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What Radio Trigger Should I Buy?

by Jesse Wideman April 01, 2014 0 Comments

How can I trigger my lights?

To understand what option is best for you we need to understand the different methods of flash triggering.  You’ve likely heard of Pocket Wizard but do you need to spend $300-$600 to get started? Keep in mind we’re trying to accomplish a task, which is to fire the strobes or speedlites when we push our shutter release. There’s lots of ways to do this so here we go.

PC Sync Cable Triggering

This method of triggering is half a decade old and frankly should die.  It works by plugging a 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 6.35mm cable into the strobe or flash and the other end into the camera.  This is the most frustrating of all the methods, and to be honest is an option I beg you not to use.  It sounds simple but actual use can be an exercise in patience.  Turn the wrong way and you’ll get misfires and you will at some point trip on the cable and damage your camera.


  • Simple to use.
  • Inexpensive


  • Sensitive to movement.
  • Different connection specs.
  • Only higher end cameras even have a PC Sync port.
  • Many Speedlites don’t have PC Sync ports.
  • Major tripping hazard.

Optical Sensor Triggering

Most flashes and strobes include a built in optical infrared slave.  This simply means that when activated, that strobe or flash begins looking for the burst of another flash to trigger it.  This works okay in controlled environments like your basement or a smaller room.  The issues begin when you start working outside in sunlight or when a strobe gets too far away from the trigger source, like your pop up flash on camera.  The slave just can’t see that far.  Plus the flash you’re using to trigger the camera will often contribute light to the picture, which you don’t want.  Also keep in mind that if you’re setup at a wedding on optical slaves, Aunt Ruth’s pop up flash is going to trigger your lights as well.


  • Inexpensive because slave sensors are built into most speedlites and strobes.
  • No cables.


  • Must maintain line of site from camera to the optical sensor on the flash.
  • Limited range.
  • Affected by direct sunlight.
  • The triggering light can affect the shot.
  • No channels, so anyone’s flash at an event will trigger your lights.

Radio Triggers

So now that we’ve established that pc cables and optical slave’s suck we can talk about radio triggers.  Radio triggers are made up of two parts.  A transmitter (on camera) to send a signal and a receiver (on the strobe or speedlite) to receive the signal.  Many triggers these days like the Yongnuo 603 and 622 that we carry are actually called transceivers.  This just means that they can be used as either the transmitter or receiver.  The transmitter just slides into your camera hot shoe and sends a signal to the receiver plugged into the strobe or speedlite.  The beauty of a radio system is that you’re not limited by line of site or a cable.  It will fire through walls, windows, floors, many models up to 100 meters away.  This is a liberating feeling to any photographer who has been using optical or a PC sync cable. 


  • Huge range that will fire through almost anything.
  • No line of site restrictions.
  • Easy to use.
  • Very reliable.
  • Some modes can be used on speedlites and strobes.
  • No channel interference from other photographers.


  • More expensive than other methods of triggering.

There are so many options. What do I buy?

Okay let’s break it down.  There’s a million choices today with a million opinions out there.  Let’s start at the most important question.  What are you triggering? Speedlites, strobes or both?

Triggering Speedlites

The most important decision to make is if you want to fire your speedlites in Manual or TTL (Automatic) mode.  This is the biggest cost factor.  A TTL radio trigger will always cost at least twice as much as a manual option.  Manual will be less expensive but you’ll be setting everything yourself.  You can certainly use a manual trigger on your TTL flash like a Canon 580 EXII or a Nikon SB-910 but you lose your TTL ability.  Most photographers shooting portraits or studio shots prefer manual.  If you need quick fast setups and want everything set automatically then choose TTL.  See our previous blog artical on choosing Manual or TTL speedlites.


  • Works as if your speedlite was mounted on your camera.  The camera will set the flash power and zoom automatically.
  • Ability to set groups.
  • Many have added features like High Speed Sync and AF Assist Lamps
  • Remote power control on some models.


  • More expensive.
  • Brand specific.  Typically only Canon or Nikon models are available.


  • Inexpensive.
  • Easy to use.


  • No TTL.
  • Limited features.

 I want to trigger my speedlites and studio strobes

You’re in luck. Most TTL and MANUAL triggers have an option to attach a short cable and plug into the PC Port.  If you use the Yongnuo 603 or 622 triggers then this $10  PC cable is all you'll need. Remember you'll need one for each strobe. Now you can mix and match strobes and speedlites on the same triggers.

Triggering Strobes

As we just mentioned any TTL or Manual trigger should be able to plug into a strobe as well.

Strobepro EC-R Remote

If you purchase the ECL Series strobes from Strobepro then all you need is the EC-R Remote.  It functions as a full featured remote control plus it works as a radio trigger for up to 100 strobes.  The ECL Series has the receiver built in so there’s nothing else to buy. 

Putting it all together

There are hundreds of triggering brands out there and the bad news is that they are all brand specific.  This means that a Pocket Wizard won’t talk to a Yongnuo or Cactus.  Yes, this is stupid and hopefully it will begin to change over the next few years as the market gets more and more competitive.  The technology gap between a $620 set of Pocket Wizard Flex TT5’s and a $100 set of Yongnuo 622’s has almost disappeared.  They basically have the same features, are just as reliable, great build quality, but still have a $520 price gap.  When you've been the only name in the game for years and years like Pocket Wizard this is bound to happen and for good reason, but those days are gone.  I’d rather have $520 in my pocket but that’s a choice you’ll have to make for yourself.  Some professional photographers will debate me on this forever but I don’t blame them.  If you spent $700 on your triggering system and I spent $100 to do the same thing I’d debate you to the end too.

My Biased Recommendations

We carry Yongnuo products for a reason.  They’re inexpensive, awesome quality and they work. Here are my opinions for what they’re worth.

Manual Speedlite Triggering

Canon or Nikon

$45 Yongnuo 603 Trigger Set (Also works as a remote shutter release which is why there are C1, C3, N1, N3 versions.  Just pick your camera cable)

Other Brands

$89 Cactus V5 Trigger Set (Works on almost all brands. Maybe wait for a month since the V6 is about to be released)

TTL Speedlite Triggering

Canon or Nikon

$105 Yongnuo 622 TTL Trigger Set (Truly amazing value for $100)

Canon 600EX Speedlites

$179 Yongnuo YN-E3-RT Transmitter (This is only for the Canon 600EX Speedlites)

Other Brands

Sorry, there's not many options out yet.

Strobe Triggering

Any of the previous options.  You’ll need this $10 PC cable for each strobe to make them work.

Strobepro EC-R Series Strobes

$45 EC-R Radio Controller


Jesse Wideman
Jesse Wideman

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