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Review – Yongnuo RF-602 Radio Slaves

The Yongnuo RF-602s have been in my bag for several months now, which has given me plenty of time to work with them. For those of you who like quick reviews, here’s the summation: they work really, really well and have solved the problems I had with my previous set.

For those of you who like a few details with your reviews, here’s the full scoop: during the past few months I’ve used the 602s in a variety of situations, everything from indoor portrait shoots to outdoor wedding receptions. While they do have a few quirks, none of them are even remotely deal breakers, and my overall experience has been very positive. The 602s have been dependable, working shot after shot without misfires. They’re held up to standard wear and tear (as well as being dropped a few times), and they’ve made my life considerably easier in the process.

As I speculated when I first bought them, one of the best things about the 602s is that they mate directly to the lightstands and the Speedlites, without the need for any intermediary components. In simple terms, no more adapters clogging up my bags, failing on me, or forgotten at home. Which is a wonderful thing.

My primary concern was with their range. My previous radio slaves suffered from very limited range until I hacked them with an antenna, and I was afraid the 602s might suffer from the same problem. No sign of it so far, however. Shooting both indoors and outdoors, I haven’t had any problems (although in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been working mostly at close range so far).

Here’s a breakdown of the major pros and cons:

Pros:

  • - Built-in hotshoe mounts: this is huge, as it lets any Speedlite-style flash mount directly to the Rx units, without any of the adapters or cords that have plagued me in the past. The hotshoe receptacles are metal and, when the flash rings are tightened down, seem to be secure.
  • - Built-in 3/16 thread mounts: this is also huge, as it lets you bypass the Rx unit’s plastic hotshoe foot and screw it directly into your umbrella and/or softbox mounts. This completely eliminates the need for accessory hotshoe clamps, which have long been a weak point in the system.
  • - AAA battery powered (Rx units): standardized battery sizes are a must, and AAA batteries are available at essentially every mini-mart in the country, which means that even if my rechargables crap out, I have easy access to alkaline replacements.
  • - Rx unit status lights: it’s a small thing, but a nice one. Just a simple status light on the Rx’s that glow when turned on, and blink when active with a flash mounted.
  • - Small size: the Rx units are fairly small and slim, taking up very little space in a bag or jacket pocket.

Cons:

  • - Tx unit mount: this is a mixed bag, since the hotshoe foot is metal, which is technically a pro. However, there is no locking mechanism whatsoever – you slide the Tx into the camera’s hotshoe and that’s it, it just sits there and hopefully doesn’t fall out as you move the camera around. Definite con, and it makes you wonder how something so simple was overlooked. (On a sort of positive note, I have managed to send the Tx flying off the camera a couple of times now, falling several feet onto pavement. It’s still working, so is obviously fairly rugged, if still badly designed.)
  • - Rx unit hotshoe foot: it’s plastic, instead of metal like the Tx unit. There’s no logic in this, but it’s still only half a con, since they did include the aforementioned 3/16 thread mount, so you can bypass the hotshoe foot altogether. But for those of us who will use these on mounts such as a Justin Clamp, where the hotshoe foot is required, it’s something to be aware of. (There’s also no locking mechanism on this foot, so be prepared to gaffers tape it to the receiving hotshoe mount.)
  • - Tx unit test button: another mixed bag, since the test button has two settings that let you both wake up sleeping flashes and/or test fire them. The button is easily depressed, however, and I have reports of batteries going dead in the bag because it was accidentally held down during storage/transit.
  • - Tx unit batteries: instead of something standard, the Tx takes a XXX type battery. These are tricky to find locally and are a bit expensive.

My overall conclusion is this: for the price, you’re getting a very good unit. It meets my needs exactly, does what it’s supposed to do, and doesn’t include any extraneous features or options. What faults it has are all in the physical design, and most of them are just stupid oversights that can be corrected with careful use and a piece of gaffers tape. If you’re in the market for radio slaves and can’t stomach the price of PocketWizards, check out the 602s.

After further review: the RF-602 radio slaves are still the best bang-for-your-buck when it comes to fully-manual systems. Cheap and dependable, I love mine (although there are newer, updated versions out now). The only persistent gripe I have is the Tx unit, which has no locking mechanism whatsoever. It just slides into the camera hotshoe – and slides back out if you tip the camera backwards. Mine has fallen onto concrete and, more recently, onto a frozen creek during a portrait shoot. Thank goodness it was frozen, or I’d have been out my only Tx (I did order a backup after that). I found a forum post the other day that mentioned using o-rings on a similar unit, also without a locking mechanism. Supposedly, the o-rings add just enough resistance to keep the units from sliding off, and cost next to nothing. But I still come back to why the manufacturer didn’t include this feature in the first place. Go figure.

Brent Pennington

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