JTL DigiFirer Radio Trigger System

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JTL Studio Systems DigiFirer
Radio Trigger System
(A DigitalDingus Member Review by Matt Chase)
Mini Review
January 23, 2006
Transmitter and Reciever Physical Views

The DigiFirer from JTL Studio Systems is an affordable radio triggering system for studio strobes. With a published range of 120' and 8 separate channels, this system will work well in a busy studio or out on location. The kit price is about $170 which gets you the transmitter, one receiver, and a few different connecting cables, and additional receivers are about $90 each, making this one of the most affordable multiple channel radio slave systems currently available.

The Transmitter

The transmitter (above photo, top row) is very basic in it's controls, with only a Test button, channel selection dial, red LED, and the antenna. The Test button serves a couple of purposes, the most obvious is to test fire your strobes after everything is hooked up. The other function this button serves is to sync the transmitter and the receiver to the same channel. The channel selection dial can turn up or down, and has click stops to indicate when to stop turning. Unfortunately there is no LCD to show you what channel you have selected, I will cover how you find your channel later in the review. The red LED blinks anytime the transmitter is fired, and the antenna pulls out to about 4" in length to extend its range. The transmitter can be fired via the hot shoe, or through a sync cord that plugs into the side of the transmitter for use with cameras that don't have a hot shoe. The transmitter comes with a battery built in that is stated to last for 20,000 triggers.

The Receiver

The receiver (above photo, bottom row) is powered by 2 AAA batteries (included) and has a few more parts to its interface, most noticeably a channel display. After setting the transmitter and receiver to matching channels (a process I will cover below), the channel can be displayed by pressing the Display button. This is somewhat of a long way to see what channel you are on, and it would have been nice if the transmitter had a similar display on it, or the dial was replaced with an 8 position selector switch. On the top and bottom you can see the outputs for plugging into two separate strobes, a nice feature that effectively doubles the number of lights you can trigger with a single receiver. The bottom of the receiver has an LED that blinks when the transmitter is fired, and also helps confirm that you have synced the transmitter and receiver channels correctly. Which brings me to the process of doing just that.

To sync the transmitter and receiver, start off by pressing the Reset button on the receiver to set it to a kind of listening state, followed by turning the dial on the transmitter to select a channel, and finally press the Test button. The red LED should blink on both the transmitter and receiver, indicating that they are both now operating on the same channel. You don't actually need to turn the channel dial on the transmitter during this process, it will sync up with whatever the current transmitter channel is if you leave the dial alone. To reiterate from above, you can now press the Display button to show what channel you are on.

Choice of 8 different channels

Channel DisplayI have been in a busy studio setting before where 3 photographers were working on 3 different sets, each with their own strobes and each having their share of frustration from standard optical slaves. The DigiFirer solves this problem through it's multiple channels. With 8 channels to choose from, you can have up to 8 different sets of strobes to be controlled independently from each other. If we had the DigiFirer during this particular shoot, one photographer could set their transmitter to channel 1, another to channel 2, and the last to channel 3, each with multiple receivers set to a matching channel. This would have eliminated the problem with strobes being fired by another photographers set due to optical slaves.

Handy Velcro Strap

The receiver also includes a elastic strap with velcro on it that can be used to attach the receiver to your strobe or power pack, to keep it from getting lost or knocked off. The plastic square on the strap slides into the slot on the back of the receiver, which seems a bit loose to me but it hasn't fallen out yet. One thing to keep in mind when doing this is to make sure the receiver points towards your position for easy access to it.

In the Field Use

I have only used the DigiFirer once during an actual photography session, and have also done some testing with it in my home. Out on location, I was using a pair of DynaLite 800 packs with one strobe on each pack, and used a single receiver to trigger both packs. I generally stayed within about 10 feet of the receiver during this shoot, and had no problems with firing the strobes from my camera. However, while taking light readings at a distance of about 20 feet, I did notice that the strobes would not fire reliably every time I pressed the Test button. I discovered that I had not extended the antenna on the transmitter, and upon doing so everything worked fine. In my testing done at home I have also noticed this, the range with the antenna collapsed is not very good, and only when you extend the antenna can you get some good distance out of it. The range testing I did at home was on the more difficult end of things, my strobe pack and the receiver were on the floor in my house while I walked across the yard outside. There was a window with metal screens between me and the receiver, but it was clearly out of site laying on the floor inside. Even under these conditions I was able to get around 70' away before noticing the strobe not fire every time. I also found that by holding the antenna closer to my body or by putting my finger at the base of the antenna the range would be increased. Kind of like how you hold your car door remote up to your chin when you are lost in a parking lot. At least I do.

Unfortunately I can't confirm or deny the published claim of 120' range with this system, as I wasn't able to perform what I would consider to be a fair test. Being a radio slave it should be expected that it will trigger through and around obstacles, but you should also expect your range to diminish some because of these obstacles. In my testing that is exactly what I found, and was still able to go about 70' with reliable flash triggering. In a line of sight situation, I believe this system would be able to get 100' and beyond without a problem. I also noticed that the antenna is sensitive to objects around it, at one point while outside I placed the tip of the antenna against a metal shed and was able to trigger the strobe more reliably than when it wasn't touching the shed.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Radio trigger not affected by daylight, can go through walls and around obstacles
  • A single receiver can be plugged into 2 separate strobes / packs
  • 8 separate channels
  • Small and lightweight
  • Very affordable price
  • Transmitter / Receiver kit includes sync cords for strobes with stereo plugs

Cons

  • Range not so good with antenna lowered
  • No channel readout on the transmitter
  • Sync cords can pop out of the receiver a little too easily*
  • Kit doesn't include an AC sync cord
  • Strap mounting plate for receiver could be more secure (though it hasn't fallen out yet)

* The tension inside the plug on the receiver seems to be too far back, like it is expecting a longer plug than it uses. I have two receivers and all 4 plugs are this way, though some slightly more than others. The plugs still go in fairly tight, but with just the right nudge they will pop out and you can feel the tension pushing them out. Depending on your normal usage, this may or may not pose a problem. If you are in studio and setup your lights and don't move them, you shouldn't have any problems. But if you are out on location and frequently moving your lights (not setup and teardown, but a portable setup) then the jostling of the cord and receiver moving could knock the plug loose.

Recommended

Overall I am satisfied with this radio trigger. As a photographer on a tight budget, I can't afford to spend top dollar on every piece of equipment I buy. It's nice to know that there are some manufacturers out there making a good product at an affordable price that works as it should. The DigiFirer may not have the range or features of some of the other radio triggers on the market, but it does support multiple channels and should have enough range for all but the most demanding location photographers.

 

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