A Guide to Buying Cheap Wireless Flash Triggers

What is the best wireless flash trigger on eBay or other sites?

Cheap wireless flash triggers are perfect for indoor photography

Want to try off-camera flash, but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a set of PocketWizards?  Welcome to the world of cheap eBay and Amazon wireless flash triggers, which will allow you to wirelessly fire your flash even when it is not connected to your DSLR camera.

If you’re ready to venture off into the world of off-camera flash, then you may want to save money on your first set of wireless flash triggers by buying a cheap brand instead of the name brand.  A cheap wireless flash trigger will cost around $30, while the name brand triggers often cost at LEAST $150.  This post is intended to inform you of some of the compromises you’ll see when choosing some cheap flash triggers, but it is definitely NOT intended to dissuade you from buying them.  In fact, I often use the cheap wireless flash triggers and have good success with them in many situations.

What’s the Difference Between the Cheap Flash Triggers and Pocketwizards or Other Name-Brand Triggers?

Flash Trigger Difference #1:  Flash sync speed.  With high speed sync growing closer and closer to being a standard feature in the world of flash, many wireless flash triggers limit this functionality by not passing along the information necessary to make use of this feature.  In fact, many cheap wireless triggers limit even the traditional sync speed from 1/250th (as is common on many DSLRs) to 1/200th of a second.  If this sounds like Greek to you, you might want to read this article of flash sync speeds.

Flash Transceiver Difference #2:  Most cheap wireless flash triggers use infrared rather than radio in order to transmit the information. Infrared is generally a reliable way for the flash trigger to tell the transceiver to fire the flash, but it has limited functionality in bright sunlight.  When I have tried to use an infrared flash trigger in bright areas like at a beach, the flash does not fire consistently unless I put the flash receivers in the shade.  Radio flash triggers are not affected by this problem.

Flash Receiver Difference #3:  Reliability. I have used cheap flash triggers on many many occasions.  95% of the time, they fire without any problem; however, I have had a few frustrating shoots where the triggers simply didn’t work reliably despite shooting in optimal conditions (inside without light interference).  If you’re willing to put up with the (very rare) temperamental flares of cheap flash triggers, then you’re about to save a bundle of money, but if you need 100% reliable performance, keep shopping.

Flash Trigger Difference #4:  Passing variables. Many flashes can receive more information from the camera than simply when to fire.  Modern flashes use ETTL/iTTL modes to pass exposure information.  Many cheap flash triggers do not pass this information from the camera to the flash.

Wireless Flash Trigger Difference #5:  Adjusting flash power. Most cheap flash triggers do not allow the photographer to adjust the power of the flash output from the trigger on top of the camera.  The photographer needs to leave the shooting station to the individual flash units in order to make changes during a shoot.  It might seem lazy, but being able to change the flash power from the camera is a big time saver.

If You Want to Buy a Cheap Wireless Flash Trigger, Which One Should You Buy?

The choices are endless.  I have tried many many different wireless flash triggers and wrote about the best inexpensive flash triggers here.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    My Dos Centavos…

    On the cheap side, the Yongnuo RF-602 product is reliable for off camera flash.
    (Apart from this one, I’ve never heard of a good report for Cowboy Studio products)

  2. says

    I’ve been using the Cactus triggers for a few years now. The v2 versions were “mostly” reliable but required different triggers for older flashes vs. newer flashes and the transmitter could not support a flash on it.
    The newer v5 units are a world of improvement. A single unit can be either a transmitter or receiver. The unit can handle old and new flashes. They now use regular AAA batteries and even have a test button for communication. I’m a hobbyist and for me, they’re perfectly suited for my needs.

  3. says

    Hi Jim, thanks for this post, especially the information about sync speed.

    I’ve used the Cactus V4 because the price of the Pocket Wizards is almost 3 times the US price here in Thailand. For the most part, the V4 is great. Good value for someone like me who use them for editorial photography where the fastest I’ve needed to trigger them is at 1/250s. They’re a little too easy to break though: I had a rooftop shoot with a softbox and smashed one when the wind was too strong. But the best part of using them is I am able to use my Canon 7D to trigger Nikon SB-900′s. Now this is a great function for someone that uses both platforms!

  4. says

    On the really cheap side I would say Yongnuo RF-602 (I didn’t tried thew new version RF-603).

    And on the non-Chinese side I will recommend to everybody the Radiopopper JrX. Cheap, 101% reliable and insane range.

    • Maurcio Schneegans says

      no the transmitter have to form the same brand as the recivers and you can’t mix and match. because each transmitter and reciver pair have their own frecuensies form one brand to the other

  5. Greenflash says

    One reason the Cowboy Studios NP40 radio triggers don’t fire remote flashes in bright sun (say when doing fill flash) is that the exposure time may be too short to trigger the shoe sensor. Under the same conditions, a wired connection still triggers flash, even at 1/400 or so. Seems the radio remote transmitters require a longer trigger pulse to send signal to remote,

    • Maurcio Schneegans says

      Greenflash I have to disagree with you. The Cowboystudios NTP04 do work in broad daylight. Because they radio triggers not optical or infrared triggers that can’t work in broad daylight so you are comfusing the two. However the biggest problem of all radio triggers is that most of the them do not tell you wen the batteries run down. So the only way you know that you need new batteries is when the flash doesn’t fire or fires interminttenly. The only radion triggers that I know that has a battery meter is pocketwizard plus III

  6. Jim the Photographer says

    I use YN RF602s and find them to be more than adequate. They consistently fire; they’ve fallen over in the wind and taken a beating and keep on working. If you use multiple flashes in the same light modifier, you can set the other flash(es) to slave mode and they should work fine. I’ve used this technique indoors without a problem, I want to try it outdoors in the near future.

  7. Jenny W says

    Thank you so much for this post!! It’s exactly the information I’m looking for, as I’m looking to start doing on-location shoots with my Speedlite 430ex. Always happy to find relevant information while treading the deep waters of the Web. :-)

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