July 23, 2022


Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

Alpha radio flash trigger: when will Sony offer one?

Closeup: Sony Alpha A900 hot shoe.

The Sony Alpha hot shoe is the best in the business…but where is the radio trigger to fit it?

Nov. 6, 2008 Last time I discussed the A900’s lack of a popup flash and the need for a $500 HLV-F58AM flash unit if you want to trigger the Sony Alpha wireless flash system. The hope is that Sony may offer another method to wirelessly trigger remote flash units with the A900.

Sony could offer some sort of less expensive optical trigger, which would be capable of serving as a master for the Sony wireless system. But why optical? True, the Sony wireless system, derived from the original Minolta optical wireless system, is excellent. Maybe more than excellent. But optical flash systems have limits, which is why most top pros choose wireless radio triggers.

Radio triggers work at longer distances, don’t need to be in line of sight of the camera and work reliably in brightly lighted conditions.

Unfortunately, as as far as I am aware, there are no radio triggers that will attach directly to the Sony Alpha flash shoe. Nor are there receivers designed to attach directly to any of the Sony or Minolta dedicated flash units that are fully compatible with the Alpha dSLRs.

No radio trigger for the Sony hot shoe?

Most(all?) of the radio triggers on the market are designed to attach to the standard, old-style hot shoe employed by the majority of cameras not manufactured by Sony. The receivers either attach to the foot of the older style flash shoe, or plug into the old-style PC sync port. That leaves Sony Alpha users out of luck, unless they attempt to cobble up a home-brew solution utilizing adapters. Setting up a radio trigger system with adapters isn’t rocket-science and I always encourage users to experiment with modding their gear. Still, it is disappointing that no “off-the-shelf” radio trigger is available for the Alpha.

Am I the only one who is flummoxed that Sony hasn’t stepped up to address this deficiency? I mean, this is Sony we are talking about. How many radio engineers do they have on their payroll? They may not be the be-all and end-all when it comes to radio technology, but they come pretty close. Walkman personal stereos, clock radios, component stereo equipment, car receivers, boom boxes, cordless phones… you name a piece of radio equipment; and Sony has probably produced a version of it.

Except, of course, radio triggers to accompany their line of Alpha dSLRs.

It’s not that there isn’t a market out there. The A100 was said to sell 360+ thousand units in the six months it was available in 2006. I don’t have exact sales figures for 2007, but with an entire 12 months to work with and the introduction of the outstanding A700, I have to believe the numbers well exceeded 2006. We are still in 2008, of course, so figures aren’t available, but with the A200, A300, A350 and A900 all joining the A700, it wouldn’t be surprising if Sony dSLR sales easily exceeded both 2006 and 2007 combined. That is a lot of Alphas.

Then there are the Minolta Maxxum dSLRs. The Maxxum 5D and 7D sold well and most of them are still in service. Minolta also sold truck-loads of the non-dSLR Dimage 7 variants, which begat the similar Konica-Minolta Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) cameras; the A1, A2 And A200 (not to be confused with the Sony A200). These units share the same hot shoe and flash circuitry as the Minolta Maxxums, making them fully compatible with the latest flash units from Sony.

There are still millions of Maxxum film cameras hanging around. Film may be all but dead, but the Maxxum 9 film SLRS are still trading for well over $100 – $600 on ebay. Maybe those are being bought by collectors, but I have to believe at least some photographers are buying those used film SLRs to use, not sit in a display case.

Of course, not all of the owners of those millions of cameras are potential flash trigger buyers. Some photographers never use flash, especially off-camera flash. Others are satisfied with the current optical wireless flash available with the dedicated Sony flash units. Still others will fire their off-camera flash with sync cords, or use adapters to use standard radio wireless flash.

Even so, there are have to be a good percentage of users who would be eager to add a Sony brand wireless trigger on their Alpha or Minolta cameras. And don’t forget, Sony is in this dSLR thing for the long-haul. Which means millions more Alpha cameras will appear in the future. How many of those new Alpha owners will be looking for a radio trigger solution?

Radio flash triggers — why aren’t there any to fit the Sony Alpha?

Sooner or later, someone has to step up to the plate and offer a comprehensive radio trigger solution for the Alpha series. I don’t really care who it is…if the PocketWizard folks or Metz, Bowens, Quantum, MicroSync or someone else comes forward with a reliable solution, I would be happy.

But consider Sony’s clear advantages in this area.

In addition to the radio engineering experience I alluded to earlier, Sony owns all the specs, the pin-outs and the internal technology of the Alpha system. The third-party makers have to disassemble off-the-shelf cameras and flashes to determine this information, and they have to hope they don’t miss something significant.

Sony also has access to all the special components: flash shoes, dedicated sync connectors, etc. If you are a third-party vendor, you have manufacture your own components, since you can’t just order a package of components from a supplier somewhere.

Finally, Sony has a huge built-in advantage in brand recognition. When the third-party makers create a radio trigger for the old style flash shoe, they can sell the same basic unit to Canon, Nikon, Pentax and other shooters. If Nikon or Canon were to develop their own trigger, the third party vendors would still have plenty of other customers. If they develop an Alpha shoe radio trigger, the only people they can sell it to are Sony (and Minolta) shooters. That is fine…unless Sony steps up with their own branded solution.

Could any radio trigger maker compete with Sony?

If Sony enters the fray, how does a third-party trigger maker compete in the Alpha arena? Sony’s Alpha components are generally excellent, so you probably won’t be able to beat Sony on quality or performance.

Sony will probably also beat the third-party makers on appearance. True, the look of a radio trigger device has no impact on it’s performance, but you can’t argue that a trigger with a matching finish and a big orange Alpha logo won’t be more appealing to the majority of Alpha shooters.

That leaves price as the only way a third-party maker could compete against Sony. But here Sony holds all the cards. Sony generally prices their stuff on the high side, but if they wanted to compete against a third-party interloper. all they have to do is come in somewhere close to the other guy’s list price.

I don’t have any hard figures, but I would guess that if most Alpha users had their choice, they would buy a Sony brand trigger, even it it was ten or twenty dollars more expensive. Even if the Sony product was thirty or forty dollars more, Sony would probably still outsell it’s competitors. To compete against Sony in the radio trigger arena, you would probably have to price your trigger at least $50 less than Sony.

Sony, of course, is in the driver’s seat. They could bring their mythical product in at a price point where no high-quality aftermarket trigger could compete.

Of course, this is simply my own musing. I have no idea if or when Sony will offer an Alpha radio trigger. I don’t know if any of the third-party makers are really taking a look at offering a dedicated Alpha radio trigger.

Interestingly enough, two separate Alphatracks readers: Paulo Rodrigues and a reader named Dave, commented on my earlier post to explain how they rigged up a wireless radio flash system for the Alpha hot shoe. You can see their DIY flash trigger notes here. I have been considering an attempt at something similar. If I do, I will do a full report on Alphatracks.

I am convinced that the market is there and the A900, with it’s lack of a built-in optical trigger, creates a real need for this sort of product. Sooner or later, someone has to address the need.

Are you listening, Sony?

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