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Wireless triggering is one of the easiest ways to streamline studio and on-location lighting. Photographers who finally ditch the sync cables in favor of a remote system usually can’t remember how they got by before they did. There are dozens of products out there that will do the trick, but here we’ll take a look at Impact’s solution to a remote, radio flash-triggering system. The fantastic PowerSync 16-80 Transceivers, sold individually or in a two-pack kit through B&H, have a justified place on your to-buy list.
Using radio triggers intimidates some lighting newcomers, but it is, in fact, pretty simple. At its most basic breakdown, you need a transmitter and a receiver to fire a flash wirelessly. The transmitting unit connects to your camera, and the receiver pairs with a light. Impact's PowerSync 16-80s fall into the double-duty category of transceiver, meaning they’re interchangeable as both receiver and transmitter. You need at least a pair to get started, which is another great benefit to picking up the super budget-friendly two-pack. Later, you can always add more if the need presents itself.
Each PowerSync 16-80 transceiver comes in its own soft storage case with a set of AA batteries, a small lanyard, a self-adhesive accessory shoe, and a collection of sync cables (3.5mm to 3.5mm, 3.5mm to PC, and a 3.5mm to ¼" adapter head). They’re lightweight and sleek, with a modern design. The back panel consists of a bright LCD screen, mode button (to choose between transmitter, receiver, or transceiver), test button, channel selector arrows, four group selectors (A, B, C, or D), and a bulb/continuous focus mode button.
The instruction booklet is easy to follow, but almost unnecessary; these are incredibly user friendly. As the name implies, the PowerSync 16-80 has 80 digitally coded channels from which to choose. If you experience any kind of electronic interference, change the channel. This is extensive, probably more than you’d ever need, but it’s nice to have the freedom of extra options. For example, if you're working a venue or event with other photographers, you should have no trouble finding your own frequency. The Impact triggers cover a range of 720' with a maximum sync speed of 1/250-second. If you need more working range, you can add a third PowerSync 16-80 as an intermediary unit. Adding the third unit will double your range to 1440'.
If you already own a set of Impact PowerSync 16 transmitter and receiver units, there's good news. The PowerSync 16-80s are backward compatible with both of these devices through 16 channels. To determine which channels are the compatible ones, pop open the battery compartment door of the 16-80 and the compatibility chart will guide you.
Radio triggers open up a world of flexibility that isn’t possible otherwise. When you buy strobes, you’ll often find a complimentary sync cable included in the box. These tether your camera to a “master” strobe head, which fires when you take a picture. The rest of your flashes are then triggered by optical slaves, which are (usually) built-in and require a line-of-sight proximity. This works for small spaces, but gets really inconvenient when you need mobility.
The Impact PowerSync 16-80s were tested first in a studio with a couple of name brand strobes. The accessory shoe that comes with each transceiver straps on to your light stands with a self-adhering strip of touch fastener. You connect the remote to your light with a sync cable, and then slide it into the shoe. It’s a great little accessory—the transceiver has a designated place to sit, and isn’t dangling from the back of the light. You will have to adjust your strobe power manually for every flash. It’s not uncommon, but these are among the radio triggers that cannot control light output remotely. What you can do remotely is assign groups, and this is a fantastic tool for studio and event shooters.
The PowerSync 16-80s have four different group buttons (A, B, C, and D) on the side of each unit. They let you assign individual or multiple lights to their own unique groups, designated by one of those letters. On your transmitting unit (connected to the camera), you can then select which group(s) you want to fire, and which will remain dormant. For example, this is the perfect way to change which corner of the room you’re lighting during a wedding or event. As you move around the space, you can make instant lighting adjustments. In the studio, you can command which strobes to fire, experiment with combinations, and change it up every time. Just be aware that one “group,” whether that’s one light or multiple, needs one transceiver. To manage multiple groups, you’ll need to purchase more remotes. The maximum firing distance listed in the specs is 720', which is a considerable amount of space that’s perfect for most studios, outdoor shoots, and event venues. Set up on the first floor of a warehouse, the PowerSyncs’ remote ability was tested from different rooms throughout the building. The strobes fired faithfully with every press of the test button. Again, if you need more range, you can add an intermediary trigger for double the distance.
External flashes offer their own challenges. Many photographers use infrared systems to fire off-camera flashes wirelessly, since they’re often less expensive and quick to set up. Canon and Nikon, for example, each sells its own IR transmitters with E-TTL/TTL compatibility that can go all the way to controlling flash ratios. The big downside to infrared systems, however, is reliability. They're heavily dependent on distance, line-of-sight positioning, and can be interrupted by bright sun. Ultimately, if you don’t have a controlled environment, you can end up missing key shots. For this reason, it might be time to switch to radio control.
The PowerSyncs integrate beautifully into a setup with your existing shoe-mount flashes and external flashes, and were tested with a few different Speedlites from Canon's and Nikon’s lineups. The PowerSync 16-80’s universal hot shoe also lets you-mount the device and your hot-shoe flash together on a bracket.
Again, they can’t control light output, and there is no ETTL/TTL compatibility. You'll have to set your flashes to manual, and make any changes in power at the source. Above the battery compartment, there’s a port that screws on to the 1/4"-20 threaded top of your typical light stand, so no hanging remotes. Wedding and event shooters, for example, can quickly set up light stands around a venue and not worry that their tethered transceivers are going to clatter to the ground. With the transceiver screwed on to the light stand, you can then mount your wireless flash right to the 16-80’s own female hot shoe. This is a tremendously helpful feature, and a major selling point its PocketWizard Plus III contemporary doesn’t offer. It's even completely possible to shoot with umbrella brackets.
When you’re using an external flash on-camera, you’ll need to do a little rearranging, since your hot shoe is occupied. With the transceiver connected to your camera via sync cable, it has nowhere to sit. This is not a symptom of Impact’s triggers, and virtually all other radio systems require the same setup. You can still use your PowerSync 16-80s to wirelessly trigger off-camera units. To avoid a piece of dangling equipment, you can pick up a cold bracket. This mounts on the bottom of your camera, and provides an extra shoe to which the trigger can be attached. In a pinch, a common DIY trick is to use small, heavy-duty strips of Velcro placed on the side of the flash and the transceiver's battery compartment door.
Wireless lighting isn't the only trick up the PowerSync's sleeve. A set of 16-80 transceivers can also double as a remote firing system for your camera, which helps eliminate shake caused by handling, for situations such as delicate macro photography. You'll need to purchase the compatible remote shutter-release cable, which you can look up on a remote cable chart included in the PowerSync 16-80 box. This will trigger the shutter in single-shot, continuous, or bulb modes. In the latter, a stopwatch counts down from the receiving unit (in this case, on your camera) to show you how long the shutter has been open, an ideal feature for long exposures. If you're shooting wildlife or other flighty, moving subject matter, a continuous focus lock function tells the camera to do just that—continuously engage the autofocus mechanism to cut down on lag time between shots. Since this is akin to pressing the shutter button halfway, you'll never have to worry your camera has fallen asleep.
Ultimately, Impact's PowerSync 16-80 transceivers are wonderfully versatile, user-friendly, and reliable tools for making busy photographers' lives a little bit easier. They definitely hold their own among more expensive competition, and have proven their worth both in the studio and on location. The best part of all, arguably, is their price. For the cost of two tickets to a Broadway matinee, you can pick up a starter two-pack right from B&H.