What Triggers ShouId I Use?

I hear this question often. About lenses, cameras, flashes, flash triggers, and everything else under the sun.

Of course I cannot tell you what lens, trigger, or camera you should buy. All I can do is say what I do—and more importantly, why.

Here’s my standard light stand/umbrella/trigger combo, which is usually glued to me:

So here goes. Triggers to fire the flash: Which ones, why.

First: Light or radio? Do you need triggers at all? You can use either of these two methods, light (or infrared) and radio signals, to fire your flashes, i.e. to have the flashes “talk to each other”. I use radio, because I use OCF (off camera flash) outdoors as well as indoors. Light (CLS/i-TTL/e-TTL) can work great inside and gives you full TTL, but needs a good light path. That is not always available outdoors, and bright sunlight can be tricky, too. So: radio. (If I have all Canon 600EX flashes, I can also have them talk to each other radio to radio without any additional equipment).

Then: TTL or manual? I like both, but whenever I have the chance, I go to setting flash power manually. So I need only manual radio triggers.Not the more costly and less reliable TTL versions. There are other advantages to doing it manually, too. If you set flash power manually, you will have consistency: provided the subject is in the same place, every exposure will be as good as the first one. You will have fewer errors: the subject’s brightness, reflections: none of these can upset your photos. The third advantage is that if you use manual, your flashes can be any old cheap model. Any flash that can be set manually and whose auto-shutoff timer can be disabled. Any brand. Canon, Nikon, Vivitar, mixed: it really does not matter. This caves you a lot of money if you want to use six plashes (I have six and frequently use them all!).

So OK… we have apparently decided to use manual-only radio triggers. That leaves the third question:

Which ones? There’s lots on the market! And for that I use Pocketwizard PlusX triggers. Pocketwizard is an American made trigger. It uses AA batteries. Sender and receiver are the same. It’s easy to use: on/off and channel are the only choices. The LED flashes green to indicate “on”, but turns red when the battery is almost depleted. The Pocketwizard is fast enough to not steal too much time: some cheaper triggers are slow, so your sync speed ends up being 1/200 or 1/160 or sometimes even 1/125 instead of 1/20 sec. And above all, these Pocketwizard devices are sturdy and pretty much an industry standard. If I asked around, the room would have multiple photogs with the same triggers, and if one of mine broke I could easily borrow one off someone else. That, for me, is an overriding reason.

Your reasoning may validly vary. Use Yongnuo, or Cactus, or Crocodile, or whatever cheap trigger you like. If they work for you, they work. That’s just fine. But I prefer to stay with a sturdy workhorse, the Pocketwizard. (And no, they’re not paying or rewarding me in any way to say this. On the contrary: I keep offering to test new devices for review here, but they do not always answer…)


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