Know Your Sync

Pop quiz: What is your camera's maximum sync speed?

Much like the interstate highway at 3:00am, in some situations your max sync speed is not so much a law as a suggestion.

And by the same token, sometimes your instruction manual can lie: Your camera may not be able to truly hit its advertised sync speed at all.

As many of you may know, a camera that says it syncs at 1/250th might go a little better than that if you use a fast flash and a hard cord instead of a PW. And that little bit of non-sync strip at the bottom of your frame at a 1/320th might not be very noticeable.

Or it might actually help the frame, as in the not-quite-synced sunset shot at left. (More on that photo, here.)

And, speaking of that shot, if I wanted to I could easily have synced this shot at a 1/500th. Just turn the camera upside down and let the unsynced half of the frame fall on the sky. The sky needs no sync -- it is all ambient, right?

But On the Flipside …

We have talked about the over-the-speed-limit stuff before. Fun stuff. But camera engineers sometimes cut it close to hit that round shutter speed number. And sometimes they miss it.

Lemme ask all of you 5D MkII owners, what's your real sync speed? 1/200th, right? (The Devil was due something for all of the camera you got in that sub-$3k package. No 1/250th for you today.)

But it may be even worse than that. You may be getting a little banding at a 1/200th. And heaven help you if you are trying to fire a slow, "big light." Or even slave a quick, second speedlight off of your main speedlight.

Take this little setup, in Guanajuato, Mexico. I am being a VAL for Francoise, who is shooting at the bottom of the frame.

I tell her to just go to a 1/200th and get a good aperture for a rich sky, then we will add light in to bring Sara back up in a cool way. Even better, Francoise is on-camera filling -- so the shadows on Sara will not be black. Gonna look cool.

No problem, right?

Yeah, well, except that Francoise's 5D MkII is really a true 1/160th full sync. Which means that it will grab a partial sync of my slaved SB-800's light, but not all of it. So naturally, I keep walking up the power setting, to no effect. This is because the raised power setting is just making the flash duration longer.

The flash is firing, and partially synching. But most of the hi-power goodness is happening after the shutter closes. And Francoise, naturally, keeps getting more and more confused when Sara doesn't get any brighter.

Meanwhile, a few feet away, Peter Norby (who took both of these photos) is doing just fine. His camera -- also a 5D MkII -- is grabbing all of my slaved SB-800's flash pop. Same exact setup, same lighting gear and same conditions.

What Peter got was what I was expecting Francoise to get. But it was just not happening for her. And it wasn't until the situation happened again later in the day that I figured out the problem.

This time, Peter was the subject, in a similar lighting setup. We were three feet away with him, using a slaved, direct SB-800 at half power. I mean, I was starting to catch a whiff of burnt facial hair in the frame, if you get my drift.


Okay, actually just enough to see some flash, but probably 80% of the slaved pulse was not being synced by Francoise's 5D MkII at 1/200th. Which is supposedly it's sync speed. But not really.

Then it hit me: Francoise's camera might be a little … slow. We dropped to a 1/160th and shot another frame. This one looked like Peter was being lit by a small thermonuclear device. Which is exactly how my brain had been telling me all of the recent pops should have looked.

Test, Test, Test

How do you know if you have a slow camera? It's easy to test and find out.

Get in a darkish room. Put your flash on camera and set your shutter at your fastest true sync speed. Fire a full pop on a plain wall and adjust your aperture until you get a reasonable exposure. (It is important that you use a full pop, as that is the longest flash pulse your speedlight can produce. Crank the ISO down, and even still you may need to back up.) Now open up the shutter one third of a stop, i.e., from 1/250th to 1/200th, or 1/200th to 1/160th.

You should not see any difference. If you do -- a little brighter, maybe, or a little previously unnoticed banding disappeared in the slower shutter pop -- then your camera is not full synching at its advertised speed.

You can stress the situation a little, too, by using your on-camera flash at low power to slave an off-camera flash at high power. This will add a little sync delay in (very tiny amount) and show you your limitations in a multi-flash situation. Throw a PocketWizard up there, and maybe add in a slower "big light" and you may get some additional valuable info on the sync front.

My D3, for instance, will sync a full-power and extra slaved SB-800s, but will band a little at a 250th with a PW and a full-power AB800 or AB1600.

Next, Crank the Volume to 11

If you are dumb-syncing (PW, PC cord, etc.) crank your shutter up above your sync speed with your typical flash gear and repeat the test. This way, you can get familiar with how your camera bands a missed sync at a 1/320th and a 1/500th, for those times when you need a little extra ambient control.

As long as you know exactly what is not going to be lit by flash at those speeds, you can compose (and/or rotate your camera) to make it work.


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Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

Funny you should post this... I had the same problem last night. I was shooting a black motorcycle and for one shot I wantd the sun, backlit, in the frame. I maxed the SS (5DII, 1/200th) and setup a 600w/s Profoto, full power. No matter what I did, the bike was dark--all except for one frame that was nuclear. So I got my max SS, once out of 10 or something.

There were lots of reasons for this. sync speed, trigger delay (ebay triggers), flash duration and maybe even power issues with the Vagabond (not it's fault). But I figured it out and dropped the shutter speed to 1/100th.

January 07, 2010 3:06 PM  
Blogger NtwkGestapo said...

How Timely! :) I was testing out some flash stuff the other night! Was verifying that I could fire both the 580EX II on camera (or tethered by my OC-E3 cord) and my OLD, OLD 199A flash via the PC connection on my 40D and IN THE PROCESS decided to find out my "true" sync speed (for either or both of the flashes). I hit 1/320 for either (or both) of the flashes without banding. Was shooting a nice neutral wall in the house and found out 1/320 worked just fine with either flash or both firing... Could hit a fairly consistent 1/400 with the 580 (very occasional tiny band at the bottom).
As soon as I recover from lens purchases gonna get me some of the PW ControlTL stuff and, probably, a 430EX II to replace the 199A which doesn't have any power control...

January 07, 2010 3:08 PM  
Blogger Austin said...

Good article. I thought I was crazy, not being able to sync my 5DMkII at 1/200. 1/160 is the best I can usually manage using big lights in the studio.

January 07, 2010 3:09 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Holy Speedlight Batman!

My daughter Margaret's D40 paired with Cybersyncs and an SB-600 synced at a 1/2500th. A freekin'2500th!!! WOW! I couldn't believe it, but here's the proof:

The D40 has a CCD chip which is on/off vs. newer cameras with CMOS which ladder down the vertical plane. The Cybersyncs fool the camera and it doesn't try to limit the sync to the official 1/500th setting.
Don't be dissin' those D40's kids!!!

January 07, 2010 3:12 PM  
Blogger gretsch said...

"Just turn the camera upside down and let the unsynced half of the frame fall on the sky."

That sort of genius insight is why I read this blog. Just when I think have grasped everything, you give another flash (heh) of why I read the blog, and you write it.

Oh, and awesome Index, thanks. Links are flying out of my inbox.

January 07, 2010 3:17 PM  
Blogger andrei said...

Thanks for the info, David. I knew the sink was for the synch speed. :) I noticed that the 5D m2 synchs funny. I'll have to go through all the testing as you mentioned. At first I thought the painters left a black strip on the bottom of my wall.

January 07, 2010 3:17 PM  
Blogger Michael Quack - Visual Pursuit said...

Can confirm this for Canon 1D MkII and Canon 5D MkII - both fall 1/3rd f-stop short of their advertised sync speed when used with external non Canon flashes.

January 07, 2010 3:30 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I can reliably achieve 1/160th with my 5D Mark 2, haven't really tried it with my flash on the camera, I just know that with my alien bee strobes 1/160 is what I have to set to not get any banding. Kinda sucks, but hey..whatcha gonna do. I'm happy with all the full frame goodness.

January 07, 2010 3:42 PM  
Blogger Barnacle said...

great info, thanks! the manual for my D100 says max sync speed is 1/180 but i don't hesitate to use 1/220 or 250 with no problem. i am using a cord.
could you explain why cords 're-act' better than PW's?

January 07, 2010 4:01 PM  
Blogger jim77742 said...

For Pentax K7 owners there is good news and bad news. The official max sync speed is 1/180th. And that shows (on my camera) a perfect white screen. No shadow band at all. The bad news is that the engineers in their infinite wisdom don't fire the flash if the shutter speed is greater than 1/180. We are lobbying Pentax for a simple firmware update to make this possible. (Of course high speed sync up to 1/8000 is possible but you need the Pentax flash on top of the camera or a special cable.)

January 07, 2010 4:15 PM  
Blogger contact said...

My 5DII works well with the Elinchrom Skyports at 1/200. But when the sync speed is going to 1/160 I no I have to change the battery of the Skyport.
New battery is a sync of 1/200.
(with the 40D this is 1/250 when this is not. Then I have to change the battery)

January 07, 2010 4:15 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I shoot a 5D along with a mix of Nikon speedlights. SB-25, SB-26, SB-28. At 1/160, I'm always in good synch. At 1/200, I often can get a decent synch, but there will be a very slight dark band at the bottom. If I'm creative, this has most often not been a problem. At 1/250, better than half the picture area is dark. I've gotten the same results from Cactus triggers to PW, and regardless of flash output. I also have a 580 EX II, and the hypersynch works beautifully using a Yongnuo knock-off TTL cord.

January 07, 2010 4:33 PM  
Blogger Charles Lanteigne said...

I use a 5D Mark II and I noticed the banding issue while working on a gig (studio lights with PocketWizards), as the image showed up on a tethered laptop. From there I shot at 1/160 instead of 1/200 to make sure, before I could test this further.

Later I did some tests with my 5D Mark II as well as with my older 5D (which has the same 1/200 x-sync). I found out that when using one or many Canon Speedlights (using Canon's wireless triggering), 1/200 works fine! So the cameras are fine then, as the shutter can clearly manage 1/200 there. If I plug my cameras in a studio light via a good ol' sync cord, again, 1/200 works fine! Well, it's not the flash duration either.

If I sync a Speedlite or a studio light with my pair of PocketWizards, then I get a small band at 1/200, and I need to go down to 1/160. A-ha.

Well, I don't know if you get the same results, but for me it is quite clear that the culprits are the PocketWizards, who seem to be a tiny bit late in their syncing.

I don't really mind 1/160 (pretty much the same), and the flash lasts much less than that anyway, so it's not really an issue for me. But I still need to remember that limitation when working with my PocketWizards.

January 07, 2010 4:43 PM  
Blogger Gard Gitlestad said...

Great post, very useful information!

I have a D40 though, so as mentioned above I can actually just blast away at any shutter duration as long as it's shorter than the pop of the flash itself. It's really useful! Pretty much any other camera will feel like a downgrade when it comes to flash use for me. As long as it is in a usable condition, I'll have that little 40 in my bag (and probably get it repaired when I wear out the shutter)! :)

For all Nikon shooters: I suggest you get a D40 (50 and 70 will also sync at nearly unlimited speeds) as an extra body - if nothing else, just for that one extremely underrated feature. Last time I checked, spanking new D40s costed next to nothing, and I suppose used 50s and 70s are cheap too.

January 07, 2010 4:51 PM  
Blogger Rikk said...


Your article could not have been more timely. My 5DMKII arrived today. I read your article as the battery was charging. After setting the time and the owner, I first shot my Macbeth Color Checker at 1/160th per your article. Shot 2 was at 1/200th and Shot 3 was at 1/250th. Triggering using the Alien Bees CyberSync's. I must be one of the lucky ones. My 1/200th is ok. The 1/250th is missing the bottom edge. I would have never thought to test it right out of the box. Thanks.

January 07, 2010 5:08 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

I also previously noticed my 5D Mk1 with Yongnuo radio triggers only synchs at 1/160th, 1/200 gives slight to major banding... Why doesn't the 5D Mk2 have better synch speed??!!

But that's brilliant about turning the camera upside down if ambient sky situation... will certainly intrigue the clients... ;-)

Thanks David!

January 07, 2010 5:17 PM  
Blogger Selbosh said...

I get 1/800s with my D40 and Yongnuo RF-602s. 1/4000s with a sync cable. Who needs dozens of flashes in the desert? :-)

January 07, 2010 5:22 PM  
Blogger Larry Eiss said...

That's some good stuff, David. Thank you for this one. I have been playing recently with flash sync and this post helped me better understand what I was seeing.

January 07, 2010 5:53 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I grasp the concept of this but why does my D300 with a SB600 on top blast away to 1/8000 @F5 with no banding?

January 07, 2010 6:08 PM  
Blogger James said...

"For all Nikon shooters: I suggest you get a D40 (50 and 70 will also sync at nearly unlimited speeds) as an extra body - if nothing else, just for that one extremely underrated feature. Last time I checked, spanking new D40s costed next to nothing, and I suppose used 50s and 70s are cheap too."

Careful though; whilst the D40 has an electronic shutter over ~1/250, the D40S is mechanical all the way. So no high sync-speed for the 'upgraded' model!

January 07, 2010 6:23 PM  
Blogger Glenn said...

My 5DmkII with Elinchrom and skyports sync at 1/160 in the studio. At 1/200 there is an ever so small black gradiant on bottom of the frame.

I do want to get faster HSS on the 5DmkII outdoors though, and have been pondering if radiopoppers on STE2 or 580exii and Elinchrom Ranger Quadra would work faster than 1/200. Sometimes 1/160 brings in too much ambient.

January 07, 2010 7:48 PM  
Blogger Dan Korkelia said...

That was an interesting and quick experiment. Ran it on my D300 with Nikon 80dx flash @ full power (fresh battery set)

Using RF-602 2.4ghz type trigger it gets:
- 1/250 almost invisible banding at the top
- 1/320 dark band at the top

Note: changing to freshly charged batteries in the receiver didn't change the result.)

Having flash mounted on camera:
- 1/250 is clean
- 1/320 is clean

Having onboard flash trigger 80dx in auto slave mode
- 1/250 almost invisible banding at the top
- 1/320 slightly more visible band but still okay

Very pleased with results and now I know my camera that little bit better. Thanks again Mr DH :)

January 07, 2010 8:00 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

@ Chris:
Nikon "Auto FP" the flash kind of machine guns through the exposure at reduced power. It does work though...
Not all Nikons have it.

January 07, 2010 9:34 PM  
Blogger David Kennedy said...

Would agree with you and the other comments that the 5D II syncs at 1/160 sec in most wireless situations. The only "real" strobes I have used with the PC terminal are Speedotrons, and again, the sync was 1/160. Would be curious to know others' experience with "faster" studio strobes.

January 07, 2010 10:09 PM  
Blogger BJO said...

My elinchrom skyport plus 285hv/sb24/sb26 will sync 1/200 with canon 40D, and a little banding at 1/250 (sometimes it is OK). But with G11, it will sync nicely up to 1/1250.

January 07, 2010 11:34 PM  
Blogger Rob Horton said...

Indeed. My Rebel XT (now approaching its 20,000th frame) will sync perfectly well up to 1/320th, even though the book says that 1/200th is the limit.

The catch is that activating the little pop-up flash will automatically limit the shutter to 1/200th. (Grrr) All the more reason to go with manual flashes off camera.

January 08, 2010 12:10 AM  
Blogger Ciba said...

In the fastest synchronization, which I reached with my D40 (1 / 640) in the photographs appeared fragments ( I found that this phenomenon is probably associated with the use of digital accounts. But I wonder exactly how this fragment arises. Fragments appear even slower times (about 1 / 500), but not in such quantities.

January 08, 2010 2:23 AM  
Blogger Alvaro said...

I wonder what is the downside of the Nikon D40 magical electronic shutter. I own a D90 and my old D40 was "sold"/traid to my girlfriend. As someone said, going from the D40 to the D90 felt like downgrading. But there must me something why the upper models don't have that electronic shutter and therefore lacking of the amazing sync speed.

Someone knows the answer?


January 08, 2010 3:17 AM  
Blogger Samuli said...

yep, one of the first things I did with the 5Dmk2 was to test what the sync speeds were with different triggering:


PW Multimax:

know your tools, right?

January 08, 2010 3:42 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

Its good you made this post - once i got the same issue at 1/250 using radio remote and seen the 'black-band' at the bottom of pic which of course disappeared at 1/160.

So, thanks you!

January 08, 2010 6:49 AM  
Blogger mhk said...

Hum hum ...

I can sync my D300 with an SB-900 or off camera @1/8000. The picture get's darker and there seems to be a kind of vignette. But it works fine, no banding. What I noticed instead: Using sync speed above 1/160 will darken my image about 1/3-2/3.

You can go at any shutter speed you want using CLS as long as you set the internal flash off, then it works. Otherwise it'll limit your sync speed to 1/320th FP. This limit doesn't apply using your SB-900 as a master, then the SB-900 can also fire and you can have a shutter speed above sync speed.

Happy flashing!

January 08, 2010 7:09 AM  
Blogger Placido said...

Uhmm... I think the problem is related to the way you trigger strobes.

I explain better: If you use a PC sync cable you'll get again the maximum sync speed.

Some months ago, I did this test using my 5D triggering an Elinchrom BxRi using skyport.

I saw that using Skyports and with shutter time @ 1/200s (max sync speed) the frame was black on bottom of frame, I just topped up the shutter time by 1/3 stop in order to see good results.
Differently, with PC sync chord directly connected between Camera and Elinchrom strobe, frame was well lit even @ 1/200s.

Once done this "characterization", I performed the same trial with 40D with same results.

In conclusion, for a correct exposure with both cameras and skyports, I need to top up shutter time by one third of stop.

January 08, 2010 7:13 AM  
Blogger Syl Arena said...

I've long considered Canon's sync rating of 1/200 to be a "Creative Mode" setting. Useful when I need a vignette across the bottom of the frame.

All my 5Ds, both generations, have always sync'd at 1/160.

January 08, 2010 9:20 AM  
Blogger damiano said...

My rebel xt too seems so syncs fine at 1/320 with the flash on the hot shoe.With cactus v4 1/200 is fine, but at 1/320 banding is quite visible on the bottom of the frame.


January 08, 2010 9:35 AM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

I also have the 5D Mark 2 and usually shoot at 1/160 just to be safe. Accidentally changed the shutter instead of the iso and ended up at 1/250 with a small black shadow on the bottom of the frame. Actually worked to my advantage, but had me stumped for a while.
Thanks for the timely post,

January 08, 2010 9:43 AM  
Blogger Lomoseb said...

It seems to be one more bad point for the 5DmkII to have 1/160th sync speed in most of cases.
But, correct me if i'm wrong, his native 100iso setting is equivalent to a 1/380th nikon 200iso for underexposing the ambient, not too bad regarding the competition ?

January 08, 2010 11:12 AM  
Blogger bruggles said...

I'm confused about one thing. Even if the camera is synching at a lower shutter speed than expected, why does increasing the flash power not result in more light? Since even a full-power speedlight flash duration is much shorter than the shutter speed, shouldn't you see the extra light in the shutter curtain window? In all I've read and experienced with partial synching, it is not that you don't see the volume of light, it's that part of the frame does not show any of the flash (because the shutter is never completely open). Thanks!

January 08, 2010 11:30 AM  
Blogger Valdo said...

Brilliant post!!! haven't enjoyed one this much in a while. I had this problem sometime ago and it took me a while to find out the problem...

Looking forward to all your 2010 posts.

January 08, 2010 12:29 PM  
Blogger P_M_D said...

My little Olympus E-620 (and the older E-510 too) can sync up to 1/250th with absolutely no banding, and about a tenth of the frame at 1/320th. Pretty sweet for a crappy overlooked system eh?

January 08, 2010 12:51 PM  
Blogger P_M_D said...

My little Olympus e-620 (and the older e-510 too) and easily sync up to 1/250th with absolutely no banding, and about a tenth of the frame at 1/320th. There's also a hack that allow the camera to sync at 1/2000th. Pretty sweet for a crappy overlooked system eh?

January 08, 2010 12:53 PM  
Blogger Sodabowski said...

I tried to nail down my max sync speed a few weeks ago, this post both surprized me (the 5dMkII is really a sucker to that matter, I thought it would sync at least up to 1/500 with no trouble) and comforted me in my thoughts about what is written on the manual and what max sync speed you really get when shooting. I had experienced many missed frames when shooting sports at 1/250 on my 400D, and ended up thinking about sync speed after half an hour of unlit frames.

One possible workaround to this technical limitation would be to "cheat" around and modify a sync cable by using the AF button output: all decent cams have a socket for an external trigger, with both the AF and trigger buttons available, i.e. remote shutter cables.

By firing the flash via the AF button's output, which happens just a few milliseconds before the actual shutter button is pressed, the pop from the wired strobe would occur before the camera starts grabbing the frame.

With a very finely tuned digital delay (if need be), the full pop could reach the sensor on time and allow the max sync speed possible. I'll build a modified trigger/sync cable to crash-test that. I'll post a diagram on flickr, I'm not sure my english is good enough for a decent explanation :)

January 08, 2010 2:28 PM  
Blogger Sodabowski said...

(uh, do you guys realize that we are all talking about raising something that the peeps aboard the Titanic would have prefered to lower... )

* runs like hell *

January 08, 2010 2:35 PM  
Blogger mhk said...


You have to imagine the flash as a kind of gauss curve ... when it's not synced you see only up to 10% of power before the curtain is closed again. It's a delay matter!


Ever thought about using some Neutral Density filter? I can't remember having read something about it here ... what about it? Any thoughts?

January 08, 2010 2:39 PM  
Blogger M said...

I tested my Canon 40D with a 580EXII and it synced at 1/250. Then I tried it with my PW TT1/Flex5 setup... it would sync up to 1/1000 with no problem. I could go even faster when I opened up the aperture.

January 08, 2010 3:18 PM  
Blogger oneredpanther said...

they can keep their 5D Mk II's, my little D40 syncs up to 1/640.... :D

January 08, 2010 3:57 PM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

I wonder how many people hadn't already figured that out about the 5D Mark II. I had and it's a disappointment. Time to start an investment in black lenses. I'm sick and tired of Canon's half-baked cameras.

January 08, 2010 4:07 PM  
Blogger Elysian Photography said...


I agree, I have been severely disappointed by the overall performance of my DSLR. I grew up on film Canons, and used them extensively until film just got harder to find. I still have working 35 mm Canons (an AE-1 and a T70). But, my Rebel XTi (400D) can only sync up to 1/125 before banding. Seriously, 1/125. And that's using manual shoe-mount strobes, too, on low power. But I agree with the previous poster who said that even at full power, most strobes fire at, what, 1/1000 anyway, right? Who knows. This post definitely helped, but the dismal performance of the Rebel leaves a lot to be desired. Even with "faster" studio lights, I have never been able to sync anywhere above 1/125. And I own two bodies, both do exactly the same thing. I often blamed the Cactus triggers, but I've used them on a D80, and they've worked wonderfully. Full sync at up to 1/250. Of course, it doesn't help that the Rebel seems to underexpose everything by more than a full stop, maybe closer to two.

Sigh. Oh well. Good thing is, I still have the T-70, and the Cactus triggers will work with it.

January 09, 2010 3:31 AM  
Blogger Joachim said...

Last week I took some picture with my Nikon D40x. I used my old Minolta 5200i flash with an adapter for the hot schoe and the CactusPW. I were testing for the right shutter speed, because with 1/250 sec I obtained black images. I had to use a synspeed at 1/40 sec to take pictures without bandings. This result was very disappointing. Because I don´t know, if the CactusPW is to slow in transmitting the signals or the Minolta flash is to old for the modern cameras?

January 09, 2010 7:26 AM  
Blogger geoffmead said...

What a coincidence! only a couple of days ago I was copying some flat artworks using a pair of old studio flashes on half power at 45 degs. each side - very even lighting - shutter speed 1/250 (specified max on my 50D), synched with Elinchrom Skyport to one unit and built in "electric eye" to the other.
Only on originals with some white border could I see some slight shading at the bottom - worried for ages what might be causing it. then the penny dropped - it was sync. failure. 1/200 cured it. I've since done tests on 50D and various flashes (Vivitar 283,Canon,Metz using cord, Skyport,and got varying results. Thanks for the "head-up"

January 09, 2010 7:37 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

I--for one--truly appreciate the setup shots you sometimes provide. I often think I'm too close to my subjects with flash, so pull back quite far. Those illustrations have been a great aid to me. Thanks.

January 09, 2010 11:47 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

For me, I learn a great deal from seeing the shot setup. I thought I'd been shoving the flash up into my models' faces, and would pull them way back. Seeing just how close you get with the flash helps me immensely. Thanks!

January 09, 2010 11:53 AM  
Blogger captaindash said...

Speaking of using shutter speeds underexpose ambient, why does nikon use 200 as it's preferred ISO? That's stop-robbing, isn't it? Makes it harder to darken that sky, and makes us more prone to going to sync speed hit-and-miss territory. I just woke up so maybe my brain is somewhere else, but this means my poor flash is overworked vs native 100 ISO cameras. I've never heard of anybody using the low ISO settings. What are the shortcomings of using a lower ISO with a nikon (D300 in this case)?

January 09, 2010 2:01 PM  
Blogger Dean said...

GReat post David. Don't forget us poor people with poverty wizards. Fresh batteries can really help my sync speed. When my batteries get weak in my eBay/gadget infinity 16 channel triggers, the sync speed gets slower.
Fresh batteries = 1/250 on my D200

January 09, 2010 7:54 PM  
Blogger Sidock said...

This actually happened to me today! I knew better, I just failed to bring that information to the frontal lobe in time. 7D with Cybersyncs, everything was working all day, until I decided to try and bump to 1/200th. a lengthy conversation with the set designer and All of a sudden, things did not work as advertised! Then I come home and read this post, duh!

January 10, 2010 12:35 AM  
Blogger Aaron B. Brown said...

On camera 5D MkII 1/200 with speed lights 580ex & 580ex II no problem, some problems at 1/250. I think my 30D will do better than that, but I hardly use it anymore so I don't know, and my old 20D (that camera was magic and I miss it) did better.

But who does on camera when they have Pocketwizards? excellent results 200-3200 very good results 4000-5000 a little spotty 6400-8000. I can live with that easy. :-)

January 10, 2010 11:20 AM  
Blogger Robert Davidson said...

My understanding is that Nikon uses ISO 200 sensors while Canon uses ISO 100 sensors. If this is the case, you have a 1-stop advantage with Canon for cutting down ambient exposure. In addition, with Canon you can set the ISO down to 50 to further cut the ambient where needed (you need to "activate" the extended ISO settings via the menus first). I don't know if you can use ISO 50 with Nikon or not. You don't get any better image quality at ISO 50 than with ISO 100, but it's kinda like having a built in neutral density filter. I sure do like the huge full-frame real-estate on my Canon 5D-MarkII. Its high image quality even at very high ISO's is worth the trade of off the extra time it takes for the shutter to travel across the large sensor.

January 10, 2010 12:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

I am another person singing the praises of the D40. Mine syncs at 1/800sec with a Cactus trigger and a FL36-R flash(I got it really cheap). I can take a shot at 1/1000sec and only lose a little bit at the bottom if the frame. I will keep my D40 until it breaks.

I bought a used D80 and it feels like a huge downgrade in this respect.

January 10, 2010 12:22 PM  
Blogger Bl_nk Media said...

im glad my 700 syncs just fine but honestly i cant remember when the last time i shot at anything above a 1/60th.

Remember though, shoot as slow as you can to avoid any motion blur with your flash. You want to capture the whole duration of the flash.

Michael Furman told me about this and at first i didnt believe him until he cranked his H2 up to 1/250th and shot and then went back down to 1/30th. My jaw hit the floor when i saw the difference.

In my own tests i noticed the same thing, not as drastic as his results but a difference.

January 11, 2010 10:53 AM  
Blogger Sidock said...

@Bl_nk Media

I would agree with this wholeheartedly, 90% of the time and certainly in the studio. I wish I had just left the camera at 1/40, but there was some tiny bit of ambient that I just couldn't balance out with the shot so I cranked the the shutter to 1/200. Generally I shoot outdoors ISO 50 1/60 to get the ambient down 2 or three stops.

But yes, slow the shutter when you can to take in the whole t/0.1 range.

January 11, 2010 12:53 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

The flash sync speed of the D40 and the D70 is listed as 1/500. What are you guys talking about using 1/800 or 1/4000 for flash sync? Are you saying you can shoot something which covers much of the full frame and its illuminated by flash at those high speeds? If so, why doesn't nikon list the sync speed as higher?

I was going to pickup a D40 but then I realized I already have the same with the D700. It syncs at 250, but it also goes down to ISO 100, so that is equivalent. 500th @ ISO 200 = 250th @ ISO 100.

I can also use neutral density filters to get more open aperatures.

January 12, 2010 2:09 AM  
Blogger mhk said...


Yeah, the whole frame get's darker compared to "in-sync" shooting, but I'm still able to use my flash. You don't believe me? No problem, have a look here: @1/8000! @1/6400!

So, yes it works but maybe not as clean as you expect. I agree that there is quite a lot of vignetting ...

January 12, 2010 8:55 AM  
Blogger jim77742 said...

@Bl_nk Media:

I don't understand. If the flash (at full power) fires in 1/1000 sec, what difference would a shutter speed of 1/180 vs 1/40 be (apart from ambient light)? I cannot see how it affect motion blur???

January 12, 2010 9:35 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Two things I notice in the article:
1. The picture of the girl in the street seems mediocre compared to most of the other shots on this site. Was that the type of shot you were going for because the bottom half of the picture is all black, meanwhile the hair is blown-out.
2. Didn't the idea for using curtaining to your advantage by inverting the camera come from another photographer? I seem to remember a previous article where you linked to his site (I believe he was a wedding photographer) where he had a video about that trick.

Regardless, it was a good article, thanks for the info.

January 12, 2010 3:23 PM  
OpenID jpetersphoto said...

I ran the same test on my Canon 40D.

Great stuff!

January 13, 2010 9:52 PM  
Blogger Alberto Freire said...

As other people have stated your comment:
"except that Francoise's 5D MkII is really a true 1/160th full sync." is completely wrong. Use Canon flashes and CANON SYNCING methods like their IR transceiver and it will sync at the stated 1/200 (or use high-speed sync to go above the barrier) Now if you use pocket wizards and other non canon flash syncing items you will go down to 1/160 or slower.... my ebay remotes can do 1/125 reliably... using canon stuff 1/200 all the time. Try it shoot your flashes at max sync speed.


January 23, 2010 8:40 PM  
Blogger David said...


I suppose what i *should* have said was, unless all you want to do is use Canon's limited, line-of-sight light-based, short-range, proprietary triggering systems, you can effectively consider your sync speed to be 1/160th on many 5DMkII bodies.

Sorry to be completely wrong.


January 23, 2010 10:42 PM  
Blogger Che said...

This isn't limited to Canon. I was using a D90 with Profoto Compact 600 R triggered via Pocketwizard Plus II this weekend and had a band at the bottom at 1/200. 1/160 was fine.

January 25, 2010 10:49 AM  
Blogger Dion said...

Just tried it with my 5D MK II, a 580EX II and an ebay trigger. Synced at 200 and banded a little at 250.

March 28, 2010 8:47 PM  
Blogger GusWanner said...

I'm just getting back into photography as a hobby after a long lapse - my last film camera was a Nikon F2! David, your site is outstanding, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

I recently purchased a Canon 5D MkII and after reading these posts decided to determine the "true" synch speed. I have two flashes - a Canon 270EX I bought with the camera and a ~30 year old "Made in Japan" Vivitar 283 from my Nikon F2 days with the "varipower" attachment. The 283's synch voltage measured ~280 Volts, so I built a low voltage synch adapter using the excellent self-powered design published on the web by Jean-Paul Brodier.

As others have noted here, the Canon flash synced perfectly in full power manual mode at the camera's rated 1/200 second. The Vivitar 283 at full power with a 30foot long synch cord and the low voltage adapter coupled to the camera PC socket synched perfectly at 1/200 second as well - not even a hint of a black line at the bottom of the frame. Increasing the shutter speed to 1/250 second brought just a hint of a black line at the bottom of the frame. As expected, the "blackout" moved up to about 25% of the frame at 1/320 second, covered half the frame at 1/500 second and almost the entire frame at 1/1000 second.

Although it is certainly possible that there is some variation from camera body to camera body, it seems to me that the slow synch problems some folks have noticed with the 5DMkII are more likely due to timing delays caused by radio / optical remotes.

July 29, 2010 9:27 AM  
Blogger Old grey whiskers said...

Synch at 1/3200 with strobes or studio flash -- no problem with Pocket wizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5

August 30, 2010 1:47 PM  
Blogger Brian Carey said...

My 5D2 syncs perfectly @ 1/200 sec with my 580 EX II flash. By the way this flash also floats :-)

August 30, 2010 2:06 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I learned a lot from this so I'd like to share my findings:

SB-26 or SB-600 on a D2H using Cybersyncs will go to 1/320 unless you're using 1/2 or 1/1 power, in which case stick with 1/250.

At 1/350 and faster you see a hard black band at any flash power setting.

If you trigger the flash at half or full power at 1/320, you see see a slight darkening of the exposure near the top of the frame (not a hard separation).

I'd also like to note that SB-26s triggered optically (from an out-of-frame SB-600 that is synced via radio) will sync at 1/320 just as if it were the flash triggered bia the Alienbees Cybersync.

Hope this helps someone, cheers,


January 27, 2011 4:15 PM  
Blogger l shuey said...

I have found out the hard way my 5d and 5d2 both sync at 1/160.

March 21, 2011 4:04 AM  
Blogger Amie OS said...

I appreciate this thread very much, I was completely baffled when a friend let me use their 5d markll and this happened. I can easily shoot 1/250th on my 50d and thought i was completely bonkers when this kept happening on a photo shoot i did... I did however use the banding to my advantage as part of the picture on one of my shots because it actually looked great.
Thanks for you wonderful site... so sorry i missed the bus (literally) when you were in San Jose!

March 28, 2011 3:22 PM  
Blogger ronthow said...

Is all of this taking into account that he 580 exII flash has a specific high speed sync mode for the 5D mkII? This allows syncing with speeds considerably beyond the x-sync by changing the output pulse profile of the flashtube.
Not much use for studio lights or off-camera of course but dandy for oncamera fill-in functions in daylight

January 26, 2012 10:14 PM  
Blogger Reid Bowie said...

Old post I know, but a recurring theme throughout the thread alludes to cord-like sync speeds with Cybersyncs. I just wanted to add to the pile and say that I too am accustomed to a rock-solid 1/320 x-sync using Cybersyncs as well (D700, Sb-800, 600, LP160, and 2 SB-26's...).. And I'd just like to add that I love to do a lot of sun-killing stuff and I'm almost certain I get no banding at 1/1 on the 800 and the 160 (though of course I can't remember exactly...)
Of course the ultimate sun-killer for under $10,000 is the X100, which gives you 1/4000 x-sync...

July 12, 2012 3:30 PM  

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