Pro review: Cactus V6 II wireless flash trigger
Canon or Nikon? What do you shoot? As photographers we often start conversations like this because once you’ve made that decision, you’re committed. But when it comes to speedlights and flash units, that’s not the case thanks to the Cactus V6 II wireless flash transceiver.
Cactus calls the V6 II “the world’s first wireless flash trigger that supports cross-brand high-speed sync (HSS),” including power output and zoom features on speedlights manufactured by Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax.
The cross-brand compatibility is clever. But what really interested me when I heard about the Cactus V6 II were the HSS feature and the fact that you can use it to fire studio strobes manually or as a remote camera trigger. That’s versatility. But does it work?
When you order a Cactus V6 II transceiver, you get one palm-sized transceiver, which has a male hot shoe mount on the bottom (for the camera), a female hot shoe mount on top (for the speedlight), and a plastic flash stand. There’s also an x-sync port so you can connect the V6 II to your camera or studio strobe. No cords are included, so you’ll need to buy those if don’t have what’s needed. Unless you have a Cactus brand speedlight, which has a built-in receiver, plan to purchase V6 II units for your camera and each flash you plan to use.
When you have your transceivers you’ll need to download the Cactus Firmware Updater computer app. Using a mini-USB cable, install firmware updates for the brands of gear you own. Plug in the V6 II with the power turned off and empty of batteries, then turn it on while pressing the menu button. Follow the onscreen prompts to install the firmware, and the V6 II will disconnect when each install is done.
There are countless ways you can use the transceiver units. I started by using them as a simple manual flash trigger for my studio strobes, connected by the x-sync port. They worked flawlessly every time.
It was at this point I discovered one of the V6 II transceivers wasn’t working. The unit manually triggered the flash but failed to communicate with the other units as a transmitter or receiver. Cactus suggested another firmware upgrade before resorting to a firmware reset, and if neither of those options worked, to send it back for exchange. Thankfully, the reset solved all my problems.
The full benefit of the Cactus V6 II is unleashed when you start working with speedlights. The V6 II acted as a commander unit for my Nikon SB-800 Speedlights and weighed less than an additional flash in commander mode would. I put each of my three speedlights on a different channel and experimented with HSS and adjusting the flash output from the V6 II on my camera.
A few key features make the V6 II interesting. It has 16 channels that communicate on a 2.4GHz radio frequency and a customizable four-digit ID so no one can commandeer your flash units. Each unit has four groups, so you can control flash output and other controls from your on-camera V6 II. The flash sync speed is up to 1/8,000 second, and the maximum effective distance is 100 meters. The unit has a quality LCD panel that’s easy to read and use, and there’s an LED status indicator that blinks when the flash fires.
As with any cross-brand device, there are some limitations. Cactus has managed to include full functionality for both Nikon and Canon. Sony devices have full functionality if you get the Sony V6 IIs unit for your transmitter. Fujifilm flashes have no HSS, but Cactus has a workaround that allows Fujifilm cameras to use HSS. Finally, Pentax flashes won’t work with non-Pentax cameras due to unique timing requirements.
There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to manipulating settings on the Cactus V6 II. While I often try to bypass quick start guides and get going on my own, I had to read the manual this time.
Overall, I was pleased with how the V6 II transceivers worked, especially using speedlights and a studio strobe simultaneously. And I love that the designers included a lanyard loop (a great way to attach the unit to my studio strobe), and an indicator light to signal when the batteries need replacing. The V6 II unit automatically attempts to recognize your camera or flash when powering on, which adds convenience.
The V6 II works as claimed, and if you use high-speed sync it’s worth exploring to see if it could make your workflow a little easier.
The Cactus V6 II wireless flash transceiver retails for $95. Sony camera users will need to purchase a special transmitter, the V6 IIs, also $95. The Cactus V6 II transceiver works with multiple brands, including Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax.
Betsy Finn has a portrait studio, Betsy’s photography, in Michigan.