“I bought a flash, how do I make it work?”

I’ve been asked this question over and over. It’s a great question, a question I myself was asking a little over a year ago. When it comes to off -camera lighting there are numerous ways to get those flashes to fire.

Sync Cords

The first flash I bought didn’t have a PC connection so I couldn’t use a standard sync cord. I started by using a cable I picked up at my local camera shop. The problem was that it was expensive and short. I paid $40 to move the flash two feet away from my camera, not extremely helpful. A little DIY ingenuity and some CAT-5 cable and I was able to extend that cord out another 20 feet. While helpful, it was still a pain to wire everything up.

Cheap E-Bay Flashes

The next step was to hit Ebay and find a cheap remote setup. I found and bought a set of remotes with one transmitter and two receivers. Again, I was hit with the problem of getting the receiver to talk to a flash without a pc cord connection. The solution was to buy a hotshoe adapter from FlashZebra.com. The hotshoe adapter gave me several inputs at a cheap price. If you need an adapter I highly recommend FlashZebra.com, great prices and ultra fast shipping.

Once I finally had everything I needed I was ready to roll, or so I thought. I started having problems as soon as I started using the cheap remotes. Constant misfires and shady construction reared their ugly heads from the start. I couldn’t be too close to the receiver or more than ten feet away or the remotes refused to talk to each other. One of the receivers broke and I had to open it up and re-solder one of the connections.

I battled on with those remotes until I was shooting family portraits for a friend one afternoon and found myself continually apologizing for equipment failure. I felt like a hack and looked like I had no idea what I was doing. While they may have been a great way to learn how to use off camera lighting I knew there was no way I could rely on them in a real world situation. It was time to move on…

When it was time to upgrade the logical thing to do was go out and buy some PocketWizard wireless remotes. After all, the PocketWizards are the industry right? I’ve tried PocketWizards once or twice and knew they worked, plus knew they were a solid product. I was using two strobes at this point and the problem came with the price tag, no way I could afford to plunk down $600. Time to look for alternatives.

AlienBees CyberSyncs

After a few weeks of research I finally decided on trying the AlienBees CyberSync Remotes. There wasn’t a lot of information out there concerning the remotes, but I owned a AlienBees B400 strobe unit and was impressed with the quality of their products at an affordable price.

I picked up one CyberSync CST Transmitter and two CyberSync CSRT Battery-Powered Trigger Receiver. The total cost for my two light setup, including shipping, was a mere $209, a third of the cost of the PocketWizards. I had my new remotes in under a week and was ready to start using them.

The difference of the CyberSync remotes compared to the cheap E-bay remotes were night and day. The construction was solid, made out of thick plastic, and the receivers came with three different cables so there was no need for another trip to the camera shop. Once plugged in, the remotes fire every single time, no matter how close I am or how far I’ve gone. I’ve never been too far away and have not had a single misfire other than the time the battery in the transmitter died.

The receiver itself sets up on the hotshoe of the camera and is small and simple to operate, just dial in the channel. The receivers is just as simple, plug them into the flash unit, set the channel and off you go. The one problem I have with the receivers is that there is no good way to mount them to the flash or light stand. They just hang there by the little cable, swinging in the wind. I solved this problem by picking up some Velcro. Now I stick the unit directly on top of my flash units.