in a gym at either end and controlled both from the camera while shooting. I can do TTL or Manual, controlling 2 separate groups independently. You just can’t use CLS with that much freedom in a dynamic environment like a gym. Even when shooting a static setup, I don’t have to worry about whether the flash sensor can see the master flash, so shooting is much more fluid and reliable. This was the first system that allowed TTL and full manual control from the camera and it was, and still is, fantastic. It’s easy to forget that off camera remote flash was limited to single firing remote triggers with a preset flash power, no control whatsoever. Nikon did a fantastic job introducing the CLS system on their cameras, which was a huge jump in capability, and this extends that system into truly unexplored territory.

The way I use the system is the poor mans method. The Nikon D300 and D700 cameras have a pop up flash that can act as a commander for 2 groups of flashes. By mounting the Radiopopper transmitter close to the pop up flash, it detects the flash firing and retransmits the signal via radio. If you use an SB-800/900 as a master, you an control 3 channels, but to me that’s a waste of a flashgun if you don’t need three channels. You can also use the SU-800, but why buy one of them when you can have a real flash gun for the same money? (this is a trick question – the answer is below).
The problem with the way I use it is that the unit was not designed to be mounted directly on the camera. You can’t stick it on the pop up flash as it’s too heavy, so people have to devise a means of attaching it and there are several solutions out there. The method I eventually settled on is to attach the transmitter to a SG-4.This is a diffuser that comes with the Nikon SU-4 that I’ve had kicking around for years. Velcro’d to the arm it sits nicely above the flash and is fairly secure. From there it picks up the signals reliably and does it’s thing. It is rather cumbersome, but not as bad as having a SB-800 stuck on top of the camera. At the other end, I have the receiver velcro’d to the side of the flash with the fiber optic cable routed through a cable clip for consistent positioning. If I’m shooting around other photographers, I’ll cover the port with a bit of gaffer tape, otherwise I usually leave it open. The system works. It isn’t very elegant, but it does fire the strobes reliably and I have very few misfires. I can even trigger the modeling light mode on the SB-800’s if needed.

So what’s not to like? Well, there is a reason that nikon made the SU-800 and that is so you don’t have a flash going off at the camera position. My set up always has the preflashes going off at the camera position even though the on camera flash doesn’t contribute to the exposure. This is a distraction for subjects who are conditioned to look at the flash as that is where the camera is! It causes a lot of dead shots as people blink just as the main flash goes off, with predictable results. It draws attention to you at the camera position when sometimes you just want to blend in. The solution is to buy a $250 unit to do your flashing for you – which is the price of a SB-800 (if you can find one).
I also have an issue with the system in that I have to wait for the on camera flash to cycle. This isn’t often a problem, but when you are shooting as fast as an SB-800 with SD-8a battery pack will allow, sometimes I outrun the internal flash system and that kills the remote flash control.

Another problem is control. I’m happy only having 2 groups, but controlling them via the back of the camera is a pain. the menu system for dialing in remote exposure compensation is cumbersome and worse, slow. Same with dialing the manual exposure up of down, using the camera menus is slow! Not good when you are running and gunning. David Hobby, Mr. Stobist, may prefer manual flash for control, but I’m in the McNally camp of loving TTL. Time is money and TTL will get me there most of the time, while manual takes more time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll shoot manual flash if I have to, the trick is knowing when to use it.

Back to the poppers. So, the limitation of the poppers is the same as CLS in that you’ve got a flash going off at camera. The attachment of the transmitter to the camera is not good. Rigging up the receivers isn’t plug and play. Controlling the system is weak, which, while that is Nikons fault, is still a challenge.  Another thing about the P1 I hate, but is fixed in the 2nd gen system is the battery cover. I have to unscrew it on the P1, which means having a screwdriver! No problem until you try to get on a plane with it! Ooops!
Some of these issues have been addressed in the 2nd Gen models. For $20 you can have a plastic mount to connect your radiopopper Px to the hotshoe. The receivers are mounted directly over the flash sensor now, removing the need for fiber optic foolery. System control is beefed up with the JrX system, but that is manual only, no TTL. The Px system does the TTL, but controlling the TTL is via the camera menus again. The flash going off at camera is still there with the Px system and that’s my biggest issue.
With 2 receivers and 1 transmitter I have about $540 invested in these. At the time, they were the only game in town and at the time of writing, they still are. To upgrade to the 2nd Gen Px system is $767, and I still have a flash going off at camera. To be honest, the irritants and they’re resolution are not worth the cost of upgrade. If I used these every day, it would be a no brainer (and a tax write off!). To be worth the cost of upgrade I’d need the Px and JrX to be integrated. And this is what the competition has done. PocketWizard has had a system out for Canon cameras for over a year, the ControlTL system. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the Nikon compatible system to be released and I’m going to be in the line to get my hands on a set of these. They have all the features I need, with no flash going off at camera unless I want it to. The cost of the change isn’t cheap, about the same as the Radiopopper upgrade, but the functionality promises to be at the level I need without the compromises inherent with the design of the RadioPopper system. Anyone want to buy a used P1 set of 1 transmitter and 2 receivers?
If you agree, disagree, vehemently oppose anything I’ve written, leave a comment! Discourse is always good.
JP 2010

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  1. Hi Jason,

    I would love to buy your set of p1, if you can post them to Ireland.
    I am happy to pay by paypal.

    Best Regards,

  2. Sorry Kamil, I already sold them on….

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