One of My Favorite Tools: $30 Off-Camera Flash Cable

I’ve been more seriously into off-camera lighting for a couple of years now.  However, it was only a few months ago that I picked up a TTL flash-sync cable for my Canon kit.

Prior to this $30 purchase, the majority of my off-camera lighting had been done manually, which is perfectly fine and nearly limitless in creativity.  But it never hurts to add another arrow to your photographic quiver though.

TTL Off-Camera Flash

Canon 5D Mark II w/ Pearstone TTL Hot Shoe Cable to Off-Camera Flash (at right) - ISO 800 - f/3.5 - 1/320s

If you want high-speed flash syncing on traditional DSLRs, you need to use TTL (through the lens) communication with your flash.  Most DSLRs are limited to standard flash sync speeds of 1/200s to 1/250s.  These speeds are ok for many situations; however, if you want to stop action or balance flash output with sunlight, you need a faster shutter speed.

Hot shoe flashes will sync at higher speeds when using TTL communication to the camera body.  The 5D Mark II syncs with Canon TTL flashes up to 1/8000s, which is the max shutter speed of the camera.  On-camera flash is rather dull though, with unflattering and boring shadows.  Wireless TTL flash systems can be expensive; however, many new cameras (even entry-level models like the Rebel T3i) offer built-in sync with wireless Canon Speedlites.

That said, there are many cameras that do not offer wireless sync capabilities out of the box.  And even those that do may not work ideally in all situations (such as direct sunlight).  Additionally, you might want to use a “master” flash in a different location than on top of your camera.

Enter the cheap and reliable TTL sync cable.

I decided to go with a $30 Pearstone sync cable because of the overall value and recommendations from other users.  Every camera manufacturer offers their own brand of off-camera flash cables – with some being a better value than others.

For example, Canon’s own sync cable is only 2-feet long, which is fine if you want to your flash to live on a bracket, but not so great if you want to put some distance between your camera and flash.  The worst part about Canon’s cable is that it costs $70 – a rather absurd price if you ask me.  Nikon’s SC-28 cable is a better deal at 9-feet and $55.  The Pearstone cable, on the other hand, is 6.5-feet long and about $30 – just about right for me.

Pearstone Off-Camera Flash TTL Sync Cable

Canon 5D Mark II w/ Pearstone TTL Flash Cable Sample to Speedlite (at camera left) - ISO 400 - f/5.6 - 1/500s

Based on months of use now, I think the Pearstone cable is a bargain of a purchase.  It’s been very durable.  I’ve stretched the cable probably a little further than 6.5-feet a few times and it has been tugged and pulled at numerous angles.  To this day, I have not experienced any problems with it.

It locks down solidly on both the camera’s hot shoe and the Speedlite hot shoe.  I’ve put it on a sandbagged light stand (the “flash” end of the cord has a 1/4-20 mount on the bottom) and then stretched it further than I should.  The mounts have help up fine in all respects.

As far as I can tell, there is no technical difference between the overpriced Canon model and the Pearstone version of the cable.  The TTL communication is whatever 1s and 0s that Canon sends over the Pearstone cable as if the Speedlite was attached directly to the camera’s hot shoe.

For those who want to shoot manual flash, you can use the cable in that way as well.  In fact, I have used this same cable with the Fuji X100 and a Nikon SB-24 speedlight in manual mode.  Off-camera flash is particularly intriguing on the Fuji X100 because of the insane sync speeds up to 1/4000s – something you don’t get on other cameras in manual mode.

Fuji X100 Off-Camera Flash

Fuji X100 w/ Pearstone Cable to Off-Camera Flash (at camera left) - ISO 200 - f/4 - 1/4000s

The thing is – I find myself using off-camera lighting even more now that I keep this cable in my bag.  In fact, this cable stays on my camera’s hot shoe nearly full time.  About the only time that I take it off anymore is when I shoot video.

High-speed Flash Sync

High-speed Flash Sync w/ Canon 5D Mark II, Speedlite (at camera right) and Pearstone TTL Cable - ISO 100 - f/4 - 1/200s

Even this past weekend while at a birthday party for a child in our family, the handful of casual photos I shot with my 5D Mark II were all made using off camera flash.

Pearstone TTL Off-Camera Flash Cable

Canon 5D Mark II w/ Pearstone TTL Off-Camera Flash Cable to Speedlite (at camera left) - ISO 400 - f/4 - 1/60s

If you own a DSLR and a speedlight, you should own a sync cable.  It opens up so many creative lighting opportunities, which is why it is one of the favorite tools in my camera bag.

If you want to learn more about using TTL with off-camera flash, I highly recommend reading Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Handbook (for Canon shooters) and Joe McNally’s The Hot Shoe Diaries (for Nikon shooters).  Either book will be instructive to shooters of any camera system; however, the authors only reference Canon and Nikon gear, menus and settings in their respective books.

You can find the Pearstone TTL hot shoe cable for several of the major manufacturers.  Check them out at B&H via the below links.

By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue to bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.

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Comments

  1. Jerome Taylor says

    YES! I am so glad to read this post. It works. I went a bit further getting a short, adjustable painter’s pole ( about 20″ to 36″), a painter’s pole to standard lighting lug adapter and a hot shoe adapter. I add a small umbrella, the TTL cord end and the speed lite with the head turned backwards to shoot into the brolly. A bit cumbersome but not as bad as it sounds. It produces a nice, soft light aimed from where you want. I call it the Lambentator. The first time I used it the shot was so dark I could hardly frame. With a TTL cable the focus assist light on the speed lite still works. Result was a perfectly focused and lit shot. Dramatic lighting but not harsh.
    If you are just using the flash to shoot forward you might want a pistol grip with a hot shoe adapter. The important thing is to evolve a system for getting your hand off of the flash to twiddle the camera and then picking up the flash again quickly. (Don’t hang it from the TTL cord.) With my contraption I rest it on my shoulder with the umbrella behind me.

  2. says

    Eric, this is one of the things I like about your site, you offer lots of little tips and tricks that I might not find on other sites. Thanks for this tip. I have been using an off camera flash cord for my macro photography but it nice to know there is a longer alternative to the short 2′ cords I am used to finding with out having to modify them. Up until now my cousin and I have both been purchasing the short cords and modifying them to accept a network cable. This is a MUCH easier solution. The 6′ foot length should work perfectly. Similar Jerome above I sometimes use my mono pod to hold my flash. I keep it in my tripod bag so it is handy along with a couple of small bungee cords to attach it to something (tripod legs or nearby railing) so I can keep my hands free.

    I do have one question for you though. Do you know if it is possible to run two flashes at the same time with a sync cable? The reason I am asking is I use my G10 for a lot of my macro photography. I can not imagine chasing bees, butterflies, frogs etc for very long with a heavy slr and wireless flash combo. However this limits me to just one flash. I would like to be able to use two flashes on this set and and adding wireless to this would defeat the purpose of using the G10. I have seen flash sync cables with dual ends for Sony but not for Nikon or Canon. I have been thinking of making one myself with dual cat 5 jacks. What are your thoughts?

    • says

      I’m not sure about the dual hot shoe cable for Canon. The ones I’ve seen (I think Nissin makes one) only fire to both hot shoes in manual mode, but not TTL. Although, if you are shooting with a 580EX, you could still use it as the master and use the other as a wireless TTL slave. Let me know what solution you work out.