In Search of the Perfect Trigger

We all know that we have to take the flash off the camera in order to take good pictures. However, when the flash is not being attached to the camera's hot shoe, we will need a way to trigger it. Also when we are using more than one flash or studio strobe, we will need a way to trigger them all.

In the next few posts, I am going to tell you about my experience on using various trigger devices or methods. And if you have any suggestion, please feel free to let me know.

Here are my requirements for the device/method:

  • Reliable. It has to trigger every time I push the shutter.
  • Scalable. It can trigger one or more flashes at the same time.
  • Compatible. I have a Nikon SB600, SB800, Alien Bees, Vivitar 273, and a Canon 580EX. It would be nice if I can trigger them all at the same time.
  • Affordable. I prefer to spend my money on lenses and lights than on triggers.
  • Mobile. I shoot indoor and outdoor and when I am on location, I don't have a lot of time to set things up.

The first device I am going to review is the optical trigger made by Sonia. I got it from eBay for US$13 + shipping, so it is very affordable. It's pretty well built.

It comes with a hot shoe and the hot shoe has one female PC outlet and 2 male PC outlets. The trigger is plugged into the female PC outlet. It claims you can plug in multiple flashes using PC cords and it will trigger them but I haven't tried that yet. It also has a screw hole on the bottom, so you can mount it on a lightstand.

In the picture above, I put the Nikon SB800 on the hot shoe with the trigger and I used the on-camera flash to trigger it. It worked without any problem. Since it has the hot shoe, it should work with all the flashes.

As with any other optic triggers, the master flash needs to be in the line-of-sight of the slave. There is no exception for the Sonia trigger. If you are shooting indoor (in a small room), the light from the master flash will bounce around and it may trigger the slave. However, you will be out of luck if you are shooting outdoor.

Another problem I ran into is the SB800 would go into standby mode when it's idle for awhile. When it was in standby mode, the trigger would only wake it up but not trigger it. So I would miss the first shot if the SB800 went to standby. This is not as "smart" as Nikon's CLS.

Here is the summary:

  • Pros:

    • Seems to be quite reliable. Just make sure it is in the line-of-sight of the master and the flash is not in standby mode.
    • It is scalable. I can trigger more than one flash at the same time. Just get more triggers.
    • It is compatible with many flashes as long as they are the in manual mode. No CLS. No TTL.
    • It is very affordable
    • It is easy to setup and I can move around and shoot without problem.

  • Cons:

    • line-of-sight requirement.
    • No CLS. No TTL.
    • May not be reliable when shooting outdoor.

That's it for now. I will talk about other devices and methods in my following posts.

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