Off Camera Flash – part 2

Posted on September 27, 2011

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In the last blog, we talked about two methods to move the flash off your camera, using manual settings on your flash, and fill flash. If you can move to manual settings on your camera, too, that would be even better but getting there is a difficult and challenging step for most people.

If you move your flash off camera, you will need a way to connect to the flash. In the older days, this was done with a flash cable extender. It is basically like an extension cord for your flash connector. Beware that if you are still using TTL or your camera forces you to use TTL, you MUST use a dedicated cord or you will damage your camera and/or flash. My experience here is that you get what you pay for but that more recent name brand products aren’t as good as they once were. The biggest problem with cords is that they are difficult to handle, always get in the way, and can only be extended to a certain length. The cost is about $30-90. Going wireless eliminates this problem.

Wireless methods include light and radio methods. If you are lucky enough to have a recent camera and flash with a light transmitter and receiver built-in, you can use this to move the flash off your camera without a cable. If you don’t, you will either have to buy a master flash with it built-in or buy a master unit with just the transmitter on it. The biggest problem with light based remotes is the distance and placement of the flash. The distance issue is because the light can only reach so far – usually about 12-15 feet in daylight and about 25 or 30 feet at night. The placement of the flash is important as it must be in the area that receives light from the device that is transmitting (line of sight). But, don’t fret. Many flashes act as a repeater for other flash units, and can be used to extend the range or distance to the flash. Something that can be an advantage or disadvantage is that the TTL functionality is fully active with built-in based light transmitters. The cost ranges from nothing to $300.

To get around the distance problem and being in the light itself, you need to go to radio based flash extenders. I have used several 3rd party products and ultimately end up always going back to Pocket Wizard devices. The biggest issues of others are quality of workmanship, dependability, and they brake sooner than Pocket Wizard remotes. In one situation, even under warranty, there was a design flaw with the remotes from a company and when pointing this out, they flat out admitted that this flaw was designed into the product so consumers would buy more of them. With Pocket Wizard devices, I have never had this problem and when it comes to repairs or fixing things, the company is always attentive and do their best to resolve the issue. If you can afford the extra cost to buying Pocket Wizard devices, you will find you have equipment that is durable, works, and will last. Other products probably won’t. The cost for low end products is about $40-160 depending on brand. Pocket Wizards will cost $400 for a pair of their non-ttl product and up to $600 for their TTL product.

In the next entry on off camera flash, we will delve into how to actually use the equipment.

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