Review: Sony FA-WRC1M Wireless Radio Commander and Receiver

When I was being briefed on the Sony FA-WRC1M Wireless Radio Commander for flashes before announcement, I couldn’t at all contain my glee. It meant a whole lot to me. It meant that Sony was going to take wireless flash control, strobists, and higher end photographers more seriously. They’re also only the second company to do so–following in the footsteps of Canon in a way. The flash commander also works as a camera remote. That part I didn’t totally understand but know that a whole lot of other units out there do the same thing. When I was working at B&H Photo, their Vello house brand did the same thing.

Overall, it seemed pretty positive. Seemed…

Then I got to try a prototype back at a Sony press trip and a whole lot didn’t make sense to me. Sony brought in belly dancers for us to photograph and so I immediately went to Pinterest to find ideas. When I had one, I realized that it required second curtain flash. Unfortunately, the transmitter didn’t do that. The engineers said that they’d work on it.

Months later, it’s essentially the same product.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sony actually tried here and shows that it has an interest in strobists
  • TTL flash transmission
  • Stroboscopic abilities

Cons

  • No second curtain flash sync capabilities. This is the only transmitter that this happens with.
  • Relatively slow flash duration
  • Requires pairing together first vs simply using them on channels and groups
  • Expensive
  • Not sure why there is a camera remote functionality when Sony has an app for their cameras that lets you shoot wirelessly with control from your phone or tablet
  • At the moment, there are no flashes with radio built in
  • Weirdest and longest name of anything on the market. I’m not sure many people are going to remember it.
  • Menu system is very unconventional
  • At the moment of publishing, it doesn’t work with the first generation of Sony a7 cameras. Why? Really, why?

Gear Used

We tested the Sony wireless flash commander with the Sony a99 II, Sony a7r II, and the Sony a7 original. Flashes used were Sony’s

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Sony listing

  • Up to 30m (98.4ft) radio wireless range for reliable and precise control in any setting

  • Controls up to 15 compatible flash units, and 5 groups, using wireless receivers

  • Three exposure controls with convenient TTL (through-the-lens) metering, manual and group modes

  • Built-in Sync Terminal

  • Remote control multi camera shutter release with FA-WRR1 wireless receivers and multi-terminal cables

Ergonomics

The Sony flash transmitter is simple enough in most ways. You take a look at it and the buttons make a lot of sense. It’s characterized by a giant LCD screen that’s easiest to read when the light is activated, buttons and a dial similar to what’s on the back of their cameras.

The transmitter attaches to your Sony camera’s multi interface hot shoe and locks into place with ease. It’s best used on an a7 model or one of the company’s DSLTs. With the a6000 series, it just gets too close to the viewfinder.

Then there’s the receiver. It has controls for groups, power, and also its own cold shoe. This too is simple enough in its appearance, but as I learned, appearances can be deceiving.

Build Quality

The units overall are very well built. I can’t really fault them at all. Very few if any radio transmitters are weather sealed and I don’t believe that these are. They’re small and feel nice.

To be fair though, this is the first time that I’ve worked with a physical receiver in years. Most flashes and monolights these days have it built in and I typically only do a setup like this when using medium format film cameras. Sometimes I’ll go uber old school and just opt for a PC sync cord.

Real World Use

Before I get into this deeply, I need to preface this entire section.

For a while, I’ve felt that sometimes engineers and designers are out of touch with photographers. With cameras and lenses they’re a bit better; a bit. Do they make good products that sell? Inevitably, yes. But sometimes it’s just what available on the market that a photographer needs. Remember years ago when the Nikon SB-900 pissed off loads of photojournalists because of the flash shutting itself off and preventing a photographer from getting the shot? That was a big one!

But then I started talking to more designers and engineers. When the Fujifilm GFx 50s was announced? I had time to talk to the designer, who was dressed pretty differently from the engineers, marketing guys, etc. He had a genuinely creative character about him. Then I proceeded to ask why Fujifilm didn’t go with a rangefinder style camera body vs an SLR style? He commented that it was a fantastic question. Indeed, he came up with a large number of different designs–most were rangefinder based. But the company decided to go with an SLR style. Why? Well, some of the reasons make sense. Others don’t. But he taught me something: I was wrong. Sometimes there are just way too many cooks in the kitchen.

In this case, I genuinely feel it. In order for the flash transmitter to work in the first place on the camera, you need to set the camera’s flash options to wireless. This immediately negates the ability to use second curtain flash.

Strike one, Sony.

So why is this such a problem? For starters, it means you can’t do second curtain flash. Sony puts that control directly into the camera and not the transmitter. The best way to do it in this case is via a third party transmitter. It works swell with full manual options from Adorama’s Flashpoint brand. then when you use Godox options or B&H Photo’s Impact monolights, you get even more full control.

It seems so simple: a major option used at parties or to create genuinely bitchin’ effects in-camera are completely negated in this case. The flashes don’t have a fast flash duration either–which I’m not at all used to even with small hot shoe flashes these days. So they can’t stop fast moving motion and you absolutely have to go to high speed sync mode.

Luckily, this doesn’t negate your ability to do HSS–which is more important for a lot of shooters out there. But to be fair, everyone and their mother makes triggers than can do this. I can pay significantly less from Godox for a transmitter and flash or Impact with a monolight while still having this ability. In a case like this, I’m not even sure why I’d buy the Sony and then go for their completely unconventional flashes.

Then there’s another big issue: the fact that you need to pair the transmitter and the receivers together in order to make them work. In my eight years running this site, it has never taken me more than a full day to figure out how to make a flash system work. But with Sony, it did. I typically don’t like pinging or bothering PR reps unless I need to and that’s because every day folk don’t have that privilege. So instead, I take to the web. It took some YouTube research and digging through the company’s website to figure out how to do this.

Yes, you need to physically pair the transmitter and receiver together. I’m not talking about setting them to the same channel and group, that’s standard and would’ve been figured out in less than a minute. I’m talking about another step. I’m not quite sure why there’s another step needed.

Strike two, Sony.

All of my problems aside, you’ll need to spend a bit of time going through and understanding how the menu systems work. They’re much different from Profoto, Elinchrom, Interfit, Godox, Impact, Flashpoint, Phottix, PocketWizard, Yongnuo, Cactus, etc. Their menus are pretty deep but you don’t need to press a whole lot of buttons to do whatever you wish to control. That’s a nice perk to the system. There are some things that companies can learn from Sony, while Sony can pick up a whole lot of other things from those other manufacturers out there.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t bother testing the remote shutter release capabilities. All of Sony’s cameras these days have WiFi built in and Sony’s Camera App store has a whole lot of options including this which let you control the camera from your phone. So why bother?

Strike three, Sony. Unless, you know, you’re one of those people without a smart phone. But 80% of this website’s traffic comes from mobile and 90% of that is from iOS devices. If you’re reading this, then there are strong chances that you own one.

Conclusions

And now here’s my final nail in the coffin…

A Sony commander and receiver kit costs like $549 and you get other goodies with it. You haven’t even bought their good flashes then, which are between $400-600. The Godox ThinkLite that I use is SIGNIFICANTLY LESS THAN THAT!!! Impact’s option is around $1,000 but you’re getting a monolight.

Arguably, it’s easy to see why you benefit from using third party options not only for the interface but how they work with the camera, the price point, value per dollar, etc. It makes a lot of sense. This? Not so much.

I haven’t rated a Sony product this low in years. But it absolutely deserves it and I’m not going to sit here trying to sell you folks on a product in an effort to make an affiliate sale. I’ve never been about that.

The Sony FA-WRC1M Wireless Radio Commander and receiver deserve two out of five stars.