Wednesday, May 7, 2008

G9 with Cactus Wireless Flash Triggers

The Canon G9 has a hot shoe for external flash but the camera is so small and some flash units so large that the combination can look ridiculous. Even so, an external flash is quite a nice accessory for the G9. Naturally, recent Canon flashes work well with the G9 but other flash units can also be used.

External flash is not only more powerful but more versatile than small internal flash units. For example, the Canon 580EX shown here is pointed upward so that the light bounces off the ceiling to provide a softer lighting effect. Even more lighting effects and variations are made possible by removing the flash from the camera. But how can the flash be triggered if it is not on the camera?

Canon offers a number of flash accessories and connectors but these can be quite pricey for the hobbist. A relatively straightforward method of connecting an off-camera flash is to put one adapter on the hotshoe, another adapter on the flash and connect the two adapters with a wire/cable. Rather than deal with wires, many photographers prefer a wireless flash trigger. Triggers such as the Pocket Wizard are legendary for performance and reliability but, again, are expensive for the hobbyist.

Last year, shortly before getting my G9, I became aware of a cheap wireless flash trigger, the Cactus V2s – sometimes called the “eBay trigger”. After reading everything I could find – pro and con -- about this cheap flash trigger, I decided to try a set. Mine work fine more than 90% of the time and have been very useful in learning off-camera flash techniques. In fact, now I have several units and all of them work fine.

Cowardly Disclaimer: My Cactus wireless triggers work OK. Yours may not -- so don’t blame me if they don’t!

Some photographers swear by the Cactus triggers and some swear at them! Problems include: just won’t work, flimsy construction, batteries loose, battery connection loose, PC (wire) connection bad, incompatible with some flash units (said to be fixed with the V2s), short range, etc., etc. Lots of successes, lots of failures.

Some inventive users have taken up the challenge of modifying their Cactus wireless triggers but since mine worked OK, I’ve not modified them at all. Even if the photographic results were not improved, the handling of the G9 is much, much improved by mounting the small Cactus trigger instead of a huge flash.

At the same time, the Cactus receiver is even smaller than the G9 and mounting a flash unit on the receiver creates a very flimsy combination. My solution is to use lots of gaffer tape. I suspect (no data) that the Cactus units are more reliable when the flash is mounted directly on the receiver. That’s certainly been my experience. This Nikon SB-28 was triggered by the Cactus V2s system from my G9 about six feet away.

On a good day, my Cactus system works outdoors at a line-of-sight range of 150 feet. Indoors, it usually works well through hollow dry walls into the next room. It synchronizes with the G9 at shutter speeds up to 1/640 second and sometimes faster. I’ve used it with Canon 580EX and 420EX, Vivitar 285HV and 2600, Nikon SB-28, SB-24, and SB-23 – even a Holga 120.

Off-camera flash is a powerful tool and I’m trying to learn to use it. For off-camera flash techniques, I rely on “The Strobist”, David Hobby, and study his tutorials.

David has written about the Cactus units as well as other triggering methods. He even owna a G9 and has written about it as well. The Strobist blog is updated regularly so I check in almost every day – you should too!

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