Following up on their popular Strato wireless flash triggers, Phottix is set to announce the Strato II Multi as their successor, and FlashRAW has an exclusive first review.
The Strato II Multi take all of the elements that made the original Stratos successful and add a few new features and refinements. Among the most exciting features of these 2.4GHz wireless flash triggers are the ability to group flashes and the backwards compatibility with the original Strato units.
The last generation of Strato triggers were widely viewed as having build quality and reliability that justified their price point above budget offerings like the Yongnuo RF-602.
In this full review of the new Multi units, we take a look to see how Phottix has built on the Strato line in their newest wireless trigger for speedlights and studio strobes.
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Evolved, Not Reinvented
As the name suggests, the Phottix Strato Multi is an evolution of the Strato line. Phottix hasn’t reinvented the wheel here, but rather they’ve built on the very successful platform of the previous Strato model. The Strato was one of the first affordable wireless flash triggers that brought TTL pass-through to the masses.
The new Phottix Strato Multi takes the same form factor and specs and builds in some new features – some mere refinements and some more substantial.
Here’s a rundown of the Strato Multi’s system features, both new and those features we’re familiar with from the previous Strato.
New Multi Features
- 4 Group Selector
- Screw-down locks for both transmitters & receivers
- Dedicated On/Off Switches on both transmitters & receivers
- Improved compatibility with Nikon SB-600 Speedlight
- TTL Pass-Through
- AAA Batteries
- Hotshoe for speedlights
- 3.5mm jack connection
The Phottix Strato Multi’s specs, on the surface, look very similar to the predecessor’s. Once again, the specs of the Strato Multi offer a lot to like, including AAA batteries for both the transmitters and receivers, and universal 3.5mm jacks for outputs.
|Channels||4 (1, 2, 3, 4)|
|Groups||4 (A, B, C, D)|
|Max Sync (s)||1/250|
|Wired Shutter Release||Yes|
|Transmitter Hotshoe||Yes, TTL pass-through|
|Receiver DC port||Yes|
|Receiver output||3.5mm, 2.5mm|
Phottix Strato Receiver & Trigger:
Overall, the Strato Multi transmitter and receiver share a very similar form factor, with a few key differences. Just as with the previous generation, the bodies of the units are identical in size and shape. Where they differ is in the inputs & outputs, as well as the controls.
In an upgrade from the previous Stratos, the new Strato Multi units now feature screw-down locks on both the transmitters and the receivers. This is in addition to a locking pin that lowers with the locking disks for extra security. Previously, only the transmitters had these screw-down locks, so it’s nice to see Phottix committed to bringing about these small but incredibly welcome touches.
One great thing about the Strato Multi system is that both the transmitter and receiver take standard AAA batteries, just like the old Stratos. The units ship with Energizer-brand batteries, but it’s nice to know that you can use rechargeable batteries like the Sanyo Eneloop AAA NiMH with the system instead of more exotic and harder to find sizes.
Again, hats off to Phottix for understanding that usability doesn’t always mean having the smallest gadgets (which smaller batteries would allow), but rather readily available and interchangeable batteries. Even Pocketwizard misses this point with their new TTL line of wireless flash triggers.
Connectivity – Outputs, Inputs, and Interconnects:
In terms of connectivity, the Multi units feature the same great options as their predecessors and get a A+ for connectivity. Both the transmitters and receivers feature beautiful 3.5mm miniplugs and all the necessary cables, as well as a 3.5mm to 1/4″ miniplug adapter. Thankfully, there are no weird proprietary connections like we’ve seen with the Yongnuo RF-602.
Also included with the transmitter kit are miniplug to PC-sync cords, so you’re good to go if you want to connect the Strato receivers to your speedlight flashes that way instead of using the hotshoe connections.
The Strato receivers feature DC-inputs, so you can power them without batteries in the studio, along with a 2.5mm microplug connection that’s used with the include shutter-release connector. The standard 10-pin shutter-release cable and the PC-sync cables feature threaded locking cuffs, which is a nice touch.
Test Button/Shutter Release
The controls on the Strato Multi units are pretty straight forward, but do feature a few changes from the last generation. Again, there is a big test button on the top of the units, though it isn’t labeled as such. Instead, there’s also a dedicated test button on the side of the units as well. Using either the top or side buttons on the transmitter units will fire the receivers. With the receivers, on the other hand, the top button only works when the unit is used as a shutter release.
While this redundancy seems a little strange, the benefit here is that the smaller test buttons on the sides of the units are much easier to press when you’re actually using the units attached to cameras and flashes. Conversely, when using the Strato Multi system as a shutter release system, the larger top-mounted buttons are easier to press. So, you have twice the buttons, but also a bit of flexibility in what interface is most comfortable to use as well.
The Strato Multi system allows for four channels, much like most comparable triggers. Again, the Strato features a simple four-channel slider selector on the receivers and transmitters. One thing that Phottix has done away with is the somewhat confusing “fire all channels” setting on the transmitters. Now, for better or for worse, all receivers and transmitters must be on the same channel to be used.
One new addition to the Strato Multi units is the feature of groups. Similarly to a wireless flash system from Nikon or Canon, one may now set receivers to a specific group – A, B, C, or D. The Strato Multi transmitter can then be set to fire any combination of groups.
The group selector on the Strato Multi transmitter is on the back of the unit, which makes it incredibly easy to change when needed. The switches are rubber soft-touch buttons, which are a nice touch that prevents accidental changes while they’re in your camera bag that would be easy with a hard switch.
With the previous generation of Stratos, the channel settings could be used as psuedo groups, but only to fire one channel at a time. This full grouping control of the new Strato Multis is a great improvement.
One small but welcome refinement is the inclusion of an on/off switch on the transmitters.
Previously, the receivers had this switch, but the transmitters lacked this control and simply had an auto shut off timer. While battery drain was never a problem, there was always the possibility that the test button on the transmitter could be depressed in one’s camera bag, resulting in battery drain.
A simple on/off switch on the new Strato Multi units fixes this.
The Strato Multi units live up to the excellent build quality of the Strato units. Again, we see a metal foot on the transmitter, metal 1/4″ threads on all units, and hard, impact-resistent plastic used throughout. You won’t find any creaking joints here.
Overall, the build quality is even better than that of the current Pocketwizard TTL units. The plastic feels more solid, the switches more secure, and the units simply more robust overall. All the switches on the transmitters feature positive detents at each position and seem solid.
That said, there are some differences in the fine details between the new Strato Multi and the old Strato units, which featured some of the very best build quality of any flash trigger we’ve reviewed.
One point of difference is the lock-down dials on the hotshoe feet of the new Multi triggers, which feature notches around the circumference as well as more widely spaced ridges compared to the old Stratos. Another change is the switches on the body, which are now larger and slightly ridged in contrast to the smaller white sliders used on the last generation of Stratos. Lastly, the plastic of the new Multi units feels very slightly less dense than that used on the old Stratos, which are heavier and slightly more solid feeling.
Given the choice, we prefer the locking dials, switches, and plastic of the previous Stratos to the new Multis, but this point must be made with the caveat that the new Strato Multi units are still extremely well made and more solid feeling than the new Pocketwizard triggers we’ve reviewed.
TTL Pass Through – An Explanation:
Just like the Strato, the Strato Multi trato, Phottix includes “TTL pass through” capabilities, which basically allows you to use a hotshoe flash on top of the Strato’s transmitter with full TTL capabilities. What does this feature mean for photographers? Flexibility and freedom.
Taking advantage of the TTL pass through of the Strato, you can use a hotshoe flash on-camera to provide fill, bounce, or use the flash’s AF-assist light. You can even put another brand of wireless flash trigger on the Strato transmitter’s hotshoe and trigger another set of remote flashes along with the Strato’s remotes.
In essence, what the Strato offers is all the features that you could use with your camera’s normal hotshoe – think of it as the world’s shortest TTL-sync cord.
For shooters using Nikon’s CLS (or Canon eTTL), you can use the TTL pass-through function as a way of combining CLS triggering with the 2.5GHz Strato triggering.
In this setup, you could use non-TTL flashes or strobes with the Stato receivers, while using a Nikon SB-900 or Nikon SU-800 as the commander on top of the Strato transmitter to control a second set of CLS-capable speedlights, all with the benefits of TTL and groups.
One has to keep in mind that in this setup, no CLS/eTTL data is being sent by the Strato transmitter – triggering with CLS/eTTL is still done via IR sent from the commander flash, so you’re not getting the same kind of TTL Frankenstein mix like you would with Pocketwizard FlexTT5 units.
Operation – Use As A Wireless Flash Trigger:
Unlike older flash triggers like Pocketwizard Plus II or other systems like Elinchrom Skyports or Paul C. Buff Cybersyncs, the Phottix Strato system is designed for small hotshoe flashes in mind, and connecting them to your flashes is as easy as sliding the units onto the receivers’ hotshoe. No messy PC-sync cords required.
Phottix accommodates studio strobes using the larger 1/4″ sockets with the included 1/8″-to-1/4″ adapter. Since Phottix includes just about every connector you could desire in the kit, you’re set to trigger anything from a humble Nikon SB-400 to Alien Bees to Profoto.
To use the Strato system, simply attach the transmitter to your camera’s hotshoe and then attach the receiver to your flash or strobe of choice. Thanks to the four-channel slider, setting the individual receivers is dead simple.
Similarly, groups are set on the receivers and controlled on the transmitter. The inclusion of groups in the Multi system is very welcome, as it allows for flexibility in lighting setups and very quick changes without having to manually set or turn off specific flashes in a setup.
Operation – Using Strato As Remote Release:
While most users will be using the wireless flash triggering function, the Phottix Strato Multi system doubles as a wireless shutter release. With the receiver plugged into the 10-pin shutter release socket of your camera, the transmitter’s main button acts as the shutter release, complete with half-press capabilities. Simple.
Reliability & Range:
In my testing, the Phottix Strato Multi achieved a reliable range of approximately 70-meters for consistent triggering. In the same testing conditions, I found that the previous generation of Strato achieved a slightly longer range of around 80-90 meters of consistent and reliable triggering. At closer distances, the performance was identical.
For most users and situations, the difference between the new Strato Multi and the old Strato is inconsequential. For both triggers, the performance at normal shooting distances is a non-issue and either may be recommended without reservation.
Flash Sync Speeds:
Below are three shots of the Phottix Strato Multi, shot at 1/250, 1/320, and 1/400, respectively, made with the Nikon D7000.
As you can see from the samples, the Strato Multi syncs perfectly at 1/250, and even acceptably at 1/320 for situations in which flash lighting is predominately in the top of the frame.
This test was repeated with the Nikon D700 with identical results.
One feature the Stratos boasts is the ability to “wake up” flashes that have gone into standby mode aafter inactivity. Most speedlights have a standby mode, which helps conserve power when the flashes are not in use, since active flashes are continually topping off the capacitor to be ready to deliver consistent output.
I use two Nikon Speedlights in my portable lighting kit – results with these flashes is below.
Nikon SB-900 Speedlight
As advertised, the Phottix Stratos do wake up the Nikon SB-900 speedlight when they’ve fallen into standby mode. This can be accomplished by a either the test button on the transmitter or by activating the camera’s shutter release while the transmitter is enabled on the hotshoe.
Nikon SB-600 Speedlight
In a change from the original Strato triggers, the new Strato Multi receivers do successfully wake up Nikon SB-600 units in testing. For anyone with these compact workhorses, the new Strato Multi triggers do offer this nice advantage over their predecessors.
One of the really excellent features of the new Strato Muli system is that it’s transmitters are backwards compatible with the previous generation of Stratos, which is great news considering how relatively popular those were.
The old Strato receivers can be used on the same 4-channel system of the Strato Multi’s. The only feature that doesn’t work is the groups – flashes connected to the old Strato receivers will fire regardless of the group setting on the Multi transmitter.
The old Strato transmitters, however, will not trigger the new Strato Multi receivers.
End Notes & Conclusion:
In case you just skipped here to the conclusion after skimming through the photos of the new Strato Multi triggers from Phottix, here’s a rundown of the key points:
- 4 selectable groups
- TTL pass-through
- Backwards compatibility with last-generation Stratos
- Reliable & 100% clean triggering at 1/250
- Great build quality
- Locking hotshoe pins
- Locking screw-down dials
- Receivers & transmitters use common AAA batteries
- Metal foot on transmitter
- Metal threaded socket on receivers
- Easy 4-position slider for channels (no dip switches)
- Standard mini-jack connections (no proprietary connectors)
- Cheaper than Pocketwizards, Elinchrom Skyports, Paul C. Buff Cybersyncs, etc.
- Plastic foot on receiver
- Slightly less range than last generation Strato triggers (as tested)
- Slightly less dense/rigid plastic used than last generation Strato triggers
The last generation of Phottix Strato were excellent triggers – they hit a fair price point with almost peerless build quality, innovative features (TTL pass-though) and the reliability of much more expensive triggers.
The new Strato Multi system takes these core attributes and adds user-selectable groups for even more flexibility, not to mention backward compatibility with the last generation of Phottix Strato receivers. All these features add up to a really solid triggering system that’s equally happy firing speedlights or studio strobes, all with the reliability professional shooting demands.
Where To Buy – Recommended Retailers
You can purchase the Phottix Strato Multi directly from the online Phottix Store:
- Phottix Strato II Multi
- Photix Strato
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Whether you’re buying a lens cap or your next DSLR upgrade, your support lets us bring you these in-depth reviews and photo features.