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Review: CowboyStudio NPT-04 4 Channel Wireless Flash Trigger

by Erik Fuller on 10/12/2012

 

NPT-04 Flash Transmitter and Receiver

In my search for a way to pop my Canon 580EXII flash remotely, I came across several different options ranging from the popular yet pricey Pocket Wizard to the hilariously named CowboyStudio triggers. At only around $22 and change it seemed to good to be true: After all, a single pair of Pocket Wizards will set you back $300. Could these El Cheapo triggers from Dallas get the job done at a fraction of the price?

Tech Specs

From the manufacturer.

  • 4 channels to avoid interference
  • The receiver has an on/off switch, and an LED to indicate triggering
  • A standard 1/4″ screw mount
  • Channel Selector outside the transmitter and the receiver
  • 4 channels with hot shoe connector for external flashes
  • Transmitter Power: 23A 12V battery Receiver Power: 2 AAA Battery (Not included)
  • Maximum Working Distance: 30m (open area, without interference)
  • Max available in distance range: 30M (open fields, no fraise)
  • Operates on Frequency: 433MHz
  • Highest responding time up to 1/125s
  • Triggering life: up to 20,000 times
  • Trigger can operate additional NPT-04 receivers
  • Compatible models:
    • Canon SpeedLite 580EX II, 580EX, 550EX, 540EZ, 520EZ, 430EX, 430EZ, 420EX, 420EZ, 380EX;
    • Nikon SpeedLight SB-800, SB-600, SB-28, SB-27, SB-26, SB-25, SB-24;
    • Olympus FL-50R, FL-50, FL-36R, FL-36;
    • Pentax AF-540 FGZ, AF-360 FGZ, AF-400 FT, AF-240 FT;
    • Sigma EF-530 DG Super, EF-500 DG Super, EF-430;
    • Sunpak Auto 2000DZ, 622 Pro, 433AF, 433D, 383, 355AFm 344D, 333D;
    • Vivitar 285HV, DF-400MZ, DF-340MZ, 2700;
    • Other flash models with a trigger voltage of 12V or lower.

Ergonomics

As opposed to a Pocket Wizard, the CowboyStudio triggers don’t have a screen, 50 million channels or anything fancy like flash grouping. In fact, all you get is an ON/OFF button on the receiver and a test button on the transmitter, in addition to the channel selector. The grand total of channels is 4, at that should be more than enough for anyone but the most extreme Speedlight enthusiast. The transmitter can be mounted via the camera hot shoe or fired via 1.5mm release port on the side.

MPT-04 Transmitter

The receiver can be connected to a Speedlight via a hotshoe as well, or using the sync port on the side.

Side view of the NPT-04 receiver

And in case you thought that means you can only connect the receiver to a speedlight:

NPT-04 connected to an AlienBees via sync cable

Bottom line is if your flash has a sync port, you can fire it using the NPT-04.

Performance

Here’s a simply real world example. You want to take a nice portrait or headshot of your client on location. You don’t want to use on-camera flash because it’s usually not pretty and lets face it, pretty boring. So, by using a Speedlight on an umbrella bracket mounted on a stand with a shoot-through umbrella you get to put a nice light pattern on your subject.

Headshot on-location example

Battery Life

After several months of usage, I have yet to have to change the battery in the transmitter. I HAVE however had to change the AAA batteries in the receiver. Admittedly, I’ve kept the switch ON by accident more than once and found out weeks later. It won’t necessarily drain it every time, but I’m going to bet it will significantly shorten the battery life. Take the extra second after your shoot and make sure you’ve turned the receiver off. A good idea is to get a pack of AAA Eneloop Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries and take some extra ones with you. They’re the same brand I use in my 580EXII.

Eneloop AAA Rechargeable Batteries

Radio Communication

One thing to keep in mind is that the NPT-04 is rated at a maximum distance of 30m (100ft). The new Pocketwizard III is rated at 500m (1600ft). So you’re not going to be shooting in any stadiums. But in real life usage I had no problems firing a flash on the other side of the apartment and I believe these will work for interior architecture and weddings as well.

TTL Metering

Nope. These are $22, remember?

Conclusion

If all you need is a way to trigger a handful of off-camera flashes and you’re comfortable using manual flash settings the CowboyStudio NPT-04 are a great deal. I use them all the time whether I need to trigger a Speedlight or an AlienBee. They’re small, you throw them in your bag along with some spare batteries and a short sync cable (just in case) and you’re set. Just keep in mind these are “dumb” triggers. Nothing is automatic and you need to know your settings. But for a photographer who is comfortable with his/her gear, these are a great, cheap-and-cheerful alternative to Pocket Wizards.

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