Your setting up your new strobes for your first family portrait, everything is just about ready, when you feel a tug at your foot and turn around to find your brand new strobe falling to the floor and busting into a thousands tiny pieces. This scenario is repeated more often that you think. With the cost of remote triggers being so high most amateur photographers opt to use the wires that are included with most strobes as the activation source for their images. The problem is that these cords are everywhere when your done setting up, even if only for a couple of strobes. This tripping hazard is not only bad for your equipment, it could also get someone hurt in the process. Check out the remote triggers I found here to see if they can eliminate at least half the cords your going to have to use from now on.
In the past if you wanted the ability to remotely trigger your off camera flash or strobe you had to pay some pretty steep prices. $200 for the main remote, then another hundred for each separate flash you wanted to trigger. The equipment is definitely top notch of course and will perform for years to come. Companies like Pocket Wizard and Radio Poppers create a great product, it is just not realistic for an amateur photographers to spend $300 to $500 to trigger a couple of strobes once in a while. So what do you do?
Cowboy Studio has offered up a new trigger system that does the job in a price range for amateurs. The unit I am reviewing here is an affordable receiver / transmitter device to get you wireless and still be able to afford to eat. For around $30 you can eliminate all those wires and gain some control over your strobes. Now be aware, you are not going to get all those fancy features that come on the higher priced and more professional models. Your going to have to do some more leg work on these units. All your settings are going to be manual. Translate, walking over to the strobe to change the levels. But your doing that now with your cords anyway, so not a lot of change there.
What You Get
When you order the trigger kit your going to receive the 2 channel transmitter that slides into the Hot-shoe connection on the top of your DSLR. Two receivers with a short cord with an 1/8″ sync port jack upon the end of it. Two 1/8″ to 1/4″ phone plug adapters to allow your receivers to work on a lot of different strobes.
There is honestly not a whole lot to these remote triggers. They are very simple devices that do a simple but direct job. Which is why they are priced so affordable. If you want features beyond strobe fire you must pay a premium for it.
The transmitter is installed by sliding it into your hot-shoe on the top of your camera. It receives its power from the camera itself. I have not noticed any reduction in battery life on my camera when I have been using them though. On top of the transmitter is a button that allows you to manually test your remote receiver activation. Press the button and the strobe should fire if everything is set up correctly. Next to the button is also an LED that tells you when the transmitter is sending a signal.
On the underside of the transmitter you will find a blue slide switch. It says ON on one side of the switch. This is not the on/off switch for the transmitter. The transmitter is always on when it is on the hot shoe. If you look at the receiver you will notice it has the same blue switch. These switches used together determine the channel the remote triggers work on. Both must be in the same position to work properly on either channel 1 or 2. So make sure they are both either in the ON position or in the unlabeled position. If your having trouble or seem to be getting interference that causes random triggers, change to the other channel.
The Receiver is used by plugging the end of the cord into the Sync port of the Strobe or flash you are wanting to trigger. You notice here I had to use the adapter plug to attach it to the Menik SW-400 strobe. You may or may not need the adapters for your flash. On the front of the receiver you will see two switches. One is the On/Off switch and is labeled as such. The other is the Blue Channel Switch we discussed earlier in the review. Just make sure the power switch in in the ON position and the channel switch is in the same position as the one on the transmitter.
The receiver is run on 2 triple a (AAA) batteries and seems to last for a long time before replacement is necessary. I put two new Energizers in them when I got them over a year ago and they are still going strong.
How well do they work?
The final test results are actually kind of surprising. These are as you can tell a cheap alternative to some pretty high priced equipment. But for the average photographer they are going to do what you need without a large learning curve. Plug and play is about as simple as it gets. Plug the receiver into the Strobe. Set the correct channel then turn it on. Slide the transmitter onto the camera, then make sure it is set to the same channel position as the receiver and your ready to go. Power on your strobe and give it time to charge. Press the test button on the transmitter and it should fire the strobe, or both if your have more than one. On some models of camera you will also have to change your flash settings to make it activate the external flash. The settings vary from each manufacturer, so check your manual for this. Many of the newer cameras are auto-sensing when the hot-shoe is active and adjusting it accordingly.
Range of the Receiver?
I tested the receiver by simply walking away from the strobe with the transmitter mounted on the camera and seeing how far it would still reliably fire the strobe. It worked excellent up to about 50ft and not missing a trigger. After the 50 foot mark it started to miss a shot every couple of triggers. At 75 ft it was about 50% reliable. 100ft took it down to about 25% and above that you were lucky to get it to fire at all. So not to bad for a low cost solution to remote triggers.
Manual Control of Strobes and Flashes
You must keep in mind when buying these that there is no control of the strobe or flash other than triggering them to activate when the shutter is depressed. If you want to set a strobe to 50% power you still have to walk over to it and do so manually. Radio Poppers etc do afford this features to its users. But they have to pay a premium for it. As long as you go into the purchase knowing the limitations you can’t get hurt.
As a simple and easy to use trigger that has a decent range to it these seem to be a great buy. They do exactly what they say they will do, activate a strobe from a remote distance without the use of wires. They work very reliably in a short range situation and still work pretty decent at medium long range. So for the money I can’t see why we wouldn’t want to get a system like this and keep it in the bag. It is small, compact and lightweight so it makes sense to keep it around.
So until next time Keep Shooting Str8!!!
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