Okay, this is going to be a short review! It’s going to be a short review because the Phottix Ares really doesn’t do very much! But… what it does is absolutely essential to great photography, and it does one simple job very well.
The Phottix Ares wireless trigger system is a basic, entry-level, off-camera flash triggering system.
It is the simplest, easiest to use, no-frills flash trigger system on the market. Well, I say on the market, you can’t buy them that easily anymore, but I’ll get onto that later.
If you have started your journey towards becoming a professional photographer, or even towards becoming a better hobby photographer, then you either have already, or will very soon, become desperate to get that speedlight off your camera and onto a stand.
You can get very creative with your flashgun sitting in the hot shoe mount on top of your camera, you can find all sorts of walls and surfaces to point it at and bounce it off. You can even get an array of attachments to change the shape of the light coming from it. But while the position of that flashgun is limited to the top of your camera, so your creativity and ability to truly manipulate the lighting in your photography is also limited.
I became driven with an urge to move that flashgun off the top of my camera after about a year of serious photography. I think everyone starts out with natural light, and as a former TV cameraman my next stop was constant lights. Flash scared me, I didn’t understand it. But I buried myself in it, I learned what I needed to know… and what I learned was that I needed to get that flash away from the camera!
And the moment I got the necessary tools to get the flash off my camera, the quality of my work went through the roof.
How I found the Ares system
I started my journey with off-camera flash using a Canon ST-E2 infrared transmitter. It is the Canon own-brand transmitter that communicates directly to your Canon flashguns with no need for receivers, and is probably the piece of kit that almost anyone using a Canon Speedlite starts.
I am not going to say you shouldn’t go for a Canon ST-E2, but the line-of-sight thing is a major pain in the ass. I very often have flash heads positioned behind me, or hidden from view in the image by a wall or something.
The Phottix Ares off-camera flash trigger is my photography find of the decade. If you’ve read much of the rest of BudgetProPhoto you’ll know that I don’t really care about automation. I am not looking for a flash trigger that will communicate with my camera to automatically set flash power. You can get those, but they are a hell of a lot more expensive than these.
What the Phottix Ares does…
Here’s what the Phottix Ares wireless flash trigger system does:
When you press your shutter button with an Ares transmitter on top of your camera, the Ares transmitter sends a signal to the Ares receiver saying “NOW”.
That’s it. That’s all it does.
The Phottix Ares is simply a radio transmitter and receiver pair. It offers no further functionality than to transmit between camera and flash at the right moment.
They have a range of about 200m. They aren’t massively slowed down by walls or windows, fire reliably, every time, and instil enormous confidence for the photographer.
The battery life is amazing. On the few occasions I have changed batteries in the units that I have, I haven’t been 100% confident they actually needed changing. And that is even when a transmitter or receiver has been left in my photography bag switched on!
Here is my simple workflow… the transmitter goes on top of the camera, each receiver goes in between the flash unit and the stand. Switch both ends to ‘on’, and you’re all set.
Phoenix Ares – simplicity perfected
The Phottix Ares system does have one more function, it has eight different groups, or channels.
These are as simple as the rest of the system. The channel that the transmitter or receiver is on is highlighted on the side of the unit (channels 1 through to 8). You press one button to cycle through them. Make sure transmitter and receiver match, and are on the same channel, and the flash fires.
I confess I’ve never used this feature. But if I had to guess I would say that the main reason for this function is probably for interference. If you’re experiencing interference between transmitter and receiver, you can switch the frequency at which they talk to each other.
The only other possible use that I can think of is that you could have several flash units on one group, and other flash units on another group. But, as you can only transmit one simple signal – go or don’t go – and as the transmitter can only speak to one group at a time, I can’t see you ever really needing this.
Actually, thinking about it, I guess it would also help if you have several photographers in close proximity, all using the Phottix Ares system. Having each photographer working on a different channel would mean that you are not accidentally firing each other’s flashguns.
Phottix Ares pros and cons
The best thing about the Phottix Ares wireless flash trigger system is the price – less than $50 for a transmitter and receiver, about $30 for additional receivers.
At least that’s what it used to be.
Unfortunately Phottix have discontinued the Ares triggers. I have no idea why. Phottix Ares transmitters and receivers are still available to US customers though… and they’re still super cheap! Less than fifty bucks for the transmitter / receiver pair.
I also have no idea why they have made the Ares units incompatible with any other Phottix products.
They brought out an Ares II system last year but even that is not compatible with the original Ares. Phottix also have another system, the Strato system, similar functionality to the Ares, but alas zero backwards compatibility. Makes me wonder if there was a frequency issue with the original Ares. I’d be really interested to know the real reason, If anyone has that information!
So, unfortunately from me I am stuck using a system that I really like, but has been discontinued. Or fortunately perhaps… fortunate that I found it when there was still a chance to get it!
An archaic system… by why no replacement?
It is no real skin off my nose though, I have enough units to keep me ticking over. I think I now have three transmitters and possibly 11 or 12 receivers. I also have an alert set up on eBay so that if any more triggers come on the market I will be notified. Apologies if any of you have been attempting to buy Phottix Ares triggers or receivers on eBay recently, and finding them all being snapped up. That would be me.
I believe you can still buy the Phottix Ares triggers and receivers in the US. Again I don’t know why this might be, although I suspect if they are available in the US, and not in the UK, then it is likely to do with this with radio frequencies, and/or changes in regulation around that area.
Because I am such a huge fan of the Phottix Ares system, I have every reason to believe that the Phottix Ares II, and Phottix Strato are just as good. You can get both of those both in the US and in the UK, and they are still being manufactured.
Simple is best
As a sidenote, what’s most interesting about this Phottix Ares system, and most interesting about why I like it so much, is its simplicity. Sure, it would be nice if I could change the power of my flash heads without leaving the back of my camera, but I’m pushing 40, I am not getting any slimmer… I could do with the walking!
Besides, a flash trigger and receiver system offering that kind of functionality is so much more expensive, it is not even in the same ballpark. To take a common example – the PocketWizard wireless trigger system. So I told you earlier that I had three transmitters and 12 receivers in the Phottix Ares system. These aren’t all just for redundancy. I actually own nine Canon flashguns and two Yongnuo speedlights.
In order to have the same number units of the PocketWizard alternatives (simple PocketWizard transceivers are the PocketWizard Plus III… it would cost me £128 x 15 = £1,920 ($2,506)
Amassing this collection of triggers and receivers has set me back roughly £250 ($325).
Now that’s a saving I can live with.
Phottix are one of our favourite low-cost photography kit manufacturers, they’re not strictly low-cost, and they don’t fall right into the same bracket as say Neewer, but their kit is top quality and affordable. Check them our here – www.phottix.com
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