Lighting 101: Build a Pro PC Cord, Pt. 2

Repeating the important note from part one: There are those who believe that using household-style sync cords poses an inherent risk in that they could be mistakenly plugged into an AC outlet. That said, building a sync cord based on HH plugs is inexpensive, reliable and convenient. Which is why many pro's use them as primary (or backup) synching systems.

The cord I have designed uses two very short, male-PC-to-male-household, store-bought cords and a main cord composed of a FEMALE HOUSEHOLD TO FEMALE HOUSEHOLD main body. As such, the extension cord itself is quite impossible to plug into the wall.

In twenty-plus years as a pro, I have never met a photographer who was involved in the kind of an accident as described above. But if this is the kind of thing that just keeps you awake at night, simply gaffer tape up the plugs where they join. If you are worried that someone is going to dive for your PC cord, untape it, rip it apart and plug the little 6" part into the wall, I can't help you. Buy some Pocket Wizards.

Alternatively, you may wish to substitute a 1/4 mono plug or 1/8 mono-mini plug in place of the respective HH plugs. But you'll peobably have to do some soldering.

This is also an alternative if US-style HH plugs are not available in your country.


First of all, here are the sources for the parts.

(2) Short, PC Male-to-Household cord (where to get it): Varies - as little as $10 for a short one
(2) Female plug adapters from Home Depot: $2.98 each, or $5.96
(2) Ball-bungees (Home Depot, WalMart, etc:) Less that $1.00
16 gauge zip cord at $0.24 a foot at Home Depot: $4.80 for 20 feet

The process for each end is the same, so you will do this twice. You'll need a knife, scissors, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers (or your teeth.) Very easy stuff, even for the not-so-handy types.

Using scissors, cut about one inch down the notch between the two parts of the wire, as shown.

Make sure you stay inside the notch on your cut.

Using a sharp knife at about 1/2 inch from the end, cut through the rubber insulation to the metal wire. Do not cut the wire. If in doubt about where you are, stop, bend the wire and check. Flip the wire over and do the same thing.

Next, grasp the insulation on the tips of each of the two wires, twist it and pull it off. You may wish to grasp it with pliers. I used my teeth. Please do not tell my wife. Now, twist the wires (individually) to make the easier to bend and connect later. Your wire ends will now look like this, with two stripped wires.

Bend the little stripped ends into a "U," as shown. Repeat the same process for the other end of the wire. (This is the extent of the cutting/stripping/pliers grasping part.)

Get your female plug end and open it up with a screwdriver. This plug shown is the one from Home Depot. (If yours is different, figure it out. Should be really easy.)

Your wire should have labeling of some kind that runs along one of the two sides. Almost all wire does now. If not, grasp one end of the wire and make a mark on one half of it. Now pull it through your hands and get to the other end so you can make a similar mark on the same half of the wire.

(You wire will almost certainly have markings already on it, if you look closely.)

Next, take your little bent wires and connect them as shown. The plug ends will be "polarized," which means one slot will be a little longer than the other. This is why we are keeping track of which wire is which. You'll want to connect the same wire half to the long slot at each end of the wire, and vice versa. It is easy, and it will help to protect your camera.

Now, prepare to close the plug. Make sure the wire will not be pierced by the screw, as shown. Close it up. The plug should clamp the wire firmly. If not, open it back up and wrap a little black electrical tape around it. But most plugs clamp automatically.

Repeat the process at the other end, and your work is pretty much done. I hope this was as easy for you as it seemed to me. If you just follow the steps carefully, you should be fine. I tested it on my five-year-old, and he assembled a half just fine. :) (And yes, I tested it it well. The point is, you can do this even if you do not normally do handi-man stuff.)

Now, just plug the PC cords into each end and attach whatever you are using for strain relief.

There you are.

Here is an example of how I hang it on my flash when I am using it. I usually stick the other ball bungee around my lens at the other end of the cord. The important thing is not to have that PC connection carrying the weight and/or wiggling around.

Next: Soft Light: Umbrellas


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Blogger Rick Donhauser said...

Great post.

For Canon flash 550ex, 580ex etc., Paramount cords can make a cord for the Flash end of the "Build a Pro PC Cord"
- male household tip #16 to
- female hotshoe tip #33 (has a 1/4 20 nut) (They will put a male hot shoe on the tip #33 for an extra $5)
- with 6 inch straight cord

for $36

Also their PW-MHSF1

Miniphone to Hot Shoe Female ( 1 ft. straight ) is great for attaching pocket wizards to Canon flash

April 18, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger Jeff's Photo Blog said...

I am wondering if there is such a thing as a male to male pc cord? I don't use Pocket Wizzards I use Quantums and there is no household connection on the receiver.

Jeff Montgomery
Harding University

May 04, 2006 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Yes you can get a male to male pc cord. I used them for a shoot, but they tend to be fragile.

I wish I had thought of this household cord techinque when I needed to light a hockey arena for an event I was shooting. I used 2 nikon flahes combined with 2 studio strobes pointing up into the white reflective dome to light the event. I wish I would have known about this idea, because the cords were a bit expensive and brittle (from the cold) by the end of the first day of shooting. They worked, but this would probably be cheaper (I was using y splitters to fire the 4 lights off with pocket wizards using 2 recievers and 1 transmitter. I just didn't have $$ to buy more recievers to do the job totally. But I got by with what I had.)

May 21, 2006 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do i make this work w/ sb600 ?

May 25, 2006 8:04 PM  
Anonymous Joseph J. Nemo said...

Why are you using 16-gauge lamp cord instead of the more frequently seen 18-gauge, which is thinner, lighter, and cheaper?

June 06, 2006 5:23 PM  
Blogger David said...

Well, it's what was available at the time. :)

The cost is nominal, for either. The advantages are weight and cost (which is low for either) for the thinner stuff.

Advantages are durability and long possible runs (due to the lesser internal resistance of the wire) for the heavier stuff.

Either will work fine.


June 06, 2006 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I make a suggestion. Since the main cord is designed F/F to avoid accidentally plugging into the AC outlet, why not use a completely different plug/jack...1/4" mono plug. This will also assure correct polarity, which using Household plug won't. The 1/4 plug and jack should be available at any Radio Shack store.

June 11, 2006 10:00 PM  
Blogger David said...


You could certainly do that. But the advantage of using HH jacks is that you can (a) lengthen or (b) set up a multi-strobe synch cord easily, cheaply and with normal household (no pun intended) items any time you want.


June 11, 2006 11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing to watch for is the polarity. According to my D70 manual the center pin should be positive. With a non-polarized HH plug the polarization could be reversed. If the camera is polarity sensitive, one side of the HH cable should be marked and the pc/HH cord installed the same way on both ends. A pain but the only way I can think to keep the polarity straight.

The reason I bring that up is, I was using my optical slave and found out that if I reversed the slave, it would not fire the flash. So I labeled the blade that has to go into the narrow slot.


June 12, 2006 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mistake. I reread the instructions and you did mention about keeping track he wiring on the same side, which takes care of the polarity issue.

June 12, 2006 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just got back from a trip to HD. I looked at the HH socket and compared it to my HH sync cord. There is a potential problem. The wide blade of my sync cord fits into the narrow slot of the socket. This means that a user could reverse the polarity when they plug in their sync cord.

I first found out about this difference in blade size when I built an adapter to go from 1/4" phono to HH, for my RF slave to my Speedotron pack. I found that the adapter won't fit in my Sunpak. Then I compared it to my HH sync cord and found the diferences in blade widths.

July 16, 2006 6:20 PM  
Blogger Thomas Tamura said...

Thanks David for the great info .... first learned of Strobist in News Photographer a week or so ago and also new to blogging (my apologies in advance for any mistakes I may be making in posting or ?)

Anyway, after reading this building a PC Cord lesson, I am inclined to build cords for my PW and adapters for my cheap China 16 channel radio slaves, but don't know anything about polarity, tip, shield, sleeve, etc ....

The PW cords should not be a problem as it will be male plugs (1/4" to 1/8",) but the other will be female 1/4" to HH.

Any ideas? Where can I look for more info?

TIA ....

August 03, 2006 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol ok see how much of a newbie i am. there are the pics

August 12, 2006 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Duncan Babbage said...

Great idea to have more standard cables rather than long PC sync cables. Is no one concerned however at the possibility that someone, a child say, could get into your camera bag, take one of the short cables designed for either end, and plug it into the household supply. That then leaves them with a high voltage-charged plug that is exposed at the PC connector end. I hate to think...

August 15, 2006 12:09 AM  
Anonymous David Robinson said...

hi from the uk!!

Was just wondering, with no real knowledge on wires and elctronics and such, that it would be possible to make something like this with the 3 pin kind of plugs we have over here?


September 10, 2006 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Geoff said...

UK here too.

David and others in the UK, you can get all the bits you need from Maplins (

Female US household sockets HL19V Socket £1.28 each

Round 2-Core 3A Mains Cable XS91Y £0.84 per metre

Try Paramount cords in the US for your camera and flash to male household cords (

October 13, 2006 10:06 PM  
Blogger Robin Dreyer said...


So what does this setup look like plugged into your camera? Which is to say, are you putting the little bungee around your camera? around your wrist? What's the best way to keep the weight off the PC jack if you don't have the camera on a tripod?

Robin Dreyer

January 23, 2007 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Great, inexpensive idea!

As a response to all the concern over accidentally plugging the HH ends into an AC outlet, I would suggest to create a durable label and affix it to each and every adapter or cord that has a male HH end.

This doesn't resolve the dangers it would pose to a child who can't read the label, but at least it will serve as a warning to those who can.


February 16, 2007 6:42 PM  
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April 17, 2007 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Noah K. said...

I love the Idea with the HH plugs! works awesome. I had an issue at first trying to use multiple strobes and hh plugs. Found a simple soulution by just replacing one of the single HH end with a triple trap plug. you can use three strobes at once

April 28, 2007 2:36 AM  
Blogger jawrr said...

Does everyone know if it's reliable to get the flash synced if the wire is around 10 meters and connected to flash through hot-shoe connection and PC to the Camera?

Would like to use my 40D with a Canon flash at this distance if it's possible... shooting snowboarding and skateboarding at night.

May 05, 2008 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Jim in Virginia said...

Has anyone taken a swing at building a DIY PC Male-to-Household cord --- instead of buying it?

What would the PC plug be called at Radio Shack? Is this a generic plug type used for a photography application? Is it available at Radio Shack or on-line electronics parts suppliers?

May 15, 2008 12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great idea saved me a ton! I did make one modification to the setup that has been working nicely. Instead of using a short male pc to household plug I spent a little extra and got a coiled cord. The coil in the cord acts like the bungee ball described above and if I need to I can wrap the coil around my strap or tripod for added support (and who doesn't like added support?).

July 02, 2008 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive a newbie question. As Noah K. posted earlier, "Found a simple solution by just replacing one of the single HH end with a triple trap plug. you can use three strobes at once." So, am I to understand that if I build the PC Cord as mentioned in this article, I can connect to my Nikon digital camera and have 3 flashes trigger at the same time? Would that be better than just placing two of the units in slave mode to be triggered from the main flash output?

November 11, 2008 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Mike Scott said...

I opted to go for a different route for a sync cord for my canon 450d and 430ex.

Using a TTL sync cord from Jessops i split in two and extended with ethernet cable. As canon use 6 wires (5 and 1 earth) i wired each of the main 5 to one of the eight wires on the ethernet cable and used the last 3 remaining ethernet wires to connect to the larger bare earth wire from the ttl cable. Works an absolute treat. I am now considering removing the ethernet cable and fitting two rj45 (ethernet) connectors at either end of the ttl cable this would allow the simple connection of an ethernet cable to the sockets for varying lengths.

From looking at the diagram i cant see any reason why this wouldmt be a better solution for pc sync cords, either use 4 wires from the ethernet cable to each single wire for the PC sync or juse use a seperate ethernet cable for each of the PC sync wires.

IF it works this will completely remove any risk of accidental plugging in to the mains supply and ethernet cable exceptionally cheap.

November 17, 2008 3:54 PM  
Blogger Netyrk said...

The household plug idea is great.

I note the concerns that people have over safety and reversed polarity.

The use of Australian plug, socket combinations (not in Australia !!!) would possibly solve both problems as our plug socket combinations have an angular offset.
like this: / \
They are available in two pin (or a three pin earthed version).
Not a great idea for Australian users from a safety viewpoint, but would be a very inexpensive solution for US and UK strobists.

Of course, you have to get the electricity to flow the right way up :)

February 19, 2009 8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I put together a twenty foot cable and it works just fine. I had to make some changes. I picked up a Vivitar 285HV and had to do some cutting and splicing, but it works.

Many thanks to all those that gave contributed to this.


July 15, 2009 1:46 PM  
Blogger Draper said...

To add to the idea of using non-standard connectors for safety, consider using Twist-Lock connectors, which would also prevent accidental disconnection.

Google "Twist-Lock electric plugs and sockets" for dozens of cheap sources. E.g., FruitRidge Tools sells L5-20 plug/socket pairs for around $11 total. Shipping is $2.55 plus $.40 per item.

You can do better than that, often $4-$6/pair or less if you watch ebay, but watch the shipping - it can eat up the savings.

NO ONE will plug these into a wall socket! And, as a bonus, some twist-lock plugs & sockets tend to be much more water/corrosion resistant than indoor extension cords. DK

July 20, 2009 6:05 PM  
Blogger chrisjohnson95 said...

If anyone is looking to get a cheap wireless flash trigger, go on Ebay. For around $40 you can by a transmitter and receiver made by a company called Yongnuo. I have their wireless shutter release and it works great! getting the wireless flash trigger and 2 receivers next week. I'll keep you posted on how they work out for me

October 14, 2009 11:10 PM  
Blogger dave-bro said...

i have a 20D and a 40D and a 580EXii flash. i'd like to build one of these PC cables. would i purchase 2 male PC - HH for both ends of the cable? thanks.

November 03, 2009 12:57 PM  
Blogger Billy Scanlan said...

Any ideas on how I could power 3 Canon flashes this way?

November 24, 2009 12:07 AM  
Blogger Web said...

Just built two ... one's 15 ft., the other is 35 feet. Female HH on both ends. Then made one about 10 in. long with male HH on either end to connect the two together for 50+ feet if I needed it. Note of caution ... the twin-male adapter is now the most dangerous thing in my house. Why? Because if my 8-yo. or 12-yo. plugged it into a wall, they'd have an open electrical circuit in the palm of their hand (and the nasty results of closing that circuit as well.) I'm planning on labling it with skull and crossbones and the words "NO USE - YOU WILL DIE - THIS MEANS YOU." In any case, looking forward to shedding some light in corners I once might have missed.

February 20, 2010 3:46 PM  
Blogger David said...



That is one of the most dangerous things you can have in your house. The only reason you think you needed it was because you made *two* double-female HH cords, which are perfectly safe.

To extend the double female HH cord, you just plu a normal (male-to-female) cord into either end.

Seriously, throw that thing away before it hurts or kills someone. You will never hear that suggestion here, and I am replying as soon as I saw your comment to ask you to chuck it. May as well have a cocked, loaded gun on the dining room table.


February 20, 2010 9:24 PM  
Blogger Melvyn said...

Hi, I'd first like to say thanks a mil for all that I've learnt & been inspired with.

I have a prob. I made 2 PC sync cords & connected them, 1to my 580ex II & 1to my 285hv & connected both d other ends together to d PC sync on my 40D. They don't fire. If I disconnect either, my 40D fires the other individually but not both of them together. Pls help me.
P.s. While both d flashes are switched on, if I pull out the PC plug of d 580ex, it automatically fires d 285hv. Also, switching on d 285hv with d 580ex switched-on & connected, fires d 285hv. The reverse does not hold true.

Thanks a lot in advance...Mel.

May 16, 2010 9:32 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Sorry, but using mains cable and an actual mains adaptor is just LETHAL.

It's also prosuctable for manslaughter should nayone else get shocked-even more so because the yanks don't have a earth cable like us Europeans and Brits do.

NEVER do this, never ever even think about it -.

Clever boys will use an audio cable instead, simpler and safer and it won't kill you or your children.

Jesus Wept Mate !!!

February 13, 2011 4:37 AM  
Blogger David said...


Not to point out the obvious, but this is a female-to-female AC cable. Meaning, it is impossible to plug it into an AC outlet.

I suppose, if someone *made* a male-to-male cable, (for some reason) you could plug *that* into an outlet and plug *this* cable into *that*.

But then you would just have the equivalent of an extension cord plugged into a wall.

February 13, 2011 2:55 PM  
Blogger Madison Somerville said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but where do I plug the pc cable into my canon ex 430 II flash? There doesn't seem to be anywhere on my flash that would accept a pc cord. Thanks! Madison

January 28, 2012 11:45 AM  

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