Troubleshooting Strobes With Electrical Sync

Few things can be more frustrating on a trip than when your usually reliable electrically triggered strobes suddenly stop working.  Trouble shooting a problem in this series of electrical connections can initially seem vexing, but with a few simple techniques it is relatively easy to figure out where problems are located.

If you are shooting with Ikelite strobes and an Ikelite underwater housing, you may wish to read the Ikelite article "Frequently Asked Questions About Sync Cords & Wiring."

If your strobes are not firing, the first checks are obvious – make sure all your connections are clean and properly aligned, batteries are charged and “ready” lights are showing on the strobe.  If all that looks good then let’s work our way through the components and see what is going on.

The easiest trouble shooting approach is generally starting with the strobe itself:

1) Locate an all-metal paper clip (or bare piece of wire) and unfold it until shaped like a horseshoe.

2) Turn the strobe “on” and to manual.

3) Aim the strobe away from people and touch the tips of the paperclip to the hot and ground contacts on the strobe sync connection port (see photos).  Special note: The Sea & Sea YS-D1 will not work with this test and you must proceed to the sync cord test.  Sea & Sea YS-90, YS-110 and YS-250 will all work with this test.



4) If it does not fire, then the problem appears to be with the strobe itself.  If the strobe is working properly, you will be able to repeatedly fire the strobe with this method and you should proceed to the next step.

5) Install the electrical sync cord in the sync port on the strobe and grasp the end of the sync cord that is normally installed in the housing bulkhead.  Of the five or six pins in the Ikelite, Nikonos or S6 style cord connector there will be only two required to manually fire the strobe.  Using the bent paperclip tool, activate the correct contacts as indicated in the photos.

Nikonos Style Cable    S6 Style Cable     Ikelite Style Cable

6) If the strobe does not fire, than the sync cord is the likely culprit.  If the sync cord is working, the strobe should fire just as it did when touching the contacts on the strobe itself.  In this case proceed to the final step.

7) Install the sync cord end that was just tested into the housing bulkhead making sure it is properly aligned.

8) Remove the hot shoe from the camera and gently rotate it so that the contact(s) are facing up.  Nikon and Canon hot shoes vary and there can be as few as one pin and a ground or up to five pins (see photos).  The goal is once again using the paper clip to manually trigger the strobe by touching the contacts as seen in the photos.


Nauticam Hotshoe Connector for Nikon

Subal Hotshoe Connector for Nikon Cameras

Canon Hotshoe Connector

 9) If the strobe does not fire, then the problem would appear to be in the bulkhead or the hot shoe.  If it does fire then proceed to install the hot shoe on the camera and go to step 10.

10) With the hot shoe installed on the camera, test fire the camera again and see if things are working.  If not, try cleaning the contacts on the camera and hot shoe with a pencil eraser.  In the case of Nikon cameras, make sure your hot shoe is set up for manual use (wired for tip and ground only).  If your hot shoe is wired for TTL (all 5 contacts on the hot shoe are active) and you have no TTL converter for your strobe, the Nikon camera will not fire the strobes.  If you suspect this could be the case proceed to step 11.

11) If your Nikon hot shoe has five contacts, it could be wired for TTL.  Try using tape (scotch tape or electrical tape is fine) to cover the unnecessary contacts on the hot shoe as seen in the photo.  Re-install the hot shoe and test fire.  If this successfully solves the problem, you can continue to use the tape or get the hot shoe rewired for tip and ground only.

Nikon Hotshoe Connector for Nikon With 'Extra' Pins Taped

Somewhere in this process you should have successfully deduced your problem and perhaps fixed it.  If not, give us a call – we are here to help!