More reliable PW connection

In my post earlier today I noted that Pocketwizards aren’t always reliable when they have a wire plugged into them. That, and you need to keep them away from 430EX flashes, and point the antenna on the receiving side the same way as that on the sender, ideally.

The “a cable plugged in makes the receiver unreliable” phenomenon is presumably due to some of the RF going into that wire. So a possible solution should have been obvious to a radio amateur/electrical engineer like me:

Yes, that’s is: the little RF choke I put on the cable. And indeed, my testing shows that this type of choke seems to keep the receiver significantly more sensitive. Problem solved (or at least, problem alleviated: the other recommendations still stand).


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

Add a splash

I recommended recently that you might want to add a  splash of colour every now and then. So here’s an example.

Our Christmas “tree”, lit with just a bounce flash. The background is exposed properly (I used -1.3 stops exposure compensation in Av mode). But still: kinda bland, no?

So let’s add a dash of colour. A pocketwizard connected to the camera, and one behind the tree connected via a hotshoe cable to a 430EX flash. The flash was on manual at 1/16th power, and on the flash I had a Honl Photo speed strap with a Honl Bright Red gel conveniently velcro’d on. Now we’re talking!

If I had had more cables (I am awaiting a shipment of hotshoe cables…) I would have added a green one as well. But this is already much better thwanwhat I had before.

Oh and just to show what the flash alone would have done: if I disable the bounce flash, here’s what that same shot would look like:

Bit overly dramatic, but add some more light and it has potential!

Here’s the setup:

(Small note: I have, I must admit, found the X-sync to Pocketwizard contact unreliable and I am not entirely sure why: Maybe the connector itself? But the hotshoe contact is flawless.)

And finally. I wanted red and green, but had only one working flash I could drive with a pocketwizard.


Which, after a bit of back and forth with manual exposure, flash compensation, and remote flash power, gives me this:

Or, if you prefer a brighter room, this:

You see how much fun playing with colour and light can be?

Red Green

Here is my Canon 7D with a few of my speedlights (pro speak for “flashes”), pocketwizards, and cables:

Sometimes I use them for standard lighting. Sometimes I use effects -more often than not colour. Here’s four of them firing at once, with some of those excellent (try them) Honl gels:

I try to add a splash of colour every now and then. Like here in this outtake from a recent shoot (see the slight green on the subject’s left, our right?)

And I recommend that you try this, also. Recommended.

This season, think “red ” and “green”. Seasonal family pictures, but add some splashes of green and red light to the fun.

For this, I would use manual and pocketwizards. But here’s the key: I would still use TTL for the main (bounced-off-the-ceiling-behind-me) flash. So the normal flash is on the camera (or with the 7D, off the camera), while the “effect” flashes are fired with PW’s from the x-synch socket, and set manually to, say, 1/4 – 1/16th power.

That’s what is happening th that “four flashes side by side” shot above: the two left flashes are fired by the 7D’s popup flash using e-TTL, while the right two are fired by Pocketwizards that are driven by the sender PW on the camera’s x-synch contact. Yes, that works fine!


This photo of Annie Leibovitz, the world’s prime celebrity photographer, hosted here, makes me curious:

Leibovitz Lawsuit

I note the following.

  • She shoots Canon. A 1Ds Mark III, I think.
  • But for some reason, has taped over the “Canon” logo on her camera. Why?
  • She uses the same 24-70 f/2.8L lens that I use (and really, really like)
  • But.. no lens hood. Annie.. why not?
  • She shoots with the same Pocketwizards I use.

I do hope she keeps the right to her photos… I suppose we will know tomorrow. As many of you know, she is in financial trouble and has to come up with $24m yesterday, or lose all her photos and her homes.