As a Wedding Photographer, I have tons of radio triggers. I started out with the PocketWizard Plus II, and then after having all of my gear stolen, I switched to the relatively inexpensive PocketWizard Plus X, so needless to say, I’m fairly entrenched in the Pocket Wizard Brand. Could the Chinese company Aputure get me away from PocketWizard while simultaneously saving my wallet from shelling out $100 every time I need a new trigger?
As you have seen over the last few weeks, Fstoppers Reviews has been covering a lot of Chinese made and “off brand” materials. We began with the budget 7” Video Screen the V-Screen and last week we covered the superb Nikon D800 Battery Grip Copy from Aputure. This week however, we’re going to look at a product that has the potential to knock the king of the radio triggers from its pedestal, and all for only $80… for 2!
So first, let's take a look at build quality and looks. The Aputure Trigmaster Plus II definitely does NOT borrow from the Pocket Wizard Plus III or Plus X in it’s styling. It’s a mess. It’s covered in knobs and buttons, an extra hotshoe and even has a weird retractable antenna. So if you’re looking for a reasonably attractive, minimally styled trigger (if looks even factor into your decision making paradigm) then it’s best to go with another trigger. That being said however, it's a well-built piece of machinery. The plastics are solid and it doesn't feel like it's going to fall apart on you. All of the switches feel well put-together and the rotating piece that puts the antenna up and down and the hotshoe is made of metal. My only real complaint is that the buttons are all made of slick plastic instead of a softer rubber. It just doesn't feel quite as nice, and it makes a not-so-pleasant click when you do anything with them.
There is one downside to this: all of this solid build quality means that it's going to be a bit heavy. While this isn't a huge issue, it's a few ounces heavier than the Pocket Wizard alternative. A few ounces really doesn't make a big difference, but it's just something to consider.
The trigger's ergonomics are a little hit or miss as well. The fact that all most of the options are switch or button based, instead of menu based, means that everything you need is available at the touch of a button or flick of a switch and you won't need to spend a few extra seconds going through menus. In fact, after spending a few hours with this trigger, I was able to make adjustments without looking at the device, simply because I had learned their location. The lack of a bright screen or lit-up buttons might be something of an issue though, if you constantly work in dark environments as this trigger has neither of those features, especially since the "test" button is not at all where you would expect it to be.
In addition to this, there are two issues that might be somewhat troublesome for users of the Trigmaster Plus II with regards to its build. The first is that the battery cover on the back is difficult to open AND it's not attached. This may not be an issue for many of you, but I have a tendency to lose things and I just know that with any amount of luck, half of the battery covers will be gone in 3 months. The second is that when a flash is place on the trigger using its built-in hotshoe, it's nearly impossible for someone without toothpicks for fingers to change any of the settings on the trigger and the built in antenna cannot be extended. This could easily be fixed by turning the mount to face the opposite direction though which would save precious seconds for anyone who is a wedding photographer or working a job where seconds matter.
So while the ergonomics aren't nearly as good as it's more expensive competition, what about the features of the Trigmaster Plus II?
First, what's in the box? Well, the kit that I received came with two Trigmaster Plus II's, a myriad of cables, a convenient pouch for storing them and two batteries.
Next up I got everything running and started testing them. The range on this trigger is 500 Meters which works out to about 1600 feet. One of the most most useful features though, is that this can be doubled using the built-in relay mode. This means that if you have 3 triggers, you can place one of the triggers at 500 meters and another at 1000 meters and the center trigger will automatically relay its signal to the flash or device that is further away. The trigger also has the ports for Camera and Flash cables, which lets you trigger both the camera and a flash at the same time, and in case you were wondering, the Trigmaster Plus II comes with the cables for all of these.
The Trigmaster Plus II also has 6 channels, and each channel has 4 zones which allows you to set up numerous lights and fire them all together or selectively. This is an awesome feature if you photograph events frequently because it means that you won't have to bother with switching channels constantly. This isn't as good as other triggers, but when you consider that the signal is proprietary and you're only going to run into issues if 6 people around you are also shooting Trigmasters, which doesn't seem to be that big of an issue.
One of the coolest features is the addition of a hotshoe mount right on the trigger. This is paired with a 1/8th inch screw on the bottom of the camera meaning that you can mount the flash directly on the trigger and then screw the trigger directly into your light stand. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but coming from someone who has assisted for years, holding a light with an unsecured trigger dangling off of it is both annoying and makes me paranoid that one might somehow fall. This setup means it's quieter because the pocket wizard isn't bouncing around, and means you won't have to come up with some other tricky way of keeping your trigger attached to the camera.
Next up is the price and this is a really big deal. At less than $50, this is less than a third of the price of most of it's rivals. For someone just getting into the game, or wanting to experiment with off camera flash, I can't think of a better way to start. In terms of whether or not this trigger is worth getting over its more expensive counterparts, let's take a look below.
- Range: Both the Trigmaster Plus II and the PocketWizard Plus III claim to have a 500m range that can be doubled using its version of a relay mode. When testing, I found that the PocketWizard was slightly more reliable at super long range, but up to 150 feet, which is most than enough for most applications, they were nearly identical.
- Speed: Here the PocketWizard blows the Trigmaster Plus II out of the water. The PocketWizard can keep up with the burst mode on a Nikon D4, while the Trigmaster simply can't. It's quick, but it's not PocketWizard fast. If you're constantly shooting at full tilt and need your triggers to keep up, this might not be the trigger for you. The PocketWizard can sync up to 1/250th of a second on SLRs and 1/500th of a second on leaf shutters, the Trigmaster Plus II has a maximum sync speed of 1/350th across the board.
- Ergonomics and Looks: The PocketWizard wins, hands-down. It's not the prettiest thing on the planet but it's 10 times better than the Trigmaster Plus II for looks and button placement. The Aputure Trigger is kind of a mess of buttons and switches that don't always seem to make that much sense.
- Build: The plastics are a little nicer on the PocketWizard, but the overall quality seems to be about the same between the two units.
- Price: The PocketWizard Plus III sells for $180, while the Trigmaster sells for less than $50.
- Features: The PocketWizard has 32 channels as opposed to the Trigmaster's 6. They both have the option to have 4 separate groups per channel and they both automatically switch between transceive and receive depending on the situation.
The bottom line is that while the Trigmaster is at an amazing price point, the PocketWizard just does everything a little bit better. Whether or not that difference is worth nearly three times the price is completely up to you.
For all of you of the tl;dr disposition, here's a quick summary of what we've covered below:
What I liked:
- Price (less than $50!)
- Pro Features
- Additional Hotshoe Port for direct mounting of flash
- Range (500m extendable to 1000m)
- Build Quality
What needs improvement:
Overall, if you're just getting into off camera flash, you're looking for a trigger with plenty of features at an awesome price point, or you just need a TON of them (I'm talking to you wedding photographers), the Trigmaster Plus II is definitely something worth looking at. What it lacks in Ergonomics and Speed are easily made up for by the fact that it's reliable, has a handy hotshoe port built-in, and only costs less than a third of its main competition.
So to answer the question posed in the title of this article: No, this won't kill the PocketWizard, but it's a solid product, and is definitely worth looking into.