For some reason the whole idea of lighting strikes concerns in the hearts of photographers.  So, the concept of taking your flash off-camera makes a lot of photographers start to tread with trepidation.  Taking things to the n-th degree, now imagine introducing wireless triggers for your flashes when off-camera!  It’s pretty daunting for many, and I get tons of questions on what to do from Canonistas, Nikonians, Pentaxians and more!  Getting good results with off-camera lighting and using wireless triggers can be challenging for sure, but with the right understanding of the gear, and some of the basics of lighting, you can get great shots too!

Wireless Flash

After experimenting with my own sets of various wireless triggers, and the number of questions that have come out in this area, I’d like to set about de-mystifying the concept of wireless triggers.  In doing so, let’s separate for the moment the whole reason for removing flashes from your camera (better lighting, more control, etc.), and for introducing the wireless element (fewer cables to trip over, longer range, etc.)  Let’s instead start where most people like to start – talking about the gear!  There’s basically four competitors out there, and I’ll cover the nuts and bolts of each here:

PocketWizards

  • Link: Pocket Wizards at B&H Photo
  • Cost: $440.00 Set
  • Pros:  They just work.  These are the ones professionals use, and they do so for a reason.  You can even use them to trigger your camera!  Another plus is a long range and pretty sturdy!  Lastly, readily available through multiple vendors so warranty/worry-free
  • Cons:  Expensive and large.  At close to $450 for a pair (you have to have at least two), it’s nearly the cost of a flash!  When the accessories cost almost as much as the main gear you are trying to accessorize (the flash with a trigger), the cost is probably too high in my opinion.

CyberSyncs

  • Link: CyberSyncs from Paul C. Buff
  • Cost $270 ($180 and $90 for a transmitter/receiver set)
  • Pros:  Much more cost effective than the PocketWizards, and work with nearly the same durability, repeatability and range.  Not at the same level as PocketWizards, but for the price, this is one many enthusiasts look at seriously.
  • Cons:  Not as reliable, durable and extensive a range.  Paul C. Buff is considered to be reliable and I’ve heard good things about them, but let’s face it – they’re no B&H.

Radio Poppers

  • Link: Radio Popper Store
  • Cost: $170
  • Pros: Low cost of entry for the Jrx system, nice and compact system.
  • Cons: Batteries are unique size so getting replacements can be more expensive in the long run.  I could not get multiple flashes to fire from on-camera with any measure of repeatability.  Documentation on their website not as clear I would have hoped.

Generic Triggers*

  • Link: Varies
  • Cost Varies – from $20 to $100
  • Pros: Very low cost of entry, wide variety of vendors to choose from
  • Cons: Reliability and warrantability can be sketchy depending on which vendor you go with.  No surprise, you get what you pay for.  My first generic set were from Gadget Infinity for $20 and could not get them to work right with any regularity.  My most recent set, (branded by a friend under the heading of *Blackbelt Light) costs $75, and are very reliable.  I got one trigger and three receivers for $75 and they have worked flawlessly.  Likely out of warranty after 90 days though under most normal circumstances, and again, no B&H, but having friends in high places helps! 🙂

*****

So, there’s the nuts and bolts from the various wireless triggers out there, from generic to professional grade ones.  It’s worth noting that that one player is notably absent, that being the Elinchrom Skyport.  The reason I left this out is because initially they were available from B&H, but are now distributed by Manfrotto, and while I have no bias for or against either company, when a product shifts distribution channels, that in and of itself raises a flag in my eyes.  Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve not been able to test or know anyone who has tested them that I could get to give me feedback in time for this writing! 🙂

Perhaps the best part of all of this is that now you get a chance to share your own thoughts, questions, and comments on wireless triggers?  Do you have any of the above sets?  What are your own experiences with these?  What about the Elinchrom’s?  Anyone out there use them and care to share thoughts or experiences?

3 thoughts on “De-mystifying Wireless Flash Triggers

  1. A McColgan says:

    I have a set from cowboy studios, yea I paid about $ 20.00 but they work. I know they are no pocket wizard and you get what you pay for so I,m sure it’s a matter of time before they quit on me. The range Ouse is sort, maybe 15-20 feet I have not tried a longer range yet (only had them a few weeks). I want to get a better set, but don’t have the dough right now.

  2. Yongnuo triggers from China cost about $30 for a set of one trigger and one receiver. Works superbly for me for over a year now

  3. steve bryson says:

    I’ve been looking at wireless triggers and flash units over the last week or so.

    The Pocket Wizards are expensive and it irritates me that they aren’t supplied with a protective case. I believe, they are the only units that support high speed sync. The TT1 uses a hard to find battery (CR2450). When it died on a friends unit during a small shoot I tried several shops and it was 90mins before I found one and stocked up (leaving one left in the shop in case someone else had the same problem!). You can register a unique frequency on the units, no doubt for a small fee, so it doesn’t trigger anyone else’s or vice versa. I feel that the PW zone commander should be built into the TT1 unit, it’s so useful it’s actually a necessity to have one.

    I really like the Paul C Buff kit from reviews and specifications I’ve read about (you have to admit, this is geeky sexy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fU9LQ4jquc). If it supported high speed sync then that’s what I’d be going for. My problem is their UK pricing. For the Einstein 640 it’s £539/$850 but US price is £315/$499. I realise high UK customs and tax play a part here but this is a £224 addition on a £315 product. As much as I’d like to, I’m afraid I’d not buy anything as it would come with the feeling that I’d been ripped off a bit. This is probably more the UK’s fault than Paul C Buff.

    B&H incidentally, amazing store that’s seemingly closed for a good portion of the year. Makes it more impressive that it thrives let alone survives.

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