radio popper review for my fellow photography geeks. (yeah, i'm talking about you!!!)

Commentator: Ed

Hello all-

This past weekend, Monica and I finally had a chance to test out the Radio Popper by "freakin' genius," Kevin King. If you don't know what a Radio Popper is, it simply addresses the key issue of the reliability of the “line of sight” infrared system by “bridging” the infrared light signal over a radio link. This translates into a beautifully simple solution to a very complex problem. AWESOME!!!

As you scroll down, I'll walk you through with my honest feedback regarding the Radio Popper.

You may remember my first time ever toying with the Radio Popper during WPPI, along with photographers I have been "stalking" and consider "Off-Camera Flash Kings & Queens!" For a refresher posted by Matt Adcock on, please click here.

My first crack in opening the package - It was SO cool to actually have something in front of me that has the potential to change history in the photography world. The transmitter and the receiver are fairly small... smaller than my pocket wizards - a good thing.

However, what I started seeing that could be a minor issue is, if you don't have a dedicated flash, the"permanent connection" of the fiber optic to the flash can be a hassle to remove and put back on again since the only way the optics can be connected to the flash is through tape. But this is a such a tiny issue when you actually use the product and see the potential of what it can do for you as a photographer. And why take the popper off anyway? I don't mind dedicating a flash to this puppy since I'm sure I'll be using it plenty!

Felt like a kid at Christmas opening up the brand spankin' new package! (Disclaimer: Please ignore the very amateur hand model who DIDN'T moisturize the morning of the shoot. And if you like what you see, please note the wedding ring, folks!)

A closer look at the Popper:

Each flash has a different placement of the optic ball. Below is the actual placement of where it needs to be for the 580ex speedlite.

Okay - Onwards to the actual testing!

I've provided images with actual specs... You'll also be able to view/download individual images to check out the full exif data of each individual image for your information. Keep an eye out for the sync speed and aperture settings... it's amazing!

After enjoying a very filling and de-lish meal of crepes with our friend Dave Wong at Squat & Gobble, we headed down the street to meet up with his photog partner, Greg Bartning, at his jealousy-enducing studio. Thanks guys for letting us invade your space for the afternoon! We tested the popper's ettl capabilities with the 580ex speedlite, triggered by the ST-E2. I made sure that the 580 was only being triggered via radio frequencies instead of the infrared line of site by completely covering the 580ex's reciever. I took several shots with the popper turned off to make sure the infrared signal of the ST-E2 is not triggering the speedlite. Once I turned the popper on, the flashes started flashing. Can you say "AWESOME!!!"

Once ON, the poppers worked 100% of the time indoors, regardless of the camera settings. Once I upped my sync speed, we automatically saw a huge difference in the ambient light. This opens up SO many doors of where you can shoot. You don't need a super dark studio anymore because worrying about ambient light affecting the colors is now out of the equation.

Here's our studio model for the day, Mr. Phrenology Top Hat

So sure, the radio popper works reliably indoors... But how about outdoors where there's power lines and a busy San Francisco street in between you and your subject? Well... we'll find out. But first, let's test it normally... like how I would normally shoot. I took several photos with different settings with various in-camera flash compensations. All shots taken, the radio popper also fired with no problem at "normal" distances (about 4-15 feet). So the uber cool features I can easily take advantage of now are the High Speed Sync AND the Flash Exposure Compensation, all IN camera. This will make all my shoots super fast because I no longer have to adjust the flashes manually. Every adjustment is done IN CAMERA, instead of having my "Voice Activated Mobile Light Stand," also known as VAMLS (term coined by Dave which we've now adopted), have to bring down the lightstick and guestimate the adjustments necessary.

Our lovely model, Jessa, whom we "kidnapped" from work for a brief 5 minutes at Cafe du Soleil for this impromptu shoot down the street from the studio. (By the way, this place has almond croissants that'll make you drool! Thanks for getting us our model and satisfying our pastry craving, Greg!)

Then I walked across the street to test out distances... I was about 60 feet away while firing these. Please keep in mind the 1.6 crop factor of the 50mm lense I was using. I've included a small photo of how "bright" the actual conditions were while we're testing. You can actually see Monica, my VAMLS, and see how dark ambient light can be in the middle of daylight. =) Regardless of what setting I was in... the ETTL did it's thing. However, out of 20 shots across a busy street in San Francisco with all the powerlines, a couple did not fire a flash. But regardless, this ratio is still pretty darn good, especially when I now have ETTL and FEC controls, ALL in camera!

There's Dave. Where's Monica?

Conclusion - the Radio Popper is not 100% perfect (yet) and it won't solve all your problems... however, it cleverly solves the "line of sight" and distance problems, which are HUGE problems in the world of photography. It's a simple and effective tool to pull out of your bag of tricks to automatically create properly exposed images, virtually no matter what camera setting you're in, up to an insane 1/8000th of a second! for you norcal folks, that's "HELLLLLLLLA FAST!" Just ask Greg, who was pretty doubtful and ambivalent about the poppers' ability and is now dead-set convinced that he needs this for his commercial shoots. Of course, I know this particuar device will be getting plenty of good use by us, especially with my shooting style. Can't wait to POP away!!!

the test crew: dave, greg, me, and monica

I've provided images with actual specs... You'll also be able to view/download individual images to check out the full exif data of each individual image for your information. Keep an eye out for the sync speed and aperture settings... it's amazing!

//ed pingol