Photography Help - Studio Strobe Setup

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by jdechko, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. jdechko macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    I need a bit of help from some more seasoned photographers. My wife was recently given an older set of Novatron 500 Strobes. We are both newbs about this, but it was free and we weren’t going to turn it down.

    We have a optical slave plugged into the novatron box, but it chewed through batteries. So I’m looking at a radio trigger but I have no idea what I’m looking for.

    Can anyone tell me if I’m on the right track or set me straight? I need something like the pocket wizard and I need to get two of them. One would plug into the Hot Shoe of the camera and the other one would plymug in to the strobe controller (via adapter cable).

    Is this right? Help please.
  2. bunnspecial macrumors 603


    May 3, 2014
    I'm curious as to how your optical slave "chewed" through batteries. Most of them-including the popular Wein peanut slave-are passive devices that just plug into the end of a PC cord.

    In any case, can you tell us more about your strobes? Are you dealing with monolights or with a pack and head system? Your specific needs will be dictated by which of those you have.

    BTW, I use ancient(ancient meaning 1980s) Quantum 4 Radio Slaves. Since all my lights are pack and heads, I only need one transmitter and receiver(unless I'm using more than one pack, which I've done before). The transmitters I have either have a hot shoe on the bottom or connect via a PC cord. The receiver connects to the pack via a PC cord.

    Pocket Wizards can do all sorts of fancy stuff if you do TTL flash, but you really don't need their full capability for use with studio strobes.

    These units seem to get a solid nod on photography forums as an inexpensive option

    You should be able to slide one into your camera's hot shoe, connect the other to your light(s) by a PC cord, and be ready to roll.
  3. jdechko thread starter macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    Thanks for the reply. To be more specific, we were using the speedlight to trigger the optical slave (trying to conserve the camera battery). That’s what was chewing through the batteries. The only way I could get the strobes to fire was by setting the speedlight to full power.

    We have a Nikon D90 which doesn’t have the PC port, so we couldn’t directly connect using the cable. That would have eliminated the issue.

    I’m assuming based on terminology that this is a pack and head system. The lights seem “dumb” with all of them running to a single control box.

    Thanks for the link. Looks like that’s for Canon, but I did see the Nikon stuff on the site. Looks like I’m at least on the right track with it.
  4. bunnspecial macrumors 603


    May 3, 2014
    Okay, I see what you mean.

    Yes, you do have a pack+head system. In studio lighting terminology, a "pack and head" is exactly as you describe. Monolights are totally self-contained units that each plug into 120V(or 240V) and have their own controls built in including the trigger. Both have their place, but I'm definitely a pack+head guy even if I'm out of the studio.

    I'm not a big fan of optical slaves as a whole, but even the pop-up SHOULD have enough power to trigger them. Use some velcro or whatever you have to make sure the "bubble" of the slave is facing your camera.

    As best as I can tell, the set I linked CAN be used just as a generic("dumb") radio trigger although it could also be used to do off-camera TTL with Canon. Poke around and they may have a Nikon version, but honestly I'd not mess with it. Use CLS if you want to use Nikon Speedlights off-camera.

    If you want to be "fancy" and do it right, you can add a PC sync socket to your camera with a Nikon AS-15. It fits in the hotshoe and is $20. There's nothing special about it(I don't think) and if I didn't have one(got it with some other stuff) the fact that every Nikon SLR/DSLR I use has a PC socket...I'd get a generic one for half the price. There's nothing exotic about it.

    I will add two cautions, though:

    1. GOOD PC sync cords are expensive, and cheap sync cords can cause more grief than they are worth. Before I had radio triggers(which came with my Norman kit when I bought it) I did a lot of off camera work with corded connections. Even the best cords have a nasty habit of coming loose at the most inopportune times, while also sticking like glue of someone trips over your cord and instead knocks your camera or lighting equipment over. Your pack probably has what's called a household plug on it for sync-pre-made household-PC cords tend to be fairly high quality. You can also make your own long cords from hardware store parts and only use a pre-made cord at the very end, but I consider this dangerous lest some well-intentioned person inadvertently plugs one into an outlet. And, again, EVEN THE BEST PC CORDS FAIL AT THE WORST TIMES.

    2. Many older packs have little regard for sync voltage. It was expect that they'd probably be used with cameras that have mechanical sync contacts, and in that context it doesn't matter. You can have sync voltages of several hundred volts. Nikon officially says that a built-in PC socket on a modern camera is good up to 250V, but is a bit mum on what's safe through the hot shoe. I don't lose too any sleep over the ~8V sync voltage on my Quantum triggers, but a good GENERAL rule is that you should probably keep the hot shoe voltage to 6V or lower. There are products like the Wein "Safe Sync" that address this, but you'll pay just as much for radio triggers as you will for one of these plus good cords.

    All I can offer in addition is to have fun-studio lighting is so incredibly versatile and opens up a huge world of possibilities. My Norman stuff is old enough that many folks have moved onto more advanced stuff. As a result, I've ended up with 16 heads, 5 power packs(in power ranges from 800 w-s to 2000 w-s), and virtually every modifier that Norman ever cataloged. My initial purchase was from the estate of a local pro, but I've since had stuff given to me or sold at give-away prices.

    I will add that if you don't have any modifiers, I'd suggest picking up just some basic ones to get you started. Depending on what you do, you'll probably eventually want to get some soft boxes(usually bigger is better) and also some "hard" modifiers like grids. For starters, though, a couple of good umbrellas are a nice and cheap starting point. B&H has some nice quality 36" umbrellas for around $10 each(new). As a quick education, they come in either reflective or shoot through varieties, and each has its place. Reflective are more efficient but also a bit "harder". Shoot through are a lot more diffuse. For starters, I'd suggest two silver(reflective), two white translucent(shoot through) and perhaps one or two white-on-black(reflective). That will get you started. Since you have 3 strobes, a 12-24" beauty dish(white is a bit "tamer" for starting out, while silver is more efficient and "harder") is a cheap and versatile addition.
  5. jdechko thread starter macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    Thanks. Yeah the issue wasn’t power on a single shot, but power over time. We were doing the photo booth at our church’s v-day banquet so a lot of shots in quick succession. The speedlight did trigger the slave, but after about 20-30 minutes, the batteries wouldn’t provide enough juice to trigger the strobes. Not sure if it was battery type, heat or what.

    That’s why I started researching radio slaves. The pc adapter sounds like it might work for a stationary setup where it’s less likely to fall out.

    We got a pretty old system ourselves, but it seems really nice. It’s a 250-500ws pack with 4 heads (2 front/ 2 back). 2 umbrellas black and white which we’ve set up for bounce and 3 tripods.

    Might look at some other equipment later on, but right now the priority is a more consistent way of triggering the strobes (cheap) and a new camera setup. We bought the D90 about 7 years ago and it has been great, but I think we’ve finally outgrown it. Definitely going with a full frame camera, but I’m not sure whether to go with the 750, 810 or bite the bullet and get the 850. And then there’s the lenses...
  6. bunnspecial macrumors 603


    May 3, 2014
    Radio slaves are definitely the way to go, especially now that you've seen the downsides of optical :)

    I usually do the mother's day banquet at my church every year-among a few other things-so I know it can be a lot of pops fast.

    I will say, though, that I have done this enough to say that I hate fully wired connections whether in the studio or out. As I said, you can always count on them to let you down at the worst time. You can make 30 test fires, and they'll fail on the first actual shot. Of course, that's not AS big of a deal with digital, but it can still be annoying and also look bad on you.

    Like I said, I like my Quantums, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend buying into them. Pocket Wizards are pretty much the gold standard these days, and as long as you don't mind forking over the initial cash you know you have something you can rely on. As triggering a studio flash is a "dumb" operation(you really just need to short the two contacts) the most basic model they make will serve you fine.

    As fantastic as the D850 is, I'll mention that it's good enough to have brought a lot of REALLY nice and lightly used D800s and 810s onto the market. I actually bought my D800 right before the D850 was announced, but haven't regretted it for a second. The D810 is marginally better(the lack of an AA filter gives slightly sharper images) but even the 6-year old(2012) D800 amazes me. Not too long ago, I went to a family wedding where they didn't budget for a photographer and just assumed that I'd do it(without actually asking me). Since I was coming as a guest, I only brought my D800 and one mid-range zoom(I'd have actually come with some real equipment if they'd just asked). I was at 3200 and 6400 in the cave of a reception venue, and spit out some 8x10s that looked better than what I get from something like my D2X at 800. With that said, the D750 is great.
  7. jdechko thread starter macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    That's the least helpful advice you've given. :rolleyes: Everything else has been great though.

    Think I'll eventually start another thread for the camera and lens recommendations. Right now the "wish list" includes the D850, 50/f1.4 and 28-300/3.5-5.6, which upgrades her current setup while giving her something she's used to (D90, 35/f1.8, 18-105/f3.5-5.6).

    Future purchases would include the 24-70/f2.8 for church services/events and possibly the 135/f2 DC for portraits.
  8. cSalmon macrumors member


    Dec 18, 2016
    going back to your original setup, a pocket mirror strategically placed can help with making sure the slave sees the flash (at lower power settings) And making sure the slave isn't facing a window. It's the sudden difference in light level that triggers it.

    As for Pocket Wizards they have always been a very solid product, would not hesitate to buy a couple of older models used from sites like Craigslist.

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7 February 13, 2018