· My Photography Blog ·

Upgrade Rant – Part 1: Wireless Triggers!

In Self Realizations on 03/08/2010 at 8:07 am

Today, I wanted to talk about upgrading my wireless triggers. I plan to go from those cheap-o ebay triggers to prosumer (professional/consumer) grade triggers like the alienbees cybersyncs produced by Paul C Buff. Professional triggers like pocketwizard are too expensive for me, and I really have to draw the line somewhere.

So let’s talk about Wireless triggers!

I am going to start a new series called upgrade rant! This is only part 1, but since I am a major gear whore, I’m sure that it wont be the only upgrade rant that i will have. At this moment, these upgrade rants are just rants. So don’t think to much into them as I can already hear my girlfriend getting angry at me for thinking about spending for more photography gear. Well someone has to control my addictive habits and I’m definitely glad that she does. I wont be buying any new gear right now since I am financially unstable due to the fact that I have school. But on the bright side, when school is over, at least I will have a list of material goals that I need to complete [and of course there are things that are not photography gear related that I do want to buy (ie. a car)].

So back to my post – Why upgrade? As I grow as a photographer, I become extremely critical of my own work. With that, I start to accumulate what specific equipment I need. I also grow to understand what the extra dollar I spend will get me. I have very high standards of what types of photos I’d like to produce and how I’d like to produce them. Money put into photography also gets you convenience and flexibility and with that, I can focus more on the task at hand as oppose to wasting time by finding alternative ways around a limitation. Basically, if it will benefit my photography work flow, I’ve got to have it. If it means cutting down on production time, I’ve got to get it as it’ll benefit me and my clients. This is what today’s upgrade rant focuses on. It focuses on spending money for cutting down on production time.

So first of all, what do wireless triggers allow you to do? Well they allow you to take your flash off your camera and place it in a remote location. You can then use the trigger to fire the flashes. Why would you want to take them off your camera? Well, when you take them off the camera, you can shape your lighting to create dramatic effects that are close to impossible to create with on-camera flash. There are two parts to a wireless trigger set. There should be a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter goes on your camera’s hot shoe and when you press the shutter, the transmitter sends off a radio signal to the receiver. The receiver is connected to your flash, and it fires the flash. Its as simple as that.

So anyways, at the beginning, I was not really too sure if I would use flash photography that often so I decided to buy these cheap-o wireless eBay triggers (pictured above). They cost me next to nothing, and at $10 per receiver and $10 per transmitter, they were easily replaceable. As I started falling in love with the professional look of off camera flash, I put them through extensive abuse. The costs started to accumulate as (a) I was continuously replacing them as they kept breaking down on me (b) since they werent energy efficient, i kept replacing the batteries that they utilized (AAA batteries and 23A security batteries). That was okay with me, but the thing that bugged me the most about them was the fact that these triggers have a limited range of 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) in which they worked reliably (which is 90% of the time). After that range, its a hit or miss really and that’s where I have to cross my fingers. This proves to be a huge problem for me because it affects my production work flow for all of the types of photography services that I offer to my clients.

It is a big inconvenience that I face when I am shooting events. This is one of the main reason as to why I put my photography event services on hold. As most of you know, moments only last for a second and if those flashes don’t fire within that second, its one less photo that I can present to my clients. It’s really frustrating not being able to take that perfect shot just because your wireless triggers don’t work. Also, it’s hard to focus on your work when in the back of your mind, you always ask yourself, “will my flashes work when I am this far from them?” And when you go to squeeze the shutter button, you pray that they do. Shooting events is stressful enough, and praying that your flashes will work just adds to that amount of stress.

So what is the solution? Obviously, an upgrade!

These are wireless triggers produced by Paul C Buff. They are called Cybersyncs (pictured above) and after testing them for 2 days now, they seem to be holding up their own in terms of value. First of all, the price of these triggers prevented me from buying them in the first place. Each transmitter (the small one above) costs 59.99 USD and the receiver (the larger one) costs 69.99 USD each. When i started to replace my ebay triggers with more ebay triggers, I realized that i should have gone to purchase these instead. I am sure that I wont make that same mistake again.

Now what does spending more get you? Well first of all, you get reliability. These wireless triggers work at a maximum range of 440 feet (134 meters). I have tested them at 200 feet (61 meters) and they work at a 100% with no misfires. The transmitter (known as the CST) utilizes a CR2450 button battery and has a lifespan of 2 years. The receiver (known as the CSRB) takes AA batteries, and has a battery lifespan of a year. It amazing when you compare these values to the ebay triggers – whose reliability is close to crap, and it’s battery lifespan is just slightly over a month.

There are small things about the cybersyncs that bug me. First of all, build quality is average. In fact, I prefer the build quality of my cheap-o triggers. The is because the cybersyncs have small gaps in their fit and finish. Second, there is no on/off button on the receiver (CSRB). When they are turned on and/or fired, they stay on for an hour on “standby” mode. After the hour, they turn off automatically. This bugs me because it drains the batteries. That’s pretty much all that I can say about these triggers.

In conclusion, I’m definitely sold on these triggers! They are reliable at 100%, they work past my required working distances, and they have an amazing battery life which reduces my long-term costs (batteries and replacement costs). I will be buying these to decrease my stress and cut down on my production time. Now since the underlying message is, “buy it once, buy it right”, why wouldn’t I buy professional-grade triggers like the pockewizards. The only benefit that I see from buying these professional grade triggers is that they work up to 500 meters (1600 feet) or more. At $180 per transmitter/receiver, I just don’t find the benefit to be justifiable as I will never be working past 60 meters away from my subjects.

  1. I remember something you posted once before saying you used 285hv’s, which is what I use as well, how do the cybersyncs connect with the 285hv’s if you’re still using them?

    Right now I have the ebay PT-04 poverty wizards and I’ve thought about upgrading to CSRBs but I think I read somewhere that it would involve ordering new cables and I was afraid it would get too complicated.

    • Hi Joel,

      I guess this calls for some sort of education. Let’s take a look at our inputs so that we can decide on the appropriate cable that we require.

      I decided to use a proprietary cable because it gives off the cleanest look. I am highly picky with how my equipment works and how it looks. Keep in mind that there are other ways of connecting your flash to your trigger.

      So the Vivitar 285hv has a vivitar-proprietary port near its hot shoe and the CyberSync CSRB use a 3.5mm output. So simply put, we need a 3.5mm male to vivitar-proprietary male sync cable. And FYI, all the major brands of wireless triggers – Pocket Wizard, Paul C Buff CyberSyncs and Elinchrom Skyports – use a 3.5mm output to trigger their flashes. So now, where would we find our appropriate cable? There are three sources that we can look at without going DIY. (1) A camera store such as BH Photo Video, (2) A cable website such as Flashzebra or (3) we can source it out on Ebay. Out of the three, I’ve decided to go with a cable made by Pocket Wizard mainly because (a) I’ve bought cables from FlashZebra in the past and did not like the quality of the cables and (b) after calculating the cost with shipping, the Pocket Wizard was only 3-4 dollars more expensive. If you are looking for the link, its right here – http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/132048-REG/PocketWizard_804_417_MV1_Vivitar_to_Miniphone.html

  2. Marlon, well thats not so bad at all… I’ve heard really mixed reviews of the flashzebra stuff, so if I do end up upgrading to the cybersyns I’ll probably go the PW route for the cables as well. Thanks for the tip!

    • No problem! If you have any other questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer them as soon as I can.

  3. You will happy to know that the battery life is very good on the CyberSync’s. Even though they don’t have an off switch you just don’t need it.

    • You are definitely right! The battery life is absolutely amazing and you just can’t go wrong with their performance! I am truly happy!

  4. Hey Marlon,

    I shoot with a Canon 7D and 430EX II Flash. I am currently using my wireless 7D built in flash as a transmitter to my 430 EXII. However the range sucks, and can misfire when I shoot away from the range of the flash. If purchasing this product, will it work fine with my camera and flash. Will the Transmitter work on the Canon 7D?

    • Hi Dwayne,

      Great question! The Cybersyncs will definitely work with the 7D and the 430EX II system. Mount the Cybersync Transmitter (CST) onto your 7D, and mount the Cybersync Battery Receiver (CSRB) to your 7D. Keep in mind that the Cybersyncs are considered as “dummy” transmitters meaning that you will lose the ability of ETTL. Instead, you will have to rely on manual control.

      Now as far as dummy transmitters go, there are alternatives to them. I will definitely recommend two. The cheaper alternative is the RF-602s found on Ebay. These are cheap dummy triggers that are known to be 100% reliable and affordable. They have a great range similar to the cybersyncs. For $60 USD, you can get 2 receivers, and one transmitter. For the same $60 USD, you can buy one cybersync transmitter. You see what I mean when i say affordable?

      Now why would I get the Cybersyncs as oppose to the RF-602s? When i got these cybersyncs, the RF-602s were still new in the market. I wanted to stay on the safe side of the market so i went for the Cybersyncs. After having the Cybersyncs for about half of a year now, I couldn’t be any happier. The battery life is great (I haven’t replaced them yet), and after several accidental drops, the product still works well.

      Now let’s talk about more expensive alternatives. the industry standard for dummy triggers are the Pocketwizard (PW) modules – PW Plus II and the PW Multimax. These are expensive dummy triggers but they are known to transmit over 400m. The PW Plus II are $169.00 USD each, and the PW Multimax cost $295.00 USD each. The advantage of spending this much is that you have performance in reliability and range. For me, this was a bit of an overkill in terms of pricing so i stayed with the cybersyncs.

      Since we talked about the lack of ETTL, there are now radio triggers that transmit ETTL data. I only know of two brand/models that make this type of trigger system. One of which is the PW Mini and Flex system and the Pixel TR-332 (for canon systems). The transmitters are not cheap to begin with and to be honest, I don’t know much about ETTL just yet. Some people love it, while others hate it – It’s just how you look at it.

      I hope that answers your question.

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