If you've shot with speedlights, you've probably considered the best flash triggers. Being able to liberate the light from the hotshoe for off-camera effects is great, and being able to control multiple lights from one unit is even better. Once, flash triggers were physically tethered to their lights with a cord, but in this wireless age, such things are no longer necessary.
A decent radio-frequency trigger will provide up to 100 metres of range, and should also give you the ability to separate your flashes into different groups to fire at different times. This allows you to replicate a studio flash head setup for a lower cost, with separate key, fill and accent lights. This does mean that you’ll often require an extra receiver for every additional flashgun you want to incorporate, though some more recent flashguns do come packing built-in receivers, so do check before buying any extra equipment you might not need.
Different triggers will have different features. Some will have TTL functionality: Through The Lens metering, which automatically reads the lighting conditions and adjusts power output accordingly, while others are manual only. Some will also be able to use High-Speed Sync, which enables to use of flash in tandem with fast shutter speeds, allowing you to freeze fast action. Depending on the kind of images you shoot, this may or may not be necessary.
Finally, wireless flash triggers will normally be designed to work with a single camera brand. While some are more broadly compatible, many will have a single model that works specifically with Canon, Nikon, Sony or whatever else, so double-check you've got the right version before you click "Buy".
The best flash triggers in 2021
Godox has carved out a name for itself in the photography community for making good-quality flashes and triggers at affordable prices. A Chinese company, Godox has released a few different wireless triggers, and the XPro is its most recent.
Available in Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Fujifilm and Pentax-compatible variations (make sure you buy the right one), the diminutive XPro trigger features a good number of physical buttons for easy control of multiple flash triggers, as well as a large LCD screen to help you keep track of what you're doing. The buttons don't feel as premium as those on more expensive triggers, but, well, that's one of the reasons they're more expensive.
One particularly popular function is TCM, which can also be found on premium Profoto triggers. Essentially, this allows you to fire a test shot in TTL to gauge the exposure you need for the shot you're after, then with a tap of the TCM button, set all your group flashes to fire in manual at the appropriate power level. This allows you to get good consistency from shot to shot.
It helps to know what you're doing with the Godox XPro i-TTL, particularly as the manuals are not that well-translated and can be a head-scratcher, but this trigger is nonetheless quite a bargain.
The Odin II system is available for Canon or Nikon systems, and you can buy Sony and Pentax variants of the Odin II transmitter.
This trigger isn't cheap, but the premium price reflects the extensive feature set. Where most triggers have three group options, Phottix gives you five, as well as 32 frequency channels and Digital ID matching to maintain a secure, uninterrupted connection between camera and flashgun(s). Naturally, there’s wireless TTL for effortless flash metering, and even flash zoom control so you can alter the flash coverage to suit the lens focal length you're using.
It’s small wonder then that performance is outstanding. Sustained burst shooting posed no problems in our testing, and neither did long-range triggering. We were able to shoot at our test camera’s 1/200sec maximum sync speed with no banding, though there is a High Speed Sync mode that’ll top out at 1/8000sec.
With so much to play with, the Odin II isn’t the most accessible system for newcomers, but its streamlined control layout and clear backlit screen are a pleasure to use. Build quality is also top notch, and both transmitter and receiver are powered by convenient AA batteries.
The original Cactus V6 made waves in the world of wireless flash triggers thanks to its ability to simultaneously trigger flashguns from all major manufacturers, including Canon, Nikon, Nissin and Sigma. The cross-compatible hot-shoe design also meant the V6 wasn't picky about which brand of camera you mounted it to, and it could be triggered via a standard PC Sync socket.
This version II model can pull the exact same cross-compatibility tricks, and much more. Where the original V6 couldn't wirelessly transmit TTL signals, the V6 II can do so with Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Sigma flashguns. What's more, there's also cross-brand wireless manual flash power adjustment, zoom head control, and high speed sync compatibility.
The V6 II is also more intelligent than the V6, as it's able to auto-detect the brand of flashgun or camera to which it's attached, and program itself accordingly. Range is excellent at 100+ metres, there's the ability to manage four flash groups over sixteen possible channels, and everything’s controlled by a clear, back-lit LCD screen and intuitive controls. The V6’s build quality is also reassuring, with metal hot shoe mounts top and bottom.
You’ll need two V6 transceivers to get started - one set as transmitter, the other as receiver - which does double the price, but the combined cost is still competitive with other transmitter/receiver kits.
Nissin’s Air System uses a 2.4GHz radio frequency link, which in the Air 10s capable of a huge 100m wireless range - a healthy increase on the 30m range of Nissin's older Air 1 transmitter. While few scenarios demand you to be such a distance away from your flash, it at least gives peace of mind that this system will maintain a rock-solid connection at shorter distances.
The Air 10s Commander unit is totally intuitive to operate, with a clear, logical display and just the right amount of controls to balance ease of use with functionality. It packs useful features like remote power adjustment of a whopping eight flash groups, an AF assist lamp, not to mention wireless TTL compatibility with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Micro Four Thirds TTL systems.
You can control Nissin’s own Di700A, i60A and MG-series flashguns directly from the Air 10s without an Air R receiver attached. The receiver itself is just as compact as the Commander, and is also powered by AAA batteries. It too has eight selectable channels, and Nissin has added a little flip-down foot that lets you stand the receiver and attached flashgun on a flat surface - a nice touch.
The original Viper system was a simple but very effective trigger with an impressive 2.4GHz, 100-metre range. However it was Canon-only, and lacked TTL transmission, but now Hahnel has now addressed both these limitations. The Viper TTL kit comes in Canon, Nikon and Sony variants, with TTL compatibility for all three brands. We found the TTL mode on our Nikon sample version worked perfectly.
You still get remote control of flashgun power from the transmitter, with the clear backlit LCD screen and logical controls making it a cinch to use. Flashguns can be arranged into three groups, and though there’s no choice of frequency channels, Hahnel goes one better with a Digital Channel Matching system that securely codes the transmitter and receivers together to prevent interference.
Build quality isn’t quite on a par with the top triggers on this list, but it’s not far off and you get metal hot-shoe mounts all round.
Shoestring budget contenders like this can often disappoint, but first impressions of the RF-603 II are encouraging. The fit and finish are more than acceptable for the money, and while the receiver’s cold shoe mount is plastic, the two hot shoes are metal.
Although there are no group options, sixteen frequency channels are available to avoid interference, though they’re set using microscopic switches under the transmitter. A full-on 2.4GHz radio frequency link provides a genuine 100-metre range, and when testing at closer distances, Yongnuo claims sync speeds of up to 1/250-second. We could only manage a reliable 1/160sec sync in our testing, but the connection was stable enough to avoid misfires during burst shooting.
The final trick up the RF-603 II’s sleeve is it can be used as a wireless shutter release: just connect the receiver to your camera’s remote socket, then the two-stage button on the transmitter focuses before firing the shutter.
PocketWizard is a pro favourite in this sector, and it’s easy to see why with this no-compromise combo. The FlexTT5 transceiver can double as a transmitter or receiver, but we paired it with with the MiniTT1 transmitter, as it’s significantly smaller. Both the FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 come in Canon or Nikon mounts (there's also a Panasonic version of the FlexTT5), and both support Canon E-TTL and Nikon i-TTL metering, transmitted over a huge 240-metre range. Or, if that’s not far enough, this can be increased to a staggering 365 metres when using Basic Trigger mode. This mode allows the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 to work as a transmitter on any camera with a standard hot shoe.
The FlexTT5 enables high speed sync with compatible flashguns, allowing for super-fast shutter speeds up to 1/8000 of a second. You can tweak this and adjust the plethora of other advanced features including extensive channel options by connecting the on-board USB port and using PocketWizard’s Utility software, which also enables firmware updates.
Five things to watch out for
1. Stand back
All the kits we’ve featured use radio frequency triggering, which unlike cheaper infra-red systems, usually provides up to 100m of range without needing a direct line of sight.
2. Channel hopping
With radio frequency triggering comes possible interference from other RF devices. A system with multiple channel options or channel coding will lock out uninvited waves.
3. TTL triggering
A triggering system that wirelessly transmits TTL metering signals is a must if you rely on the fire and forget simplicity of a TTL flashgun, but these triggers inevitably carry a premium.
4. Stay put
Don’t fancy wasting time running between multiple flashguns to set their power? More advanced triggers will let you remotely control flashgun output from the transmitter.
5. Sync speed
Typically, a flash trigger will enable a shutter speed up to 1/250sec, but top-end systems boast high-speed sync with compatible flashguns, enabling up to 1/8000sec shutter speeds.