It's Time for the PC Jack to Die.

As a lighting photographer, I have long been grateful for the fact that Nikon has included an external Prontor/Compur (PC) jack on most of their speedlights. But while I love the synching ability, I hate the connector.

Nothing against Nikon -- they are among the good guys when it comes to synching flashes. Fact is, I also hate the PC jack on the camera itself.

There is simply no reason to continue the use of a proprietary connection for such a simple circuit. There is a better way, which will not only save photographers -- and manufacturers -- money but add a valuable capability to hybrid still/video DSLRs.

The Backstory

The Prontor/Compur connection goes back -- way back -- to the days of the Speed Graphic and beyond. It's long been a standard for no reason other than, well, it's long been a standard.

Conveniently, the mere existence of this proprietary connector perpetuates a little cottage industry / sync cord mafia. And no offense to sync cord manufacturers themselves, the design of the connector means that it is not that easy to manufacture a good version in a cord.

Crappy PC cords are, of course, the bane of our existence as photographers. They get loose. They fail intermittently. We even buy little key chain fob tools to bend them back into shape. And even then, decent (>$20) cords that have to be periodically replaced amount to what is basically an ongoing -- and inflated -- tax on photographers.

The Better Solution

The PC jack carries exactly one electrical circuit. It is simply a mechanism to close a switch and fire a flash. This could be accomplished by just about any type of connector, but the most logical candidate for replacement is the cheap, lowly reliable 1/8" (or, 3.5mm) audio jack.

If the camera industry were to standardize on the 1/8" jack, proprietary sync cords would become a thing of the past. Audio patch cords are much cheaper, and just as reliable.

Case in point: My AlienBees and PocketWizards both use standard, 1/8" jacks. (Thank you both, Paul at AB and Jim at PW, for that.) Cords are always going to be cords. They get moved around, blown around, serve as lanyard (I know -- I've seen me do it) and get strained. Eventually cords are going to go bad.

But with a 1/8" based cord as a sync cord, the easy solution is to buy them by the dozen. You can get them for next to nothing all over the 'net. So each of my AB head cases have four or five brand new 1-foot sync cords, still in plastic. Thus, will I never have a sync cord issue.

Not so with my PW-to-SB800 connection. The SB800 speedlight has a PC sync, which means that even short cords are $10-$20, depending on the brand. SO my solution is to hope they continue to work. Which, of course, one day they will not.

A Logical Transition

It appears that flashes already want to go 1/8". PWs are there. ABs are there. Several other brands of studio flashes are there.

When MPEX came to me for design input for the quad-sync LP120, the first thing I suggested was a 1/8" sync jack. Moishe being Moishe, he also included the hot shoe, PC jack and a slave. It's a "guy" thing -- sync overkill. Gotta love it.

The next step was to create the Universal Translator, which mounts on a camera or flash, passes sync through bottom to top via the shoe, and adds but PC and 1/8" sync to either.

The LP120 is, as far as I know, the only hot-shoe-sized flash sporting a 1/8" jack. And that has been responsible for much of the exposure it has gotten on widely read blogs such as WIRED Gadget Lab and BoingBoing, among others. It is cool, logical and next-step thinking.

I know of one other flash in the works which will support 1/8" sync, too. Tell ya more, but I'd have to kill ya.

In short, the transition is starting to happen, and the desire for a non-ridiculous sync is proving that the 1/8" sync is seen as a value-added feature. And the 1/8" jack is cheaper to add than is a PC jack. So take away a PC jack in the process, and you actually save manufacturing costs by making the flash better.

Not surprisingly, there is even a cottage industry in making (for example) Canon flashes better after the fact by adding a 1/8" sync jack. It doesn't take Fake Chuck Westfall to see that this is a logical feature.

Double Duty for MultiMedia

One of the additional beauties of the 1/8" standard is that it does not have to be a single-circuit connector. It can carry two or even three circuits. Think stereo audio cord, or full A/V coming out of your iPod headphone jack.

Woooo, high-tech, huh? But still ahead of the sync cord folks. And even 3-circuit 1/8" cords are cheaper than PC cords.

With just one extra circuit included in the 1/8" jack on the RadioPopper JrXs, Kevin and the guys are adding the ability to remotely dial in a flash's power level.

So why not add a 1/8" jack on a DSLR? Amazingly, many models already have a jack on the camera. It's just being used for output to a video monitor, for viewing stills (or movies) on your TV.

Think about it. By just keeping the pre-existing hardware, camera manufacturers could use software to configure the jack based on menu choices or sensing the voltage in the cord that is plugged into the jack.

A single, 1/8" jack could be a video out in play mode, a mic in (hello) in video record mode and a much better sync jack in still photo mode.

Poof -- proprietary PC cords are obsolete, cameras are improved and costs are reduced on both ends.

We Can Help

I think it will be the hot-shoe flashes that will transition to the new standard first. It is not expected that they include the stupid, legacy PC connector. And I would love to do whatever I can to help to speed the changeover.

To that end, if your company announces a hot shoe flash in 2010 that includes a 1/8" sync jack, I will use this site to tell hundreds of thousands of people in your exact target audience about it.

Two caveats: First, your flash must be available internationally. And if it is a total piece of crap other than the 1/8" part I am not going to omit that little tidbit.

Long story short, 1/8" hot shoe flashes will get noticed here.

Ditto any new cameras that either add a 1/8" hard sync jack or repurpose an existing 1/8" AV jack to function as a sync jack in still mode: I can promise you, when cameras start releasing photographers from the hot shoe and/or PC mafia, that will be news here, too.

This PC cord monster is a snake with a head at both ends, and we pretty much have to kill it twice. If you support this idea, please do what you can to spread it. Blog it, tweet it, Facebook it, nail it to the door of the PC Church a la Martin Luther -- whatever.

I'd love for us to help make this happen.


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Blogger Kevin said...

Amen, preach the gospel. Great post.

February 18, 2010 12:14 AM  
Blogger budrowilson said...

Amen my friend, amen.

February 18, 2010 12:15 AM  
Blogger ProfRick said...

You've hit it precisely on the head. The PC connection is the weakest link in off-camera lighting. Thanks so much for getting this ball rolling!

February 18, 2010 12:17 AM  
Blogger Alberto said...

For years I've struggled with sync cords and PC connections, from PW to flash or camera to PW. Either something as you described happened, or the PC connection on my SB-800s would go kaput. Nowadays I use a miniphone to hotshoe adapter, which bypasses the PC connector completely, allowing for reliable firing of my remote units. But these are frail adapters, and I've had a number of them break apart at the shoe, and I've had to solder/epoxy just as many back to life. What I really wish for is that camera manufacturers would add a built-in radio transceiver, or better yet, a transceiver module that could be added to the camera - like in the Sekonic meters. That would be ideal, but alas, reality is not ideal.

February 18, 2010 12:19 AM  
Blogger kate said...

sounds good.

February 18, 2010 12:36 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

Oh, I love you, David Hobby. I've hated that jack for more than 20 years.

February 18, 2010 12:37 AM  
Blogger kate said...

Sounds good.

February 18, 2010 12:37 AM  
Blogger N said...

Software won't rework the existing jacks. The current circuits don't work that way. I'm not saying it's a big deal, it's just not going to happen with a firmware update unless some engineer was having a little stroke of genius when he designed the circuits.

An added bonus would be the ability to use super cheap inline optical isolators to protect your gear when goofing around with alternative triggers.

This is all well and good but I'm still a CLS fan.

February 18, 2010 12:38 AM  
Blogger Alex DiFiori said...

The only flaw with the 1/8 design is that the jack eventually looses its ability to securely hold the plug in place. The rib on the prong eventually flattens out the rib in the jack, which makes it as reliable as a PC connection.

However, it took 2 years to do that to my iPod, so I guess it's worth it.

In other words, I totally agree, if only the jacks are made to last.

February 18, 2010 12:45 AM  
Blogger John said...

A possible reason for PC sync in the past is perhaps rating for the higher voltages. I'm all for the 3.5mm connector nowadays though, and bought a set of Sunpak flashes partly based on them easily being modified to add a 3.5mm socket. The ebay triggers plug straight in and it gives no hassles.

February 18, 2010 12:48 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yes - My vote of support here!

February 18, 2010 12:49 AM  
Blogger Lionel said...


February 18, 2010 1:52 AM  
Blogger ed pingol said...


i HATE pc sync cords.


February 18, 2010 2:31 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. Kill that feeble, weak little sucker. I've hated it since (I'm guessing) the late 70s with my Nikon FTN.

February 18, 2010 2:32 AM  
OpenID aerone-ak said...

PC jacks arent usually recommended for high voltages due to their design. All mono 3.5mm plugs have a tip and ring seperated by an insulating sleeve (TRS). Inside the female connector there is a spring contact. When the male jack is inserted, the tip first slides past this contact. When the tip bottoms out and contacts the base of the plug the spring contact touches the ring.

The problem with this is that for a split second, the spring contact can bridge the small gap between the tip and ring of the male plug. If there is no/very low current in the plug all is good. However if the plug is live when the connection is made it is potentially dangerous ie. arcing. This is why the idea of using 3.5mm TRS jacks for power supplies is frowned upon.

Im going to guess if one connects flash triggers using 3.5mm TRS the power SHOULD be off or the voltages are low enough that no arcing is to occur. I suspect that trigger voltages through the 1/4' TRS jack in the AB monoblocs are very low. Otherwise they would be a potential safety hazard.

Even then, I wouldnt want to touch the end of these suckers plugged in...

February 18, 2010 2:51 AM  
Blogger Matt Lowber said...

My elinchrom skyports use 1/8th and its awesome, however the 580ex uses PC and is annoying and expensive. Yes on the 1/8!!!!

February 18, 2010 2:53 AM  
Blogger Niall said...

Well put!
I sure hope our friends at Nikon, Canon, Sony and cousins understand this!!!
I want the PC cord hung, drawn and quartered.

February 18, 2010 3:21 AM  
Blogger Mark Howells-Mead said...

I agree in principle to the idea, based on the fact that pretty much everyone has a modern camera these days, where onward development and improvement is critical. However, don't forget those who are using a combination of older cameras and newer flash units; sometimes, the only way to connect the two together is a PC cord, where the camera has no other means of connecting a flash unit. For example, many of the cameras in my collection don't have a hotshoe, so the continued availability of PC cords is essential for me.

February 18, 2010 3:41 AM  
Blogger Marten said...

"Think about it. By just keeping the pre-existing hardware, camera manufacturers could use software to configure the jack based on menu choices or sensing the voltage in the cord that is plugged into the jack."

Well, no. I really doubt that the circuitry for that port can handle the precise timing constraints that a flash sync port has.

February 18, 2010 3:54 AM  
Blogger Duncan Babbage said...


Bring. It. On.

February 18, 2010 3:54 AM  
Blogger p4pictures said...

Oh yeah put me down for 3.5mm (keep it metric) jacks.

Also please kill the older elinchrom Amphenol connector too - great reliability, terrible cost and availability - proof that commonly available jacks is the way forward. All the recent Elinchrom lights use 3.5mm too!

And with 3.5mm jacks there's a supply of right angle plugs too. These seem to fall out less than regular 3.5mm straight jacks on my studio lights.

February 18, 2010 4:09 AM  
Blogger markus said...

agreed for the most parts, but gotta beg to differ that the 1/8" (3.5mm) is *the* perfect solution. it again (like the PC itself) has no better qualification than being well established.

for a couple of years i've relied on them for triggering flahes and various cameras as i either thought - well even the PWs got them.. in those two years i was doing very time critical stuff, being set up within minutes, get lost even quicker to get to the next spot. and in most cases of failure the weak link was this darn connector.

firstly they are fragile, no matter how much love and money you put into building or buying them. then the plugs (female side) can get stuff into it, some might be designed to push that through when plugging in, but most in-built aren't - a major pita in the woods. and the most annoying thing is - they can short. on the (male) connector itself, by nothing but high humidity.
this was esp. a problem when something electronically triggered (like a sony R1) was involved but also resulted in self-firing PW/flash-combos draining the batteries to death.

of course, things like (over hours) unattended setups in every weather possible as i had them there aren't the most common, but they simply show that this plug isn't perfect either.


February 18, 2010 4:09 AM  
Blogger Fred Klee said...

Amen !
Is ther already a Facebook group about it ?
If not just create it. Think it will grow quickly !

February 18, 2010 4:49 AM  
OpenID andrewwdavies said...

I couldn't agree more, I modded all my speedlites, either changing the PC to a 3.5mm socket or adding a 3.5mm socket where there was no sync socket (430EX).

Since changing, I have not had one misfire and feel a lot less nervous attaching my flashguns to lightstands as it is much more secure than placing a hotshoe adapter in between not to mention more reliable. I will not hesitate do this for every speedlite I buy in future.

This is how we did it

February 18, 2010 5:27 AM  
Blogger Ian Pack said...

Well said! For years I've been using a modified PC lead with a high quality metal 1/8th inch/3.5 mm mono jack socket. I then tape the PC plug into the camera for security and use the jack I've removed the PC plugs from my flash extension leads.

February 18, 2010 5:31 AM  
Blogger aradilon said...

I'm with u, although don't think it will happen anything they make money out counts, to bad though.

February 18, 2010 5:50 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

In my experience this is NOT a good idea.

1. 1/8 inch (or 3.5mm) jacks, unlike PC connectors, intermittently connect the switch contacts together when the plug is inserted or pulled out.

2. 1/8 inch jacks are less reliable than PC connectors. We should be encouraging cheap, good quality PC connectors rather than moving to an inferior plug.

I recently used high quality 1/8 inch jacks to trigger flashes connected to a custom electronic timer. The photos were for a large-scale scientific experiment, which cost c. $10K a time and lasted a few seconds. We had about ten such jacks in the system, and most of the time, at least one failed. Never again.

February 18, 2010 6:09 AM  
Blogger Paulo Rodrigues said...

Ive been using a universal translator with my Elinchrom skyports for a while now.

I made my own but the Flash Centre sell ready made ones.

February 18, 2010 7:13 AM  
Blogger Pep said...

Actually, any kind of analog connection seems so ... well ... analog in this digital age. Yes, we are stuck with this for now, but I love how my Canon 7D can fire my 580EXII with the built-in camera flash. I wish it could do the same with my other non-Canon flashguns. It would be nice to have an industry standard for this, but I am sure we will never see it.

February 18, 2010 7:16 AM  
Blogger Henrik Sivertsen said...

I read a post back in the days here on about how to mod Vivitar 285HV so they can connect with mini jack. It works like a charm AND it looks great. And to top it off, I can now use a mini jack splitter to trigger both my Vivitars with only one Pocket Wizard :-) Also, jack cables costs a fraction compared to PC-sync (at least in Denmark where I live) I'm a cheapskate, I know!

PC-sync, rest in pieces!

February 18, 2010 7:51 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Love the universal adapter.I bought one last month to see how well it works with sb600 .800.I will be ordering several more. I wish they used a metal hot shoe.

February 18, 2010 8:03 AM  
Blogger Bryan Leighty said...

Yep! I recently switched all my pc hotshoe adapters to 1/8 plug adapters via the great folks at flashzebra. Really simplifies things. Great post (as always) Dave!

February 18, 2010 8:04 AM  
Blogger Ed Z said...

I absolutely agree with this... I've railed against the PC standard from day 1. it's just a stupidly designed connector.

February 18, 2010 8:34 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Amen! Hopefully a manufacturer takes you up on it, no more pulling flashes apart and soldering!

February 18, 2010 8:50 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Absolutely. I did a shoot on Monday and the rotten PC cord fell out so many times and I missed awesome shots that by the end of the shoot I wanted to never see the damn sync cord again. I thought about gaffer taping it to my camera... in the end I just held it in place, my hand cramping, and wished there was some alternative.

Great call!

February 18, 2010 9:00 AM  
Blogger Telmo Ferreira said...

Yes! kill the PC!

I'm with Alberto when he says: "What I really wish for is that camera manufacturers would add a built-in radio transceiver, or better yet, a transceiver module that could be added to the camera".

With so many third party wireless remotes, why didn't the camera manufactures see the gap in the market!

Canon and Nikon, kill the IR too!!!
Make some RF flash guns and cameras for us.

February 18, 2010 9:05 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Jeez, the next thing you're gonna be asking for is a standardized battery! LOL

February 18, 2010 9:19 AM  
Blogger Matthew Baltrusitis said...

@Alex DiFiori
Yes, the 1/8" jack has those ribs that will eventually flatten out, happened to my Mac about six months ago. If you have an electronics toolkit though, or what is essentially that tiny hook that dentists use to poke around your mouth with, you can very gently bend them ever-so-slightly back out and re-establish that solid connection for another 2 years.

February 18, 2010 9:23 AM  
Blogger Florian said...

Hey David!

Great article (one more)!

I pimped my poverty wizards quite a time ago and as I read your article I thought I should make some walkthrough/manual/whatever on how to modify them for use with audio jacks.

So, I modified another one right now and took some pictures and wrote a few sentences...

Maybe you´d like to take this link to your article or here in the comments or whatever...

Greetings from Germany, Florian

February 18, 2010 9:25 AM  
Blogger mhakola said...

If that ain't a throw-down, I don't know what is!

February 18, 2010 9:34 AM  
Blogger Mike Pennington said...

Thank you for using your 'net' presence to put some pressure on the manufactures. I cannot stand the sync connector and this is a great, great, great move.


February 18, 2010 9:52 AM  
Blogger Will Kronk said...

How much does a mono 3.5 vs a stereo matter? I know with my PW PII's and AB B800, when using a stereo cord, it has to be positioned exactly right hanging about 1/4 of the way out of the AB's socket where just tapping it will cause it to stop working and that's just to get it to fire. I had to go and buy a mono 3.5mm cable to get it to work.

And I like this topic. I was asking on POTN about this about a month or two ago. I hate the PC connection on my 580EX II, it's the only connection I have problems with.

February 18, 2010 10:06 AM  
Blogger ToddsPhotos said...

What a great idea! BUT the one thing that drives my up the wall with "pin type" plugs is you need to also offer the plugs with a 90 degree angle on the connector so they don't stick out so far from the source they plug into!!

I wish more cable connection manufacturers would understand this!!!

end soapbox speech...
ahhh, that feels better.

February 18, 2010 10:33 AM  
Blogger ToddsPhotos said...

What a great idea! BUT the one thing that drives my up the wall with "pin type" plugs is you need to also offer the plugs with a 90 degree angle on the connector so they don't stick out so far from the source they plug into!!

I wish more cable connection manufacturers would understand this!!!

end soapbox speech...
ahhh, that feels better.

February 18, 2010 10:42 AM  
Blogger Jon Senior said...

One advantage that the PC connection has over the 3.5mm jack is that it doesn't short when being connected (unless you wield it like an imbecile... in which case the jury's out!).

This means no triggering on connection. Not a reason for keeping it mind. I hate the buggers!

February 18, 2010 10:44 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Fantastic site Mr Hobby! I agree 100% about the awful PC connectors. Just out of interest I have two flash guns, different makes, that I still use on a regular basis that have 3.5mm connectors. I purchased them in the early 80s! Best wishes to all you strobists out there. Gaz.

February 18, 2010 10:46 AM  
Blogger Gerald Gonzales said...

The only solution to this is to create a facebook group that named "The PC jack will be obsolete if we reach 1,000,000 members".

February 18, 2010 10:52 AM  
Blogger hayesk said...

I'd actually rather see something like RJ-11 and cat-3 cable (telephone cable) before 3.5mm minijacks.

- they don't pull out as easily
- they work well over long runs
- they're cheap
- you have up to 6 conductors so could be also used for signalling, remote settings adjustment, etc.
- even if the little tabs on the plugs break, you can still use them until you put a new plug on or replace the cable

I'd suggest RJ-45, but Cat-5 cable is a bit too thick and heavy to be really workable.

February 18, 2010 11:04 AM  
Blogger Ranger 9 said...

The other issue with the 1/8" jack is depth behind the panel -- it takes a lot of room, whereas the PC jack is almost a surface-mount. This isn't so much of an issue on flashes, but is definitely an issue on camera bodies and, even moreso, on large-format shutters.

If we have to have a deeper jack, my vote would be for the indestructible modular telephone connector.

Speaking of the history of the PC contact: Ironically, there WAS a better standard. Back when there was a US camera industry, almost all US-made and many offshore cameras used the 'ASA' flash contact -- just as compact as the PC but super-rugged, with a falloff-proof bayonet lock and spring-loaded center contact. Why did it go away? Because silly Americans figured that when it came to photography, anything that came from Germany just had to be "better"...

February 18, 2010 11:06 AM  
Blogger ty said...

This sounds great but there must be some reasoning behind the PC jack. I would love to hear from the inside why this is the choice of the manufacturers. The 1/8 jack is by no means out of reach for any of the manufacturers yet they don't use it.

February 18, 2010 11:21 AM  
Blogger Daniel Cormier said...

Fisrt off, I completely agree. The PC jack is such an obscure, expensive (for those of us consumers who actually have to buy the cables for it, anyway) way of syncing compared to a 1/8" jack.

However, from the manufacturer side of it there are certain benefits of the PC connection. The one that jumps out at me is that the 1/8" connector goes in much deeper than the PC connector does and could require redesigning the internals of the device to allow the 1/8" connector to fit.

February 18, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger CC said...

If the UN can get phone manufacturers to move towards a universal micro usb charger standard, David can do this. Bring on the revolution!

February 18, 2010 12:21 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Grigg said...

Moishe Appelbaum
Micheal Bass
Al Jacobs
Paul Buff

The cottage industry rocks. Let's get Nikon, Canon and whoever onboard. Hire these guys, Nikon and Canon!

February 18, 2010 12:59 PM  
Blogger dwalkertx said...

This issue reminds me of the iMac that had no floppy drive incident. Non-Apple manufacturers couldn't spit enough fire at Apple for dropping a pretty much useless and outdated "industry standard" but the general masses soon realized how much of a blessing it was. I hope one of these camera companies takes the leap out of "standards" rut like Apple did and implement a better design for the consumer.

February 18, 2010 1:41 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

and how about an external battery pack connection for the LP120 that's compatible with the Nikon and Canon external battery packs.

February 18, 2010 1:41 PM  
Blogger Tony Huang said...

that is why many DIY out there drilling their flash to add a 1/8 or 2.5mm plug

February 18, 2010 1:43 PM  
Blogger ZenShuk said...

I agree wholeheartedly and would love to re-post on my facebook, wifes facebook and my wifes blog, but I don't see any way to add this to my facebook, other than copy the link.

I suggest you (Strobist) add the 're-tweat', and 'share on facebook' buttons to make it easier for us ( your loyal fans) to repost, retweat, facebook etc.

Again, I know I can copy / paste the link, but it would be so much easier to click a button. Call me lazy, but this is 2010!

Thanks for a great article/blog!

February 18, 2010 1:47 PM  
Blogger NYSTAN said...

backstory....not really. There were at least two attempts prior to the standard synch connector on the old speed used bi-pins and another had a twist on cap similar to a bayonet mounted light bulb....and don't forget all the other oddball hot shoes...the Polaroids....the box cameras....
An old story but not a backstory.
Oldest con in the game....reinventing the wheel.

February 18, 2010 2:08 PM  
Blogger Brett Turner said...

Amen brother! I replace pc with 1/8 any time I can but it needs to be on the camera as well.

February 18, 2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger nakleh said...

Regarding the 1/8" cords on Alien Bees and PocketWizards, do stereo 1/8" cords work, or only mono? It seems like all I can find are stereo cables, and they are much cheaper than the mono versions..

plus the pocketwizard versions are $20 each!

February 18, 2010 2:16 PM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

Perfect post! I have always hated those damn PC connectors and have always known there is no good reason for them! The worst part is they fall right off--there is nothing holding them in place but friction (sometimes). That, and they are hard to find. If you are out on a shoot, good luck finding a PC sync cable. The industry should switch to a better, more, reliable, easier to source cable just like you have stated.

I just finaly broke down and bought Pocket Wizards (just like you said we all would) and realize my Profoto doesn't use PC sync, and the PWs don't, so I am moding my 580EXs to have a mini plug. Now I can get my cables at Radio Shack, or anywhere, for pennies. My SB-26s are just going optical, although I will probably buy some of the MPEX hot shoes now as well--then everything I have will be PC-free!


February 18, 2010 2:50 PM  
Blogger flashgordo said...

I have a nick in my front tooth from high school. Lacking a PC reshaping tool, I bit the end to make it work better for my flash. There you go. 37 years later I have a reminder of how much I hate PC connectors.

February 18, 2010 2:52 PM  
Blogger PhotoDr said...

Problem - 3.5mm (1/8") jacks are not weather tight. And I can't think of a way they can be made weather tight. The junk that gets into them has to go somewhere. But good ones will last for YEARS.

Modular phone cords are not indestructible. People tear the ends off the cables all the time. And the small wires in the connectors corrode badly when exposed to weather, and get bent easily.

What we really need is a optical connector. It could be made water PROOF and could be done in straight or 90 degree with very little effort. PLUS it would allow for expansion into an external control system.

If we are going to change connectors, then lets do it for the long run, not another "make do."

February 18, 2010 3:38 PM  
Blogger Paul and Brenda said...

I completely agree that it's time for the PC connector go. And actually, I think the hotshoe needs to go to.

However, I think it's a HUGE mistake to suggest using some compromise connector that was designed over 60 years ago and has serious flaws in this application.

Connector technology has come a long way -- it's time for the photo industry to take a lesson from the computer world, and come up with a universal flash interface that is optimized for the job, and well, universal!

February 18, 2010 3:49 PM  
Blogger DVD Steve said...

You made it on the 30 most influential photographers of the decade list from PDN magazine


February 18, 2010 4:02 PM  
Blogger Creative said...

Yeah, although the PC jack can be handy at times, it's an absolutely unrealiable system...somehow the cables always break, they pop out of the connectors...horrible.

To get rid of these cables, I bought the Elinchrom Skyports (these use 3.5mm jacks) and used a soldering iron and plastic heat shrink tubing to make good connectorcables. Perhaps in the future, we'll be saved from these horrible PC's.

I made an AnswerGarden about these PC-jacks. Fill in your own answer or click on an existing one and hit 'submit'!

February 18, 2010 4:05 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Great post David. I hope to see traction on this. Its rumored that Canon will come out with a new flash this year, But probably to soon to make these changes to their design. But it would be nice to see this happen.

February 18, 2010 4:06 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Great post David. I hope to see traction on this. Its rumored that Canon will come out with a new flash this year, But probably to soon to make these changes to their design. But it would be nice to see this happen.

February 18, 2010 4:07 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Another thing I would love to see (but highly unlikely to ever happen):

A standardized interoperable electrical signaling protocol for TTL exposure, using a Cat5 pinout.

February 18, 2010 4:10 PM  
Blogger QuebecAnglo said...

I think radio triggers go a long way to helping this ... but, yea as I did a light test today I depended on the old sync cable to connect to my light meter...

What I really despise is the small connector on my 'bees. Whether cable or radio, it is occasionally intermittent. On the strobe end this should be 1/4", preferably with some sort of lock.

The camera end could be the smaller audio jack - but again, some sort of positive lock would be appreciated.

In the meantime, even cheap radio slaves are much better than cords in the studio.

February 18, 2010 4:39 PM  
Blogger btdt said...

Twentieth century ideas in 2010? As some have already mentioned, we should be thinking wireless. No more cables.

February 18, 2010 4:56 PM  
Blogger Tomasz Gąsecki said...

Let it be ...

February 18, 2010 5:37 PM  
Blogger John said...

Viv285HV mod -- the post @Henrik refers to is here:

Many thx to DH for Index, invaluable.

I was gonna do this 285 mod, but had to buy MPEX Univ Translators to get OCF magnet anyway... :-)

February 18, 2010 5:55 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

I support your motion!!!! Excellent post!

February 18, 2010 8:19 PM  
Blogger Darien Chin said...

God bless you

February 18, 2010 8:28 PM  
Blogger pete said...

I've got a LumoPro 120 and love it. I use ebay triggers, the transmitter has a 1/8 sync connector but the receiver has a PC connector? Two headed snake, yeh no doubt.

I'm not buying any more equipment unless it has an audio connector on it. Camera, flash or triggers. I've been burned by PC connector cable failure before.

February 18, 2010 8:58 PM  
Blogger GC said...

I just don't understand why we need the PC cords anymore, no matter what type, do we need cords at all? Why not use wireless triggers hooked to the hotshoe? Take for example the Cactus V4, you have a transmitter that hooks to the hotshoe in the camera and a receiver that hooks to the hotshoe in the flash, and in the case of the V4 is pretty small, so it's pretty much a small extension to the flash, why the need for any cables? Yeah I know that the cactus is not 100% reliable, but why can't PW create the same type of system with no cables, with better reliability, no false triggers and be done with the problem?

February 18, 2010 10:03 PM  
Blogger C2 said...

I don't post very often but I have to through my comment into the hat. Before you said 1/8 (which is a hell of a lot better than the pc cord, I'm thinking phone jack cords. They are in-expensive, come in every length and style known to man and they don't come loose. The audio jacks will get loose and require some tweaking on occasion.

February 18, 2010 10:24 PM  
Blogger JT said...

Another skyport point, they use a one headed snake. It's a pc to 1/8 cord to attach to a nikon speedlight. Thanks, Elinchrom. Thanks for giving me something so incredibly awkward. Oh yeah, now I have to split and manufacture my own cords, for unwant of spending a fortune hunting down the equivalent of a yeti here in the great white north. Have to get them online otherwise.

February 18, 2010 11:23 PM  
Blogger choet said...

@ Phil
I too have bought a couple of universal adapters recently, they are great. Like Phil I just wish the hotshoe was made of something stronger than plastic. Note: this is a cheap stop gap til I can afford wireless.

February 18, 2010 11:56 PM  
Blogger VT said...

Noooo!!!!! 1/8 jacks are terrible! How many of you have iPods with a jack that is loose and won't hold the cable snuggly? Is that what you want in equipment that will last many years? And it shorts when you insert and remove the cable. Plus, it's a terrible form factor because of its size. PC, for all it's flaws, is still the right design. We just need better cables and for manufacturers to stop screwing around with proprietary connections.

February 19, 2010 12:00 AM  
Blogger Comrade Alkowski said...

Close, but no cigar. Like others have said, the real solution needs to be digital.

A 3.5mm TRS jack isnt the answer.

It cant be that hard for the various parties to agree on a digital standard... heck, they can even make money out of licensing the standard.

Some general digital interoperability between flashes would be very nice.

The industry needs to get out of the analog age before the Chinese innovate them into obsolescence via the digital age.

February 19, 2010 1:18 AM  
Blogger Stine said...

I bought mpex translators just to get the 3.5mm connection. PC is expensive and unreliable. Lose-Lose.

February 19, 2010 2:09 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Count me in on the anti 1/8 connector bandwagon. However, instead of adding something new to the camera , why not something else that's already there?

USB. cheap and ubiquitous and fairly reliable.

February 19, 2010 3:20 AM  
Blogger said...

Friggin' awesome! Ditto man.

This is the kind of brilliant idea that could make you totally "the man" celebrated for generations of photographers to come, until someone figures out how to sync via telekenesis.


February 19, 2010 4:25 AM  
Blogger junyo said...

1/8" plugs are great, but not without their issues. If we're asking manufacturers to abandon the old, universal standard, seems like it would make more sense to leapfrog all the old low bandwidth connectors and jump straight to something relatively modern. RJ11 have been mentioned, and would do fine for simple triggering, plus it has 3 extra circuits. RJ25 would be even better since, as the many TTL sync cord mods demonstrate, it has enough wires to handle all modern flash to camera comm. The drawback would be the jack size; it's a bit bulky to place in small camera bodies and strobes. Why not mini DIN? The socket is relatively small, the 6 conductor (aka PS2/mouse/keyboard) variant still has relatively wide/cheap availability and a high enough pinout for TTL communications, and it can be made with provision for a lock or weather sealing.

February 19, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger Doobie said...

Be careful when using your credibility as a bargaining chip, Mr. Hobby. Even though your intentions are noble, your job as a journalist is to report the news -- not make it.

Empower your readers and let them influence the manufactures.

February 19, 2010 12:43 PM  
Blogger David said...


I am not a journalist. I was one for 20 years, but I have not been a journalist for a few years now.

I do not present myself as being unbiased. Indeed, I am biased towards what is good for photographers (specifically, lighting photographer) and the things they can accomplish with their skills.

Similarly, I am biased against (for example) gear manufacturers who seek to take advantage of unsophisticated photographers to try to sell them poor, overpriced solutions.

(The PC cord connector does not fit into that last category -- it is just needlessly proprietary and out of date.)

Why would I *not* rail against that?

February 19, 2010 1:28 PM  
Blogger clayton said...

Rail away David.

I'm all for the pc connections taking the big "short circuit" and finally dying, and while 1/8 has been a substantial improvement it has issues too. Maybe 1/8 could be an intermediate step before we (finally) make a jump to a wireless standard?

February 19, 2010 4:53 PM  
Blogger clayton said...

Rail Away David. PC must die.

Maybe 1/8 with it's improvements over PC (though imperfect) can be an intermediate before we get wireless standards?

February 19, 2010 4:57 PM  
Blogger Dichotomos said...

PC has two advantages.

1) By it's size it can make a sturdy (not to be confused with reliable) connection.

2) It does not extend deeply into the camera.

That being said, I have converted my PC cords to terminate with female 1/8 inch audio jacks, have an old flash foot fitted with 1/8 inch audio jacks, and extension cords of light audio wire.

I started doing this well before RC flash was a consumer item.

February 19, 2010 4:59 PM  
Blogger knoe said...

That's what I thought for two years now. When I got my povertywizzards I soldered a 2,5mm mono audio jack into it. And made my own cables with one side pc and the other being 2,5mm mono audio. So I could get two cables out of one pc-pc cable, which is really expensive (And I never understood why.). So this worked quite well for me, but when it didn't work it was due to the pc connection and not to the audio connection. And a the costs of the audio jacks and plugs are really ridiculous. Great post!

February 19, 2010 6:26 PM  
Blogger mike said...

I agree 100%! Get rid of it!! Would love to see the 1/8" used for this.

February 19, 2010 7:26 PM  
Blogger Matt Adcock said...

AMEN bro!

To that end, if your company announces a hot shoe flash in 2010 that includes a 1/8" sync jack, I will use this site to tell hundreds of thousands of people in your exact target audience about it.

words of wisdom!

thanks for shouting this one!


February 20, 2010 4:17 PM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

I don't disagree about losing the PC connector, but I am not wild about replacing it with a 1/8" phone jack. I don't think that the 1/8" connector is really any more reliable than the PC connector. Since I started using Pocket Wizards, my PC cords have languished in the junk box. The only time I use a PC cord now is to connect to a speedlight. I do use the 1/8" cords on PWs and AB strobes, but prefer to use the ones that come with the PWs.

February 20, 2010 5:29 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hell Yeah!!!
I vote for 3.5mm Jacks.

Preach on David!

February 20, 2010 5:35 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Neither the PC nor the 3.5mm connectors are "locking". All professional connections should be lockable so that they cannot be dislodged. If there is to be a rallying call for standardisation, let's please make it a locking (or at least lockable) connector.

February 21, 2010 10:24 AM  
Blogger Sergei said...

There are tons of people out there, including me, who still shooting with studio cameras that got PC jacks as only meaning of firing up flash.

So while ABs may seem like only true thing for the moment to you, David, consider this - serious real studios do use lights with 'mega' phone jack (thicker version of 3/4 - example - ProFoto) and 'mini' (smaller version - example - Elinchrom). What if they will start advocate wiping out all others? There are more people out there with them than US based people with ABs.

February 21, 2010 10:34 AM  
OpenID anthonyrisi said...

I must not be at that level of Photography yet. My camera, a Nikon D70, and my flashes, Nikon SB-600s, do not have that connection. I guess I should be thankful. I just use them wirelessly.

February 21, 2010 1:23 PM  
Blogger TheScreamOfDestiny said...

Anything but the PC cord would suffice!

February 21, 2010 2:57 PM  
Blogger strobemonkey said...

All my flashes, 430ex II (pls. See my blog at, Sigma 500 dg super, and a cheap ebay one have all been modded with 3.5mm jack. I'm now planning to mod my 580ex II.
There is one problem with 3.5mm jacks though. New PW's and other manufacturers have started to make ETTL/ITTL compatible triggers which require the flash to be mounted on the hotshoe for theM to work.

February 21, 2010 6:55 PM  
Blogger strobemonkey said...

Great post and I totally agree with you.

In fact I have modded 3 flashes, 430EX II ( in my blog), Sigma 500DG Super, and a YN462 all with 3.5mm jack.

I still haven't really decided if I'm going to change the PC port of my 580EX II with a 3.5mm jack.

However, there is a small problem with the 3.5mm jack. With PW's and other brands manufacturing ETTL/ITTL compatible flash triggers, they require the flash to be mounted directly on the trigger's hotshoe. There is also a cheap but reliable RF602 (in my blog again) which ahs wakeup function and works well with my canon flashes, but then get disabled when using 3.5mm cords.
Anyway I don't really care about wakeup function, but when we think of ETTL/ITTL that's a totally different story.

I know strobism is all about off camera and manual lighting adjustment though... so please don't kick me out...

February 21, 2010 7:18 PM  
Blogger MasterOfGoingFaster said...

I see 4 contacts plus ground on my hot shoe. While I agree that 3.5mm mono jack is some improvement, if we want a change, I suggest ask for a connector with 5 or more wires.

I'm talking full CLS at the end of a cord. You can do this using USB, Mini-USB, RJ14 or RJ45 connectors. There are lots of CAT5/RJ45 100 ft / 33 meter cables on Amazon for US$10 or less. Dirt cheap for full CLS.

Here's a way to start this:

First, we need a "hot shot to RJ45" adapter set for the camera and flash shoes. I'd love for Midwest or Flash Zebra to offer these. Yes, the Nikon version and Canon versions will be different, so lets start with Nikon since both David and I shoot those (grin). Having both 3.5" plugs and RJ45 would make this a winner of a product, and allow use with Pocket Wizards, etc.

Second, we need to publish the wiring spec so everyone builds connectors that are compatible with each other. Actually, we should do this first.

There are plenty of us who build our own gear and I'll be starting on mine shortly. I just e-mailed a vendor seeking parts.

I can build this stuff, but I'd love the input of an electrical engineer concerning what might be the best way to avoid any possible RF interference. I suspect the voltage is high enough that this is not an issue, but would love input on how far I can go with cable length.

Thanks for lighting the match on this, David.

February 22, 2010 12:03 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

NO, NO, NO! I don't agree with you on this one David. As others have mentioned, the 3.5mm jack is not at all suited for this application, and should be reserved for audio. Imagine a 3-year old plugging a pair of headphones into a flash and giving himself a nasty shock.

I don't even agree that the PC sync connector is proprietary. Every camera manufacturer uses it, so there's nothing propriatary about it.

If we must still use cables, then something based on the familiar RCA/phono connector would be better. It's much more stable, and doesn't short when it's plugged in. Better still, a mini-BNC-style connector would be even more reliable. Or just add a screw-lock to the PC connector, and stop buying crappy cables...

February 22, 2010 5:22 PM  
Blogger gh said...

I agree.

But better yet, why not just get something that doesn't require a sync cord to begin with? Like Flashwave2?

February 22, 2010 5:43 PM  
Blogger gh said...

I agree.

But better yet, why not just use something like Flashwave2 which doesn't require any sync cords?

February 22, 2010 5:44 PM  
Blogger David Middlecamp said...

Adios PC! The only thing that works as poorly, yet has remained an industry standard is the qwerty keyboard. We won't be able to get rid of that but please let me see the end of PC cords soon.

The camera hot shoe makes a nice solid, out of the way connection for the PW trigger.

February 22, 2010 11:08 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi David
I Have been using 3.5mm cords as sync cables for a while but struggled with how to easily get multiple cables tied together. I stumbles on a device on amazon for ~$10.00. A Belkin Rockstar is a 5 port 3.5mm hub used to connect ipods and headsets and other devices in different ways. It works great connecting multiple speedlites syncs together.

February 23, 2010 7:53 PM  
Blogger Ben Zvan said...

Sounds like a good idea on the surface, but then I'd need some sort of adapter to use a flash with my Yashica Mat. :-)

Also, while the cord connector of a 1/8" is stronger than a PC jack, the socket is pretty weak and the 1/8" will by its nature of being stronger, transmit more force to the jack. I'd rather replace a cord than a chunk of my camera.

February 24, 2010 4:45 PM  
Blogger MikLav said...

I agree PC connector is bad and needs to be replaced.

However I doubt 3.5mm jack is a good replacement.

But do we need wired connection these days anyway? I mean for our existing gear we mainly have to rely on that bad PC connector, but why not go completely wireless for the new equipment?

February 26, 2010 7:01 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

At first I was like Amen brother I 100% agree, then I thought back to my own experience. I have (2) Quantum Radio Slave II's. The first thing to go bad on both was the 1/8" jack. I ended up adding a twin blade household type socket on both for a reliable connection. This cured the reliability issue.

The 1/8" audio jack on my HP laptop went bad after only a few months and required quite some fiddling to be able to use headphones again. So I see this as a lateral move at best.

As far as PC connectors I've had the most reliability with the one that allow you to screw them tight. I've had no failure with these when used with DSLR's , Bronica, Mamiya RZ etc.

So I would like to see some real world engineering research on this before a change is made.

February 28, 2010 2:03 AM  
Blogger diafani said...

Ah, that's the what "PC"stands for, Prontor/Compur. I never knew that. Thanks for that factoid, and keep up the good work!

March 02, 2010 2:49 PM  
Blogger jphphotography said...

I couldn't agree more, this connector is borderline useless. Its design leads to intermittent contact and the lack of a locking mechanism allows for it to fall out constantly.

I've worked in electronics for a decade and normally have no issue sourcing even the most obscure components, you think I could find any PC sockets for DIY or repair? Zero, Zilch, Nada. Its like they simply don't exist. I even went so far as to email a variety of connector manufacturers and parts distributors, all the replies were the same saying they don't stock/make the connector and have no idea where to find them.

I'm all for switching to something else, the 1/8 headphone jack is common and proven. It also locks in place! If space is an issue then the smaller 2.5mm could still be used, they're harder to find but still fairly common.

/rant ;)

March 02, 2010 7:27 PM  
Blogger Harris said...

The amazing ability of the PC cord to pop loose at just the wrong moment is one of the reasons I've been remaking some of my sync cords over by using the "flash feet" for Vivitar 283's they sell on Ebay. The hot shoe connection is way more secure than any PC connection. I've even made a "universal" cord that has a hot foot base and a two-conductor polarized connector coming out of it that mates with cords I've made up that have PC plugs (sigh) and household plugs on the ends of them.

I's time we had a connection that's SECURE for our flashes. The 1/8 plug might be good or maybe there's something even better out there.
Perhaps a locking micro-DIN plug system ?

March 02, 2010 8:33 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

In dealing with the evils sync cords of all types, I've always made my own mono sync cords--buy the connectors from digikey, and you can make your own for about $2 apiece. I've never been able to find the part number for the PC cord connectors, though. Does anyone know where to get them?

March 05, 2010 8:28 PM  
Blogger Viladio said...

It is possible to add a 3.5 mm audio connector to Nikon, Canon and Sigma speedlights. Here's an example of flashes that went through such surgery:

Very happy now.

March 16, 2010 9:32 PM  
OpenID djflannelpuff said...

mini-xlr would be better, just pricier. You may also suggest that the 1/8" is the screw-type.

March 22, 2010 11:34 PM  
Blogger fotografiasi said...

not even a 1/8" jack would work much better. I modified my flash and added a a mono female banana and I use this kind of cabling, but longer

April 06, 2010 1:32 PM  
Blogger CycoMacHead said...

I really agree with this article! Case in point, I've got an idea that involves using a mini jack to trigger a strobe! It involves a very popular I Product with a small camera! :)

So, this is unrelated, but do you know what type of pulse or voltage tells a flash to fire? Then would it be possible to fire a flash via an audio file? This may seem pointless, but say you plug a mini jack into your computer headphone port then hit play and it would trigger a flash. That's what I want to happen.

If anyone knows anything please email me. :) cycomachead @ gmail

July 29, 2010 11:54 PM  
Blogger wolf said...

While I am truly for abolishing the Prontor/Compur (PC) connector and just moving on, a replacement with a 3.5mm TRS mini-jack (1/8", the imperial system is another thing that we should move on already)

The TRS system (Tip-Ring-Sleeve) has two major limitations that make me extremely wary of using it for the sync cord:
1) it shorts the connections on plug insertion and removal - this means that safe insertion and removal is only possible if both devices are turned off. It's less of a problem for audio connections, as the voltage is much lower than the sync voltage.
2) just like normal PC connector, the connector blades (prongs) bear both the current and the physical load, leading to intermittent connections after some time. A screw-type and bayonet-type jacks exists, but they are incompatible with the basic jack for the most part - and thanks to that they are expensive.

A better solution would be to use a BNC-type connector with a receded live wire. Those are still cheap and popular (though not as much as the mini-jacks), but do not pose those problems.

August 02, 2010 5:21 AM  
Blogger Dan Domme said...

As long as I still get one end of my cable to be a PC connector for my camera, I don't care what the flash end uses - PC, 3.5mm, or what have you. I use a Hasselblad, and it doesn't take anything but a PC connection.

August 12, 2010 11:23 AM  
Blogger phil said...

The 3.5mm jack on a cable will be no more reliable than a PC item. Also the 3.5mm jack shorts in the socket as you plug-in so setting off the flash. This is not so bright an idea after all I fear.

November 30, 2010 8:39 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

DEATH TO THE PC SYNC I hate them. at least Nikon has threads. Most of what I have has to be rubber banded to stay put. After market ones sometimes have thread and sometimes don't. But will I am complaining Rf-602 talk about the stupidest connector in the world. I have all the equipment I need with stupid connectors. Now I guess I will be buying old stupid connectors to 1/8". Hope all new equipment comes 1/8". I will not buy it if it does not.

May 17, 2011 12:45 PM  
Blogger Mark Reeves said...

I found a cheap solution to this problem. I purchased 4 hot shoe/pc adapters on ebay $4.98 free s/h and I purchased a package of 3.5mm sockets i simply removed the 2 screws on the bottom separated the adapter drilled 1/4 hole inserted socket and soldered to existing socket now my adapter has pc sync on one side and 3.5mm 1/8 on the other. I can now use cheap triggers and control both my portable sunpak 544 modified with same sockets, or my studio strobes with 1/8 to 1/4 adapter!

August 30, 2013 2:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm admittedly a new initiate to the world of DSLR photography, but why not just use a hotshoe extension? They're extremely secure. More expensive, but very secure.

January 07, 2014 9:38 AM  
Blogger Bernd_HK said...

I am all in for anything else than the PC socket.

A bayonet solution would be the most elegant, like the good old ASA bayonet. A little less to like are the Mini-XLR connectors, mainly because they are directional - on the other hand they can provide up to 5 contacts.

But I guess the easiest is the 3.5mm jack. You just need high quality female connectors that don't loosen. By the way ... none of my iPods or iPhones suffer from loose plugs - not even my 20+ year old Walkmen.

And for large format lenses? I guess we are used to dangling cables anyway ...

July 07, 2014 4:48 AM  

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