How to Optically Trigger Your Canon 580EXII Flash

Canon 580EXII Speedlite with Optical Adapter

The Canon 580 EXII with Optical Trigger Adapter

Before I begin, let me say that I cannot take credit for this. I learned about it on Syl Arena’s blog. His blog post,  “The Truth About Canon Speedlites & Optical Slaves” opened my eyes to something I didn’t think was possible with Canon Speedlites and I was so excited that I just want to tell others about it.

A little background: I have the Pocket Wizard Mini and Flex triggers to fire a 580EXII wirelessly. What I wanted, was for that speedlite to fire a second 580EXII using Canon’s built-in wireless controls. If you have one flash mounted on the camera, you can use the built-in “master” and “slave” controls to fire multiple flash units that are off-camera.

[NOTE: If you have the Canon 7D or later model, you can use the pop-up flash to trigger an external flash. But keep in mind what is happening. The pre-flash from the pop-up is sending a coded message to the external flash. This is not radio transmission nor is it optical. You also have to make sure that the pop-up does not fire, which would show on your subject. You have to set it so it only fires the pre-flash.]

My assumption was this: The Pocket Wizard materials say that when the Mini is on your camera and the flash is on the Flex, that your camera essentially thinks the flash is still on the camera. The transmitters communicate all the information from camera to flash and vice versa. I also knew that Canon flashes, unlike Nikon, do not have optical slave eyes. This means that a Canon flash cannot be triggered when it sees another flash fire. Fine. I thought that it could still trigger a second flash using my Pocket Wizards. Not so.

Then I read Syl’s blog about a little tiny adapter that you can buy for less than 20 bucks that will serve as a slave eye for a Canon flash! I’ll let you read the post for the details, but here’s the skinny:

Go to FlashZebra.com and get the GREEN PC-adapter. The adapter plugs into your…wait for it…PC port on the side of your 580EXII (pictured above). Both flashes need to be on “manual” for this to work. So here’s the set-up. Flash #1 is off-camera on a Pocket Wizard Flex, being triggered by the Mini on my camera’s hot-shoe. This flash fires and triggers the adapter plugged into Flash #2 which is also off camera. Hallelujah it works!

I thought about buying another flash that has an optical slave eye for $150. OR I could buy another PW Flex for about $200. But for just $19.95 (shipping included) I can now use two off-camera speedlites. This opens up a whole new world of creativity.

If you’re a Nikon shooter, you’re probably laughing at all this.  I have my own list of pet-peeves against Canon speedlites, but I first heard of Syl when he wrote his manifesto-like  “My Canon Speedlite Wishlist which rings so true. Nikon just released its SB-700. If Canon is going to release a new flash, I hope they listen to Syl.

Lastly, I just want to say a quick word about FlashZebra. It seems like a small operation; payment is through PayPal and my invoice had a personal thank you message. I thought that was a nice touch. I ordered the adapter on a Friday and I had it by the following Wednesday. All in all, a good experience.

Hope this helps you as much as it helped me!

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5 thoughts on “How to Optically Trigger Your Canon 580EXII Flash

  1. Flashzebra now has a couple “green” adaptors (and your link doesnt specify which one your using) can you include the model number of the one your talking about in this post? Great idea as this is exactly what Im looking for (Id like my mono light to trigger my EX II off camera)-thanks!

    • Hi Cass-

      When you go to the Flash Zebra link in the blog post you should be taken to a page showing its optical slaves. You should see only two green adapters (I’m not counting the one with an 18-inch cord). Both say they are Canon EX compatible. So it’s just a matter of choosing the miniphone connector or the PC connector. Since the 580 EXII has a PC port, I chose the PC connector. Check your model and see what kind of connection ports it has (I’m pretty sure the recent Canon flashes have PC ports).

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