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.