For the past few years, I have been playing around with using off-camera flash for my pictures, especially any pictures of people and events. I found a great tool to help me to use my flash off the camera and without cords.
When you realize that pictures from your built-in flash don't look all that great, you might go get you one of those big, honkin' strobes that mount on the hotfoot of your camera. These flashes do give you more power, but you will often find that your pictures still don't look that great. One reason is that the light is limited to come from the direction of the camera that it is mounted on top of. The solution to this is to move the flash off of the camera hotshoe so that you can control where the light is independent of where the camera is. If you want to start learning the basics of off-camera, start where I started; David Hobby's excellent website 'Strobist'. Start with his Lighting 101 series. When you get into it, you will find the need for a remote trigger to get that flash wireless and away from your camera.
There are several ways to do this, some involving solutions that camera manufacturers come up with, like Nikon's i-TTL system. For the equipment that I use and the way that I shoot flash (fully manual) the easiest and cheapest way to get the flash off-camera without cords is a simple flash remote.
The CyberSync line of flash remote systems is a great choice for your first flash radio triggers. They are at a price point that is reasonable for someone just starting out like myself. The performance is also more than adequate in all aspects. The system is comprised of two components, which are the transmitter and a receiver.
The CST transmitter (also CST1) is small and lightweight - it is about 85mm tall above the mounting point on your camera hotshoe, and weighs only 29 grams with the battery installed. There are two control elements on the backside; one frequency selector (scale of 1,3,5,7,9,11,13) and a test button. Also is a red LED indicator to tell you when a signal is sent to the flash. The transmitter is powered off a single CR2450 button type battery.
The CSRB receiver is larger and heavier than the receiver. It is right at 100 grams in weight and 103mm tall. The main reason for the extra bulk and weight is that the unit houses two AA size batteries. The receiver also has the same three controls on the back; frequency selector, test button, and LED indicator.
Paul C. Buff CyberSync System - the CST transmitter is on the left, the CSRB receiver is on the right.
The current cost for the radio triggers set are $60 USD for the CST Transmitter and $70 USD for the CSRB receiver.
The concept and function of the CyberSync CST and CSRB transmitter and receiver are simple. The transmitter simply slides into the hotshoe of your camera. The receiver has one plug out of it (3.5mm male connector) that you then plug into the flash that you want to trigger. Two different cords are included with the CSRB: one with a 3.5mm male plug on either end, and another with a single 3.5mm male on one end (plugs into the receiver) and a PC cord connection on the other (to connect to your flash).
Once everything is connected, you simply need to tap the 'test' button on the receiver to wake it up. You should see the flash fire. Then, you can test the wireless setup by pressing the 'test' button on the transmitter. The only thing to make sure of is that both the transmitter and receiver are set to the same frequency.
A single CST transmitter can be used with as many different CSRB receivers as you want - just set them to the same frequency. Or, if you want to setup different banks of lights for separate functions, you can put one (or more) receivers on one frequency and another receiver on another frequency. By simply rotating the frequency dial on the back of the transmitter mounted on your camera, you can control when multiple flashes fire.
It is such a simple device, there is really not much to test. If you take a picture and the flash reliably fires at the same time, then the system is working. For the most part, that is exactly what I have experienced when using the CyberSync transmitter and receiver - very accurate firing of the flash when and where I need it.
I have not done an exhaustive distance test. I am not a sports photographer and don't shoot in large venues such as gyms, but I can see that this device has plenty of range if that's your thing. For my working distances of no more than 60 feet, it is not hampered by distance in the least.
The CSRB Receiver paired to a strobe.
I have one criticism of the system that does affect my every day use and success [EDIT BELOW]. If there is a long delay between shots, the CSRB receiver effectively goes to sleep on me and the next frame that I take will result in a miss-fire with no flash going off. This is a major headache. Often, I will have to take a break to arrange my model and more often than not, the next picture is a dud with no flash. The solution is simple; you have to remember to tap the 'test' button on the transmitter as you are walking back to take your next shot. This action will wake the receiver - even if the test doesn't fire the flash, the next picture you take will trigger the flash.
How long is this delay before the receiver does not respond right away? I can't say it is the same in all situations, but I tested with a stopwatch and fresh batteries in both the transmitter and receiver and if you pause for more than 1 minute, 20 seconds the next 'test' or shutter depression will not trigger the flash.
EDIT: It finally dawned on me that the problem with delay might be the flash. Sure enough, a google search and confirmation from PCB confirms that the Nikon SB-28 Speedlight that I am using has been in standby mode, which puts it to sleep after a period of time. Switching the speedlight out of standby mode completely remedies the problem. The receiver works great - accurate every time, with up to an hour delay between pictures. Amazing performance!
The battery life for both units is very good. The transmitter, with it's lower power consumption to the button type battery, can go a very long time between between replacement. I have only replaced the battery once in 2 years of (relatively) light use. The receiver's twin AA batteries require a little more attention; however, they will last longer than the strobe's batteries. If you remember to recharge the receiver's batteries at the same time that you charge the strobe's batteries, then you should always be fine.
The CyberSync series of remote triggers are generally a mid-level product relative to other flash remote systems. On the lower end, you have various flash remote systems that are available on Ebay. I can't recommend any of these products as the price savings is generally not worth the lower repeatability standards you will have to live with.
On a level above the CyberSync in terms of price and performance are the PocketWizzard Plus II. These are professional quality items that generally have a longer range and slightly higher reliability. They currently cost around $340 for a set of two (one as receiver, one as transmitter). This is significantly more costly than the CyberSync system. It is up to you to decide if the extra cost is worth it for added reliability at the most extreme ranges.