BorrowLenses’ Guide to Lighting Sync Cables

BorrowLenses’ Guide to Lighting Sync Cables

Strobes are triggered from your camera to fire every time you hit the shutter button in the following ways:

  1. Transmitters designed specifically for that strobe that you connect to the camera, usually via your camera’s hot shoe.

  2. Radio transmitters that you connect, usually with small sync cables, to the strobe and to the camera.

  3. Long sync cables that physically connect your strobe to your camera. Your camera must have a sync-in port, located usually near the mount or on the side of the body.

The following kits come with their own transmitters:

Elinchrom BX-Ri 2 500Ws Monolight Kit with Skyport EL Transceiver
Profoto D1 Air 500Ws 2 Monolight Studio Kit with Air Remote
Bowens Gemini 500R 2 Light Umbrella Kit with Pulsar TX Radio Remote
Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Head A Pro Set with Skyport EL Transceiver
Broncolor 1200Ws Two Litos Monolight 22 Kit and Senso Power Pack with RFS 2 Transmitter
Broncolor 2400Ws Two Litos Monolight 42 Kit and Senso Power Pack RFS 2 Transmitter

Otherwise, your strobe or monolight will come with its own 1/8 (or 1/4)-PC sync cable to use with your camera. Small flashes do not come with sync cables.

The following kits/strobes do not come with their own transmitters nor do they come with their own sync cables:

Profoto B1 500W/s AirTTL Battery Powered Flash
Profoto B1 500W/s AirTTL Location Kit
Profoto B2 250W/s AirTTL Location Kit

They accept 1/8 sync cables but operate best with their own transmitter, which much be rented separately:

Profoto Air Remote TTL-C Transmitter for Canon
Profoto Air Remote TTL-N Transmitter for Nikon

Connecting Strobe and Camera

All kits and strobes will come with their own sync cables, expect for the Profoto exceptions listed above. So long as you have a PC-in port on your camera, you will be able to fire the strobe right out of the bag with the included sync cable.

PC, or Prontor/Compur, ports are standard 3.5mm electrical ports that have been used on cameras for generations. They can sometimes be found on flash guns (especially Nikon). Simply put, they sync your shutter to the light it is connected to.

Don’t have a PC-in port or don’t want to use a long cable? Rent 2 radios and a sync cable to go with them. 1 Pocket Wizard will connect to your camera via the hotshoe, which almost every camera has. The other Pocket Wizard connects to the strobe/flash via a small sync cable.

How to Know What Sync Cable to Rent

Anytime you rent a Pocket Wizard we ask you what (if any) kind of sync cable you want to have come with it. Here is a guide to know which one to choose. The choices are:

1/8-1/8 – Typical way to connect Pocket Wizards to most strobe heads.

1/8-PC – Typical way to connect Pocket Wizards to flash guns, like Speedlights.

1/4-1/8 – Typical way to connect Pocket Wizards to many other kinds of strobe heads.

1/8-AC – Typical for flashes that are powered externally, such as the Quantums, which are about as portable as Speedlights but are stronger and require a battery pack.

Visual Guide

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-4

This is a strobe power supply for Broncolor heads. It takes 1/8″ sync cables.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-5

Any strobe with that size sync port is going to come with a cable that looks like this, a 1/8-PC sync cable to connect to your camera.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-6

If you want to use Pocket Wizards instead of an included 1/8-PC sync cable, then pick up a 1/8-1/8 sync cable.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-1

This strobe head, the White Lightning, takes 1/4″ sync cables. The sync hole, as you can see, is bigger.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-2

Any strobe with that size sync port is going to come with a cable that looks like this, a 1/4-PC sync cable to connect to your camera.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-3

If you want to use Pocket Wizards instead of an included 1/4-PC sync cable, then pick up a 1/4-1/8 sync cable.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-7

This flash head, a Quantum, takes AC sync cables. Flashes, unlike strobes, never come with sync cables and must be rented with Pocket Wizards separately. The coiled cable you see is for the battery pack. These flashes are basically empty shells waiting for all of their peripherals in order to function. So why do people bother with these? They’re strong, don’t need to be plugged into the wall, and travel really well.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-8

To wirelessly fire a flash like the Quantum you need an AC-1/8 sync cable.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-9

Small flashes, or flash guns, have PC-in ports that look exactly like the PC-in ports you see on cameras. Note: Not ALL of them have them.

Sync_Cables_Alex_Huff_BL-10

If you want to trigger your flash gun with Pocket Wizards you will also need to pick up a 1/8-PC sync cable.

Ordering Exactly What You Need

In all of these cases where one opts to use Pocket Wizards, one of the Wizards will hang from your light with the sync cable you chose and the other will sit on your camera’s hotshoe. Whenever you order a pair of Pocket Wizards you typically only need 1 sync cable. Call us if you’re ever unsure about how many you really need. They don’t cost extra so there is no harm in accidentally ordering more sync cables than you need but it increases your chances of losing one and buying us a new one is the pits.

Using a Proprietary Transmitter 

If you want to instead use a transmitter that comes in most of our kits, be sure to learn how to sync them.


Additional Guides:

The Beginner Videographer’s Guide to Frequency Blocks
Underwater Housing Units and Sound Blimp Compatibility Guide
BorrowLenses’ Guide to Syncing Transmitters with Strobes

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Alexandria Huff is a portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Her tutorials can be found here on the BorrowLenses Blog, 500px, Shutterfly, Snapknot, and SmugMug. She specializes in studio lighting. Follow her work on 500px.

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