May 03, 2012

The Magic Of Pocket Wizards and Other Triggers

Using Radio Transmitters

Pocket Wizards can be used in a few different ways- as a remote, with speedlights, and  for firing strobes. They’ve worked much more effectively for me than Infrared remotes or cheaper versions and can send signals from up to half a mile away. Not to mention you usually only need 2 of them since strobes will optically slave, meaning you can use as many Lights as you want.


Episode Timeline

0:30- Explanation of radio transmitters

1:25- Why I switched from ebay triggers

2:22- Attaching to the camera and Lights

3:00- Testing our Light

4:40- Speedlights

5:20- Why you only need 2 of them

7:10- Using a transmitter as a remote

7:40- Trigger cables

8:55- Setting a chain with the camera, speedlight, and strobe

10:00- More expensive isn’t necessary

Question of the Day

What are you using? Have you had better luck with certain brands?

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    JC Solórzano Lara

    Hey Aaron… I do have a question…. I have a Canon 60D which can trigger a flash using the built-in flash…. how reliable is this method? It is an IR function? Please let me know what do you think :D… BTW… great video… 😉

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      Christopher Odd

      I can try to help you. The pop up flash is reliable if you’re not too far away and have a relatively open line of site. You can use a more powerful speed light on your camera to trigger flashes as well. Somebody who does this a lot is Joe McNally (Nikon shooter but principles are the same).

      It is not an IR function as the light is only firing in response to another burst of light.

      All things considered some pocket wizards or other cheap radio transmitters will reduce the amount of headaches you have 🙂

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        JC Solórzano Lara

         Hey Christopher, thanks for your comment.

        We had a Canon T1i and a Canon T2i and we upgraded to 60D and 7D and we had use this “feature” once and it worked amazingly. We do have what Aaron calls ebay triggers hehe, we’ve got cowboy studio NPT-04 triggers and receivers in case the popup flash doesn’t work and the’ve worked amazing for almost 2 years in a row.

        Thanks dude!


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          Tony Walls

           Another thing you might find limiting is that you can’t shoot above sync speed using this method.. So you’ll be limited to 1/250th of a second if you’re shooting out doors, that might be impossible unless you’re using a neutral density filter. A higher end canon speedlight will give you the ability to put it in High Speed Sync mode and you can shoot at any shutter speed. You’ll need a speedlight that is capable of sending a master signal (Canon 550 EX or Canon 580 EX or Canon 580 EX II, or the newer 600 EX) and then any other Canon speelight that can be put into slave mode. (the aforementioned flashes, as well as the 430 EX II) Hope this helps.. I personally use cybersyncs for my flash triggering and love everything about them except that they don’t have a dedicated on/off switch. The price is very reasonable as well.

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    Never had any issues with my cybersyncs…alot cheaper and smaller.

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    Ett Venter

    Aaron, I’ve got a Q for you too – I’ve seen some pros managing insanely high sync speeds. How do they manage this? I’m using the speedlights David Hobby recommends (LumoPro LP160), and I can pretty much only sync them at my camera’s “Auto FP” sync speed, which is 1/320. But I want to sync at 1/1000 or 1/2000. How could I pull this off?

    Thanks bro 🙂

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      James Brown

       This is a function called High Speed Sync. It is actually something that is built into the flash unit. Your LP160s do not have this option. What this does is instead of having the flash go off a single time when the shutter is pressed, it fires off a bunch of very quick bursts of light.

      The reason this allows you to use higher sync speeds is because the bursts of flash are able to expose the entire sensor as your front and rear curtain move over the sensor. I think Aaron has a Phlearn episode explaining this, but here is a good description:

      The upside to High Speed Sync is obvious, you get to use higher shutter speeds and can use smaller apertures in bright sunlight. The downfall (and it’s pretty major) is you lose power. So you’ll have to use quite a few speedlights to get the exposures you want using this feature.

      Hope this helps!

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          Eric Devir

          Some older DSLRs like the Nikon D40 had a hybrid electronic and mechanical shutter curtain which enabled it to reach 1/500th of a sec flash sync which was amazing.  Now Canon and Nikon seem to be using mechanical (read: slower) curtains now on most of their bodies.

          My D90 is advertised to reach 1/200th sync but about 50% of the time i catch the moving shutter in my frame at that speed.  I can only safely and reliably shoot at about 1/160th.Many medium format cameras have leaf shutters which can reach insanely high sync speeds of like 1/1600th of a sec without reverting to FP modes and wasting light power.  

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            James Brown

            Do you use radio triggers? If so, which ones? I’ve found with my D90 that I only get a 100% sync at 1/125th. I still notice a slight exposure difference on one side of the image when shooting at 1/160th. I use cheap radio triggers and wasn’t sure if it was the camera or the triggers that were the problem.

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            Eric Devir

            James–I use Pocket Wizards Plus 2 and can pretty reliably shoot at 1/160th.  Sometimes I catch a shutter but not often.

            It could be your triggers, but also every camera’s physical performace is going to be slightly different. 

            A good way to test it would be to sync your light with a sync cord and shoot at a number of shutter speeds up to the sync speed and then inspect the results.  That should give you a reliable clue as to your issue.

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    ePIC Charlotte

    This was right up my alley today. EXACTLY what I was just researching and trying to find clear information on for what I needed to work with the AlienBees B800 I just ordered. I just so happened to ADD over to FB and saw this update on Phlearn. Perfect. Thanks so much.

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    Ryan Weiss

    I have nothing but good things to say about my Paul C. Buff CyberSyncs. Through the last three years of heavy use they’ve never failed me and have rarely, if ever mis-fired or not fired at all. I’ve used them in pretty much every condition imaginable and I got my set of x1 Transmitter and x2 Receivers for $200 brand new. You can find some great used deals on them too!


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    Kristina B

    HELP ANYONE. I have a 550ex speedlite, and I have a small place to plug something in but it doesn’t look like where you would put a sync cord.  What do I  need to get to use the pocket wizards with my speedlite? My cheaper triggers had something I connected to the bottom of the flash.

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    Aaron, just received my new PW Plus lll’s  yesterday and they are amazing! They are completely compatible with the Plus ll’s and have newer technology and features added. The thing I like best is the internal antenna on the new models and lower cost of course ($139.00 from B&H).  Like yourself I’ve slowly built my collection of these babies over time.  Also, I’ve got several PB CyberSyncs and just got tired of so many misfires with them so they never get used anymore.

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    Nicolas Bernard

    I’m using the Cactus V5 (the transceiver) since more a year now and I never had any missfire, it’s always sync, with rain, fog, summer heat, winter cold, up to 100m, they seems really reliable to me, that was not the case with previous version.

    The V5 have a shutter release feature but you could not sync flash with the transceiver use as shutter release, you need one more, and that’s suck 🙂

    Thanks for your video.

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    Jorge Becker

    Just found these Terry Richardson photos of Kate Upton:

    I wonder how he managed to edit or capture these light strokes from above (picture 2).

    Thanks already

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    Philipp Blum

    I use the Yongnuo RF-602.. I wanted to have an off-camera flash trigger, but since I don’t use it that much I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. What I like about them is that they’re cheap and that they have a tripod connection so I can put my speedlight on a tripod/gorillapod etc. The build quality is not that good, but I didn’t expect more for the price. All in all, a good way to start and enough for me. 
    If I had more money I’d probably go with Pocketwizards, but then I’d need studiolights or 580EXs too, and honestly, it’s too expensive for what I would do with it.

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    John White

    I’ve been using this RPS Studio 3-in-1 trigger, and I LOVE it.  It does about everything you showed, but is a bit cheaper and hasn’t misfired for me yet.  Just something a little cheaper for anyone else looking around for some triggers.  It’s not as known as the Pocket Wizard, which is weird.  In regards to range, I shot at about 300 feet away with the antenna it has out all the way, and it still fired, then I have had it behind 2 walls and it worked great.  

     Like I said,  I LOVE THIS TRIGGER

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    Tim Piggott

    I have four Cactus V5s – the downside is you have to use them in manual mode, not TTL. But they are very reliable – I have never had a mis-fire – you can use them either to fire flashes, or as a remote trigger – (not worked out how to do both?!) And they are only £38 $60 (45 euros) for a PAIR!! Check them out here – postage to the UK was only 2-3 days!

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    Ian Norris

    Actually, my spare camera which is a Nikon D40, which is entry level, has a built in infra-red sensor and I have an infra-red shutter release gadget which was super cheap to fire the camera remotely.

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    Hi Aaron 

    great episode I love to watch these.. I love pocket wizards they changed my whole game and have never let me down. I use them with White Lightnings and Canon 580exii flashes. I tried the eBay junk as well and had nothing but problems. One question ?? Are those pickled eggs on that shelf lol>>

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    Not impressed with PW – had nothing but problems with them with Canon speedlites – many, many misfires / no fires – even up close. I had an outdoor camp shoot and they wouldn’t even fire behind / inside a tent….duh.    Solution:  Buy Pixel Kings (ETTL)  I can fire through walls, around brick walls, down the street with NO MISFIRES / NO FIRES ! — and at 1/3 of the cost of of a PW !  PLUS: you get a really nice nylon , zippered carrying case PLUS – really nice optional studio flash cords (1/4″ stereo jack or 1/8″ jack). I think PW is really going downhill – especially when it comes to the ETTL capabilities with Canon !  Anyway, that’s my input.

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    I do have and still use the cybersyncs. They are great and absolutely reliable. But I just bought the Pixel King, because on weddings, when flash to subject distance chances all the time, I shot ETTL. And I love the possibility to chance flash power of my Canon flashes / groups directly in camera. And I do love the highspeed option wireless 🙂 Of course, they work well with my AB1600, also in highspeed mode.

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    Sachin Myneni

    I’ve recently bought the Yonguo 622C. A couple will set you back about $85-$90.
    Pros: Much cheaper than PWs, TTL, High Speed Sync with compatible camera+flash,supports using the in-camera for wireless control of the remote flash, E-TTL passthrough (so I could add a flash on top of the transceiver which is on the camera hotshoe), 6 channels and 3 groups.
    Cons: Plasticy. No remote triggering of the camera. Annoying power save functionality that required me to “wake up the transceiver” even after a short pause.
    I am new to strobes but not necessarily to photography and wanted something not too expensive to be able to add to a growing number of flash units and expand. So far, I’ve been satisfied.