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A Guide to Wireless Flash Triggers

A complementary supplement to "Trigger Happy," our July issue technical breakdown of optical and radio flash triggers

By Stan Sholik

It’s a daunting task to sort through and evaluate the more than 60 models of wireless triggers for electronic flash that currently exist on the market. Despite the large number, they all can be categorized into one of two types: optical triggers or radio frequency triggers. Each has advantages and disadvantages. The majority are radio frequency based. Still, there is no shortage of optical triggers available. Prices quoted are approximate street prices.

Speedlight and hot shoe TTL optical flash triggers

Both Canon and Nikon offer powerful speedlights and non-speedlight hot shoe IR triggers. From Canon the Speedlite 430EX II ($259) and Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 ($220) provide these capabilities. Comparable Nikon offerings are the SB-910 AF Speedlight ($550) and the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander ($250). Other camera manufacturers offer similar models for their cameras.

There are also speedlights with built-in IR wireless capabilities from third party manufacturers for Canon and Nikon bodies. Examples of these would be Metz mecablitz AF 44-1 ($190) and the Sigma EF-610 DG Super Flash ($135).

Non-TTL hot shoe trigger

If your need is for a simple IR trigger for studio flash units with optical slaves, the Wein Sync-Link Universal IR Flash Trigger ($70) may fit your needs. It will also trigger remote speedlights, but does not provide TTL exposure capability.

For Broncolor users, the IRX-2 transmitter ($530) attaches to the camera hotshoe and triggers Broncolor packs, including the Minipuls C, with built-in IR slaves.

Basic radio triggers

Basic radio triggers do not provide TTL exposure control, but can trigger both speedlights and studio flash. The RadioPopper Nano System that operates on four channels consists of two separate units, the Nano transmitter ($70) and the Nano receiver ($70). The system is compatible with other RadioPopper speedlight triggers as well as non-speedlight flash units. The PocketWizard PlusX ($99) is a transceiver capable of operating on 10 channels. 

Radio triggers with separate zones

By assigning remote flash units to separate zones you can test the output of each zone to ensure it is firing, and turn off zones to quickly change the lighting. With the PocketWizard Plus III Transceiver ($150) you can manage four zones, but without TTL capability. The PocketWizard MultiMax 32 Channel Transceiver ($295) also provides this capability along with other advanced capabilities.

TTL radio triggers with separate zones

The ability to assign remote flash units to separate zones gives you the capability to set and adjust light levels in each zone independently of other zones. The speedlights mentioned above provide this capability with IR signals. The PocketWizard FlexTT5 Transceiver ($220) with the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller ($80) provides this capability with radio signals.

The Quantum Instruments FreeXwire Radio TTL system separately controls several zones of flash, giving you control of flash exposure ratios from each.  Various FreeXwire components coordinate wireless TTL exposures with Qflash 5, Trio, Pilot, CoPilot, and even Nikon and Canon speedlights. The FreeXwire FW89 Transmitter/Receiver Set ($390) provides eight independent channels and, with the appropriate set of accessories, full TTL exposure control with Quantum flashes as well as speedlights.

Hybrid radio trigger

The RadioPopper PX system consists of a separate transmitter and receiver for Nikon and Canon speedlights and provides wireless radio TTL exposure control. The transmitter ($190) attaches to an on-camera speedlight or hot shoe IR transmitter and converts the IR signal from the unit to a radio signal that it transmits to the receiver attached to a remote speedlight. The receiver ($190) converts the radio signal back to an IR signal to trigger the remote flash.

Semi-proprietary and proprietary radio triggers

A trigger system such as the Elinchrom EL-Skyport Trigger Set ($305) consisting of a transmitter and two receivers is semi-proprietary. Used with select Elinchrom flash units you can change the flash output and control the modeling light and flash synchronization from the on-camera transmitter. With an appropriate flash cable you can also use the Skyport to trigger non-Elinchrom flash units attached to the receivers.

The Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander ($180) is the transmitter for another semi-proprietary radio trigger system. The Cyber Commander controls up to 16 lights on 16 channels. The transmitter controls all of the Paul C. Buff flashes as well as speedlights and flash units from other manufacturers. Each remote unit must be connected to a Paul C. Buff receiver ($90).

A system such as the Profoto Air Remote Transceiver ($300) is proprietary to Profoto Pro-8AAir packs and D-1 Air monoblocs. You can use it to control power and modeling light output of the Profoto flash units. Used in conjunction with the Air Sync Transceiver ($225), the Air Remote can trigger non-Profoto packs. The new Air Remote TTL transmitter ($395), for Canon at present but with a Nikon unit available soon, provides TTL exposure when triggering Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash units.

Broncolor offers a similar system. The Broncolor RFS 2.1 transmitter ($167) provides wireless triggering and power output control of Broncolor Senso and Move as well as Scoro flash units equipped with RFS 2. When non-Broncolor flash units are connected to a RFS 2.1 receiver ($200) the transmitter operates as a trigger to fire them.

The Bowens Pulsar Tx Rx Set ($210) is available only for Bowens moonlights and only those units with a Pulsar Control slot on the back. The tiny receiver mounts into the Pulsar Control slot and the small transmitter onto the camera hot shoe. The system provides 24 channels. Paired with the Gemini R and Pro Remote Control ($90), you have complete control over power, test flash, modeling lights, and channel setting.