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Off-Camera Flash Setups

"Off-camera flash" refers to setups where the flash is not directly attached to the camera's hot-shoe. The benefits of such a setup is that the lens-flash distance can be greater, and thus more natural look can be achieved, the probability of "red eyes" is reduced, and more than one flash units can be used. In this document I will briefly cover three of the most common methods for operating flash units off-camera.

Slave Flash

"Slave flash" refers to a setup of one "master" and one or more "slave" flash units. The master is the only one whose settings and operation are controlled by the camera (directly or via other means). The slaves must each be manually adjusted and charged. They feature a built-in light-sensitive sensor which triggers their discharge as soon as it detects another flash discharging. Since there is no camera/slave communication, slave operation does not allow TTL functionality.

From all Pentax flashes, only the AF500FTZ and AF360FTZ feature a slave sensor.

Wireless Flash

Some modern equipment allows wireless TTL flash operation. In theory this technology will also support manual and automatic flash, but TTL mode is the most desired one anyway. "Wireless flash" refers to a sophisticated infra-red-light-based camera-flash communication that provides full flash functionality "at a distance."

Off-Camera Flash Using Cables

Off-camera flash operation can be also be achieved with the help of special cables and possibly small adapters. These come in many varieties, but in end effect all that they do is provide a physical connection between the camera's and the flash unit's hot-shoe. Depending on how many of the communication leads get connected, various levels of compatibility are possible.

Manual Flash

Manual flash can be achieved with any generic "two-wire" cord with either a hot-shoe or a PC X-sync plug on one side and a hot-shoe socket on the other. All bodies and all flashes can be used in this manner.

Analog Program Flash, Analog TTL Flash Using 4P Cables

Analog flash operation is supported by all Pentax bodies and all non-AF flashes. It requires at most four separate camera/flash communication lines, so all fitting cables carry a 4P name. There are two different 4P cords, with a 4P plug on one end and an adapter on the other. The adapter of the 4P Sync Cord A fits only on the LX body while the adapter of the 4P Sync Cord B works with all bodies. The AF400T flash has a 4P socket, so the cable's plug can be plugged in directly. All other flash units must be used in conjunction with the Hot Shoe Grip: 4P plug plugged in the grip and flash unit mounted on the grip.

Table 1 lists in detail which equipment pieces are needed in order to connect a given body and a given flash.

Table 1. Equipment needed for analog off-camera flash operation.
Body \ Flash AF400T any non-AF flash
LX 4P Sync Cord A or 4P Sync Cord B 1: 4P Sync Cord A or 4P Sync Cord B
2: Hot-Shoe Grip
any body 4P Sync Cord B 1: 4P Sync Cord B
2: Hot-Shoe Grip

Analog Operation with 5P Cables

Analog operation is possible also with 5P cords and adaptors, even though these are designed for digital operation. Since 4P and 5P cords, plugs and sockets are incompatible, one needs to use 5P cords and 5P adaptors.

Table 2 lists in detail which equipment pieces are needed in order to connect a given body and a given flash.

Table 2. Equipment needed for analog off-camera flash operation with 5P cords.
Body \ Flash any non-AF flash
SuperA/SuperProgram 1: Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
3: Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Off-Camera Adapter F or Off-Camera Adapter Fg
SF-, Z-/PZ-series body 1: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
3: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Off-Camera Adapter F or Off-Camera Adapter Fg
ZX-/MZ-series body 1: Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
3: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Off-Camera Adapter F or Off-Camera Adapter Fg

Digital TTL Flash

All AF flashes (those in the FT, FTZ, and FGZ series) and all SF-, Z/PZ-, and MZ-/ZX- series bodies support digital flash operation (note that the bodies also support analog operation whereas the flashes not). The digital communication protocol requires five distinct connectors, hence five-pin (5P) cord must be used between the body and the flash along with the appropriate adaptors. Any combination of five-pin cords and adaptors that physically fit between the camera's hot-shoe and the flash will result in a properly working off-camera flash.

There are two 5P cords available (they differ only in length), and both of them have 5P plugs at both ends. Most digital flashes feature a 5P socket, so a direct connection with a 5P cable is possible. The AF330FTZ lacks such a socket and thus requires an adapter (all Hot Shoe and Off-Camera Adapters will work except Hot Shoe Adapter Fg). At the other end of the cable, an adapter is needed to convert from the camera's hot-shoe to the cable's 5P plug. Hot Shoe Adapters F, Fg, or Fs are appropriate.

If a flash has to be mounted on a tripod, the Off-Camera Adapter F can be used. Table 3 lists in detail which equipment pieces are needed in order to connect a given body and a given flash.

Table 3. Equipment needed for digital off-camera flash operation.
Body \ Flash AF240FT, AF400FTZ, AF500FTZ AF330FTZ
SF-, Z-/PZ-series body 1: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
1: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
3: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Off-Camera Adapter F or Off-Camera Adapter Fg
MZ-/ZX-series body 1: Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
1: Hot Shoe Adapter Fg
2: Sync Cord F 5P or Sync Cord F 5P (L)
3: Hot Shoe Adapter F or Hot Shoe Adapter Fs or Off-Camera Adapter F or Off-Camera Adapter Fg

Multi-Flash

Off-camera flash operation need not be limited to one flash unit. Using the appropriate connections, one body can control more than one flashes.

Multi-Flash with 4P Cables

Connect a 4P sync cord A with a distributor, then connect the necessary number of 4P multi cords with the same number of hot-shoe grips. Chain another distributor if needed.

Multi-Flash with 5P Cables

Mount a Hot Shoe Adapter F or Fs on the camera, connect a 5P cord to the 5P socket, and a flash to its other end. Now repeat by mounting another Hot Shoe Adapter F of Fs on top of the first such adapter, run a cord to the second flash, and so on. As a nice bonus, the flash-ready signal in the camera's viewfinder will not light up until all flashes are fully charged.