The Cactus V5 from Hong Kong distributor Harvest One Limited is an inexpensive and basic manual radio trigger with a solid build and excellent ergonomics. It replaces Cactus V4.
- Frequency: 2.4 GHz.
- 16 channels.
- 4 groups (individual, or all together).
- Max sync. speed: The camera's x-sync speed.
- 100 meters operating range.
- 3.5 mm jack socket.
- Powered by 2xAAA batteries.
- Maximum trigger voltage: 300 volt.
- Weight: 58 grams (without batteries).
As indicated by the V5 designation, it is the fifth incarnation of the Cactus brand flash triggers. It is a major update from V4. Its operating frequency has changed from the European 433 MHz RKE-band to the ubiquitous 2.4 GHz band that is unregulated world-wide. This has improved range and stability, but it also means that is not compatible with any of the older Cactus models.
A typical kit comes with at least two transceivers, flash stands, two cables (one with a 3.5 mm jack, another with a pc plug), a 3.5 mm to 6.25 mm (1/4") jack adaptor (for connecting to a studio flash), and user manual.
The unit appear to be well built. The casing is plastic, but the hot-shoe, hot-foot and tripod socket is metal.
The battery compartment is at the rear of the unit to allow you to change batteries without dismounting the transceiver from a flash stand or camera. The battery compartment has a plastic battery tray that slides in and out with a positive click.
The unit have a twist type locking collar to make sure the transmitter stays put in the camera's hot-shoe. On the bottom of the unit, there is also a 1/4 inch metal tripod socket for mounting on a light stand.
It is built to handle up to 300 volt. Because it has a hot-shoe on top, it can even be used as a substitute for the Wein save sync device (search eBay for Wein safe-sync). Even when a flash that has a 300 volts across its pins is in the hot-shoe on the top, only about 6 volts appear on the hot-foot on the bottom. However, it should not be connected to units with reverse polarity (negative centre pin).
Unlike the Phottix Strato II Multi, the hot-shoe on top of the transceiver does not pass through TTL-signals. The hot-shoe only has the the centre pin and edge connector, and the only signal passing true is the trigger signal.
Channels and groups
The channels are set with a dial on the side of the unit that can be accessed while the unit is in use. This is a much better solution than the tiny DIP-switches on the YongNuo units.
The Cactus V5 let you select up to 16 channels. This can be used to avoid interference from other triggers in a crowded environment. It also gives a rudimentary grouping function.
Standard grouping triggers let the photographer assign banks of flashes to group and then set up the transmitter to fire any group alone or in combination with one or more others groups. The Cactus V5 does not let you do this, but channels 2-5 (marked in blue on the channel selection dial) can either be fired individually, or all together. The latter is achieved by setting the camera-mounted transceiver to channel 1 (also blue). This means that in a complex setup with multiple flash groups you can fire each group 2-5 individually during testing and metering, and then fire all four groups together when the setup is done and the you're happy with the arrangement of the lights.
On top the unit is a large test-button. Upon half-press a led on top of the remote units with active channels will light up in amber to confirm that they are active. This let the photographer verify what flashes are set to what channel, without actually firing flashes.
The unit doubles as a remote radio shutter release. In this mode, the camera connects to the Cactus V5 through a 3.5 mm jack socket. You hold one transceiver in your hand and use the test-button to trip the shutter.
For the shutter release, you need to buy an extra cable compatible with your camera's shutter release socket, costing around USD 10.
To trigger both flash and camera, you will need four transceivers set to different channels. The first pair of transceivers should be used to trigger the camera – with one transceiver in hand and the other attached to the cameras shutter trigger port. The second pair must be set to a different channel, with one transceiver in the camera's hot-shoe to transmit the signal to trigger the flash, and another connected to the flash to receive this signal.
Being a transceiver, the same unit can work as both transmitter and receiver. Unlike the YongNuo RF-603, it has a physical switch (shown to the right) that let you toggle between TX and RX mode, as well as turn the unit completely off. This design means that it comes fitted with a standard ISO hot-shoe, and that the same model will work with almost any DSLR and flash fitted with standard hot-shoe, except the following Canon DSLRs: EOS 10D and EOS 300D.
Good news for Sony and Konica-Minolta users: Unlike the YongNuo RF-603, the Cactus V5 can be put to good use with your equipment, if you buy the appropriate adaptors. You need the FS-1100 (search eBay) adaptor to put the transceiver in the hot-shoe of a Sony Alpha or Konica-Minolta camera with a proprietary hot-shoe, and the FS-1200 (search eBay) adaptor to connect flashes with a Sony/Minolta hot-foot to the transceiver.
Studio flashes and hot-shoe flashes fitted with a sync socket can be connected to the transceiver with a short cable. However, since the transceiver is fitted with a hot-shoe, you do not need to use a cable to trigger flashes fitted with a hot-foot. This means that unlike the PocketWizard Plus III units, the Cactus V5 can work with flashes without a pc-socket, such as the Nikon SB-600 or Canon 430EX II.
The Cactus V5 performed as advertised and proved to be fully reliable. As long as we had line of sight between the units, we experienced no problems with reliability within the claimed range is 100 meters.
Sync speed is excellent. With a Nikon D700, it syncs fine at 1/250 second. However, it does not support HSS/FP or hypersync.
All functions, including the grouping function, worked as advertised.
The Cactus V5 is one of the best choices in the segment we've labelled basic manual triggers. It usually sells for about USD 70 for a pair.
The Cactus V5 is competing directly with the USD 37 for a pair YongNuo RF-603. It operates in the same 2.4 GHz band as YongNuo. It has about the same range (about 100 meters with line of sight).
Despite its higher price tag, the Cactus V5 lacks the wake-up function of the YongNuo RF-603, and also lacks the dedicated channel for triggering the shutter release.
However, for many, its better ergonomics, high-voltage tolerance, grouping function, and locking collar to secure the trigger in the camera's hot-shoe, make up for the missing features and the higher price.
The YongNuo triggers only works with flash units with a trigger voltage below 12 volts. If you work with old high-voltage flash units, the Cactus V5 is the obvious choice. Otherwise I would say it is a toss-up between these two models.