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Wireless Flash Triggers on a Budget

By Anthony Thurston on March 2nd 2013

The recent announcement of the PlusX flash trigger by PocketWizard recently brought a lot of attention to the low budget trigger market. We decided that it would be a good time to do an overview of some of the most popular triggers in this category and compare them. The hope here is that before you run out and a flash trigger, you can check this out and know what the pros and cons of each choice are.

Budget triggers fall into one of two categories, transmitter/receiver models and transceiver models. The transmitter/receiver models tend to be older technology, but they are cheap and in most cases very reliable. Transceiver models tend to be a little more expensive, are more convenient, and usually offer more features. Checkout the triggers below, and decide which model is right for you.

NPT-04 – $25 per set

The NPT-04 Is a popular flash trigger that is basically the lowest dirt cheap triggers you can find. They are based on transmitter/receiver technology meaning that you need to have a transmitter and at least one receiver to fire your flashes. The NPT-04’s are branded for several different companies and sold on Amazon and Ebay.

Pros: Cheap, Reliable, 4 Channels, Easy to Replace
Cons: Transmitter Batteries are hard to find, Basic Features, Low Quality Build
Price: ~$25 – Buy on Amazon

Yongnuo 603 – $30 per unit

Yongnuo RF603
The Yongnuo 603s are another set of the cheapest triggers you can find, unlike the NPT-04s though they are based on the transceiver model. The 603s offer a great basic trigger at an affordable price. They sync with your shutter at up to 1/320th, higher than 1/25th like most flash triggers that don’t support HSS.

Pros: Cheap, Reliable, Easy to Replace, 1/320th Sync Speed, 2.4ghz for great range.
Cons: Basic Features
Price: ~$30 – Buy on Amazon

Cactus V5 – $40 per unit

Cactus V5
The Cactus V5 is a very popular transceiver model trigger on the higher end side of the market. It has one of the best feature sets in the budget trigger market.  The V5 features a solid build quality, is powered by AAA batteries, has 16 available Channels, and offers group flash triggering for up to 4 separate groups of flashes.

Pros: Price per Unit, Group Triggering, 16 Channels
Cons: Decent Build Quality, No Compatability with previous Cactus Triggers
Price: ~$40 – Buy on Amazon

Yongnuo 622 – $90 per set

Yongnuo 622
The Yongnuo 622 is the latest flash triggering technology out of Yongnuo, it offers features only found in high end (and expensive) triggers at a very affordable price. The 622’s are E-TTL Compatible (I-TTL coming soon), and support HSS (High Speed Sync) for syncing with your camera at up to 1/8000th.

Pros: TTL Compatible, HSS Compatible, Hot Shoe, Battery Indicator, Reliability, Overall feature set
Cons: Decent Build Quality, Price
Price: ~$90 – Buy on Amazon

PocketWizard PlusX – $99 per trigger

Pocket Wizard PlusX
The PocketWizard PlusX is the latest entry into this market and the first try by PocketWizard to break into budget triggers. The PlusX is a transceiver based model meaning that a unit can both trigger other units or be triggered by other units. It offers 10 Channels and is compatible with other PocketWizard triggers.

Pros: Transceiver model, compatible with other PocketWizard products, Build Quality, 10 Channels, long range
Cons: Price per unit, no hot shoe on unit, very basic features.
Price: $99 – Buy Now on Amazon

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    622’s are pretty good.

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  2. ajmills

    I’ve used a couple versions of the Cactus and they work well enough for my needs so far.
    Although, I did do a shoot in a hotel a few years ago and my flashes were triggered every time someone used their (wireless) doorbell…

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  3. Trey

    I use the cactus.  I’ve shot 1,000’s of photos.  I have only had them not fire a couple of times total.  Very reliable and cheap for what they are.  I didn’t need/want TTL or other features.

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  4. david305

    i just have a SIMPLE QUESTION….i wanna high speed sync with my alien bees 800/1600….nothing more….on a nikon body…..does it matter what model body? whats my best affordable option here? …i just want to shoot 1/1000 or higher….THANKS …plss help this newbie

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    • Anthony Thurston

      You only option to shoot at 1/1000th would be the Yongnuo 622Ns which are due to be out in April. Nothing in this category other than those will support HSS(High Speed Sync, which allows 1/1000th).

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    • david305

       ok so the model shown above the 622 will not work? Are the new ones coming in april (622Ns)  for Nikon bodies? Does the camera body have anything to do with HSS?

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    • Jason Langley

      Yup: 622n’s (n=Nikon). What camera body? I shoot canon but as far as I know all modern dslr’s support high speed synch. Can I ask what you are using HSS in conjunction with AB’s for?

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    • david305

      I would like to overpower the sun at the same time using my 85mm 1.8 out on the beach wide open….i would love to achieve photographs like these   ….but i notice everyone is using speedlights and i just have alien bee strobes. I guess what im asking is if the actual alien bee strobes are capable of HSS…..hope im not confusing u….thanks for ur time

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    • sachin

      I don’t think you can do HSS with a studio strobe like the alien bees. You will need a speedlight as far as I know.

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    • sachin

      David305, If your main goal is to shoot wide open you might be able to do it using Neutral Density filter on the lens. This will allow for wider aperture settings and more manageable shutter speeds with the alien bees. And then you might be able to fine-tune lighting on the main subject with the output from the alien bees.

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  5. Jason Langley

    Have the yn603’s and yn622c’s, both fantastic values. 

    My take: YN603’s

    Pros: Cheap, reliable, pass through shoe mount, good range, can be used as shutter release.

    Cons: Non locking hot shoe foot, no ttl or hss.


    Pros: Cheap, reliable, ttl, hss, pass through hot shoe (can mount my 603’s on top), remote power adjustments.

    Cons: Kinda big for not having lcd screen, no lcd screen requiring use of buried in camera menus, no usb port for firmware upgrades, not compatible with 5d classic and early 1d’s. 

    Also, both units are transcievers which add an element of flexibility.

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    • Jason

      W/ a 1dx or 5d3 you have FULL control including HSS and Ratios and Mix Modes when also used with a 565 or greater flash (i think). 5d3+565+622c is a sick OCF setup that is fast, intuitive, and reliable for CHEAP compared to PW or Manufacturer offerings .. check youtube

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    • Jason

      In fact I just added it up and it’s 125 for a 563 and 45 each per 622c (TRANSCEIVER).. That’s only $510 for THREE! strobes and FULL control of them off camera. That is the cost of 1! 600EX-RT. So if you have a 5d3.. .AT LEAST TRY TO SAVE $1000 … you can always sell it on craigslist. Sure you might only sell all those strobes and triggers for 350.. but for 150 bucks you get to “rent” the gear and try it out. You might save $1000 vs canon!.

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  6. Aaron Jesse

    I have the YN603’s. They work gorgeous and I can’t imagine (for my style of shooting) any need to use anything more expensive. Higher sync speed would be nice, but the 603’s have NEVER failed on me, never missed a fire.

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  7. Craig Pifer

    This is a nice overview, but I’d love to see a more in depth look at these triggers. At what point is the more expensive trigger going to be a necessity? Other than the Yongnuo offering E-TTL, what advantages does one have over another?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I would love to do a more in depth look at each one individually, but I need to order them before I can do that.

      As for what one offers over the other; The honest truth is that at this level of trigger(budget) there are not many features that differentiate them. The biggest differences are: effective range, # of channels, channel frequency, build quality, design, and price.

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  8. Ryan Cooper

    Don’t forget about the Cybersync by Paul C Buff. They sell triggers for $60 and they work very well.

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  9. Björn Lubetzki

    Till the YN622N will be official released, the Pixel King is the only alternative for Nikon (on a budget), that supports TTL and HSS.
    And there are some other triggers as well (which aren’t named here), like the Phottix Strato, which I use. Their range is stated as up to 150+ meters. I used them at around 20-30 meters and didn’t have a single misfire.
    I know the PW are stated with up to 500 meters, but at least for me that isn’t anything I will ever need. Normally I need around 1-10 meters and occasionally 10-30 and my guess is that the Phottix ones will work at around 100meters (at least), provided there are no concrete walls in the path, or something like that.

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    • Jacob Jexmark

      I also use the Phottix Strato, have 2 transmitters and 8 recievers and they all work flawless. Never a missfire, never a unit that has broken down. I have used them at 80 meters without problems.

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    • Björn Lubetzki

       As soon as they are available, I will make the switch over to the Yongnuo YN622N. They are announced, but not yet available. I’m interested in the Supersync. Currently I’m using a lot of tricks to get Supersync (Pocketwizard calls it Hypersync) out of 2 flashes (a SB-900 as a trigger and a Yongnuo Yn560 II as the flash). It works, but it’s a pain, the way I’m currently doing it.

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  10. MLee Kneer

    What is the distance on any one of these? The PW has a great range, but I am having a hard time finding it on the Yongnuo 622 and Cactus links?
    Pretty big deal for anyone shooting sports or similar situations with these!

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      tested the yongnuo up to 300 ft and they work fine. been using them for months now and never had an issue with them. Ettl works great too.

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  11. Rob

    What about pixel knight or pixel king?

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    • MLee Kneer

      I also see some Pixel Opas stuff-which I suspect is probably all of the same thing. Anyone with experience? 

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    • Shawn

      I use Pixel Kings and I have been very happy with them. They look just like the YN-622s pictured, so it is possible they are just a rebranding of those, but they seem to have their own development going, so I’m not sure.

      The Pixel Kings I have have HSS, e-ttl, and I can control the flash settings from the camera menu. They have been very reliable in the 6 months that I’ve had them. I haven’t used them yet, but they just released a new generation with a digital display on the back.

      Note: In the section for the for the YN603s is says most only synch at 1/25th. it should says 1/250th.

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    • Lloyd Grace

      I have Pixel Opas for my Sony a77 and I love them. 4 Channels, 3 Groups and 1/8000 sync speed on Sonys – what’s not to love. So far they have been 100% reliable.

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