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I'm just getting into digital photography, and I'm planning on getting some flash gear for Christmas that will let me dig into the Strobist lighting tutorials. I have Sony / Minolta gear.

So let's say I have my Sony A57 and a third party flash that doesn't support Sony wireless TTL. But the flash does support TTL when on the camera shoe. Let's say I get myself a light stand, umbrella, reflectors, etc. The part I'm confused on is what hot shoe adapters and cabling I would need to get the flash off camera onto the light stand, and have it fire. I would like to still have TTL available if that is a possibility.

What adapters and cabling do I need to achieve this? What about if I wanted to go wireless instead? Is TTL an option when firing flash off camera with Sony?

Edit:
I changed up the reference to a particular flash since people were getting hung up on the example.

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Be aware that that's not really the classic Polaroid brand — that company is out of business forever, and opportunistic brand-vultures bought the trademarks and use them to label Chinese imports of various quality. In this case, it's the Tumax DPT3 series, also available branded as Cactus, Vivitar (another brand-vulture victim), and others. It's not necessarily terrible, but low margins and disconnect from the real manufacturer usually mean poor support and frequent incompatibly problems with new models. –  mattdm Nov 22 '12 at 16:00
    
@mattdm Thanks for the info; I was not aware of that brand trickery. I was only using that flash as an example of a flash that has TTL. Not necessarily the model I'm going after, though it is on my list. –  RationalGeek Nov 22 '12 at 16:39
    
Safe third-party TTL flashes are Metz, Sigma, Nissin, and to a lesser extent Promaster. As with Tumax, these companies all reverse-engineer the TTL protocols. Staying with your camera's brand is of course the safest bet of all, but the companies I've listed are "real" brands which will provide direct support for their products, including compatibility updates. –  mattdm Nov 22 '12 at 17:33

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

That particular flash (the Polaroid-branded mosel in the original question) doesn't do wireless optical TTL; the built-in slave is just a triggering slave. There are third-party flashes that are compatible with the Sony optical wireless TTL system at nearly the same price point (this Cactus flash from Gadget Infinity† is an example; Nissin and Metz also have a good reputation for getting compatibility right). But there are significant limitations to optical TTL, especially when light modifiers are involved, since the flashes need to be able to see the triggering pulse from the flash connected to the camera.

Cable is an option, and there are third-party cables from reputable brands that are considerably cheaper than the Sony ones. They can be awkward to use, though, and daisy-chaining flashes to your camera makes it far too easy to take down the whole studio with one careless mistake.

At this point, there is no reliable radio-frequency TTL wireless option for Sony/Minolta. PocketWizard's Mini/Flex system only supports Nikon and Canon, and the Pixel King has been the subject of an awful lot of bad news on the forums (although it apparently works fine with older Alphas and flashes, reverse-engineering the entire feature set in a future-proof way is extremely difficult).

That said, a lot of the strobist mindset and technique revolves around manual flash rather than TTL. Any of the sync-only wireless triggers will work just fine with a Sony-to-ISO hotshoe adapter (they're pretty cheap), and that leaves you with a whole plethora of low-cost options. I know that David Hobby isn't a fan of the Yongnuo flashes (mostly for warranty reasons), but the well-respected pro brand Photoflex is (they offer the $50 YN-460II as the $150 Starfire). If you put aside the TTL requirement, you can get a hell of a lot of bang for your buck.

Frankly, manual with fully-adjustable flash is not a whole heck of a lot more work than TTL speedlights; it's just when you need to be portable (like doing event photography) that you hit the pain points and a TTL flash really pays its own way. You'll probably want to have at leaast one tilt/swivel TTL flash in your kit for those occasions. Both suffer in relation to "proper" studio lighting in that you don't have modelling lights, so there's a bit more experimentation in the setup and a lot more hit-and-miss in the actual shooting if your subject isn't static (you can't tell if a pose is going to cause a problem until after you take the picture).


† I've had good luck with Gadget Infinity/Harvest One, and one of Canada's two major pro photo retailers, Henry's, has chosen to offer some of their Cactus-brand products for supported sale. (Where it doesn't interfere with other brand agreements, and at a considerable markup.)

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That Cactus flash, by the way, is the big brother of the one in the question: it's the Tumax DPT5 Series. Cactus does seem like one of the better labels to buy these from, though: their customer service / tech people are generally responsive. –  mattdm Nov 23 '12 at 0:51
    
As far as I've been able to determine, GI/HO commissioned a lot of this stuff (including the resurrected Vivitar 285HV, which they also sell under their own brand), and they do seem interested in getting and holding a reputation for quality of service. There's always a QA risk, of course, but it's a balance thing for a hobbyist. As a pro, I'd always go for the name brand with local or rush depot service and loaner gear even at eye-watering prices because that's the way the balance has to go when a job's on the line. These days, I have a lot more time than money... –  user2719 Nov 23 '12 at 3:07
    
If manual flash is not an issue, the Pocket Wizard Plus can be a consideration if post sales support is important. The only catch is that you'll either need 2 of them or another Pocket Wizard on attached to the flash on the other end. –  Peng Tuck Kwok Nov 23 '12 at 5:54
    
@StanRogers that's all good info. I'm still confused, though. If I got one of the off-brand flashes that don't do wireless TTL, will a cable still get me TTL or no? If I go with a non-TTL flash like the Yongnuo, what gear do I need to fire it off-camera? –  RationalGeek Nov 23 '12 at 12:33
    
@jkohlhepp - If the flash will do TTL on the camera hot shoe, it'll do it on a TTL cable that has a hot shoe. (Most 3rd-party flashes won't have the Sony/Minolta plug socket, so you need a hot shoe at the flash end.) As for non-TTL flashes, you can fire them using radio triggers, sync cables + hot shoes, or using their built-in optical slaves (the Yongnuos have them). You would need, as I noted, a Sony-to-ISO hot shoe adapter to use most of the "normal" gear. –  user2719 Nov 23 '12 at 14:36

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