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?

  • 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

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

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)....

  • 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

With your XS/1000D, you have no built-in capability to trigger a remote flash in wireless eTTL. The XXXXD range of Canon dSLRs have never had this capability. The XXXD dRebels only have it with the T3i/600D and later models.

Wireless eTTL

To use Canon's proprietary "wireless eTTL" triggering, you'd have to use a master unit on the hotshoe: a 90EX, ST-E2, 550EX, 580EX, 580EXII, or 600EX-RT, if you want to stick with Canon gear. There are also master units from Metz, Nissin, and Yongnuo, but this path is probably still more expensive than you'd want to take just to see if you like it. However, Canon's optical "wireless eTTL" system does have the advantages of giving you eTTL and high-speed sync wirelessly, and a way of remotely changing settings on the off-camera flash.

But, of course, that's not the only way you can trip a remote flash.

Radio Triggers

Cheap radio triggers are probably the most common way used to trip remote lights, because these days everyone reads the Strobist. :) Cheaper ones will be manual-only (i.e., can only communicate the sync/fire signal, and nothing else) and typically don't offer eTTL. A few may offer HSS, or remote power control but are likely to be more expensive. A transmitter unit is placed on the camera hotshoe to send the sync signal, and a receiver is connected to the flash (either on its foot or through a sync connection with a cable—if the flash has a sync connection; the 430EX doesn't) and the signal is relayed over radio from the camera to the flash. This system has the advantages of being robust and low cost, but the functionality is minimal.

There are also radio triggers that can communicate the full hotshoe protocol with high cost and reputation (such as Canon's -RT system, RadioPoppers, PocketWizard TTL) and less-high cost and reputation (Pixel Kings, Phottix Odins, Yongnuo YN-622); but you do need to scale the cost per unit to the number of lights you plan to use. I.e., a $100 trigger doesn't sound super-expensive, until you realize you want to use four lights, so you'll need five of them.

Dumb Optical Triggers

There's another kind of optical trigger that isn't eTTL/HSS-savvy, but can fire the flash. Many third-party flashes and studio strobes come with these built-in (why Canon's EX speedlights don't, we haven't a clue). A Yongnuo YN-660 or Lumopro LP-1x0, for example, have slave modes that fire the flash when another flash burst is sensed. This can be set off by a simple point-and-shoot flash burst, as well as other studio strobes. You can also add one onto a flash (although only the green-based Sonia slaves seem to have a reputation for working with Canon EX flashes reliably), but they typically require some kind of sync connector. If you get a 430EX, you'd have to add a hotshoe-to-sync port adapter as well, at which point a cheap radio trigger might cost the same or less.

Optical slaves have the weakness of requiring line-of-sight (the sensor has to "see" the mastering light pulse), and range may be reduced in low-contrast conditions (i.e., shooting outside in bright sunlight where the sun can overpower the signal). Used indoors with lots of bounce surfaces, optical systems usually work very well. Outside in bright sunlight is another story. And this goes both for "dumb" and "smart" systems. Light-based is still light-based.

Sync Cables

You can also go wired, rather than wireless if you really want a good robust low-cost backup triggering system. And again, there are manual-only cords and TTL cords. The TTL cables will have hotshoe-to-hotshoe connectors; the manual-only cords basically have 2-signal connectors that can communicate the sync signal and ground. PC (Prontor-Compur), 3.5mm (aka 1/8") miniplug, 6.35mm (aka 1/4") phone connector, and household connectors are all used on manual-only sync cables. The problem is that a manual cable with your camera/flash combination would require that you add sync ports to your camera and your flash, so you'd also have to price in hotshoe adapters, at which point manual radio triggers might cost the same or less.


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 :-)

  • 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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