Cactus, Trigger, Zebra, Oh My!

Remember the old game of password where you said a related word to one on your card to get your partner to guess it?  Well, here goes:  What do the words cactus, trigger, and zebra all have in common?  If you answered “flash photography” you’d be right!  As you may have realized, that does mean that the podcast will not come out today – I simply didn’t have time to get all my thoughts and notes together.  So instead, here’s a review of sorts that I did just earlier this evening.

A while back I decided to ditch the Canon ST-E2 wireless trigger for a number of reasons – those being:

  1. It relied on line-of-sight
  2. It didn’t have a very good range
  3. It wouldn’t work with non-Canon gear

I, like many others, have been salivating over the new developments in radio trigger technology.  And, at my last job, I had access to multiple lights, strobes, and such for experimentation.  So, in order to do said experimentation, I decided to invest in some Cactus Triggers that I purchased off an online web vendor (I forget the vendor off the top of my head – search the archives and I am sure it’s there…).  Much to my chagrin though, it would not work with my Canon 550EX flash.  So, when I left my previous job, it was back to the ST-E2.  In order to spur some motivation to invest in some more serious lighting gear on my own, I decided to sell the ST-E2 to fund the purchase of some Cyber Syncs.

Long story short, I ended up with no off-camera method to trigger my one flash unit.  So, I was back on-camera.  Needless to say, ambient light photography was a large focus for that time period.  Well, after the economy stabilized a little for the household with my state job, I decided to invest in the Cyber Syncs – but as a measure of insurance, wanted to make sure the devices would work in my 550EX (the 550EX does not have a sync port).  So, a quick email to them revealed that a neat little device from the folks over at Flash Zebra would make the Cyber Syncs compatible.  A mere $14 later and the device arrived late last week (while I was in SC).  So, next month the Cyber Syncs will be making their way to my doorstep.

In the meantime, I have these Cactus triggers, and I thought with the inclusion of a sync port, perhaps I could jerry-rig something together.  With the sync port going out to what looks to be an RC-mini, and the receiver also going out to an RC-mini, I needed a way to join two RC-mini’s together.  A quick dig through my various buckets of cables and connectors revealed a dual mini that is normally used to connect to headphones to a single audio.  Worth a shot, since it’s only about $50 total invested.  I connected everything together to get this:


On your left is the trigger that came from Cactus, to the RC male.  A reducer on that took it to an RC-mini male.  In the center is the well-hidden PC-sync device that came from Flash Zebra.  (For a better picture, see below…)  A female sync port on that was able to connect to the male sync port that was included with my Cactus gear.  That also went to an RC-mini male.  These are both connected on the right to the y-connector that you would typically see two headsets connect to the same audio source.  The technology is the same, so it’s worth a shot right?  (No pun intended…)

I fired off a test shot from the 40D and it worked!  So, how well would it work?  What kind of reliability would there be?  I took the flash into the next room and fired the trigger from a further distance away…about 20 feet.  Flash!  Then I took the trigger around the corner and fired it.  Flash!  How cool is that?  Another set of tests was needed.  One where radio waves wouldn’t bounce all over the place – outside!  If you recall, I interviewed Scott Eccleston from Weekly Photo Tips a while back, and a recent post of his armed me with a good testing method of the Cactus triggers.  Armed with the inspiration of this video, I enlisted the aid of my wife and took to the great outdoors.

I began with a fresh set of batteries in both the trigger and receiver, as well as the flash.  Starting from ten steps away from the flash, I tripped the shutter – flash!  Twenty paces – flash!  Thirty paces – flash!  Fourty paces – nada.  Hmmm…tried again – nada.  So, I moved back to 35 paces – still nada.  A couple steps closer and it flashed again.  About four more tests at this distance and I had 100% flash rate.  Starting back to my wife, I counted the paces, 1-2-3… all the way to 33 paces.  At an average gait of 3 feet per pace, that’s an outside range of 99 feet!  Considerably better than the ST-E2 and at a third of the price!

For posterity’ sake, and since I am in a very casual way reviewing the PC-sync adaptor from Flash Zebra, here’s a better shot of just that device.


Also for posterity sake, here’s a view of the trigger that attached to the hot shoe of the 550EX:


Cactus Confusion

Well, I finally got the Cactus gear that I ordered online at GadgetInfinity last week.  I had ordered their wireless trigger/receiver combo set and an extra receiver for the purpose of getting two lights to fire.  I excitedly opened all the packaging and unwrapped it all, then – stop, hold the phones, and check this out – I read the directions!

Yes, that’s right, an admitted geek read directions to make sure I utilize them right.  After reading about these kinds of things on David Hobby’s Strobist site and over on the Flickr Colorado Strobist site, I wanted to make sure I don’t accidentally fry either my precious 40D or the cheapo 550EX because of improper usage.

Well, after reading through the massive 1/4 page sheet of instructions, I was confused so I sorted back through the gear and here’s what I have:

Cactus Gear

Cactus Gear

Cactus Gear

So, I am not sure what the one cable is for on the right of the trigger (transmitter).  Is that supposed to plug into the transmitter, or the transceiver?  If you look at the back of the transceiver, there’s a funky little plug there that looks as if it is made to accept the one female end to that spare cable.  Meanwhile, the other end looks to be another RCA mini, and the side receptacle on the transmitter is built to take an RCA mini.  Not sure I understand why, as the trigger would normally be connected to the hot shoe of your flash.

Finally, it looks as though in order to get these triggers to work with a Canon 550EX, I would need an adaptor cable of sorts that would change an RCA mini to a female version of that three-prong set on the 550.  Any ideas from those out in the blogosphere?

Lest I forget you, dear readers, here’s a brief bout of humor courtesy of What the Duck:


Don’t get too hyped up on sugar – you’ll get camera shake!  Happy shooting all and we’ll see you back here on Monday!  Thanks in advance to anyone willing to help me sort out this wireless trigger confusion! 🙂