When it comes to reliable remote radio triggers, the first name that comes to mind is Pocket Wizard. So, we were eager to finally get our hands on some to try them out. We originally purchased five PocketWizard PWP-TR 801-125 PLUS II Transceivers from Amazon.com for around $170 each. Oh, and yes, the crappy thing about these bad boys is that you will need two just to set up one off-camera flash (one for the camera, one for the flash). That means you will end up spending around $340 hard-earned dollars to remote trigger one off-camera light source.
There are three main questions when it comes to making a decision about purchasing Pocket Wizards.
Question 1: Is having an off-camera remote triggered light source worthwhile?
Answer: Absolutely, positively yes! The effects and quality of lighting you can achieve far surpass any on camera lighting. In addition, you can create a lot of really cool effects and scenes by using off-camera remote triggered lighting. See some of the examples below.
Question 2: Do Pocket Wizards stand up to their name as being the most reliable remote triggering system?
Answer: Yes and No. I know, that answer seems contradictory, but we have had quite the experience with our Pocket Wizards. We were quite disappointed when we read the instructions, properly set up the triggering system, and then only got the trigger system to fire around 1 in 10 shots.
Not only was it extremely inconsistent, it seemed as though the further we got from our off-camera light, the less often it triggered the off-camera flash. Let it be known, that by further away I mean 10-20+ feet. A far cry from the 1500+ foot range that the product claims to have. So, what was the problem?
Well, we confirmed several times that we had indeed set up the system properly every time. Furthermore, we tested the system in many different scenes using different channels. All with the same results, approximately 1 in every 10-15 shots would fire the remote flash unit. After exhausting all of our resources, we finally turned to Pocket Wizard technical support with one question, “WTF?”
We then discovered something very interesting which everyone needs to know. The problem with the Pocket Wizard wasn’t with the unit itself. It was actually with our pocket flash, the Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash
. Pocket Wizard tech support notified us that the new Canon 580EX II was not engineered properly and was insufficiently magnetically shielded, thus the flash would cause interference in the operation of the remote trigger. So, this is a WARNING to everyone using a Pocket Wizard Plus II with Canon 580EX II flash units,you will have issues! Read on for solutions.
“Crap” we thought, we own 5 pocket flashes, 4 of which are Canon 580EX IIs, what are we going to do with a $800 remote trigger system that doesn’t work with our flashes? Well, luckily we discovered a few work arounds, some more practical than others.
1. The $400 Baked Potato: The solution that I found online within the forums, was called the Baked Potato. This basically involved magnetically shielding the Canon 580EX II yourself by wrapping it in tin foil. While this solution seemed to work quite well, it looked very unprofessional when using them in front of clients. So, that solution was out.
2. Use the Canon 430 EX II: Yep, if you haven’t bought all of your pocket flashes already, think about getting a couple 430EX IIs simply for remote triggering. Not only are they $100 bucks cheaper, but they work flawlessly with the Pocket Wizard system (though you do need to by a special adapter for another $20 to hook the unit up to the Pocket Wizard).
3. Go long, real long: Our favorite solution for those of you that have already spent a grip on your Canon 580EX II flashes, is to simply buy extra long sync cables like the Pocket Wizard 804-407 MP3 1/4-Inch Cable and place the Pocket Wizard as far from the 580EX II as possible. We have found that the issue doesn’t occur on your on camera flash, where you are sending out the remote trigger signal, but rather on the receiving side. So you only need to separate the remote trigger and the flash unit on the receiving side.
Once we had implemented one of the solutions listed above, we had no more issues with our Pocket Wizard system. In fact, it worked flawlessly, triggering consistent flashes at very reasonable and usable ranges. While they claim over 1500+ feet, keep in mind that those numbers are in optimal settings without a lot of interfering objects between the trigger and the remote (such as an open field). In practice, your range in a ballroom filled with people, would be around 200-300 feet.
Question 3: Is Pocket Wizard the best choice in remote radio triggers?
Answer: Yes. While the Pocket Wizard and Canon 580EX II combo issues are unfortunate, that doesn’t change the fact that Pocket Wizard still makes the best and most consistent remote trigger system available. While it is rated for less than 10% failures within 1500 feet, we hardly ever see our unit fail to fire even out of 1000 shots.
Here is a little bit of extra information for those of you seriously considering purchasing Pocket Wizard remote triggers.
1. While Pocket Wizard makes a few different types of units. The Pocket Wizard Plus II unit can be used both for receiving and triggering. This means you can purchase multiple Pocket Wizard Plus II units and use them to trigger and receive a signal for an off-camera flash.
2. The Pocket Wizard Plus II has 3 different receiving modes, “Both, Remote, “Receive.” While set to “Receive” the unit will only receive signals from other units and trigger the local flash it is hooked up to. “Remote” mode sets up the Plus II to transmit and trigger any units receiving a signal. Lastly, when set to both, the unit will receive, as well as transmit the signal to other units. This mode is useful when you have several off camera flashes that you wish to set off at the same time, since each unit will receive and transmit the signal to other flashes simultaneously.
3. The Pocket Wizard Plus II has 4 different channels. You can use the different channels to reduce interference when one channel is not firing consistently. Or you can setup multiple units, all on different channels for different areas of the room. For instance, Channel 1 is for flash units on the dance floor while Channel 2 is for units near the buffet line.
I hope this information has been useful. Please feel free to leave any additional comments below.
Article written by:
Lead Photographer | Partner
Lin and Jirsa Wedding Photography