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.

17 thoughts on “A Guide to Buying Cheap Wireless Flash Triggers”

  1. 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. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. I tried to find Yongnuo RF-602 in Iran, but most pro photography shops have the very expensive ones.
    Not sure what I should do?

    1. Maurcio Schneegans

      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. 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,

    1. Maurcio Schneegans

      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

    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. 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. 🙂

  8. My pixel king ttl don’t work on my a6000 with neither of the 2 firmwares available the 1020 and 1010 and it is not the hot shoe problem for sure because f58 flash works with the adapter

  9. I went with the cheap option and purchased the Neewer 4 Channels Wireless/Radio Hot Shoe Flash Trigger Set with 2 Receivers for DSLR Canon Nikon Pentax Olympus (Set: 1 Transmitter + 2 Receivers) from Amazon for £15
    I’ve tried them a few times now and I have to say I’m disappointed. They could work 10 times out of 10 and then fail the next 10 times. I’ve been through all the setting on my camera and the flash guns and I’m almost certain it’s down to the triggers.

    My advise would be to buy a recognised product.

  10. Cactus V4 and V5 are great if you want to buy a new pair once a week.
    First of all – V4 weren’t properly tested at the time of release and caused banding noise on certain cameras due to signal interference. The issue was reported as fixed on the later batch, however there is no way to check which batch you are buying – they are far too business savvy to bin the faulty stock.

    V5 is a total disaster. They are flimsy – one drop and you can bin them.
    For some completely mind boggling reason the mini-jack’s contacts were mirrored so suddenly it’s unable to trigger for instance Sunpak 120J.
    It doesn’t work with MamiyaRZ67’s hotshoe either, and only works connected to lens X port, which means that you have to trigger camera body, and then lens using a remote release cable.
    V5 also have annoying glitches where it suddenly gets stuck receiving signal and starts triggering strobe on its own, and where sync light will constantly flash.

    I’m not touching V6 even with a barge pole!

    As for the service – sending them items for replacement or service results in simply receiving the faulty item back. When you point it out, the response you get is “Oh really? Sorry about that” – and that’s it.

    So save yourself trouble – don’t be stingy. Buy something proper and enjoy shooting, rather than waste money on this garbage and swear during each shoot trying to fix issues.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top