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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