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What is Wireless Flash?

Wireless flash is a technological photographic lighting system that allows the photographer to coordinate off camera flash units at a precise moment by use of a radio trigger or infrared wireless trigger. Hardwiring of various flashes into a single system is therefore no longer necessary.

Canon Speedlite on slave /off camera flash transceiver unitStudio photographers, onsite, sports and wedding photographers are discovering the freedom and versatility offered by systems that incorporate wireless flash trigger technology. Every photographer knows the crucial importance of a high quality flash system. The right flash can completely transform a photograph into a work of art. However, maintaining multiple flash systems and coordinating them effectively can be quite difficult.

The entire world is going wireless, and it's no wonder that photographers are joining the throngs. When your off camera flash systems are coordinated wirelessly, there is no risk of someone tripping over cords or cables. So, when the bride is walking down the aisle, you don't have to worry about someone knocking down your expensive flash equipment at the crucial moment. There is a variety of different technologies that can work for the photographer to coordinate flashes. Different methods of triggering the slave flash device to fire have different pros and cons.

What are the Benefits of Wireless Flash?

Regardless of the off camera flash technology you use, wirelessly triggered flashes are much more reliable and even safer than hardwired flash systems. While hardwiring a system of remote flash units may be practical in a studio setting although even here the flexibility of going wireless is of great benefit, it can be almost impossible to manage in an on-site photography environment.
Not only does setting up the slave flashes take a considerable amount of time when they must be hard-wire into a single system, but the use of cords and wires severely limits the artistic freedom of the photographer. It may be impossible to spread corded flashes in the array desired. Because wireless flash trigger systems have ranges of several hundred or even a thousand feet, though, the opportunities are endless. You can now take your shot from the top of a bridge, across a river or a busy road and have your subject exposed as you wish by your remote lighting setup.  Add to this the sheer speed, flexibility and simplicity of setting up a wireless flash system and hardwired arrangements begin to seem cumbersome, archaic and creatively limiting.

Wireless Flash Features

There are essentially three basic types of technology that can be used to make your slave device respond to the trigger. One type of wirelessly triggered flash system is the mirror flash or flash-activated slave. These slave devices have sensors that pick up a single flash and tell the device to fire its own flashing mechanism. Unfortunately, these wireless devices are impractical at public functions. If another flash goes off, fired by a well-meaning relative, all of the photographer's flashes can be fired as well. This can ruin a photography session.

The Infrared Trigger

ir wireless triggerAnother technology is the infrared sensor, such as the Canon Flash Speedlite Wireless Remote Transmitter ST-E2.  Because the use of infrared lights is less common amongst wedding guests or at sporting events, photographers won't risk their lights being accidentally fired by a stray flash. The problem, however, with this technology is the limitations in range. Sensors that use infrared technology may only have a range of a few hundred feet. However, in practice, it has been found that at typically used distances and environments,  infrared wireless flash systems can be very robust and have little if any problems in this area.

The Radio Trigger
pocket wizard plus ii transceiver
Radio trigger and radio slave devices such as the Pocketwizard Plus II Transceiver pictured, are the most superior wireless flash devices. Radio frequencies have a much greater range and are not affected by light levels or objects obstructing the line of sight between the camera trigger and remote flash receiver as can be the case with infrared units. Radio devices can even be used to adjust remote flash intensity and aperture so the photographer can customize different shots without revisiting every single flash.  View our Pocketwizard products article here.

Best Wireless Flash Systems

There are a number of manufacturers of wireless flash systems. Some choose to use infrared for communication between the camera controller transmitter and the remote slave receiver, others prefer to use a digital radio trigger. Although infrared is reasonably reliable, it is not the most robust method due to its line of sight reliance and distance limitations. The use of a radio trigger will always be a superior method of communication. In addition, the more serious photographer will require a greater feature set than their more budget counterparts can offer. It is true as usual, that you get what you pay for and we recommend the Pocketwizard range of products if you are serious about reliability and creativity. We cover the Pocketwizard range of products in our more in depth article here.

The Future of Wireless Flash

There are currently only a few systems available using wireless technology but those that are now in use such as Pocketwizards, have proven to be very popular and have been highly praised. Systems use either infrared light or a radio trigger signal to communicate, the later is most likely to be the final adoption on all systems for serious users. Remote flash communication without wires is still a relatively new technology in the photography community but over time its use will accelerate as word is spread and more discover the substantial benefits.

 Where to Buy  More about Radio Trigger flash systems

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