Product review: Paul C. Buff CyberSense wireless controller

The purpose of automating any process is to be more productive, save money, reduce errors, make better products, or some combination of these things. Automation can make complex chores easier, or it can come with its own complex workflow. We seek to make technology do our bidding, but often the reverse is true, and we find ourselves having to create elaborate workarounds to address a technology’s constraints.

Mercifully, the recently introduced Paul C. Buff CyberSense radio remote uses technology that works with photographers. It’s a simple wireless controller, useful for adjusting flash and modeling light power levels for single or multiple Paul C. Buff monolights in up to four channel groups.

Each monolight needs to be equipped with an appropriate receiver—CyberSync Transceiver for the Einstein and DigiBee series, CyberSync Receiver for the AlienBees and White Lightning series—and a transmitter for your camera. That’s right: This is not a controller-transmitter combination like the more expensive and much more sophisticated Cyber Commander transceiver or the simple CyberSync Trigger Transmitter 2. The Buff remote system has 16 frequencies in the 2.4Ghz band, and the CyberSense allows you to group as many lights as you’d like into each of four discrete channels for your chosen frequency. The process is simple: Mastering the CyberSense will take as much time as reading this review.

The CyberSense is about the size and shape of a standard smartphone. Like most smart remotes, its function eliminates the distraction of having to touch each light to dial in changes. That’s especially important if the light is up high on a boom or otherwise not easily accessible. At the top of the remote’s front panel is an easy-to-read blue-on-black alphanumeric LCD status screen. Immediately below the screen are three buttons for changing functions, and below the buttons are four touch-sensitive sliders, one for each channel. The CyberSense has a claimed 300-foot range. Two AAA batteries provide power. A standard 3.5mm port accepts a mini-phone sync cable if you don’t have a CyberSync Transmitter for your camera, but there’s no direct hot shoe connection, and the range is a little less than that of the CyberSync Trigger Transmitter 2.

Setting up the CyberSense is easy. Turn it on by pressing any button and then press the right button to go into setup mode. Use the left button to choose the frequency (1 to 16), then press the right button again to lock in the frequency. To connect the CyberSense, set the channel (1 to 4) on the individual Einstein or DigiBee, or on their CyberSync Receivers for White Lighting and AlienBees monolights. Touch and hold the CyberSense’s slider for that channel (1 to 4) for two seconds to establish the connection. You’re ready to control your lighting setup remotely.

There are three control modes: one for flash output and two for the modeling light. Flash energy is controlled in tenth-stop increments by sliding your finger up and down the slider for a channel.

If you want to put a channel’s lights into or out of standby mode, double tap the slider twice. Putting one or more channels into standby is for isolating the effect of one or more channels’ lights or the ambient light. The first modeling control chooses mode: Track, Adjust, Full, and Off. Full and Off are self explanatory; Track matches modeling light brightness to flash power, and Adjust uncouples the modeling light brightness from flash.

I usually just leave my modeling lights at full power. I don’t think you really can use ratioed modeling lights to judge lighting effects if each light has a different modifier or is at a different distance to the subject, but if that works for you, choose Track. The second modeling light mode, Adjust, allows you to set the modeling light brightness to any level you wish. While it’s in Adjust mode, you can double-tap a channel’s slider to turn its modeling light off or back on. Off should be used if you’re using a battery like the Vagabond Mini or Extreme Lithium as a power source.

Paul C. Buff classifies the CyberSense as an intermediate remote control system. The more expensive CyberCommander offers more advanced features, including a built-in flash meter, 16 channels (instead of 4) per frequency, and memory for up to 50 different complex lighting setups. It also serves as a self-contained controller-trigger combination, all of which makes it a killer tool for complex studio work. For the corporate, industrial, straightforward on-location portrait work, and corporate event work I specialize in, the $79.95 CyberSense just makes sense.  

Ellis Vener is a contributing editor to Professional Photographer.