Monday, April 10, 2006

Lighting 101: Build a Pro Synch Cord, Pt. 1

Important note: 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.


_________________

In retrospect, I was pretty hard on synch cords. I made the jump to wireless about ten years ago. The Pocket Wizards have been a Godsend.

But I also remember what it was like to try to cobble together a lighting bag on almost no budget. Wireless remotes to not fit into that bill at all. And the very last thing I want to do is to have those mui-expensivo Pocket Wizards scare someone out of learning how to light off camera. So here goes.

The last synch cord I was using before I went wireless is the synch cord I am going to show you how to make. It is designed to be cheaper, more durable and more reliable than the one-piece, store-bought cords. And it can be made very long - I have used 75-foot versions with good results - for very little extra money.

It is made with two Household-to-PC cords, one at each end. The middle is basically an extension cord with "female" fittings at each end.

(If you do not know what the "female" part means, I am not going to be the one to tell you. Think about it.)

At each end is a short household male-to-PC cord (where to get it.) This will plug into your camera or one of those PC tips on the cheap Nikon SB-24's (or any other PC-equipped Nikon strobe.)

If you are going with another flash brand (with a different connector) I will leave it to you to figure out how you'll connect it. Please put your comments at the end of this post to share with others if you do. No secrets here.

You will also place a 6- or 8-inch ball bungee at each end, for strain relief. The tips on PC cords are vulnerable, and also the expensive part. You want the PC connection to stay still. You also want the cord to be supported by something, and not hanging by the PC connection at either end. This is how your cord will last a very long time.

The middle of the cord is 16-gauge "zip" cord, or lamp cord as some people call it. You can buy it in bulk. Why? It is durable as heck. Wiggle it all you want. No problem.

It is also easily replaced or repaired. Say you made a 20-foot synch cord and now you need a 35-foot one. You could just replace the cheapo lamp cord in the middle in about 5 minutes (if that) with a 35-foot section, for less that $7 at Home Depot (which is my favorite photo store, because I am a certified cheapskate!) The stuff is only 24 cents a foot. Schwing.

So, what you're going to make is basically a 20 foot extension cord with female fittings at each end. Then you'll plug the PC-to-household male 6" cords into each end, put on the ball-bungee strain relief, and, as they say in the cool Guy Ritchie movies, Bob's your uncle. (That mean's, "you're done.")

Why female at each end of the main cord? Because females are smarter than males. No, no, no. Because this will make it impossible for some "helpful" bystander to plug your synch cord into an AC outlet that way. (Which will do very interesting smelly, smoky things to your digital camera...)

Also, keeping the cord the same at both ends means that you can elect to get a third PC cord to keep as a backup, and it'll work at either end. And you can make it longer in a pinch by adding a normal extension cord.

So, let's run the numbers before we get into the how-to's.

(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

You are more than welcome to buy an all-in-one cord, but the long ones get expensive. The zip-cord way allows you durability, length-flexibility and cost savings over the long, one-piece models.

If your flash does not have a PC jack, you can add a "household" synch terminal to it by getting a Household to Hotshoe adapter (where to get it) which is a great idea, as it means you only need to get one small PC cord to connect the zip-cord-based PC cord to your camera. Everything else - even multiple flashes - can be done with cheap household connectors.

Whichever you choose, make sure to use the strain relief at the PC connections (bungee, rubber band, string, whatever.) That is the big secret to making a cord last for a long time.

Next: Building a Pro PC Cord, Pt. 2

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30 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your camera lacks a PC sync terminal, Paramount makes a 12" hotshoe-to-household-male adapter that should work on the camera end of Dave's sync cord. It's $16 at Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00093BDVI

Kevin

April 28, 2006 4:51 PM  
Anonymous Nick Wright said...

I'm going crazy.

According to Canon, the PC terminal on my EOS 10D is a female-type.

According to the Adorama site, that household-PC adapter deal you link to has a female plug on the end of it.

So first of all, is my PC sync really female? If so where can I find a household to male-PC cord?

I can't seem to find one anywhere.

May 15, 2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger David said...

Nick-

Much like that guy from The Crying Game, there is sometimes confusion over the gender of a PC connection or cord. If you look at your camera's PC connection, the very center is a hole. But the jack, taken in it's entirety, looks female.

The camera connection is technically female, but can look male because of that reason.

Retailers sometimes screw up the gender label on cords for that same reason.

Nikon's PC connections on their strobes are the exact same as the PC connections on camera bodies. Any cord that'll plug into a camera body will plug into the Nikon (PC-equipped) strobes, too.

If in doubt, ask them on the phone. If it'll plug into a camera, it'll plug into an SB-24.

May 15, 2006 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Nick Wright said...

And the cord you linked to fits a sb24, so it will fit my 10D?

Just making sure I'm understanding you right.

May 15, 2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger David said...

Nick-

Now you have *me* not sure. Their photo shows a male fitting, but the description describes a female fitting.

To be safe, I found a PC Male to HH Male cord with no discrepancy and subbed it out on the link(s). It is less expensive, too. This should absolutely work. Sorry for the confusion (myself included) and good catch.
-D

May 15, 2006 10:14 PM  
Anonymous James said...

I think I have this straight but I keep second guessing myself. I'd really appreciate if someone could clear this up for me.

http://www.adorama.com/FAHSPCA.html
I'm getting that little thing for the hotshoe of my D70s.

I'm then buying a male to female sync cord. The flash will be a Nikon Sb-24. Are all of my male/female connections correct? Thank you.

May 21, 2006 8:59 PM  
Blogger David said...

James-

To be sure you can simply call Adorama on the phone during business hours. The phone tree will send you right to someone who is a specialist in the flash cord area, and he will make sure you get it right.

They are really very good at that kind of stuff.

-D

May 21, 2006 10:16 PM  
Anonymous James said...

I contacted Adorama and they really weren't very helpful. I'd really appreciate if someone could just clear this up.

May 24, 2006 3:48 PM  
Blogger David said...

James:

That thing you linked to is a FEMALE jack, which is is just like a normal camera synch and the same as the jack on your SB-24. You will need MALE PC connections at each end of your cord (however you do it) to connect that thing to a flash.

I left an alternative suggestion for an adapter on the other comment area you posted to.

-D

May 24, 2006 9:43 PM  
Blogger McCrystal Image said...

The studio I used to work at had a system worked out that would trigger 4 White lightning 1600's using this system. We added a couple of three way wire taps to send a cable back to each strobe. We would use heavy extension cords instead of making the wires ourselves.

That of course ended when someone plugged a sync cord into a wall... Neat noises and fire!

June 06, 2006 8:51 AM  
Blogger David said...

... which is exactly why I set it up for the "AC" cord to have two female ends...


:)

June 06, 2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger MagikTrik said...

Although I have Pocket Wizards I just finished building my PC Sync cord for those "just in case" situations & it works great. If you haven't seen my other post about electricity on the "Fire multiple strobes from one cord" article I am scared to death of it because I've seen what it can which has caused me to learn absolutely nothing about the stuff because I don't like it. Anyway my point is that if I can do it, anyone can do it & it's always good to have a backup!

P.S. Are the drunken letter codes getting harder or is it just me?

July 19, 2006 12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First timer and newbie here. great stuff by the way. I am having trouble picturing your groovy cord idea. is there a photographer in the house. :) jk could you pretty please post some pics of the finished product and i will try to follow along.

August 12, 2006 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the UK and unfortunately don't have access to the types of lead (pc to HH male etc) that you refer to from Adorama.
However, do I need to purchase the expensive Nikon pc connector (threaded) to link my D200 to a SB800 or will any of the cheaper ones still fit.
Great information by the way, love it.

Kev

August 28, 2006 5:00 PM  
Blogger Dillon Allen said...

I have an old Minolta (that might be redundant since Minolta no longer exists) 5400HS flash. I also use a Canon dSLR. The solution(s) to get a Canon hooked up to a PW or a sync cord are discussed elsewhere, but getting a Minolta flash isn't. The Minolta flashes seem to have two "problems" compared to the EQ discussed here to get it off camera, but it has plenty of features to allow manual control and can completely go nuclear on something when necessary. So I'm going to posit my (still-in-work and hopefully cheap) solution, and I would appreciate feedback. That is, if I'm being a dummy, someone please smack me. Here goes:

Problem 1: The Minolta flash has an OC, vice PC, connector. Finding an OC cable is like finding the Rosetta stone these days, but there seem to be a few available from retailers and on eBay. Due to their rarity, they also seem to be going for at or near their original retail price. At this point it sounds easy, but the OC connectors I've found either come connected to a Minolta hot shoe mount or another OC connector, which leads to problem 2...

Problem 2: The Minolta hot shoe on the 5400HS and my old Maxxum 7xi's seem to be the opposite gender from the rest of the camera world. The flash is the female and the camera has the male connection. I haven't quite figured out how to deal with this. I think I'm going to have to add a second cable in-between the flash's hot shoe connection and my SSO-CLK sync cord (or PW in the future) that is a male hot shoe-to-male HH connection.

Summary: I think that the following combination offers a solution for users of Minolta flashes of the 5400HS vintage. Listed in order from flash to camer.
1. OC-1000 cable (OC connector to female hot shoe)
2. Male hot shoe-to-male HH or PC (this will probably have to be a custom cord from Paramount Cords or equivalent vendor)
Note that this gets you to a PW if that's your setup, so only continue if you are using the SSO-CLK cord.
3. Female-Female HH connection with length of cable you want.
4. Male HH - PC connection
5. AS-15 if you're shooting Canon or anything else without a PC connector onboard.

Look forward to thoughts from the ether,
Dillon

September 15, 2006 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Craig Abbott said...

I have a Minolta 3600HSD for my old Minolta film camera and am building it into my flash kit as we speak.

Its not an easy solution as The Minolta hot show is non-standard. I am working on a dual solution;
1 - fire the flash by PC cord
2 - fire the flash by wireless

The wireless solution will be via a light sensitive cell (similar to this set up: http://photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00IUgy)

Hopefully in the next week or two I will have a fully finished solution and will post the pics and methodology on flickr.

April 02, 2007 4:10 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I picked up 16-2 cord from Home Depot and male and female connectors, hooked everything up paying close attention to matching polarity on each end but I get nothing once I hook it up to my flash with the HSH Wein connector and my camera with the PC to Home cord.

Perhaps the male end isn't getting a good connection to the Wein flash adapter, but with the 20ft cord I bought it works fine.

I noticed that when I close and screw the male and female connectors there is a piece of plastic (molded inside) that crimps pretty hard on the wire, is this normal ?

Home Depot guy had no clue about "zip cord"

thanx...

July 14, 2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger David said...

Aaron-

You have a bad connection somewhere. Very unlikely that it is in the HH cord. Those are very robist connections.

You need to find a way to test the PC-HH cord and/or the Wein HSH. One of them is almost certainly the culprit.

-DH

July 14, 2007 10:06 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

disregard, I reseated the SB600 on the Wein adapter and all is well in the universe.

July 14, 2007 10:24 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Thanx for the assistance and the prompt response. I look forward to your fourth coming DVD, you definately need to get paid from all the help you provide with this blog !!!!

cheers

PS: have you discovered a max length with the HH cord ? Also is there a max number of flashes you can connect to a single camera. I located the graphic that indicated how you can use a household multi connector to use more than one flash with a camera.

July 14, 2007 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is there a hotshoe-to-male HH cord?

March 21, 2008 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To extend a standard Shoe Cord, simply hit DigiKey.com and search for
Modular Coiled Cord
( modular is like phone-cord-modules or LAN-cable modular ends )
when the results come in, you can filter 'em...
# of Positions/Contacts
6p6c is the one you want...

Dismantle a Shoe Cord, notice that there is 1 main contact in the centre
+ the frame/body contact
( that's 2 contacts )
+ the four little contacts in the Canon/Nikon smart shoes
( that's 4 more contacts, hence the 6 contacts cord, see....
if you're doing some other brand, you may only need 2 )

Apply Filters on that search page, now choose the sizes you are interested in...
( or choose "Coiled - Reverse", which I *think* makes 'em not tangle-up... )

and Voila: 5', 7', 10', or 14' coiled Shoe Cord, length of one's own choosing!

A bit of soldering, a good+low-price Multimeter to test the connections before & after...
( use the Resistance test to discover which pins conduct to which other-end-of-cord pins, or the frame
-- and make certain that the end-result is not different! )

http://www.paia.com/multimeters.asp
$21 without current-measure, or $35 with...

( PAiA makes kits for audio hardware, for musicians )

Total price for one's super-extended Shoe Cord?

Multimeter, if one didn't already have one
( don't want to kill the camera if the connections are soldered wrong! )
= $30, or so, incl shipping.

Old Shoe Cord, for the end-connector thingies
( Dot Line brand are about $40 @ B&H )

New Cord of one's favorite length
( $10 + shipping from DigiKey )

Soldering & Testing time ...
( 2n-1? :b )

And Now... a super-custom solution for *one's own* needs, affordably!

( kermit-style *Yayyyy!!! )

: )

June 02, 2008 3:15 AM  
Anonymous Robert Wheater said...

Ok. I am really interested in making this sync cord and I just have a quick question.

The 16 gauge zip cord is just the standard speaker wire correct? The kind used for higher end speakers?

September 17, 2008 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Ted said...

If you need good pictures of connectors/cords, etc go to Paramount Cords. They have exceptional pics of all the main flash/camera hookups and.....if you don't want to tackle the DYI, they offer custom made cables of your choice. Check it out..Best wishes!

November 14, 2008 2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of cord would I connect to a Household to Hotshoe adapter (for a 430ex) that would then connect to the handmade zip cord with two female ends? I would need a two sided male extension cord. Do they make those???

March 09, 2009 9:30 PM  
Blogger Chris Meinders <> said...

So, on some extension cords, they have multiple outlets. Could you use an end like this and fire multiple flashes?

June 07, 2010 9:05 AM  
Blogger Steve Murphy said...

Chris:

Yes, I think that will work just fine. David even referred to using HH chords for multiple flash setups in the article.

I just made a 30 ft. chord out of two 15 ft. extension chords from Walmart. Buying the zip chord at HD costs $0.30 a foot and then you have to buy two female connectors at $2 each for a total of $13 for a 30 ft chord. The same 16 gauge zip chord is only $0.16 a foot if you buy it as 15 foot extension chord, with the added advantage that you don't have to buy the female HH connectors for the end, so it only costs $6, including the crimp connectors.

Obviously, using extension chord take a little different build method. I cut off the male ends and connected the two chords (taking care to match polarity) using a "16-14 Gauge Weatherproof Butt Connector" from the automotive section. Any auto parts store will have these; no soldering required. All you do is strip 1/4 inch from each wire and crimp it into the connector. Then you heat it up and it shrinks around the wire to make a waterproof seal. To make the connection more robust, I put heat shrink tubing over both connectors, so the result should be very robust. And since each end of the chord has 3 female connectors, daisy-chaining flashes should be a cinch.

August 14, 2010 7:24 AM  
Blogger Duzter1 said...

I have found a simpler and cheaper alternative to making my own cord. Pick up a cheap 6ft extension cord (currently $1.47 at Walmart)and just cut off the female end. This female end on most cheap cords has 3 plugs and all you have to do now it use it as an adapter to connect any old extension cord to your male ended cord. If you are real anal and worried about plugging into household current then just superglue the female adapter you just made onto the male end of a cord. This solution elinates the need to worry about polarity. In a pinch even a surge protector you conveniently borrow from the home entertainment system could serve as an adapter to connect to male household ends.

October 09, 2010 12:20 AM  
Blogger matthew said...

It doesn't seem that PC extension cords, with a male PC on one end, and a female PC on the other, are all that expensive. I bought a Vivitar 285hv and it came with a short- proprietary -plug -on- one -end -to- PC cord; I then bought a 14' PC extension cord (with both size PC ends on it) for about $14; I also bought, for about 7.95 from B/H, another PC extension cord, about one foot - so for about $20, I got a 15' cord. Now, cords at Walmart aren't THAT cheap, and I'll have to buy some PC cords at a camera store anyway, so I've figured the savings to be around 7 bucks or so to do it the DIY way. I just don't see massive savings here, and why not just have those nice, light purpose-built PC extension cords?

October 26, 2010 5:00 PM  
Blogger JunkMan1989 said...

I was going crazy trying to assemble a variety of inexpensive flashes to build my home studio. Using experience from building interchangeable power cables for ham radio equipment, I purchased a few flash cords that would give me all the connectors I needed and cut them all in two. Using Anderson power connectors and cheap extension cords from Home Depot, I build a set of interchangeable/interconnecting cords that use a Household "backbone" cable. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21810230@N02/sets/72157626736409208/with/5727706384/

May 16, 2011 4:01 PM  

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