Apologies to anyone who is unsure about any terms used in this review of wireless flash triggers. Please feel free to leave comments at the end of the review with any questions and I’ll try and answer them.
I often use wireless flash in my work and can require one or even three lights for some jobs. I also often use mobile battery powered studio lights but feel that small flashes still offer a speed and flexibility that small to mid clients require. For more samples of my work see: http://www.dougjacksonphotography.com/
Canon ST-E2 – Around £170.00
Despite being pretty old now the Canon ST-E2 still does what it says on the tin. In the right conditions it offers full manual or E-TTL (auto) control of our Canon flash units. As it works with the existing Infra-red system that is built into all modern canon flash units (480ex and 550, 580ex mk 1 and 2) you don’t need any receivers or wires, which is nice. You have two channels which can control two flashes (or more but only in two groups) via a ratio system from 1:8 to 8:1. Unlike the Canon 580EX II flash the ST-E2 cannot communicate flash exposure bracketing. The unit is light but a little bulkier than other trigger when mounted on camera with good battery life over (2000 shots with a good lithium battery).
Outside in bright sunshine the ST-E2 is pretty bad producing miss/no fires, even 4 meters away in direct line of site. This is due to infra-red interference. In darker conditions or indoors range is much better. So why use the ST-E2 as a master instead of a flash? Well it frees up a flash and is lighter and less bulky and heavy. It also has an AF-assist beam to aid focusing in low light which is handy for night shoots or dark churches. One of my favorite features is the high-speed flash sync on the ST-E2. This means you can use the whole of the camera’s shutter speed range beyond the camera’s usual sync speed (typically) 1/250th(sec) meaning ultimately you have more control over aperture setting and therefore depth of field. It is worth noting though that above 250th you start to lose a little flash power, typically 1/3rd.
So if you want to shoot a classic long lens portrait with shallow depth of field outdoors on a sunny day then you actually need the high-sync speed of the ST-E2 to get the fast shutter speed required to use a large aperture. Unfortunately this is where the range can be a real pain. You almost end up saying forget the 200mm 2.8, I’ll use a 50mm or 85mm prime at 1.8. So the ST-E2 transmitter here is great and yet terminally flawed. As I’ve said, in lower light or indoors it is so much better with little or no misfires.
So with the flexibility of auto and manual, and the simplicity of having no wires and fuss, this system still offers Canon users a lot of wireless capability for not a lot of cash. It’s a great place to start experimenting with wireless flash or even to keep in your bag just in case. One of the appealing elements of the Canon ST-E2 is the fact that it integrates well with the existing Canon Flashes and offers adjustment ratio’s when using multiple flashes in groups, flash exposure compensation and an E-TTL function. Incidentally mounting the ST-E2 on a off-camara flash cord often gives you more chance of angling the infra-red window in the right direction. Shame it’s not radio instead of Infra-red as the limitations of the system are clearly the weakness in the signal particularly in bright light situation.
Elinchrom Skyports - £130 for Transmitter and Receiver then £75.00 per extra Receiver
These little boxes work on radio signals and have all the range you could ever want unless you’re doing some very specialist work. I have had very reliable triggers from 200 meter range although they are stated as being reliably to 150meteres. Although they seem light and a bit fragile they have stood up well to the occasional bash and spot of rain. They are fiddly to turn on often take a few attempts and occasionally turn themselves off by knocking their own power button on the light-stand. I have cured this by adding foam washers around the tiny buttons, which works very well. The ElinChrom Skyport system offers no E-TTL control or indeed any other function and work simply as radio triggers. The extra buttons on the modules are for the Elinchrom Transceiver to provide control over the power and modelling lamp of all Elinchrom RX flash units, directly from the Skyport Transmitter. This review is for Canon flashes so I won’t go into all that.
The transmitter uses button batteries which seem to last for ever and carrying extras in your camera bag takes up no space at all. The receivers are rechargeable and contain small lithium cells. They do last a long time (a month of normal use) but I have had one go flat in the field and with them being rechargeable was stuck with a dead receiver till I got back to the office.
One of the biggest design flaws with the transmitter is the fact it is small, dark and light with no lock for the hotshot. I have accidently knocked it off the camera at night while shooting industrial photography and had to go around hunting for it with a head-torch.
Limitation- It got no High Speed Sync.
Despite being freed up in terms of range and triggering accuracy the Elinchrom Skyport system will only sync to your flashes standard speed which is normally 200th or 250th of a second. So again if you wanted to light a portrait outdoors on a sunny day with a shallow depth of field you still can’t as you now have the range but are limited in the shutter speed.
The Elincrom skyports offer the sort of reliability that the old Pocket Wizards offered but at a much more reasonable price. They offer cross manufacture compatibility and should trigger flashes or studio lights. That said for some reason they won’t trigger my Interfit Stellar lights.
Pixel Knight and TR-332RX E-TTL – 1 x Transmitter and Receiver Set £115.00 and £70.00 per extra Receiver
Firstly I should admit currently I only have one transmitter and receiver and am awaiting two more receivers. These are relatively new kids on the block, certainly compared to the ST-E2 which has been used by many a pre-Christian Strobist (Learn to light.. http://www.strobist.com/ ) to light caves and woolly mammoths.
Battery power is provided by CR-2 lithium batteries which handily are the same for transmitter and receiver. The unit’s also feature a battery power indicator which is more than can be said for the ST-E2 or the Skyport. Fortunatly the TR-332 system features a hotshoe lock and indeed hotshoes on the top of the receivers so no need for wires.
The Pixel TR-332 system appears to offer a ‘New Labour’ style third way and combines most of the functionality of the Canon ST-E2 with most of range of the Elinchrom Skyports triggers. My first experiments would suggest that it does indeed offer the 80 meter range as the manufacturer advertises. http://fotet.com/2009/12/17/pixel-tr-332-nikoncanon-flashgun-e-ttl-ii-trigger/
Also see interesting discussion on flickr http://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157622664286875/
This is certainly enough for most commercial, press and public relations photography. It may not be enough for industrial jobs but most of the time flashes are needed at night where shutter speed above 250th are not often required (use the Skyports).
The E-TTL function on the Pixel TR-332 system work as well as the ST-E2 although you have to pause for ½ a second with the shutter release button half way down to transmit the data to the unit, again via a radio signal. This actually in practise is less of a pain than it sounds. The ability to use the flash power compensation on camera is quite nice. This means you can use E-TTL and then fine tune the flash by changing it on camera without having to go near your flashes. You can also use the transmitter (TR-332TX) buttons to change you manual levels on you flash unit. I prefer using manual setting on the flash as it gives a very constant result unlike E-TTL which can vary often wildly from frame to frame. The Pixel Knight system may now mean that you no longer have to keep running back wards and forward to your flashes to alter the power. Obviously if you using three flashes it may be just as quick to walk to them than scrolling though the menu on the TR-332TX although if your 30 meters away shooting on a 200mm lens then it’s really useful.
Does the TR-332 system offer the best of both worlds…?
Well the Pixel Knight TR-332RX E-TTL system certainly does seem to work pretty well. It needs a slightly different mindset than the Elinchrom Skyports or the Canon ST-E2 and it has taken me a while to get to grips with the menu system. The item is not brilliant in terms of build quality and as with most products developed within China the manual is baffling and hilarious in equal measure. It doesn’t want to work with my old 5D despite setting the TR-332TX into 5D mode. It does however work with my 5D mk II’s which are my main camera’s anyway.
On the positive side are the range and the ability to control the flashes remotely in E-TTL and manual modes.
All in all I am impressed with these units but need to get the other receivers before I can ultimately recommend them in a multi-flash setup. I will do a more comprehensive review when I get them. The simple fact is that being able to use the high speed sync means the shutter speed is finally liberated so you can light your midday sunlit portrait with remote flash and a narrow depth of field…finally!
After plenty of research it seems to me that the radio popper range is fiddly and not really supported in the UK. The latest pocket wizard system is indeed quite clever but I’ve heard too many bad things about problems with mis-fires. This is a shame as Pocket Wizard has tarnished a very good reputation.
It seems we are on the verge of a more flexible and capable wireless interaction in the world of digital photography. I can’t help but think that a cross-company agreement on protocols and standards would be the best way to go and maybe all using a Bluetooth system.
Hope you enjoyed this review and feel free to add comments yourself.
For further samples of my work see: