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Phottix Cleon Wireless/Wired Remote

If you've been reading my website for any time at all, you probably know that I shoot as many shots as I can using a cable release with the camera firmly atop a tripod. Wide angle and fisheye lenses though can make getting out of the way difficult when I'm tethered to the end of my remote control cable so I've always considered getting a wireless remote. I think I've finally found one I like.

Nikon does make a wireless remote for their cameras that use 10-pin remotes, the ML-3 "Modulite." But I've been more than a bit baffled why it costs ten times as much as the similar ML-L3 for consumer cameras such as the D70, D80 and some CoolPix models. Both communicate via infrared too rather than radio frequency so they are limited to line of sight operation. That makes either of quite limited use for what I shoot and at the price Nikon charges for the ML-3 I've never been able to justify getting one.

Enter the Phottix Cleon.

Sold on eBay by a company out of Hong Kong, it sells for less than the standard wired Nikon remote, the MC-30 yet provides both wired and wireless functionality. And that's radio frequency (RF) wireless not the annoying infrared (IR) wireless supported by Nikon's ML-3.

The Cleon consists of two parts, the transmitter and the receiver. The receiver plugs into your camera and can be used stand-alone as a wired remote. Coupled with the transmitter it becomes a very capable RF wireless remote. Phottix makes the Cleon to fit a wide variety of camera makes and models. For the Nikon D300 and similar bodies that use 10-pin remote accessories you'll want the Cleon N-8. Each version is identical except for the plug that connects it to your camera.

Phottix Cleon packaging, direct from Hong KongMy Cleon took just over a week to arrive from Hong Kong and got delivered by the Post Office along with the regular mail. It came in a very unassuming brown paper envelope with no padding to protect the contents but Cleon retail box inside and the remote itself were completely undamaged so my initial concerned was unwarranted.

Opening the package, I found that the only instructions it came with were those printed on the back and sides of the box holding the Cleon. Everything is printed in English, but I could tell that English was not the author's primary language. Step one of the "Notice to Usage" for instance informed me that I should "turn off the power to the camera before insert the remote cord." Clear enough, even if not entirely correct grammatically. Given that most folks know what a cable release is for, the instructions modestly humorous, but not a limiting factor in any way.

As mentioned, the receiver connects to your camera with the appropriate cable for your camera model. In my case, that's the standard Nikon 10-pin connector. The plug seems to be quite close in quality to a true Nikon plug so wherever Phottix gets their parts from you can tell they didn't skimp. The cable itself is a thinner gauge outer jacket than Nikon uses but seems adequate to the task at hand. I do worry slightly how it will hold up over time but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Especially for the price, I don't doubt that I'll get my money's worth out if the Cleon long before it wears out.

Nikon's cable for the MC-30 is one big long straight affair that is far too long for general use while at the same time not long enough for some shots. Back in the days of the 4-pin MC-20 I used to carry two remotes, one the standard length MC-20, and one I had shorted myself to only nine inches. I've never cut down an MC-30 since cramming ten pins into the space that used to hold just four makes the connections somewhat beyond my comfort range for soldering. Instead I've always just doubled up most of the cord length and held it together with a Velcro cable wrap. Gotta love Velcro. Phottix's solution to the length dilemma is to us a coiled cord similar to a standard old-fashioned phone cord. Fully retracted, the Cleon's cord is about ten inches long. At maximum extension it stretches to well over a yard long.

Used as just a wired remote, all you need is the receiver part. The push button on the receiver works just as the shutter release button on the camera itself does, which is also the same as does the button on the Nikon MC-30 release cable. Press it half way and the meter comes on and the camera starts to focus. Press it all the way and the shutter releases to take the picture. While the Cleon comes with a CR2 lithium battery for the receiver, you don't need it to function as a wired remote.

When you do need wireless capability, you'll need to turn on both the receiver and the transmitter unit. The battery comes already inside the transmitter and is rated to last up to three years. If you do need to replace it, you'll need a small screwdriver to remove the bottom cover. Inside, it takes a 23AE 12-volt alkaline battery. I'm not a huge fan of having so many different kinds of batteries out there these days, but I guess that's progress.

The Phottix Cleon receiver is about the same size as the Nikon MC-30 remote
The Phottix Cleon receiver is about the same size as
the Nikon MC-30 remote
The Phottix Cleon receiver and transmitter (with antenna extended)
The Phottix Cleon receiver and transmitter (with antenna extended)

Both transmitter and receiver have a row of four tiny switches on them to enable you to select any of 16 channels to avoid interference with other Cleon users by setting them differently or to fire multiple cameras via a single remote by setting them to the same channel. A Cleon receiver must be set to the same channel as a Cleon transmitter for them to communicate. All Cleon's operate at 315 MHz which thankfully avoids the glut of devices that all feel the 2.4 GHz range it the way to go. In use so far, the 315 MHz band works reasonably well over distance and seems not to have a problem with a modest amount of objects in the way. Phottix claims a range of up to 100 meters with clear line of site, something I haven't tested but I can attest to its ability to work reliably as much as fifty feet away with plenty of trees and rock obstructing it. I haven't tried it further away than that as I haven't needed to. The antenna on the transmitter retracts completely for close range use and I rarely need to pull it out at all for it to work.

When using the Cleon wirelessly you can attach the receiver unit to the top of your camera via the flash shoe. I like the convenience of this but wish that makers of products that have a hot shoe foot on the bottom would provide a shoe mount socket on the top so I can still mount my double bubble level to keep the horizon straight. It doesn't have to pass electrical signals; just give me my socket back please. This isn't a major problem of course since I can always take the Phottix out when composing but it would be great not to have to.

A switch on the receiver enables you to set the Cleon into two special modes in addition to the standard On/Off positions. The "2s" position stands for "2 seconds" and will cause the receiver not to fire the shutter release until two seconds after it gets the signal to from the transmitter. There's also a "B" setting for "Bulb" that works together with the Bulb shutter speed setting on your camera to take long exposures as a wired remote (receiver only) With your camera set to Bulb, switching the Cleon to B will fire the shutter. It will stay open until you move the receiver switch off of B. For wireless Bulb shooting, just put the camera on Bulb and leave the Cleon receiver in either standard On or 2s modes. Now fire the camera by pressing the Cleon transmitter button but continue holding it down for at least three seconds. The red status LED on the transmitter will go out when it's OK to release the button. The shutter will now stay open until you now press the transmitter button halfway.

The bottom line is that the Phottix Cleon is a great product and I recommend it. HK Supplies, the seller, has over 72,000 positive feedback points on eBay so you should be able to shop with confidence. I have read some stories of quality control issues and customers getting the wrong item but with 99.6 percent positive feedback they must be doing something right. I'm very satisfied with mine. My trusty MC-30 can now get a well deserved retirement.

Date posted: November 9, 2008


Copyright © 2008 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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