Cactus, Trigger, Zebra, Oh My!

Remember the old game of password where you said a related word to one on your card to get your partner to guess it?  Well, here goes:  What do the words cactus, trigger, and zebra all have in common?  If you answered “flash photography” you’d be right!  As you may have realized, that does mean that the podcast will not come out today – I simply didn’t have time to get all my thoughts and notes together.  So instead, here’s a review of sorts that I did just earlier this evening.

A while back I decided to ditch the Canon ST-E2 wireless trigger for a number of reasons – those being:

  1. It relied on line-of-sight
  2. It didn’t have a very good range
  3. It wouldn’t work with non-Canon gear

I, like many others, have been salivating over the new developments in radio trigger technology.  And, at my last job, I had access to multiple lights, strobes, and such for experimentation.  So, in order to do said experimentation, I decided to invest in some Cactus Triggers that I purchased off an online web vendor (I forget the vendor off the top of my head – search the archives and I am sure it’s there…).  Much to my chagrin though, it would not work with my Canon 550EX flash.  So, when I left my previous job, it was back to the ST-E2.  In order to spur some motivation to invest in some more serious lighting gear on my own, I decided to sell the ST-E2 to fund the purchase of some Cyber Syncs.

Long story short, I ended up with no off-camera method to trigger my one flash unit.  So, I was back on-camera.  Needless to say, ambient light photography was a large focus for that time period.  Well, after the economy stabilized a little for the household with my state job, I decided to invest in the Cyber Syncs – but as a measure of insurance, wanted to make sure the devices would work in my 550EX (the 550EX does not have a sync port).  So, a quick email to them revealed that a neat little device from the folks over at Flash Zebra would make the Cyber Syncs compatible.  A mere $14 later and the device arrived late last week (while I was in SC).  So, next month the Cyber Syncs will be making their way to my doorstep.

In the meantime, I have these Cactus triggers, and I thought with the inclusion of a sync port, perhaps I could jerry-rig something together.  With the sync port going out to what looks to be an RC-mini, and the receiver also going out to an RC-mini, I needed a way to join two RC-mini’s together.  A quick dig through my various buckets of cables and connectors revealed a dual mini that is normally used to connect to headphones to a single audio.  Worth a shot, since it’s only about $50 total invested.  I connected everything together to get this:


On your left is the trigger that came from Cactus, to the RC male.  A reducer on that took it to an RC-mini male.  In the center is the well-hidden PC-sync device that came from Flash Zebra.  (For a better picture, see below…)  A female sync port on that was able to connect to the male sync port that was included with my Cactus gear.  That also went to an RC-mini male.  These are both connected on the right to the y-connector that you would typically see two headsets connect to the same audio source.  The technology is the same, so it’s worth a shot right?  (No pun intended…)

I fired off a test shot from the 40D and it worked!  So, how well would it work?  What kind of reliability would there be?  I took the flash into the next room and fired the trigger from a further distance away…about 20 feet.  Flash!  Then I took the trigger around the corner and fired it.  Flash!  How cool is that?  Another set of tests was needed.  One where radio waves wouldn’t bounce all over the place – outside!  If you recall, I interviewed Scott Eccleston from Weekly Photo Tips a while back, and a recent post of his armed me with a good testing method of the Cactus triggers.  Armed with the inspiration of this video, I enlisted the aid of my wife and took to the great outdoors.

I began with a fresh set of batteries in both the trigger and receiver, as well as the flash.  Starting from ten steps away from the flash, I tripped the shutter – flash!  Twenty paces – flash!  Thirty paces – flash!  Fourty paces – nada.  Hmmm…tried again – nada.  So, I moved back to 35 paces – still nada.  A couple steps closer and it flashed again.  About four more tests at this distance and I had 100% flash rate.  Starting back to my wife, I counted the paces, 1-2-3… all the way to 33 paces.  At an average gait of 3 feet per pace, that’s an outside range of 99 feet!  Considerably better than the ST-E2 and at a third of the price!

For posterity’ sake, and since I am in a very casual way reviewing the PC-sync adaptor from Flash Zebra, here’s a better shot of just that device.


Also for posterity sake, here’s a view of the trigger that attached to the hot shoe of the 550EX:


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6 comments for “Cactus, Trigger, Zebra, Oh My!

  1. April 14, 2009 at 7:38 am

    and those are not rasinettes = ) Great week of blogging Jason –

  2. Michael
    April 14, 2009 at 9:01 am

    A “NEW/Upgraded” STE-2 would be nice!
    With an LCD screen and the ability to control each flash unit’s output etc. from the back of the unit.
    Like the Nikon equivalent.

    Come on Canon!

  3. Saken
    April 14, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I remember myself doing some research and tests on the Cactus V2s trigger set.

    Guess how surprised I was when I realized that sticking the little tiny cord (PC to mini-phone) that came with the set to the trigger itself and leaving it hanging there allowed me to increase range for another 10-20 feet!

    Try it out yourself. :o)

  4. April 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I agree – the STE-2 needs a radical upgrade! Hopefully Canon are on the case but this theory in the post looks interesting and I’m going to see if I can get the stuff here in the UK

  5. April 15, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Cybersyncs are fantastic, and communicate with each other so you can get even farther away with your flashes 🙂

    I’ve ordered all mine in last week… too bad the Cybersyncs beat the Flash Zebra adapters and I have to wait to try it out! I’m feeling very impatient.

    • April 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm

      @Michael – that would be a good thing to see
      @Saken – Good to know – although I needed that cable to get the receiver to the RC-mini
      @Kevin – we can only hope! 🙂
      @Tanya – I am looking forward to getting those next month – while the DIY is fun, it does increase the potential for errors and mishaps

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