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I am looking at purchasing a flash to go with my Canon Rebel XS (EOS 1000D), such as the Speedlite 430 EX II. I understand that there is some ability to trigger the speedlite by way of the on-camera flash.

This sounds like a great option, but the fact that Canon also sells wireless transmitters for $350 and up makes me suspect that there is something I'm missing here. What considerations would I need to take in deciding on an entry setup like this. Are there specific settings I would need to adjust to make this sort of communication happen? Will the on-camera flash overwhelm the photo, or is there a way to "turn it down"? Is this really a viable setup, or do I quickly run into its limitations?

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You've got loads of options cheaper than 350 for off camera flash btw. –  rfusca Jun 1 '12 at 15:38
    
The $350 wireless transmitter cost was one of the main reasons I was able to justify the upgrade from an XSi to a T3i. After I sold my XSi used, I practically broke even (vs. buying a wireless transmitter), and had a way cooler camera to boot! –  Flimzy Jun 1 '12 at 15:38
    
And agreed with @rfusca. The cheapest I'm aware of is a cord. It's not as flexible as wireless, but is a good step in the right direction. –  Flimzy Jun 1 '12 at 15:39
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Check out the top answer on this - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7865/… - all apply for you as well (except the Nikon specific one). Basically, wired, cheap radio triggers, or optical slaves. –  rfusca Jun 1 '12 at 15:40
    
@Flimzy. I ended up getting a cord. It's actually quite flexible--I can bend it all sorts of ways! –  Ray Jun 13 '12 at 22:56
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3 Answers

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The cheapest Canon DSLR that has the ability to trigger a flash wirelessly is the Canon 60D. I have one, and used it in this mode to trigger a 430 EXII flash in the past. My experience was not great, you need direct line of sight between the front of the camera and the sensor in the front of the flash unit, so you end up having to position your flash in awkward positions so that the light points were you want it to point while still having the sensor facing the camera.

Putting the flash inside a softbox or even mount an umbrella on the stand introduces a lot of technical complications to satisfy the line of sight requirement.

I ended up buying a cheap set of CowboyStudio wireless triggers ($22 or so for a transmitter/receiver pair today at Amazon) and have never used the 60D native trigger again since. I control four flashes with the CowboyStudio triggers and have found them to be very reliable. Note that you have to work your flashes in manual mode as the triggers do not support E-TTL. If this is not a problem for you, then I strongly recommend them. If you need E-TTL, then you need the more expensive triggers.

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Sorry you had a poor experience with the built in wireless trigger. As I said above, I've not needed this direct line of sight - only that it could see the flashes. I've even had instances where the flash was way behind the camera, or around a corner, etc. –  Mike Jun 1 '12 at 15:46
    
I have the cowboystudio triggers - they're very nice for the price. –  rfusca Jun 1 '12 at 15:47
    
@Mike: the flash did fire sometimes when it was not in direct line of sight, but it was a hit or miss situation, very frustrating for me to work in this way, whereas with the radio triggers this is one less problem I need to worry about. –  Miguel Jun 1 '12 at 16:43
    
In my experience as well, direct LoS is not required when in a closed environment, as @Mike explains. –  ysap Jun 1 '12 at 18:47
    
It makes a big difference whether you are indoors or outdoors. Indoors the signal can bounce off walls a couple times before triggering, and you may not need line of sight, but outdoors there may not be anything to bounce off of... –  Joe Jun 1 '12 at 19:32
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You can pick up 2 LumoPro QuadSync strobes, which can be optically triggered by the Rebel's on-board flash (even ignores pre-flash), for the cost of one Canon 430 EX. The potential disadvantage is that they are manual-only, no E-TTL. But a little time spent at Strobist (Lighting 101) can help :-)

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Nice alternative, but I think that unless you mainly do studio work, fully manual flashes will make you frustrated very quickly... –  ysap Jun 1 '12 at 18:50
    
I also thought that, but after spending a little time understanding manual, it's not too difficult, plus it will make you a better photographer even for cases where you don't use flash. –  djangodude Jun 1 '12 at 18:55
    
@ysap, I have not found this to be true. I have three LP160 and love them. Use them with my Canon 50D. Its true that using ETTL can be easier, but it can also fail. Manual settings flat out work. It takes a few hours of practice, but the end result is often better. Plus you will have a better understanding of light, and after all, we take all of our photos with light. –  Pat Farrell Jun 2 '12 at 2:17
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No, sorry.

Some of the Canon EOS range have the ability to wirelessly trigger external flashes from their own, on board, pop up flash.

This works by the flash sending out a very quick "burst" of flashes like a code, immediately prior to taking the photograph. The flash unit itself, separate from the camera senses these flashes from the camera body, telling it to fire, and with what settings (flash compensation, 1st/2nd curtain shutter, etc). It can control different groups too, up to 4 I think (?) with effectively an infinite number of flashes in each group.

I use this feature fairly frequently with my EOS 7D, and Speelite 430 EX II. The two work perfectly together. The menu settings for the 7D allow the body to be used only as a trigger for the speedlite, and also as a trigger and then flash as well.

So long as the speedlight is positioned so as to "see" the bursts of light from the on-camera flash then it will fire. (Useful for strange angles, or hiding it round a corner). ie. it doesn't need direct line of sight to the camera, but does to the flashes of light generated by it.

As for whether the light from the external speedlight "overwhelmes" the subject, well that all depends on your setup - but with a bit of thought you can really light your subject well with it and not at all harshly.

Unfortunately, your XS is not equipped with this capability. I believe only the EOS 7D and 60D have this capability.... (I could be wrong but have checked the manuals online for the 1000D, 500D, 550D etc and they do not have it)....

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Just to add that the with the supporting models, the internal flash's power can be set to lower than maximum, or to be eliminated at all (so it is used for communications only). –  ysap Jun 1 '12 at 15:06
    
Also note that when using the external controller to control the remote flashes, then you cannot use the internal flash to work as a fill flash, as it is physically stuck in its rest position. Interestingly, the Canon pro-level cameras don't have the built in controller, as opposed to the intermediate level cameras. But this is due to the lack of... internal flash! Sadly, Canon does not integrate a separate controller in their camera bodies, so professionals need to buy extra devices to control a setup. –  ysap Jun 1 '12 at 15:10
    
I should also add that the 580 EX II can act as a master controller for other wireless external flashes, so with that on the 1000D, then you would indeed be able to trigger external flashes wirelessly. –  Mike Jun 1 '12 at 15:26
    
Also, the 5D Mark III incorporates a radio controller for use with the Speedlite 600EX-RT flash. Not sure if the 1D-X also has it? :-) –  Mike Jun 1 '12 at 15:33
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