Saturday, November 13, 2010

Speedlights, Radio Triggers and other cool stuff - Now we're talkin....

The astonishingly beautiful and charismatic Cristy
Click image for larger view now know how to balance your exposure triangle and you have a good understanding of aperture, shutter speed control & ISO.'re not done and not a photographer just yet....

There's no question - people do some pretty amazing things just using their camera and the best and cheapest light source there is available in our solar system: the sun. That's great except that there are so many other situations where that source may either not be available or just plain not enough!


You can go ahead and get yourself a second light then, which will be available to you in all situations to be used on it's own or in combination with the sun. Cool - for the price of one speedlight, you now potentially have a two-light setup! I picked up a Canon 580 EX (not the mark II version). Strangely the older version is more expensive than the mark II if you were to buy it new, but predictably it's less expensive than its counterpart if you get one used. One important note is that the model numbers on Canon flashes also denote the power output, which means that the older version is every bit as powerful as Canon's newest high end flash, but...recycle time is a fraction of a second slower and there's no PC sync jack. Still if you can get one at or under $350, it's probably worth it. You'll pay $549 for a new (old version) EX I, but you can buy 'em here for $340 used - or keep checking on eBay, Craig's List, etc. I've been plenty happy with mine, although there are, of course less expensive alternatives including the 430 EX II (or EX I) or even the 270 EX.
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for Canon EOS Digital SLR Cameras
Canon 580 EX II
Canon Speedlite 580EX Flash for Canon EOS SLR Digital Cameras - Older Version
Canon 580 EX I
The sun is probably too dangerously hot to be used on-camera and although your speedlight is designed for use on your camera, there are a lot of creative things you can do with it off-camera and that is exactly what is there to help out with. The trick is...getting your flash off-camera though in the first place....

Radio Triggers

If you're going to explore this option, you'll quickly find yourself in the market for some radio triggers. I spent weeks reading reviews. As it turns out, there are a lot of them to choose from. The old theory is that if you buy the cheapest thing, it will cost you more in the long run: you'll likely throw them away and then buy the ones you should have likely bought in the first place. Sure you can get them off ebay cheap or from Amazon for around $20 for a set if you can deal with misfires and some erratic behaviour. That's certainly cheap but may cost you some unnecessary grey hairs.

I decided I didn't want to go that route, but also didn't want to lay down the money to get the gold standard Pocket Wizards - they ARE the industry standard and in my research, there's nothing else like them, but...they don't come cheap. And if you're in a position like I am and are just learning the trade, they're a tough investment to justify at this early stage in the game. One day I'll definitely get them, but in the meantime I needed something in the mid-range.

PocketWizard PWP-TR 801-125 PLUS II Transceiver (Black)PocketWizard Plus II Transceiver 801-125 Relay Radio Slave Transmitter Receiver 2-piece w/ PockeWizard Case for 2Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 Transceiver For Canon TTL Flashes and Digital SLR Cameras

Go ahead and do your own research, but after googling various reviews of Cactus triggers, Radio Poppers (thorough review here), and the like, I finally decided to go with the Alien Bees/Paul Buff CyberSync Triggers. I've had them for some months now and have only had one misfire so far - I can live with that. They're not inexpensive, but they also won't totally break the bank either clocking in at about half the price of a set of Pocket Wizards. I decided to go ahead and order 2 receivers in addition to my 1 transmitter to save myself a little shipping considering I was in the market for a second speedlight anyway, but more on that in a moment.

One thing you should know before you buy your own CyberSyncs though is that they won't "wake up" your speedlight once it's fallen into standby mode. That can be a little annoying sometimes, although I often snap off an empty frame if I think my gear might be just about to fall asleep. Another thing is that there is no ETTL control - your camera has no way of effectively communicating with your flash except to send the "fire" signal, which means that you'll be learning how to use all your gear (camera & flash) in full manual mode - Yay! For me this has been a good push to learn how a flash actually works, but...the light meter in the camera is totally useless and I'll really have to invest in a decent light meter soon.

A couple things that are really great are the range of the CyberSync units - they're nowhere near Pocket Wizard range, but I have yet to need that kind of extreme range. These are more than sufficient. They also fire through walls and offer several channels to work with. No problem there.

One thing I researched but never found out anywhere online was whether or not a Canon body could fire, say, a Nikon flash. Well...I suspected it would and went out and got myself an SB-24 from the late 80's in amazing condition for about $70 and decided to try it out. I knew CyberSync spoke various languages including Canon, Nikon and many others, but I wasn't sure it could also translate between the two. Well it does! My Canon body gives the "fire" command in Canon-speak. The transmitter communicates this to the receiver(s), which in my case then gets translated into something that my Nikon speedlight can also understand. Thank you Paul Buff!

And if you wind up with a Canon flash like mine, you'll need a little adaptor so that you can connect it to your receiver - it can be had for around $10, but just make sure it's got a PC connection or 1/8 inch jack and you're good to go.

Canon 580 EX with shoot-through umbrella at 90 degrees to subject
Same as above only cropped (and in colour, of course)

Now all you need is something to control your speedlight. I chose the Westcott convertible umbrella kit, which includes a stand and a clamp along with the umbrella that can be used to reflect or as a shoot-through all for about 70 bucks. If you've already got a stand or an umbrella, you can also buy the individual components for cheap. I haven't had it for too long, but it's been fun to experiment with so far. That part is kind of fun because I'm just learning how to use it for different lighting effects - the most extreme example being the ones of Cristy shown above with the umbrella at 90 degrees from the subject.

Westcott 2332 43-Inch Collapsible Umbrella Flash Kit
Westcott convertible umbrella kit

Now I kinda feel like I should really get something for the other speedlight as it's a little brash on its own - I think my next purchase will likely be one of the Westcott Apollo Softbox kits. So cool....

Westcott 2331 28-Inch Apollo Flash Kit
Westcott 28-inch Softbox kit to shoot a zombie movie!

Me as the "main" zombie in an upcoming short film.
More details to come....
Oops! Have I missed something?! Help share resources by adding them with a short description in the comments section or write me and I'll make sure it gets posted!


ardean said...

I LOVE my Westcott soft box. Definitely want to get a 2nd one soon.

shayne gray learns photography %$#! said...

Nice - just got one! Haven't even had a chance to use it yet, but I'm VERY excited to whip it out and give it a go!

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