Nah, I exaggerate. Pocketwizards (specifically, the non-TTL model, namely the Pocketwizard II Plus, of which I own five) are great. But I do want to draw attention to two issues to watch out for.

First: what am I doing. I am firing a Pocketwizard, as in my post a few days ago. Meaning I have this setup:

The camera contains a TTL flash, plus from the PC-contact (the X-contact) I am firing an additional flash, set to manual at low power.

I even have three brand-new Pocketwizard-to-hotshoe cables [link] from Flashzebra – recommended, both the equipment and the company. My order arrived promptly via US mail (as did the mounting brackets that you see under the PW – these allow neatly mounting the PWs onto lightstands). No UPS ripoff.

The Gel on the flash above is a Honl Photo blue gel, to add a splash of colour to a photo I was working on.

To my surprise, I have found this Pocketwizard setup to not always be reliable.

When I mount the PW onto the top of the camera hotshoe, no problem. But when I use the PC connector on the side of the camera, and a cable supplied with the Pocketwizard, no go sometimes. I can fire the camera or even press the local PW’s button, and I get intermittent remote flash firing.

I have so far narrowed the issue to the following three causes:

  1. Bad X-sync contact. I needed to use contact cleaner and squeeze the connector a bit to ensure good contact.
  2. Antennas need to be polarized equally (if the sender is vertical, ideally the receiver needs to be vertical as well).
  3. Maintaining the distance from the speedlite is a good idea: Speedlites can interfere.
  4. Radio signal: when I continuously press the sender’s test button, the receiver’s LED should stay on. Normally this happens. Even when I hold my hand by the sender’s antenna, the receiver normally stays solid. But when I attach a cable to the PW, even when it is dangling in mid air and not connected to the camera, it is much less reliable.

I mean this:

With that cable, whether connected to the camera or not, the sender seems to send out less power than without. This is not surprising: the wire probably affects radiated power and pattern. But it is good to be reminded this is a radio transmitter and radio is black magic (and I am a licensed radio ham, VA3MVW, so I have some appreciation of this).

The moral of this story: Watch out, the rock solid reliability of Pocketwizards, which I had always taken for granted, is not guaranteed. Especially when not using the hotshoe.

But by watching all factors above, I think I have it down to a reliable setup -and when I have issues at least I know what they are and how I can address them.

Update: see the post I wrote a few hours later about RF chokes

0 thoughts on “Pocketwoes

  1. I have found the hot shoe contacts on both my Canon cameras to be very sensitive to the slightest corrosion. I never had a problem in Northern California but here in Thailand I often have to clean them.

    I don’t understand the rest of your problem. Why not fire the other flashes using Canon’s Speedlite IR (?) master-slave technology? I have a 580EX and an older Canon flash and also a ST-E2 Transmitter (which you no longer need for the 7D). That is fine for my simple needs. You’re obviously doing something much more advanced.

  2. Good question.

    I use wireless E-TTL often. Whenever I have line of sight, or at least reflections.

    But sometimes you have no reliable reflection and no line of sight. That’s when you use PWs. Not more advanced: less so, since you have no TTL and need to meter the flashes manually. You can be a quarter mile away and use PWs. You can use them outdoors. Mind you: I use wireless TTL outdoors too.

    But often I use both. The main flash on the camera is bounced TTL, and the auxiliary flashes use a Pocketwizard and manual power. more work,less automation, but it does the job.

  3. VA3MVW de K6MJD. Thanks for the writeup. This is not the first issue that I have read about regarding Pocketwizards and Canon flashes. Makes me even more reluctant to purchase PW’s.

  4. VA3MVW de K6MJD Wow. That would have been the obvious thing to do and it never occurred to me. DOH! I have a ton of those chokes in my audio chain as I run a PR40 into an Aphex 230, Mackie Mixer and finally to the HF rig. As much time as I spent trying to keep RF out of my audio, this solution should of hit me right in the face. Thanks for the update. ’73

  5. Pingback: Tidyness is godliness. « Michael Willems Daily Photography Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *