But competition (and technology) has advanced to the point where you now do not have to spend a lot of money to get a reliable remote trigger for your flash. So these days I can recommend a remote for beginners that is both inexpensive and reliable: the Phottix Areas.
Hong Kong-based Phottix has risen from the primordial ooze of China-based companies and has built a great reputation. The Ares remotes, at just $55 for the set, give reliable performance, are hot shoe-based (for easy mounting/connections) have eight channels and run on readily available AA batteries. The only caveat is for Sony users*, as some of their flashes have oddly proprietary connectors. (Betamax, anyone?) So these remotes won't fit some Sony cameras. (See footnote below.)
I have used Phottix Ares for three years now, teaching beginning lighting courses at Gulf Photo Plus with nary a hiccup.
More Sophisticated Remotes
Lately, remotes are offering much more than just the ability to trigger your flash off camera. They can work wirelessly in TTL mode. They can power flashes up or down. You can remotely adjust lighting ratios.
But in choosing an advanced remote, you are generally also marrying the flash system it is to be used with. Because the flashes also have to have the advanced compatibilities built in—or require specific "smart" receiver units mounted to the flash.
So any choice of an advanced remote system is going to be made in the context of choosing an entire flash system, just as your need for certain lenses might drive your choice of camera systems.
For example, the Phottix Odin II, seen above is a remote trigger that offers sophisticated control of your flashes from the camera's position. Several speedlights and larger flashes have Odin-compatible receivers built in: LumoPro LP180R and Phottix Mitros+ speedlights, and the more powerful Phottix Indra flashes. And you can't consider the Odin II without considering the flashes it is married to.
Ditto the similarly capable Paul C Buff CyberSync and the Elincrom SkyPort remotes. View them as part of their associated flashecosystem.
Maybe you already have speedlights branded to your camera system—like Nikon or Canon, for instance. Some smart remotes work with third party flashes through add-on smart receivers. The Odin II can be purchased in a Nikon, Canon or Sony configuration. Coupled with those external receivers (sold separately for each of those respective flash brands) you can remotely control those flashes with an Odin II, too.
So without that flash system context, there is no way to answer the seemingly simple question, "Which smart remote is best for me?"
Dip a Toe In First
In my opinion, you should start with a decent manual remote. Then, if you really need to, upgrade when you are better able to decide which flash family you might like to marry into. (Or already have.)
In a nutshell, that is why I recommend an inexpensive (but still good quality) simple remote such as the Phottix Ares. At ~$50, it is hard to go terribly wrong. And depending on how you use your lights, it may well end up being all you ever need.
NEXT: Light Stands
*Relief for Sony users: If you are using a Sony camera and/or flash with their proprietary connector (i.e., not a standard hot shoe) here is a great tip: Sony sells this adapter to convert the nonstandard flash connector on the camera into a standard hot shoe, and this adapter to convert a nonstandard Sony flash into a standard hot shoe. But if you are using a non-Sony flash, you won't need the flash adapter.
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