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FORUMS General Gear Talk Flash and Studio Lighting
Thread started 21 Apr 2007 (Saturday) 12:34
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Using Hotshoe Flash Units Off-Camera: Here Are the Basics.

 
Curtis ­ N
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Apr 21, 2007 12:34 |  #1

OFF-CAMERA FLASH WITH EOS DIGITAL CAMERAS

With the increasing popularity of using battery-powered flash units off-camera, and the quirks and complexities of Canon’s flash systems and components, certain questions often arise about how to make various units work in off-camera setups. This guide is designed to cover the basics and clear up confusion.

The options for making an off-camera flash unit sync with your camera’s shutter come down to four categories: 1) A wired connection, 2) A radio remote system, 3) Optical slaves, and 4) Canon’s wireless flash system. We’ll go into each of the options in detail. The only two options that allow E-TTL flash metering are an extended Off Camera Shoe Cord 2 or the Canon wireless E-TTL system. All other systems require manually adjusted flash power or auto-thyristor (automatic) flash units.

Attached to this post is a chart in PDF format to show which flash units are compatible with each option. The chart lists some of the more popular flash units today. I can add more models to it if you provide me with detailed information. Most of the links in this post are to products at B&H Photo. I am not recommending this seller specifically, I'm just using their site as a reference.

WIRED CONNECTIONS

The cheapest cord system is a PC cordexternal link. PC cords are available in various lengths and are reasonably priced. Using a PC cord with a most Canon Speedlites will require a PC cord - hotshoe adapter like thisexternal link. These adapters have a threaded hole in the bottom for mounting on a lightstand or tripod. The other end of the cord plugs into your camera’s PC socket. If you have one of the Rebel series cameras (300D, 350D, 400D), you will also need a hotshoe – PC cord adapter like thisexternal link, since these cameras don’t have a PC socket. Exception to the above paragraph: The 580EX II Speedlite has a female PC socket for attaching a PC cord. Connecting a 580EX II to a camera requires a PC cord with a male connector on both ends. Alternatively, the hotshoe adapter mentioned above will also work.

Another option is to use a Canon Off Camera Shoe Cord 2external link (or aftermarket equivalent) and extend it to make it long enough. Extending this cord requires some basic electrical skills. Learn how to do it here, or buy an extended cord from Michael Bass Designsexternal link.

RADIO REMOTE SYSTEMS

The professional standard nowadays is the PocketWizardexternal link brand. They are extremely reliable and have more range than you’ll ever need. One pair (transmitter & receiver) will cost about $370 US. The transmitter mounts on your camera’s hotshoe. The receiver output jack is a 1/8” miniplug and you’ll need to purchase hotshoe adapters like thisexternal link or thisexternal linkor PC adapter cords, depending on your setup.

The Elinchrom EL-Skyport Universal Setexternal link is a relatively new system that has received good reviews. It's about half the price of PocketWizards, but there differences in battery types, distance range and other capabilities so read before you buy. You'll still need hotshoe adapters for your flash units.

On the other end of the price scale, there are two systems available from Gadget Infinity (Hong Kong). The 4-Channel system has a receiver designed to mount on a light stand with a hotshoe for use with shoe mount flash units (review). The 16-Channel system is designed for studio lights (review) but can be used with shoe mount flash units with the right adapters. There are other brands available also.

OPTICAL SLAVE SYSTEMS

An optical slave is a sensor that “sees” the light from a master flash and instantaneously closes a circuit to fire a slave flash to which it is connected. Optical slave sensors like thisexternal linkattach to hotshoe flash units, are relatively inexpensive and have a threaded hole in the bottom for mounting on a lightstand or tripod. Some flash units have built-in slave sensors (see the chart). In general, optical slave setups work very well indoors but not outdoors.

Optical slaves do not work if the master flash is in E-TTL mode. The E-TTL pre-flash fires the slave prematurely. Because of this, the built-in flash on a Canon DSLR cannot be used as a master with optical slaves. The same is true of the 420EX Speedlite and other E-TTL flash units with no manual mode. Using the FEL button to fire the preflash before taking the shot can work, but it’s not a practical way to take pictures.

Be aware that most of these slave attachments do not work when connected to Canon EX series Speedlites. Optical slaves work when connected to the PC socket of the 580EX II, but not when connected to the hotshoe. Update 01/04/09: Flash Zebra external linkhas an optical slave that will work with EX Speedlites, and Michael Bass Designs is selling a line of economical adapters to make EX Speedlites work with Sonia brand optical slaves. Info hereexternal link.

WIRELESS E-TTL SYSTEMS

Some Canon Speedlites can be used with their proprietary wireless E-TTL system (see the chart). Since the master unit uses light to communicate with the slaves, it doesn’t work well outdoors and sometimes requires line-of-sight between master and slave when used indoors. The system is designed to set ratios between master and slave or between groups of slaves. The ratios and output levels are adjusted from the master unit, which makes these adjustments quick and easy. This system requires a significant investment in equipment. Sigma and Metz also make flash units that are reportedly compatible with the Canon wireless E-TTL system. Reports vary as to the reliability of mixing brands.

Edit Feb. 5, 2008:
Paul Duncan has created a short video to illustrate many of these concepts, as well as other basic equipment and terminology (gear and jargon) used with off-camera lighting. I highly recommend clicking here to watch the video.external link

MORE INFORMATION

Anyone interested in off-camera flash should definitely check out the Strobist external linkblog, as well as the Strobist group on Flickrexternal link.


"If you're not having fun, your pictures will reflect that." - Joe McNally
Chicago area POTN eventsexternal link
Flash Photography 101 | The EOS Flash Bible external link| Techniques for Better On-Camera Flashexternal link | How to Use Flash Outdoors| Excel-based DOF Calculatorexternal link

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gjman
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Apr 21, 2007 12:57 |  #2

Excellent Primer...needs to be a sticky.


I wonder how long I have to hang out on POTN before I get as good as Ansel Adams ?

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René ­ Damkot
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Apr 21, 2007 12:57 |  #3

This should be stickied!
Nice writeup...


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relsah
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Apr 21, 2007 21:37 |  #4

good job curtis




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jmb4370
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Apr 22, 2007 13:18 |  #5

Hi Curtin N:
Thanks for the plug about the OCC extensions in your well written primer.

I also make and modify many different sync cords to connect various flash and radio units, as well as adding the auxiliary sync ports to flash units for those who don't want to do it themselves. In addition my hot shoe to mini plug can be made in custom lengths and plug configurations, as well as many custom projects, Y-connectors, and other neat items.

Michael
www.MichaelBassDesigns​.comexternal link


Michael
www.MichaelBassDesigns​.comexternal link

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mmahoney
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Apr 22, 2007 13:58 |  #6

Great info Curtis .. should be a sticky as questions relating to this come up often .. I'm just now going through setting up my modest Strobist kit and it has helped already.
Mike


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MDJAK
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Apr 23, 2007 08:59 as a reply to mmahoney's post |  #7

Curtis, contrary to your title, you are officially NOT full of anything except knowledge. Excellent job.

Hello, MODS, STICKY. NOW.

mark




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MrWills
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Apr 23, 2007 09:49 |  #8

Curtis why did you not post this before I spent days looking equipment up to make it all come together... LOL well like normal you have got it all correct and have lots of help to offer. :) Thanks


Shawn

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HoRnYTuRbO
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Apr 23, 2007 10:28 |  #9

Nice!!


-Vinny

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Richard_Miami
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Apr 23, 2007 10:34 |  #10

Curtis - THANK YOU.. you just answered another 500 questions of mine! :D


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Curtis ­ N
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Apr 23, 2007 19:09 |  #11

Thank you all for your kind words. Hopefully it will be a useful reference.

MDJAK wrote in post #3089244external link
Hello, MODS, STICKY. NOW.

Hey, no need to get impatient about it. ;) It's still on page 1.

It looks like Leo has added it to the EOS Flash sticky.


"If you're not having fun, your pictures will reflect that." - Joe McNally
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Flash Photography 101 | The EOS Flash Bible external link| Techniques for Better On-Camera Flashexternal link | How to Use Flash Outdoors| Excel-based DOF Calculatorexternal link

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Karlos
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May 29, 2007 05:52 |  #12

Spot on, just the info I was looking for. Cheers Curtis.



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Cherepashka
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May 29, 2007 09:59 as a reply to Karlos's post |  #13

Thank you, Curtis. You've hellpt me a lot! But I still have quite a lot of quastions - so, if I have 400D I need PC male to PC female extension cord + Hot Shoe Adapter for camera with non PC socket and + Hot Shoe with PC (male) Sync Cord? Is it right? Can you just explane to me what works with what? - sorry, i am just setting up my first litlle studio and new in this! I am buying Elinchrome D-Lite 2 Twin Softbox Kit ( so one of this may come with my flash units)? Thank you a lot!:o




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Curtis ­ N
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May 29, 2007 10:06 |  #14

Most studio strobes come with PC cords. Check with Elinchrome to be sure. If that is the case, then you'll just need one of these external linkfor your 400D and you're set!


"If you're not having fun, your pictures will reflect that." - Joe McNally
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Flash Photography 101 | The EOS Flash Bible external link| Techniques for Better On-Camera Flashexternal link | How to Use Flash Outdoors| Excel-based DOF Calculatorexternal link

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Cherepashka
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May 29, 2007 10:31 as a reply to Cherepashka's post |  #15

oh yes, also want to ask you, do I have to buy all this sataf made by Cannon (souse my camera made by this name) or I can shoose by price? Couse saim thinks on different web sites cost different, cannon web doesnt have big shoys of adaptors and plus they cost more then 50£ and if I'll buy from E-Bay (adaptor compartible with my camera) it will cost much much chipper! Or shall I stick with the saim company? What do you think?




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Using Hotshoe Flash Units Off-Camera: Here Are the Basics.
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