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:
- Bad X-sync contact. I needed to use contact cleaner and squeeze the connector a bit to ensure good contact.
- Antennas need to be polarized equally (if the sender is vertical, ideally the receiver needs to be vertical as well).
- Maintaining the distance from the speedlite is a good idea: Speedlites can interfere.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
K6MJD de VA3MVW: check my next blog post today. A solution, or at least an improvement, is not difficult – as a ham you will know all about RF chokes… 🙂
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
Indeed, I too thought “D’oh!”
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