Wireless Trigger system
When I started building up my photography kit back in 2010, one of the kits I invested was wireless triggers from eBay to trigger speedlites off camera. I was using two speedlite setup, using Canon’s 580ex Mark I and 420ex.
The triggers I was using did were just basic triggers using radio frequency, hence did not require to be in line of sight to triggers the flashes from remote position. I did most of my photography work since then till end of my HND using this simple setup, two speedlites on stands using shoot through umbrella sometimes, and sometimes using it bare flash which produced some dramatic results in my work.
Off Camera Flash – Workshop
Since I started university at Falmouth I did not do much work with speedlites, in fact I only used speedlites on 3 test shoots in first year. The large choice of lighting equipment at university was good enough to stray me away from my well practiced speedlite photography techniques using full manual controls.
On my 2014 christmas holidays from university, as I was in my home town I happen to join a workshop organised by local photography group Frame Creatives, whom I have been member since it started few years ago.
The workshops are lead by some talented practitioners from different genres of photography. This particular workshop on Off Camera lighting using speedlites was surely not one to miss by me. Though I understad the working setup of speedlites on location, it just occurred to me to go to the workshop and maybe I will learn something new.
This workshop was lead by Architectural photographer and former college photography teacher Richard Southall. The equipment included a bag full of speedlites and remote triggers provided by PixaPro Ltd. Most of the participants on this workshop brought their own kits for the workshop. The workshop was fairly simple and a good refresher.
Speedlite Flash Systems
At this workshop I got to see some new flash systems which was interesting. The price difference was the important factor which got me interested in exploring new systems by third party companies bringing out very competitive flash gun kits compared to the proprietary flashes by Canon and Nikon.
Couple of the new kits on this workshop included one from PixaPro, which was mainly used for this workshop. They have pretty good system, the batteries are rechargeable removable batteries, can give unto 600 shots per charge. Can also be used with PixaPro’s won wireless triggers specially designed to work with their own flash system.
Yongnuo Speedlite & Wireless System
In this workshop I came across another speedlite system that I have never heard of before. I knew the company YONGNUO, I have purchased time-lapse timer for my camera in the past which is made by Yongnuo.
Couple of fellow photographers had Yongnou flash systems in multiple numbers. It intrigued me, so I asked the performance and they said the flashes perform very well.
The best thing about Yongnuo flash system is the price, they cost the 3rd of the price of what a Canon kit will cost. For example Canon’s top of the range Speedlite would cost £450 on average, the same identical match flash by Yongnuo will cost £130. Canon’s second top speedite 580Ex II costs around £275, similar flash by Yongnuo YN-568 II will cost £80.
Performance of these Yongnuo speedlites is unbelievably similar to those of Canon flashes. The designs of the Yongnuo flashes are identical as Canon’s flashes. If you hide the Yongnuo label and show it to someone, they will not be able to tell the difference between the two brands. The design is identical to Canon’s products.
In very short period the speedlite system has developed so much compared to what I was doing 5 years ago between 2010 and 2012. Using the old system there were some limitations by using cheap radio triggers. For instance I was limited by the shutter speeds. There was no off-camera TTL/E-TTL functionality using cheaper triggers. To use these features I had to invest in expensive kit which was out of my budget range.
Now fast forward to 2015, and there are range of systems available that almost competing the market giants with their extra features. Like Yongnuo system is offering compared to Canon’s wireless systems.
Understanding the Wireless system
It is very important to understand what type of wireless systems are available to trigger flashes off camera. When we say wireless triggers, it is usually assumed that the wireless system is radio based. But it is not the case.
Optical Infrared Wireless
The standard wireless trigger with most of the cameras and flashes comes in Optical Infrared wireless systems. This system requires to have the flashes and camera in the line of sight to communicate with each other to trigger with correct settings. The settings on the flashes can be controlled from the camera which then is trasnmitted to flashes via Optical Infrared communication. This system can be used in full manual or TTL/E-TLL mode. This system has its flaws, i.e. it does not work very well in very bright day light, it requires clear line of sight to communicate with camera and other flashes. Then there is distance issue as well.
For canon users they have to buy one the latest flash ranges for the optical system to work in full TTL/E-TTL mode. Nikon has their own Wireless system called CLS which is implemented in most of their cameras and flashes.
Radio Frequency Wireless
The radio frequency based triggers come in two genres as well. One with full two way data communication with the flashes and one with just a simple trigger with no other features, both systems can be used to trigger off camera flashes without worrying about line of sight.
To use the full potential of the speedlites there are special radio based wireless triggers that communicate with specially designed flash units. For instance Canon’s latest speedlite 600EX-RT has built-in radio transciever. This requires a special transmitter to communicate with the flash or another flash can be used on camera’s hot show to act as transmitter for off camera flashes. The communication is instant and very reliable with full controls of the flashes from the camera or the transmitter unit.
Then there are dum radio frequency based triggers and their only work is to fire the flashes. They work in manual mode. No settings can be adjusted remotely on flashes using camera’s settings menu.
There are also smarter radio frequency based triggers which can also adjust flash settings, which also has limitations, i.e. High speed shutter sync, 2nd sync etc….
After some research I have decided to get back into speedlite photography. This time I have invested in a good speedlite system by Yongnuo. Their top of the range speedlites which are exact identical to Canon’s 600Ex-RT heads in performance and quality. In Features it has more than what Canon’s flash is offering and for almost less than the 3rd of the price it is surely a good investment.
I researched Yongnuo’s premium range flashes, including some from Godox. I went for the top flash Yongnuo Yn600Ex-RT which is radio frequency based wireless system, also compatible with original canon speedlite and transmitter.
SPEEDLITE VS PORTABLE FLASH HEADS
Every camera has its own limit of shutter sync with flashes that we use. Studio flashes have very low shutter sync capability. the maximum shutter sync speed with studio flash heads, otherwise known as mono heads, have speed of 1/250th. In some cases on location this speed is not enough to create some dramatic lighting setups. For instance in most cases in bright day light we will not be able to use wide open aperture and go higher on the shutter speed. In some case photographers can use neutral density filters to drop the exposure values, but that has its own problems, like reducing the quality of image etc.
Speedlites on the other hand have capability to cope with high shutter speeds in conjunction with wide open aperture. This opens up whole new world of creative lighting setups. Use multiple speedlite on location and use creative manual settings, this setup will work with High shutter speeds unto 1/8000th. This means we can use wide apertures to get beautiful shallow depth of fields on location with lights. Combine these lights with smart transmitters and you get very powerful setup which can be controlled remotely, effortlessly. This is very good setup for one man photographer to go on location with perhaps model for quick shots, or can be use as multiple speedlites in bigger setups to produce very effective and creative results.
I am going to be testing out new ideas with my kit and now that I am on my final year at Falmouth University at the time of writing this post, I am going to produce body of work using my old tried and tested lighting setups with my new kit. This time a bit more creatively as I will be able to control the lights effectively from my camera. Using my experience from past test shoots using speedlites with newly developed ideas.