Choosing Remote Triggers
For a long time, you had to spend a lot of money ($200+ per set) to get good, reliable remotes. But technology (and competition) has advanced to the point where that is no longer the case. In fact, the recommended remote trigger for beginners (and really, most photographers) is only $55 a set.
Recommended Basic Remotes: Phottix Ares
Hong Kong-based Phottix has separated itself from the other Far East-based lighting companies and has built a great reputation. They have first-tier distributors in the West, responsive factory service and industry-leading warranties. These qualities separate Phottix from all of their Far East peers.
Phottix' Ares remotes, at $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 standard caveat is for Sony users*, as some of Sony's flashes and cameras have oddly proprietary flash connectors. (If that is you, see footnote at bottom.)
The Ares comes with a factory warranty of one year, which is doubled to two years if you register them at Phottix' website.
For the last three years, I have taught beginning lighting courses at Gulf Photo Plus. The standard issue in the class lighting kit is the Phottix Ares. That's over a hundred sets being ridden hard for at least a full day, by beginners, with nary a hiccup to report. I have since switched to using them as my personal remotes.
The range is good enough for all but the most extreme situations, and can be extended by positioning both the transmitter and receiver in the vertical orientation. (Which makes the antennae happy.)
The set comes surprisingly well equipped for the price. They ship with a set of AA batteries for each unit, lanyards and a variety of cords and adapters to marry to any flashes that may not be hot-shoe based.
They even include a nice, fitted case—with a pocket sufficient to hold a spare set of AA's, should they be needed. A nice touch—especially in this price range.
Caveats are few and minimal. They do not automatically turn off if you leave them on. So you could run out a set of batteries if you forget. They are not weatherproofed, so far as I can tell. But that's nothing a pair of small plastic baggies wouldn't cure.
Other than that, nothing. Just a solid, reliable remote with good build quality, performance and warranty, for a great price.
More Sophisticated Remotes
These days, more expensive 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 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 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 Cyber Commander and the Elincrom SkyPort remotes, each designed to work with their respective company's studio lights. If considering them, you should view the decision to buy them as part of a larger decision of which flash brand to marry.
Camera Manufacturers' Remotes
Maybe you already have speedlights branded to your camera system—like Nikon or Canon, for instance. Yes, those companies will also sell you their own remote. But as with the flashes themselves, you will pay a premium every step of the way.
You can generally get better value with third party remotes and flashes.
Dip a Toe In First
My advice for most people is to just start with a decent manual remote. In a nutshell, that is why I recommend beginning with an inexpensive (but still good quality) simple remote such as the Phottix Ares. At ~$55, 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.
Back to Gear Guide Main Page
*SONY USERS: Sony makes good cameras. But the people who design their flashes are proprietary poopheads. Seriously, they have, at times, chosen non-standard shoe mounts for their flashes. And even when they went for a more standard(ish) mount, it sometimes does not fit. These people, mind you, are the same ones who tried to force us to go with Betamax tapes and Memory Sticks. Sigh.
This means, if you use a Sony camera and/or flash, you should talk to a knowledgeable camera dealer before buying lighting gear that may well not fit.
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