Irish camera gear maker Hahnel asked me to test their new Tuff TTL Wireless Flash Trigger for Canon DSLR’s (a Nikon version is “coming soon.”) I’m happy to report that it’s a solid entry into the mid-range flash trigger marketplace.
The Tuff fills a gap between the low-priced, dependable, sync-only triggers (Yongnuo, Cactus, Strato, etc,. as seen in my off-camera flash photography course), and the high-end TTL triggers (Phottix Odin, PocketWizard Flex) that provide through-the-lens metered control of multiple remote flash groups.
By omitting the groups, the $150 Tuff cuts the price in half while still providing full TTL control of unlimited remote flashes, including High Speed Sync and Second Curtain Sync.
The most unique aspect of the aptly-named Tuff is the rugged build quality. The triggers are enclosed in a rubberized housing, and they feel like something designed for a desert tank battalion.
And unlike the pricier brands, which can be challenging to master, the Tuff triggers are trivially easy to use. Basically turn them on, match channels, and go. (I was almost disappointed that the instruction “manual” required only a couple of paragraphs, because I was enjoying reading instructions in real English—Hahnel is in Ireland—rather than Engrish.)
The basic stats:
- 2.4 Ghz frequency
- 200-meter range (claimed, I did not test that)
- AA batteries
- Compatible with Flash Exposure Compensation
- High-Speed Sync and Second Curtain Sync
- Digital Channel Matching to avoid interference
- Unlimited number of receivers
In testing the Tuff, I worried that I would find the lack of multiple groups too limiting. After all, when all your flashes fire in TTL mode, the camera chooses the power settings for them. How can you control your ratios?
But I found that I could set a flash in Manual mode and set its power by hand, and the Tuff would fire it at that power. This saves the day by effectively allowing you to create manual “groups” by hand. I would use this, for example, to create a group of manually-locked background lights, or rim lights, while using TTL flashes as my main lights.
What you cannot do with the Tuff is adjust the power of these manual flashes from your camera position, as you can with the fancier Odin and Flex systems. Instead you have to walk over to the flash and change it.
And you cannot set ratios between your TTL flashes the way you can with the built-in Canon Wireless system, or with pricier TTL triggers.
1) About half the price of the fancier TTL triggers that allow separate groups.
2) Rugged construction. It really is Tuff.
3) Ridiculously easy to use.
4) Solid, rubberized receivers make a great base-stand for flashes.
1) $150 for the transmitter/receiver pair is still not exactly cheap. (Additional receivers are about $100 each.)
2) No groups, and thus no TTL ratios between groups.
3) No focus assist beam on the transmitter. The beams on your individual flashes still fire, but that’s useless if they are firing through an umbrella or from behind your subject.
This lack of a focus assist beam is a pet peeve of mine, and it’s a weakness shared by my favorite trigger, the Phottix Odin. When some smart manufacturer adds an infrared beam to their transmitter, they will jump to the front of the pack.
4) The drawback of the convenient flat base is the lack of a hot shoe adapter for easy mounting on existing brackets. Instead, you have to screw it onto your light stand using the standard tripod mount threads, which requires a bit of extra fiddling during setup.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I really like these triggers. If you’re looking for a rock-solid starter set of TTL triggers, and you don’t want to splurge for the high-end group-enabled products, these will serve you well.
Of if you’re looking for a rugged product that you can throw in a camera bag or use in a sand storm without worry, then this is your trigger.
I still expect to use my Phottix Odin more often, for its ability to control Groups from the transmitter. But when I need straight-up TTL under extreme conditions I’ll throw the rugged Tuff in the bag.