Cactus V6 II and IIs are robust and dependable flash triggers

We all know Cactus flash triggers as a cheap alternative for expensive PocketWizard products. The V6 II and V6 IIs (Sony) are not just cheaper but also viable replacements. They also come with unexpected features, including cross-brand TTL, high-powered HSS, stroboscope support, group sequencing and more.

The Cactus V6 II and V6 IIs flash triggers are 2.4GHz based. That makes them both more vulnerable to interference and more reliable than other systems that use different radio frequencies. In my environment, there’s an awful lot of interference in the 2.4GHz bandwidth going on with a whole bunch of review equipment all connected and on standby. However, with 16 channels and 9999 radio-IDs to choose from, the V6 II and V6 IIs I have been using for this review, worked well with no interruptions due to signals being mixed up. The maximum distance at which I tested the units was 22 metres and they still worked without a glitch.

The V6 II is also made to last, of robust — yes, robust — plastic with a hot shoe that’s bonded strongly to the base1, with a clear LCD screen, powered by two AA-batteries or a 5V mini-USB power source — I used two eneloop 1900mAh AA-cells throughout the review.

The V6 IIs (which I tested with my Sony A700 and a Sony hot shoe adapter) is specifically designed for Sony cameras and flashes with the Multi-Interface hot shoe. If you then position a Cactus V6 II remotely — which I also had at my disposal — the V6 IIs allows you to command different brands’ flashes off-camera below or above x-sync speed.

The V6 IIs, loaded with the latest firmware, enables cross-brand remote TTL and manual power and (on some flashes) zoom control of third-party speedlights when mounted on a Cactus V6 II. The Cactus V6 II works with practically all major camera brands in TTL mode. To trigger Sony flashes, you’ll need another V6 IIs.

Each model Cactus has Multi-master support for up to 20 photographers firing the same set of flashes at their own power setting, an AF-assist light, flash profile customisation capabilities for accurate power output and features such as low power, absolute power, TTL pass-through, group sequence, sports shutter, remote shutter, relay mode and delay mode. The triggers work seamlessly with the Cactus RF60 and RF60X speedlights.

The unit’s design allows for abusive handling — although I would not recommend handling it the way I reported in the footnote above.

Cross-brand TTL

You’ll probably want to buy a Cactus V6 II (I’ll refer to both V6 II and V6 IIs as V6 II) for its cross-brand TTL capabilities. This innovative feature works well with the Cactus RF60X flash the company sent me along with the transmitters (which I am reviewing in a separate review) and with the Hahnel Modus 600RT (a Canon version), but it will work best with original brand flashes because Cactus has tested them all extensively. Much of the way cross-brand TTL works, depends on the flash you mount, with different flashes supporting — or not supporting — different capabilities.

A couple of warnings, though:

  • Make sure your batteries are fully charged when you start using the V6 II’s for extended periods of time
  • Install the latest firmware on each unit, even if that firmware’s release notes seem not to apply to your setup — to make sure you have the right firmware, consult the release notes
  • Do not tighten the — in my case, at least — the mounting lever of the V6 II too strongly as it may cause the unit to slightly move upwards and sideways, causing contact misalignment
  • Watch out for over tightening your flash to the V6 II as well; again, the contacts may not align perfectly (it’s never a good idea to over tighten anything; it’s especially bad with a system that needs to accommodate different brands)
  • Start the camera and the flash — and put the flash in the mode you’re going to use — before turning on the V6 II’s
  • If something fails, go to Cactus’ online forum. They’re extremely helpful.

After having observed the above, I noticed the Modus 600RT, which I started up in remote E-TTL mode, immediately activated some functionality the V6 II turns on automatically when it detects a Canon flash working in TTL mode. High-Speed Sync (HSS) is the feature that was the most noticeable on the Modus 600RT’s LCD screen. It appears to be turned on because the V6 II supports automatic HSS shooting, enabling you to set your shutter speed to faster than x-sync speeds, with the V6 II automatically triggering the flash in the corresponding mode.

On the Modus 600RT, remote zoom control was not available, because it simply is not supported. The Cactus V6 IIs — the Sony Multi-Interface version specifically — also supports TTL-passthrough when a flash has been mounted on top of the transmitter unit.

Other usage scenarios

Cross-brand TTL is a great feature because it lets you work with multiple brand speedlights without having to set them to manual or lose out on most of their functionality. It works exceptionally well — as you would expect — with Cactus’ own RF60X flash. If you want to know more about this flash, then do read my review, but suffice it here to say it’s an excellent flash and you can command it from a V6 II trigger remotely, including its zoom, SSH, etc.

To me personally, the group sequencing functionality is a real boon. Normally, you would set different flashes in different locations and positions to create a lighting setup, but that doesn’t let you fire your flashes one flash after the other with no or almost no interval. In some cases, however, you want to fire your flashes almost in a non-stop series of light bursts. If you have enough speedlights, you can have this with the V6 II’s group sequence functionality.

It lets you fire your groups in specific order, without having to wait for the flashes to reload. There are even two different ways into doing this:

  • Either fire them one group after the other in A-B-C-D order
  • Or fire them with two groups at a time — AB-CD.

Another nice feature of the Cactus V6 II is Power Sync. Contrary to normal HSS, the Power Sync feature of the V6 II’s syncs with the full Sync power flash of the remote flashes. Power Sync yields a much higher exposure than the normal HSS flash. Because you can have dark bands appear in this mode, the V6 II has an easy adjustment system to get rid of the banding.

At the other end is “Lo Power”. At the Lo Power level, the relative power output of a speedlight triggered by the V6 II’s is roughly equal to 1/256 — on my V6 IIs it always shows up as 1/256. The extremely short firing duration helps freeze faster movements.

Finally, the V6 II lets you set your groups of speedlights to absolute power really easily. The only hard thing you need to do is convert different Guide Numbers to a common absolute power setting so that all your flashes shoot at the same power level. There’s a handy table in the user guide to help you.

Needless to say, in manual mode the V6 II’s work just as brilliantly as in TTL mode. And as with older versions of the Cactus triggers, you can use the V6 II and V6 IIs as remote camera triggers — even simultaneously with triggering flashes.

Last but not least, there’s an AF-Assist LED you can turn on permanently. I found this to be a bit of overkill as most TTL flashes these days have such lights as well, although manual flashes may not.

Conclusion

The V6 II series of flash / camera triggers remind me of how we, in Europe, came to realise after a while that a “Made in Japan” label can actually mean that you have a high-quality product in your hands. “Made in China” (of Hong-Kong, where Cactus is from) currently still has a ring to it of a cheap and barely “OK” product. But that may change very quickly in my opinion. After the extensive tests I carried out and the unintentional abuse of these triggers, I cannot but conclude that a Cactus V6 II system performs as good as any other radio-controlled remote flash trigger system.

The extra features and the flexibility of the cross-brand TTL system, which also protects your investment in flashes from a different brand than the camera system you are perhaps working with now, are what make these triggers stand out from the crowd.

The cross-brand TTL system isn’t perfect yet. Cactus is still busy ironing out bugs and adding new functionality as user reports trickle in. What is good about that is that Cactus listens to its users and is very fast at implementing and readying firmware releases.

Back when I reviewed the Cactus V5, photographers purchased these triggers because they were cheap. With the V6 II, photographers are increasingly buying them because of the feature set and quality of build. A nice extra is that they’re still very affordable at €89 per unit.

  1. How I know this? Allow me to tell you the tale of the Knackered Reviewer who broke under stress.The day before he wrote this, a number of events came together to cause a “perfect stress situation”, with the Knackered Reviewer ending the day in a state of oblivion. Every molecule in his brain refused service, but the day wasn’t over yet, so he plodded on.
    “The last thing I’ll do for the day,” he thought, “is trying out those Cactus V6 II’s with the Modus 600RT again.” And so it happened that the Knackered Reviewer mounted the flash onto the V6 II… backwards. What happened next was that, with a glorious last release of adrenalin, the Knackered Reviewer tried to take the flash off again by wrenching, attempting to apply leverage, and finally prying the unit to move off that wretched hot shoe.
    It wouldn’t budge. The adrenalin high made way for a slight sense of panic as the brain of the Knackered reviewer, beaten senseless by the events of the day, tried to squeeze the last drop of inspiration out of its grey mass. After pausing for 15 minutes to compose himself and halt the treadmill of negative thoughts that ranged from “idiot” to “moron” and other terms the publisher has deemed to be unsuitable for publication, in the back of a drawer his eye caught an extremely thin plastic piece that normally goes in the specially allocated space of a more expensive man’s shirt.
    As he had nothing to lose except for his reputation, he decided to give it a try and wrench the piece of pollution-ware between the flash’s shoe and the V6 II hot shoe. With considerable force applied, he managed to push that thin piece of plastic all the way in-between the two devices and, as he could finally hear a faint click, he managed to remove the flash.
    After all the force that had been applied to it, great was the relief to find the V6 II hadn’t been damaged at all. Nothing had so much as moved even a tenth of a millimetre and the unit switched on and triggered happily ever after.
    A Cactus V6 II that is in good condition will withstand some serious abuse; I have it from first-hand experience.
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