Road Train !!!!!!!!!!

by Russell McMahon

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I have a Canon 5D Mk3 a Canon Speedlite 580EX and a Speedlite 540EZ. Also I have an Trek Tech Optera Pro 460 (a GorillaPod-like mini tripod) besides of my 'official' carbon-fiber tripod for camera. Also I use some gels and diffusers for the flash (Rogue Flash Bender etc.)

Sometimes (not to often) arises the need to use off-camera (fill) flash(es) on different locations. These locations include almost everything from high peaks, rocks, scaffolds, basements, churches, city halls etc.

That's why my light setup must be (very) easy to carry in my lens bag which is big enough for 4-6 lenses and 1-2 bodies.

I think that I need for the other flash another flexible tripod (of same brand - I'm quite pleased with it - or another brand, please recommend), and also "some things" (wireless flash triggers?) to mount the flashes on these tripods and wirelessly communicate with the camera. Perhaps I need something else?

Can you give some recommendations on this? (While concrete product models and brands are appreciated, I would like to hear rather features/reasons to buy for each recommendation)

While, of course, the money are always an issue - I would like to have something robust (trusty) rather than the most cheapest solution available. Also, I'm not interested in quite complex setups but rather on reliability and ease & quick to set-up.

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3 Answers 3

Never underestimate the utility of a large A-clamp with a mini ball head and cold shoe mounted on it; it can go many places that the Gorilla-style pods cannot. They are available off-the-shelf, but it can be cheaper to get the mini ball head and shoe, and just use hardware-store clamps and a short 1/4"-20 or 3/8"-16 bolt/screw to mount the head to the clamp.

And whether you like it or not, a light stand is often the quickest and dirtiest way of getting the job done, since one doesn't always have access to a handy attachment point for a clamp/gripper pod at the right height in the right spot. There are sturdy-enough-for-speedlights (but relatively short, generally under 8'/240cm) stands that are lightweight enough to bother carrying to location (~1kg) and will fold down very compactly (under 20"/50cm, often under 18"/45cm); having one or two of them along with lightweight umbrella swivels and collapsible shoot-through umbrellas (those will easily fit in most larger camera bags) isn't a terribly bad idea.

If you're okay with an extra shoulder-slingable bag (which could be a tripod bag doing double duty as a stand-and-modifier bag), then an Apollo-style softbox or Halo-style enclosed umbrella might be the next step up. They're not much heavier or slower to set up than a regular umbrella, but they're a bit on the long side when folded. (And there are some aiming/tilting issues with the Apollo that are easy to deal with in the studio, but require inelegant work-arounds in the field.) It's more to carry, but it also offers more control of the light. As with everything in this game, you have to find the right compromise for your working and photographic styles.

The trigger, too, is a compromise. Fire-only triggers are cheap and tend to be reliable, but they mean having to physically visit your flash(es) in order to make power adjustments. My favourite in this area is the Cactus V5 (low latency, long range and externally-available controls, along with the ability to set remote flashes to different channels to do the set-up then gang them for the actual shot), but it's hardly the only game in town. TTL triggers tend to be a little more finicky, but with the Canon system you can control your remote flashes even in manual mode from the camera. (Nikon is a little more limited in this regard; the camera-mounted unit needs to play the part of an SU-800 controller to get all of the features that the CLS offers.) The Yongnuo YN 622C seems to be the unit with the least negativity floating around, and while it's not free, it's not very expensiv as these things go either. A word of caution, though: older Canon flashes are electrically very "noisy"; they emit enough broad-spectrum RF that at very close ranges (as when the trigger is mounted directly to the flash foot) they can severely limit the range of a radio triggering system. A good (shielded) TTL cable to move the receiver away from the flash may help a lot if you are having problems with TTL functionality. (And you may need a "dumb" cable if you're using the flash manually with a fire-only trigger inside a softbox, since the reflective material doesn't reflect only visible light.)

Going forward, you may want to step up to Canon's own radio system as you can afford it. Your flashes won't last forever (nothing does), and replacing the 500-series units with 600-series units and perhaps the wireless controller will make things a lot easier in the long run - at a cost, of course - but there will be fewer widgets to keep track of, fewer batteries to manage, and fewer worries about ongoing compatibility (always a problem with third-party gear).

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Well, There are many full on reviews of flash trigger systems on the internet, my experience differed with their conclusions. The most popular systems out there are PocketWizards. they are also the most expensive, and I heard the company is not doing well financially. So my choice went to Phottix and their Odin system, but...

I have just sold this system on ebay after months of dissatisfaction: That system would not trigger reliably and support blamed radio frequency or portable phone interference. here is the current setup I am using for my 5D MKIII, no issues so far and super cheap from Cowboy Studios. My reason for buying this was that if it sucked, I would only be out 20 bucks, and it came highly recommended by none other than SYL Arena, who is an expert on off camera flash and flash techniques.

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I use the Yongnou 622's with my 7D and I have found they work quite well. I haven't pushed the range, so I cannot comment on how well they work at long distances.

The advantage of these triggers, is full TTL and support for groups and hypersync. This also gives you control of the flash output from the camera, which is great if the flashes are spread around or in hard to reach places, as you don't have to go to the flash to change settings.

As to the mounts, you can mount a flash to a tripod by using the small stand that comes with the flash. It has a screw mount on the bottom that will fit a tripod. The wireless trigger would just go between the stand and the flash.

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