FAQ:How should I trigger my flashes?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Village Idiot, Mar 26, 2008.

  1. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    OK, so you want to start learning about off camera lighting but don't want to spend $1000 on a pair of studio lights and the equipment you need to fire them? Here's a quick run down of alternative options.

    Proprietary Camera Systems:
    Proprietary camera systems are systems that do not require 3rd party devices to trigger flashes off camera. These systems are like Nikon’s CLS system and Canon’s wireless system. The benefit of a proprietary system is that it allows you to still retain TTL function for your flashes.

    What could be considered a con is that certain proprietary systems will require a master flash on the camera or a separately sold transmitter to fire the remote units. The proprietary systems are also based off of using light to trigger the remote units and can have decreased range and reliability out side. Light will also not pass through walls.

    These systems generally require you to have at least two speed lights of the brand of camera you’re using and can get expensive in comparison. Canon’s system would require an investment of at least $650 for a 580EX II and a 430EX. I’m not the most familiar person with these systems so I won’t go into detail for fear of providing bad information.

    Optical Slaves:
    Optical slaves are units that allow you to trigger multiple lights with one flash. The upside to an optical slave is that they are generally cheap. They can be extremely reliable when not used outside of their limits and can provide a good setup for a beginner to play around with. The down side to an optical slave is that the limits for reliable triggering are greatly affected in sunlight. It can interfere with the optical slave’s ability to “see” the flash that is triggering them and will stop it from triggering. For these you can use the camera’s pop up flash (provided it has one) to trigger the units. This method will not allow you to use the TTL functions of a flash.

    Sync Cables:
    This triggering method involves a cable ran from the camera’s sync point to the flash’s sync port. This can be the most reliable method for triggering. Some people state that it’ not due to shoddy port connections, but there are options out there to fix this. A sync cable will still allow you to retain TTL functions and splitters can be used to fire multiple flashes.

    Radio Triggers:
    My personal bias lies with this triggering method. Radio triggers work by attaching a transmitter to the camera via hot shoe or sync port that sends a signal to a receiver that tells the flash to fire. Radio triggers will not allow the flash to work in TTL mode and will only allow manual mode. Since there are so many different types of triggers on the market, the pros and cons can vary widely for these units. I’ll start with the three most popular.

    Pocket Wizards:
    Pocket Wizards are the industry standards and on of the most expensive options out there. They advertise a 1600’ maximum range. They run about $185 for a Plus II unit. The PII units are transceivers which mean they can transmit and receive. The same unit you use on your camera can also be used with a flash. The can attach to the camera via the hot shoe mount or with a sync cable. The PII’s use a standard AA battery with is also considered a pro when considering these units. PW PII’s just allow for firing a flash manually on one of four channels. The PII’s can also be used to fire a camera remotely.

    With Pocket Wizard currently being the industry standard in radio triggering units, you can buy products from additional companies that are compatible with them. Sekonic, a manufacture of light meters, makes units that will fire a PW so you can meter your subject without the use of additional cables or an assistant.

    Elinchrom Skyport:
    The Elinchrom Skyport system is a cheaper reliable alternative to the Pocket Wizards. Their website states up to 120m (393.7’) range. From all the people I have seen or read about that use these, they are generally considered just as reliable as the Pocket Wizards. They cost about $185 for a package that includes a transmitter and receiver, which is half the price of the Pocket Wizards. They can connect to the camera via a hot shoe or sync cable. The Skyports have an internal rechargeable battery. This is sometimes considered a negative for the unit as it makes it a lot harder to shoot if a unit would happen to die in the middle of a session. Generally though, most people charge all their batteries prior to shooting and this isn’t a huge concern.

    Lately I’ve been recommending these to people that are looking for a very reliable and some what cheaper trigger solution. I own the pocket wizards and enjoy them very much, but they’re expensive and not always something a person can afford. Enough Pocket Wizards to fire three remote flashes are $752 as opposed to $385 for the Skyports.

    Cactus V2S/Ebay triggers:
    These are all generally the same. They have a transmitter that connects to the camera via hot shot and a receiver that has a hot shoe for your flash to sit in. These are some of the cheapest trigger options starting at $30 for one transmitter and one receiver. These are also considered very spotty on quality and reliability. Some users claim that they’ve been 100% reliable while others have stories of DOA units, units that will randomly trigger, and units that will randomly not trigger. The advertised range is generally 15m or about 30’. These units generally use a CR2 battery which is considered a huge negative for the unit. CR2’s are expensive, sometimes costing as much at $7 a piece at your local store. Also it is generally accepted that one must replace the batteries that come with it when they first use the units to make sure that they are working correctly.

    Their saving grace for these lie with the DIY crowd. There are mods that help with range, reliability, and batteries. One mod shows how to attach an antenna with a matching frequency that allows for greater range and firing reliability. Another shows how to attach an external battery pack that allows the use of a much less expensive standard AAA battery.

    Hybrid Radio/TTL Triggers
    Currently the only one to be available shortly is the Radio Poppers. They are radio remotes that receive a signal from the Camera's proprietary TTL system, translate it to radio, send it to a receiver that decodes the radio signal back to the TTL signal, and sends it to the flash to fire it. The benefits of this system are that it allows for greater reliability of TTL usage out doors and an extended range. I believe their site claims 2000'. They also allow the use of high speed sync. Cost could possibly be seen as a negative depending on the individual. You need a unit for each flash. You also need the ST-E2 or a 580EX II on a Canon camera as well as the units to fire them. All flashes must be TTL enabled and be a proprietary flash unit for each brand. i.e.: Using a Vivtar flash with a Canon setup would not work. The obvious pro? TTL anywhere for those that wish to use them.

    Articles of test on the units show them to be reliable so far. My personal opinion on the matter is that unless there's some big design flaw, these units will probably prove as reliable as the Pocket Wizards and Elinchrom units.

    General Radio Trigger Con:
    This is important to bring up. Maximum stated ranges for radio triggers mean that they have a clear path of travel with no interference. Interference can reduce the effective range to less than five feet; this is an extreme example. Generally, you should be able to use them without much worry unless you're shooting around or through things that absorb or reflect radio waves.

    As an example, I was firing into an old metal industrial washing machine with the flash about five feet in front of me. Without carefully positioning the receiver, the unit would not fire.

    [​IMG]

     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    One more thing. There is a new product, the Radio Popper...which can give you the best of both radio triggering and proprietary camera systems. It's a piggyback system that transmits the camera/flash signal via radio waves.

    You do need to have both master and slave units, and then add radio poppers to that...so it's not a cheap option....but for some people, it's a great solution.

    On big plus is that you can use E-TTL with the range and reliability of radio...but you can also use features like high speed sync...which you can not do with radio triggers.

    To be fair, this is a very new product and hasn't really be tested by the general public yet.

    Also, there are rumors of a Radio Popper Jr....which will be a radio trigger only. The rumor is that they will be very competively priced.
     
  3. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Outro:
    Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. In fact, a recent post is why I considered typing this up. Some one answered the question “What do I gain by using a radio trigger over Nikon’s CLS system”, with “Nothing.”

    Some people consider TTL to be the best solution for using a flash, period. Some people will debate that manually setting flash power provides a consistent and predictable result. Thos are topics for another debate but show why one system isn’t the perfect system.

    So in closing, if you’re curious about lighting, with a $80 Sunpak 383, a $35 light stand, a $20 umbrella, and a $30 set of triggers, you can start using off camera flash for as little as $165.


    Thanks to www.strobist.com for getting me up and moving on this whole lighting thing way back when. Take some time to visit the blog for a complete run down of tips, tricks, and techniques for being able to light for as cheaply as possible.
     
  4. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    From what I hear, they (Radio Poppers)should be avaliable to the public very soon. I know that some people have them already and certain groups are getting the first orders.

    If someone reading this is considering what to buy, I think it's still it would be good to know about them.

    Yes, the RP Jr. is still a distant rumor...so we can't really know anything about them for sure.

    Of course, this is a fledgling company, so who knows what will become of their products. I'm mostly excited about what it can do to the market as a whole. Maybe this will force other companies (Pocket Wizard) to be more competitive.
     
  5. Stranger

    Stranger TPF Noob!

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    Awesome. I am in this very boat and this has made up my mind on what i am going to buy! (skyports)
     
  6. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Another product is the Calumet LiteLink. I've heard that they are not as 'good' as Pocket Wizards...but they have a neat feature where you can isolate which channel that you fire, or fire them all. So you could have multiple flashes set up, then choose which channel/flash you want to fire without having to manual change anything at the flash/receiver.
     
  7. Socrates

    Socrates TPF Noob!

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    With Nikon's system, you need the flash for the "pre-flash" firing but there is no reason for the flash to fire for the shot.
     
  8. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Same with Canon. You can set the master to not fire (or use the ST-E2).
     
  9. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    But with the CLS system you either have to have a camera with commander mode or a flash that acts as a master on the camera? Like could you fire two SB600's with the D300 without having an SB800 on the camera? Or if you're using a D40, you'd need an SB800 on the camera to fire the remote flashes.
     
  10. Stranger

    Stranger TPF Noob!

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    I actually believe you could fire two sb-600s with the nikon without the SB-800 attached... I can fire one no problem (D200), not sure why a 2nd would cause an issue
     
  11. MarcusM

    MarcusM TPF Noob!

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    This is a great reference, thanks Village Idiot. (feel kinda weird calling you an idiot, lol:er:)

    I have started to acquire my lighting system. My first step was just getting an external flash (430EX). I still have to learn this. I have been going to strobist.com a lot also.

    I am going to copy and paste your post in my own files to refer to to help me decide my next lighting purchase.

    Thanks.
     
  12. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I'm under the impression that you can only do it with certain Nikons. Like the D40 and D60's don't have a commander mode? Is it you have to at least have a d80?
     

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