Entering the World of Wireless Flash Technology

Entering the World of Wireless Flash Technology

If you are an avid reader of DPS, you have probably gleaned that many of the professional photographers that contribute are relying more and more on wireless flash technologies.

Wireless Flash Image by Pieter Baert

Wireless Flash Image by Pieter Baert

There is so much to be gained from getting the flash off your camera, losing that boring straight at you lighting, and moving it about the room or venue at which you are shooting. Well, if you have yet to venture into the realm of remote lighting, here is some good news. Being a somewhat early and rapidly advancing technology now might be the perfect time to jump in. When you decide to cut the cord, there are three popular choices for you to consider. Here we briefly introduce recent product releases from these big players and hopefully arm you with some additional information to help you decide where to go.

Choice #1: Nikon/Canon built-in wireless

Chances are you may already have a camera and a flash that has some wireless functionality built in. If you have never experimented with wireless and directional lighting this would be the place to start. Usually this is accomplished by having one flash be a controller attached to your camera hot-shoe. Other compatible unites would be placed around the room and would be triggered by the controller flash. Worried that you aren’t knowledgeable enough to dial in all your remote flashes to get a proper exposure?

Not to worry. These systems feature TTL metering. This is a method in which the camera intelligently measures the light in the scene based on the light coming through the lens. It’s the same flash metering system you’re used to with one on-camera flash. The camera is smart enough to meter the subject, do some quick calculations and then tell each remote flash how bright they should fire. This is great for dynamic situations where the lighting or the subject is changing and it makes for the easiest way to setup and start shooting quickly. Did I mention this is the most affordable way to get into off-camera lighting?

So you’re sold on this setup, right? Well there are some limitations to their proprietary systems. There are three. First is range. Because the Nikon/Canon flashes are communicating with infrared light, (as opposed to radio signals) you will need to have your remote flashes in line-of-sight of the controller flash. Secondly it means there will be a distance limitation since that infrared light will only travel so far before it becomes to weak to communicate with the remote flash. The final drawback is that, as these systems use TTL flash, they generally won’t be able to keep up with a sports shooter blazing along at 8fps. This is no different to the limitation you find using TTL flash on camera though, so it can’t be considered a problem with the wireless system per se. If you are a fellow nikon user, a new book was just released that covers the basics. In the end though, whether you are using Nikon or Canon, there are some very powerful options there.

Choice #2: RadioPopper

Until RadioPopper came along there was no good solution for using TTL with off-camera lights, unless you stuck with what was offered through the camera manufacturers. With some extremely clever engineering that we won’t get into, the folks at RadioPopper took TTL and married it to radio communication and created a new hybrid product. They didn’t sit still long and are now back with a completely redesigned offering called the PX. It boasts 1500 feet of range, sixteen unique channels and if you are using high speed capable flashes (called FP flash for Nikon) then you can sync at 1/8000th of a second. Wow! Rather than go through all of it’s features, check out the video below. As Radiopoppers are transmitting the TTL signals though, you will have the same limitation on frame rate as you do shooting with a TTL flash on camera.

Choice #3: PocketWizards

PocketWizards have been the choice of professionals for some time. They are extremely rugged and can communicate at huge distances and will support insanely fast sync speeds as well (if you use a medium format camera with a leaf shutter for example, then traditional PocketWizards will let you sync with manual flashes at effectively any speed). Used with flashes set manually (i.e. not using TTL) then radio triggers like PocketWizards will keep up with all but the fastest framerates too, making them great for photographers shooting action. What they have been missing however is that quick and dirty TTL metering that is nice to fall back on in a pinch. That is, until now. Tired of missing out on the TTL action they just released their new offering called the PW Flex and the PW Mini. They kept all their trusted reliable features and packed in a whole lot more including what they call ControlTL, effectively providing the same functionality as the RadioPoppers described above. These new offerings will be sure to keep this one of the top choices available. Again, check out the video below to get the full scope of what’s in store.

I know others have mentioned finding more affordable yet capable such as the Cactus Trigger which has a growing fan base and is much cheaper than the products above. I haven’t used any of these personally, and I’m sure we’d like to hear some user reviews. Hit us up in the comments and tell us what you use.

Updated for accuracy – Thanks to DPS reader Matt Cope for clarifying some of the info here. If you’d like a more hands on type of wireless article, let us know.

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Chas Elliott

Chas Elliott is a freelance photographer in the Northern Virginia and DC area. See more of his work at www.chaselliott.com.

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