Friday, March 30, 2012

How To Sync Studio-Style Strobes—04/02/12

Patti Thompson Published in Tip Of The Week
How To Sync Studio-Style Strobes—04/02/12
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Monolights and pack-powered studio strobes are aspirational purchases for a lot of photographers. Unfortunately, though, while most resources spend a decent amount of time discussing the strobes themselves, rarely do you read about how, exactly, a photographer goes about firing those strobes. That connection is called synchronization (or sync, for short) and there are a lot of good options that boil down to two basic choices: a tethered cable connection or a wireless triggering system. If you've just upgraded to studio strobes, here's what you need to know to set up your sync.

The first challenge is to determine what the input sync connection is on the strobe. It's likely a phono plug, or a normal two-pronged household electrical plug. You then work backwards to the camera. If it's a Phono connection you'll want to purchase a phono-to-household cable (the wall type of two-prong plug, and for this end you'll want the female one). This is usually about a foot long. You then take a regular home extension cord, or consider making one so that you can make it as long and limber as you'd like, and use that cord to cover the bulk of the distance from camera to strobe. The final piece of the puzzle is a third cable to connect the electrical cord to the camera PC connection—a household (male) to PC.

I should mention that PC has nothing to do with computers. It's a little round metal connection that's been the standard low-voltage method for synchronizing strobes for generations. Since the advent of digital cameras, though, you don't connect that PC directly to your camera—even if your camera has a PC connection—because you could inadvertently fry the camera's sensitive electrical insides. You get a device like a Wein Safesync that connects to the camera's hotshoe. This allows your hotshoe to trigger the flash and protect the camera.

Ultimately this setup goes like this: hotshoe to Safesync to pc/household to extension cord to household/phono. It sounds makeshift, I know. But really it's not. This whole setup shouldn't cost more than $100, and its only downside is that you're totally tethered to your strobes. Which is where the better way comes in.

For $350 you can purchase a pair of Pocketwizard transceivers, which will create a wireless sync connection from camera to strobes. You'll put one unit (a transmitter) on the camera hotshoe and the receiving unit will need a cable to connect it to the strobe (a mini-to-phono cable or, again, whatever matches the strobe's input). It's elegant, simple and beautiful, but also a bit pricey. Thankfully a number of companies make their own wireless sync systems. I use Pocketwizards on a daily basis and I'm continually impressed with their range, but I've also used less expensive transmitters with good success.

Each of these methods will ultimately provide a consistent synchronization from camera to strobe (although sometimes you'll have to reverse the polarity of the household connection by unplugging it and reversing it). With a pack system, one connection (whether by radio or cable) will fire all strobes and additional packs can be triggered with the use of a photocell that plugs into each additional pack. Monoblocs have these slaves built in. In each case you've just got to ensure the photocell can "see" the flash of light from the synchronized pack in order to trigger the strobe.
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