I live in an off camera flash world. No questions, flash looks better off camera than on 95% of the time. The only time you will see me using a flash on camera is if I can properly bounce the light off a ceiling or wall. What is the best way to get your flash off camera you ask? Well there is no right answer. It depends on what you are looking for in your off camera flash. There are about 1,000 different options ranging from commander mode, to tethering cables, to infrared sensors, to radio triggers. All have their pro’s and cons. Personally I prefer radio triggers, which give me the most flexibility with range from camera to flash. (Differences between all these options and their pro’s and con’s are another post)
Now the big question: What brand do I use?
This is a question I always hesitate to answer. Not because I’m ashamed of what I’ve chosen, but because brand doesn’t mean squat. If you know what you are doing you can use crap gear and get better results than someone who doesn’t know what they are doing using top of the line gear. So the moral of the rant: Learn how to use what you have, then figure out what your limitations are and find the best product that helps extend these limitations. With that out of the way we can proceed.
Personally I have only owned and used one brand of radio triggers up to this point in time. The rest of this post is about why I decided to switch from PocketWizard to CyberSync radio triggers. Please remember I’m not dissing any brand, they are both fantastic, CyberSync just fits me better right now.
PocketWizard (PW) is pretty much the top of the line when it comes to radio triggers. And you are going to pay for that name. This is one of the reasons I switched brands.
PW also nickel and dimes you for accessories like cables. CyberSync (CS) on the other hand are about half the cost of PW’s and come out of the box with 3 different cables to use with different types of sync ports, more specifically; 1/8″ to 1/8″ , 1/4″ to 1/8″,PC to 1/8″. PW’s only come with the PC to 1/8″, requiring me to purchase another cable to attach it to my studio strobes. Most Nikon Speedlights have a PC port built in.
CS’s are freaking tiny! To the rights I’ve attached an image of the PW Plus II compared to the CS trigger.
PW was simply getting in my way! I wear a lot of hats, when I’m shooting with an off camera flash (a lot) I’m forced to turn my hat around like a dork just to make some room for the PW! CS on the other hand will tuck away nicely under the bill, saving me from a little sun and showing my clients a little hat hair. At weddings I like to shoot with two cameras, using a couple BlackRapid straps. Often when I’m crouching down throughout the ceremony I’ve noticed the PW antenna scrapping the ground on the camera I’m not using. Luckily its pretty flexible, but it can’t be good for it!
The CS system will touch away in my camera bag nice and neat, where the PW was starting to force me to use a second bag just to bring all my triggers! (Side note, with radio triggers you are required to have one unit per flash, unless your additional flashes are within range to use slave mode. Often they are not so I’m running around with 4+ PW units. One for the camera, and one for each speedlight.) With my new CS system I can fit everything into the same space in my camera bag that used to house 2 PW units. (CS system includes 3 receivers and 1 transmitter, and there was still room for 1 ND filter and an ExpoDisk!!)
Honestly I’ve yet to test the durability of the CS’s, and honestly I don’t want to! I will say the PW can take a beating. Long story short, I might have dropped my camera mid shoot and it landed upside-down on top of my PW unit, breaking off the foot. 7 months later it still works, but its range has consistently diminished since the incident, and is getting to the virtually useless stage.. So when accidents happen (and they will!) I would much rather replace a $65ish CS unit than a $150ish PW unit..
Since I’ve only had the CS units a couple days I haven’t had the opportunity to test the range, but on paper they fall short of PW by about 100 meters, which is significant, but there are a few wrenches in the deal. No radio transmitter does well when shooting with obstacles (walls, people, trees..). One thing I’ve noticed about the CS’s however is they can be set into Repeater mode and in a nutshell, double the range. Or if you happen to be shooting interiors, and are faced with a lot of interference with concrete walls, you could strategically place a unit in repeater mode half way around the corner and trip the unit attached to the flash that was previously unreachable by the transmitter on your camera. (PW may be able to do this as well, but I never read about it in their instruction booklet.)
There aren’t a lot of things PW can do that CS can’t. Both can trigger just about any type of flash, both can trigger a flash via the sync port so you can leave a flash on camera for fill light. (see image below), and both brands offer a unit with multiple group options. One things PW can do that CS cannot includes Transmit only mode, which is nice if you are shooting with another photographer and both have a unit tripping a flash off camera via your sync port and have a strobe on camera. In transmit only mode your flash will not trip the 2nd photographer’s on camera flash and vice versa, however if your PW’s were not in transmit only mode, every time one camera took an image both on camera flashes would fire. (and this would not be cool..) CS offers 16 channels on every unit they sell, where PW used to force you to make an upgrade to the $300 MultiMax to get more channels. (Looks like their new unit offers more channels though. But you would need to replace all of your old units with the new units to make full use of this feature..) Once thing I’m not a huge fan of on the CS’s right now is the fact that there is not off switch.. You can turn them on, and after an hour of non activity they shut down. Not a deal breaker, but might cause a little trouble from time to time. Another thing that is fantastic about the CS, is that they require a transmitter and a receiver. Because they separated the 2, the transmitter can stay small. Check out the image above, the larger CS unit is the receiver and the smaller is the transmitter. PW on the other hand has everything built in to the unit. So essentially you are paying for both a transmitter and receiver in one package. A little unnecessary, again for price and size. This is great on the other hand if you loose the transmitter, or drop your camera on it… Always a backup to slap on your camera. (But if you go with CS, then you can afford a few backup transmitters vs buying a PW system..) Neither unit here has an off camera TTL function. Personally I hate most TTL, along with full automatic, its starting to dumb down the art & a lot of shooters are loosing the ability to think on their feet and solve problems without an automatic setting to default to..
Overall, both great options. But for me price, size, and range are a little more crucial than paying for the PocketWizard brand name. Yea the new PW units are pretty sweet, but I really don’t have a use for 16 additional channels, and don’t really use groups of flashes, plus they are still significantly larger and double the cost of the CyberSync’s. I will definitely make some updates to the post once I have given the CS’s a good workout and report any additional pros and cons as they come in. Again remember I’m not dissing PW in anyway. I love them, but just don’t have the money / space in my bag to keep purchasing them! Rent / borrow a few some time and play with them for yourself. One will definitely fit your shooting style over the other. No one should tell you what to purchase, that decision needs to come from you after ample consideration of both your budget and shooting style.
Whatever you decide, have fun and Keep Shooting!
Chris W ‘WhonPhoto’