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Review: Cactus V5 Duo

(Full name: ‘Cactus Wireless Flash Tranceiver V5 Duo’)

Copyright 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.03.08

All images in this entry are Copyright 2015 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.

Cactus V5 Duo, with included stands, cables, and batteries

Cactus V5 Duo (top)
After five years of shooting with the Cactus V4 system, and loving it, I wanted a few more triggers. I made the choice to upgrade to the V5 Duo purely for battery considerations. The V4 transmitter uses a non-standard battery type (A23), which doesn’t come in rechargeables and can’t be found everywhere. The V5 system uses AAA batteries, which are the second-most common rechargeable battery and can be bought almost anywhere.

As my readers know, I spent years migrating to off-camera flash as my primary lighting method and now use it almost exclusively when shooting indoors. (And sometimes outdoors.) Aside from the battery issue, the Cactus V4 set has worked perfectly for me, so the V5 set seemed like the sensible option for me. I bought two sets — each box includes two transceivers, so I have four as of this writing.

An example of what I can easily achieve with off-camera flash, three in this case

Cactus V5 Duo (bottom)
The V5 Duo set differs from the V4 set in one fundamental way, besides using more common batteries: the V4 set includes one transmitter and one receiver, while in the V5 set, both units are “tranceivers”, which means each can act as a transmitter (“Tx”) or a receiver (“Rx”). This means each Tx/Rx unit has a hot foot on bottom (see image at right) and a hot shoe on top (see image above).

Like most budget-friendly radio flash triggers, these are not built sturdily. I imagine one good drop from eye level to a hard surface would crack the flimsy plastic shell or dislodge something internally, though I’m not willing to test my assumption. But they will stand up to normal use — attaching and removing from cameras, speedlights, light stands, etc., traveling in a camera bag, being turned on/off repeatedly, and replacing batteries occasionally.

A V5 is also larger than a V4, as seen in the comparison images below.

V5 Duos at left and right; V4 receiver and transmitter in the middle.

V5 Duos at top; V4 transmitter and receiver at bottom

V5 Duo on its stand, holding the V4 reciever (middle) and transmitter (top)

A few users have reported that the battery compartment door doesn’t always stay completly closed, resulting in a non-working trigger. I haven’t had that issue yet; perhaps Cactus corrected it since the early batches.

V5 battery tray, partially opened, with two AAA batteries

Channel-switching knob,
with my left thumbnail for scale
I do have a complaint about how small the channel-switching knob is — see image at right. That’s my left thumbnail in the image, next to the knob, which is just about microscopic in size. Fortunately, I will likely never need to change channels.

The on/off switch (see image below) is larger, and requires a choice between Tx and Rx — whether you want the unit to act as a transmitter or receiver. The one you place on the camera’s hot shoe should be set to “Tx”, and the unit attached to the speedlights should be set to “Rx”.

The Tx/Off/Rx switch on the V5

Just like the V4 receiver, the V5 units have a 1/4”-20 female thread on bottom, for attaching to light stands or any male thread. In the V4, the thread was in the middle of the cold shoe, and there was no locking knob. You can see in the image below that the design improved.

The bottom of the V4 (left) and the V5 (right)

All the Cactus units come with 3.5mm (1/8-inch) jacks, to connect to flashes via standard stereo cables — it’s the same size jack you’ll find on a pair of headphones or to plug in a set of speakers to your computer. This can come in handy to use extra flashes — each receiver can fire a flash on the hot shoe and via a cable. The V5 that sits atop your camera as a transmitter can fire not only the flashes on the receivers, but also one in its own hot shoe and via the cable port.

The 1/8” (3.5mm) jacks on the V4 transmitter, V4 receiver, and a V5 Duo

So far, the only real downside I’ve experienced with the V5 setup (besides the expected fragility of such an inexpensive product) is the minimum range, something I hadn’t expected, and don’t remember experiencing with the V4. When I set up a family portrait recently, I had one fill flash very near the camera, maybe six inches to the left, and it wouldn’t fire via the V5 transceiver. I eventually switched that flash to optical slave mode and it worked. Later, I read the V5 manual, and it said there is a minimum distance of one foot, and possibly up to one meter, at which the triggers might not work. I don’t see this being a problem very often, but it is something I will have to keep in mind when working in close quarters. (Of course, I could always fire it via a cable if I’m going to be that close. The whole point of wireless triggers is to get distance.)

Like the V4, the V5 system came with the necessary batteries, and two very short starter cables. It also came with an adapter to use for the larger jacks on studio strobes.

So far, I am very happy with my purchase of the V5 Duo sets. They seem like an improvement over the V4 in several ways — slightly sturdier, a more standardized battery size, and the included plastic stands. And perhaps best of all, I can still use the V4 system, since the V5 has a hot shoe on top with “pass-through” signal. I’ve tested this several times with no issues.

(Note: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning any company or its products in this review.)

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