Using AA Battery Powered Strobes/Speedlites/Speedlights/Hot-shoe flashes) With Studio Strobes/Monolights

Updated: January 14,2018

Background:

We have a good set of radio controlled AA powered strobes (Speedlites, Speedlights, hot-shoe flashes) for a portable studio while traveling. We have a good set of radio controlled studio strobes/monolights with batteries for local work or outdoor large object shots like groups, or a vehicle.

Problem:

We sometimes find ourselves in a creative situation where we could use more flash units than the number of studio strobes we currently own.

A professional studio strobe outfitted with an appropriate transceiver, an air cushioned stand. a battery for portability and even a cheap modifier will cost at least $1,000 adding significant weight and size to your portable studio setup. AA powered strobes from the major camera manufactures with Guide Numbers near 200′ at ISO 100 and 200mm (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica, Olympus, Panasonic and Pentax) run around $500 apiece, but don’t add much to your weight and size other than another light stand. We require radio control. Optical triggering is not sufficiently reliable in all situations to be an acceptable solution.

Solution:

Use the studio strobes and the AA powered strobes on the same shot to increase the number of flash units on the shoot for minimum cost.

Equipment:

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 1

On the camera we use the Paul C. Buff CyberSync Trigger Transmitter to ensure all flash units are synchronously fired using radio control. We will use the Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander off camera for remotely adjusting the studio strobes and for light metering of the entire setup as well as metering individual flash units as necessary. For studio strobes we will be using three Paul C. Buff Einstein Flash Units each sporting a Paul C Buff CyberSync Transceiver. For AA powered strobes we will be using three Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites each sporting a Paul C Buff CyberSync Battery Powered Plus Receiver to ensure they are synchronously fired with the studio strobes using radio control. We will be using the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter off camera to adjust all AA powered strobes and to remotely determine when the AA powered strobes have recycled and are ready to flash again.

Set-Up:

Paul C. Buff CyberSync Trigger Transmitter setup:

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 6

 

Secure the Buff Trigger Transmitter on the hot shoe of the camera setting the “FREQUENCY” selector to any frequency from 1 to 16, for this setup we will use a selection of 9.

Paul C. Buff Einstein Flash Unit setup:

 

Article 02

Ensure the Paul C. Buff CyberSync Transeiver is plugged into each of the 3 Einstein Flash Units. Use the “POWER” button to turn on each of the Buff Einstein Flash Units. Use the “FUNCTION” button on each Einstein Flash Unit until the Channel Selection section of the LCD screen is highlighted and use the “ADJUST” buttons to set the first Flash Unit to “CH 01”. the second flash unit to “CH 02” and the third flash unit to “CH 03”. Use the “FUNCTION” button on each Einstein Flash Unit until the Frequency Selection section of the LCD screen is highlighted and use the “ADJUST” buttons to set all three flash units to “FREQ 09”, the same frequency as the Buff Trigger Transmitter.

Paul C. Buff CyberSync Battery Powered Plus Receiver setup:

Article 03

Use the “FREQUENCY” dial to set the frequency of all three receivers to 9. Use the “CHANNEL” dial to set the channel of the first receiver to 4, the next receiver to 5 and the third receiver to 6. Press the TEST/PWR button to turn the receiver on. Use the provided 1/8″ to PC sync cords to connect each receiver to a Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite.

Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT setup:

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 11

Turn the transmitter on. Press function button 4 until “MENU 3” shows up. Set the Channel to “09” and set all Canon Speedlites and the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter to the same unique 4 digit ID. This will insure that no one else fires your Canon Speedlites even if they are on the same Channel. Press the “Mode” button to set the flash mode to manual, “M”.
While in “MENU 1” press function Button 2 “RATIO” until “ALL” is displayed. Set the power output for the Canon Speedlites as desired. For this example we set “ALL” to full power, “1/1”.

Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite setup:

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 16

Turn on each Canon Speedlite. Press the “Wireless/linked shooting button” on each Canon Speedlite until the “Radio transmission wireless shooting” icon appears in the upper right of the LCD screen and “SLAVE” is displayed in the center of the LCD screen.
From “MENU 1” press the button under “Gr” to set the group of the first Speedlite to “A”, set the second Speedlite to “B” and the third Speedlite to group “C”.
Press function button 4 until “MENU 3” appears. Set the channel, “CH”, to “09” on all Canon Speedlites and insure the ID of each Canon Speedlite is set to the same value as the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter. The “LINK” indicator on each Canon Speedlite and the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter will go green. You must fire the Canon Speedlites with the “Test flash” button on the Canon ST-E3-RT transmitter to transmit the setting to the Canon Speedlites.

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 32

To control each Canon Speedlite independently press the “MENU 1”, “RATIO” button until “RATIO A:B:C” is displayed. Set the power output of each Canon Speedlite separately. In the example above we set “A” to full power, “B” to half power, and “C” to quarter power remotely from the Canon ST-E3-RT.

Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander setup:

Set the Frequency:

Article 04

 

Move the right joystick left/right until the “SETUP” screen displays.
From the “SETUP” screen move the right joystick up/down until “FREQUENCY” is selected, and press down on the joystick to select. For this exercise set the frequency to “09” the same as we set all the other Buff equipment.

Sync all Flash Units:

Article 05

From the “SETUP” screen move the right joystick up/down until “OPEN MEMORY” is selected, press down on the joystick to select. Move the left joystick left/right and select “STUDIO”. All 6 flash units will now appear with the message “FINISHED OPENING”. The three Buff Einstein Flash Units are automatically specified. We must now “SPEC” the three Canon Speedlites.

Spec the Canon Speedlites:

Article 06

From the “SETUP” screen move the right joystick up/down until “SPEC LIGHTS” is selected, press down on the joystick to select. Move the left joystick left/right selecting “CH 04” and push down on the joystick to select. Move the right joystick up/down to choose “OTHER” then choose “SPEEDLIGHT”. Perform the same operation on each of the other two Canon Speedlites on “CH 05” and “CH 06”.

Setting up the Flash Meter:

Article 07

 

From the “SETUP” screen move the right joystick up/down until “FLASHMETER” is selected, and press down on the joystick to select.  Move the left joystick left/right to change the shutter speed and up/down to change the ISO setting. This will allow the flash meter to accurately determine aperture.

Save the Configuration:

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 27

 

From the “SETUP” screen move the right joystick up/down until “SAVE AS” is selected, and press down on the joystick to select.  Use the left joystick to select a location to store the configuration and depress the right joystick to save. In this instance we have chosen to save the configuration to the first position on the included micro SD card.

Using the Flash Meter:

StudioSpeedliteSetup - 28

 

Move the right joystick left/right until the “FLASH” screen appears
Move the left joystick left/right to choose a particular flash unit, to measure the output of that single flash unit, or “ALL” to measure the total scene and press the right joystick in to take a meter reading. Set your camera to the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture reading on the Buff Cyber Commander and take the shot.
Note: The Buff Cyber Commander measures in full stops and tenths of a stop. You will notice from the chart below that with a reading of f/5.6 and 3 tenths you would set your camera to f/6.3 for proper exposure.

fstops

Demonstration:

Lights01

We set the Buff Einstein Flash Units to their lowest possible output remotely through the Buff Cyber Commander. We set the Canon Speedlites to 1/16 power remotely using the Canon ST-E3-RT. We sat 10’ away and set the aperture on the camera to f/22. The picture above demonstrates all six strobes are being triggered by the Buff Trigger Transmitter attached to the camera.

Lights02

We then used the Canon ST-E3-RT to remotely increase Canon Group C, Buff “CH 06”, to 1/2 power with the result shown above. Don’t forget to test fire from the Canon ST-E3-RT to transmit the new settings to the Canon Speedlites.

Lights03

We then used the Buff Cyber Commander to remotely increase Buff Channel 01 with the result shown above. There is no need to test fire the Buff Cyber Commander after adjustment because the Buff Einstein Flash Units are adjusted in real time as you make adjustments on the Buff Cyber Commander..

Possible Items of Confusion:

Buff Frequency vs Canon Channel:

Paul C. Buff’s Frequency, “FREQ”, has the same meaning as Canon’s Channel, “CH”. The frequency range for Buff is 2.427GHz to 2.457GHz with 16 frequency choices spaced 2MHz apart and Canon equipment has a range of 2.405GHz to 2.475GHz divided into 15 separate channel/frequency choices spaced 5MHz apart.

FreqChannels

Buff Frequency 05 = Cannon Channel 07
Buff Frequency 10 = Cannon Channel 09
Buff Frequency 15 = Cannon Channel 11
The point of this exercise is to suggest that we make the Buff Frequency number the same as the Canon Channel number to simplify setup and ensure they don’t interfere with each other, but don’t choose “01” because most of the flashes out there are set on 01, and don’t use “08” because Buff and Canon are real close in frequency on that one.
2.4Ghz is a commonly used radio frequency band, the stability of the wireless flash control can be interfered with by other radio appliances on the same frequency. If we believe we are experiencing interference we can choose the channel/frequency with best reception by using the “Scan” function in the Canon 600EX-RT or the Canon ST-E3-RT. We can set the Buff equipment to another frequency with good reception as measured by the Canon equipment.

Buff Channel vs Canon Group:

For this exercise the Buff Channel, “CH”, and the Canon Group, “GR”, have the same meaning and  allow us to separate each individual light for remote power adjustment and individual light metering.

Canon ID:

Canon “ID” has no Paul C. Buff Equivalent. Probably no need for it. We have been in rooms where multiple photographers are using Canon equipment, but we don’t remember being in a room with multiple photographers using Paul C. Buff studio strobes. Even if you should find yourself within 30 meters of someone interfering with your equipment simply choose another “FREQ” and set all your Buff equipment to the new frequency.

What will go wrong:

  1. It is difficult to determine the “FREQUENCY” and “CHANNEL” setting on the Buff CyberSync Remote Receiver. You may think you have the “FREQUENCY” set to “9” when in actuality it is set to “1”.
  2. If one of the Canon Speedlites fails to flash ensure the “TEST/PWR” light on the Buff CyberSync Remote Receiver is flashing.  If it is not, press the “TEST/PWR” button to turn on the Buff CyberSync Remote Receiver.
  3. If one of the Canon Speedlites fails to flash ensure the flash unit has recycled and is ready to flash. In this set up we determine the availability of the Canon Speedlites from the CanonST-E3-RT Transmitter. All Canon Speedlites are available only when the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter test flash button is glowing red.
  4. Remote adjustments on the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter do not seem to make changes to the Canon Speedlites. Ensure you press the test flash button on the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter after making adjustments. This step is required to transmit the adjustment to the Canon Speedlites. Note that if the Canon Speedlites were being triggered by the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter the adjustments would be made, but we are using the Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter off camera and not for triggering the strobes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *