5 Simple Steps to Trouble Shooting Radios/OCFs | Transcription
Five simple steps when it comes to troubleshooting radios or off camera flashes. Meaning, if your off camera flash is not firing, generally it can be related or generally it can be solved with these five simple steps.
Okay, step number one and I’m going to say this is actually step number zero and it’s not even on this little list right there. Why? Because it’s something we talked about in Lighting 101 in depth, which is this. When your shutter speed on your camera goes above 1/200th of a second, you’re going to have issues with radios being able to communicate with that speed. What that means is on the camera if this is set to, let’s say, 1/8000th of a second, okay, and I fire, if I have a radio on this at that speed of 1/8000th of a second, it cannot communicate with the radio, fire the flash and do that all quick enough for it to basically be caught in camera. This is called a sync speed issue. If you notice that your flash doesn’t appear to be firing, you take a shot and it fires but then you don’t see anything in an image, it is because of a sync speed problem. What does that mean? You have two options. That’s why we’re not going to cover this in more detail here because we’ve already covered it before.
You have two options. One, use a full feature flash that has high-speed sync. Now, that’s going to sacrifice your overall flash power, but it will at least allow the flash to synchronize with a higher speed shutter speed. Or, you throw on a neutral density filter. That’s going to cut down the overall amount of light in the scene and now you can adjust your shutter speed down to, say, 1/16th of a second, 1/60th of second, 1/200th or a second, whatever speed below 1/200th of a second. You can adjust it down to that and still get the same overall exposure in the scene and now you have your sync speed achieved and so forth.
If you notice an image that it looks like there’s a band going across it, for example if you’re at 1/360th of a second or 1/400th of a second, you’d fire and you see that the flash fired and it looks like half the image got covered in flash and half of it didn’t, basically what’s happening is the shutter, that curtain is opening and closing before the flash has fully fired. It opens, the flash pops right when it’s mid-way and then it comes down. That’s a sync speed issue.
Okay, so again, if that is confusing to you all, if you want that explained in more detail, reference back to Lighting 101.
Let’s go ahead and jump into our five simple steps when it comes to troubleshooting radios. I’m going to go ahead and grab our Odin. I’m going to take it off our lovely little foot right here. Come off. I almost hit myself in the face. That wouldn’t have been funny. That’s not good. Okay, let’s put that on to our camera and I’m going to go take a pop. I’m like, “Wait a second. What’s happening? Why isn’t it flashing? What’s going on? I don’t understand.” Okay, first things first. Whenever your flash is not firing, the first thing to look at is the channel in the grouping. Meaning, I need this guy to be on the same channel as this guy and then I need them to be on the same groups. What am I going to do? I’m going to look at the back of both of these. I see, well I’m channel one here and I’m channel one here. Weird. That should be working. What about my grouping and I go, “Oh, I’m group C. Oh crap. Group C is turned off here. Is this set to group C? Yeah, this is set to group C.” Well, now I know the problem. They’re on the right channel, so they are communicating with each other, but I’ve told group C to stay turned off.
What do I do? I go to group C and I turn on group C. Let me get to it. This is where a PocketWizard is a little bit nicer because I don’t have to click so many buttons to do that. Now, group C is on and we get consistent fires. Okay, so check the channel and grouping.
Let’s go to point number two. The next step, the next most simple reason why your off camera flash is not firing is you’re on the wrong radio mode. Now, every radio is going to have probably at least two or three of the most common radio modes. One is being able to transmit, one is being able to receive, and the other is being able to do both, transmit and receive which is known as transceive. These three are the most common radio modes that pretty much every radio operating device is going to be able to do.
What I need to do is make sure that, for example, on my PocketWizard right now this is set to TXRX which you can see right there as well which means transmit and receive or transceive. If I press mode, it goes to TX only. This is transceive only. Now, if I want this to actually receive, it doesn’t do it. If I have this on my off camera flash and I need it to receive a signal and to fire that flash, it’s set to transmit only right now so it’s not going to receive a signal. If I set this to RX, if I press mode again it goes to RX, and now it’s going to only receive a signal. If I have this on my camera now and I need to transmit a signal, now it’s not going to do that. The safest setting is basically TXRX, transmit and receive.
This also has other modes. Again, this is where every radio is going to differ. We have HSR. We also have RP which is relay point, if we want to extend the distance of the possible range, basically, on this. This is five total modes. We want to make sure that the mode we are operating in is the correct mode. Again, every radio system has the same type of functionality. That’s why we don’t need to walk through every single one of these because once you just understand the different layout options and the different menu buttons and where everything is, you can do the exact same thing on any device. In looking at a Phottix Odin, all we need to know is how do we get to the mode or the menu where we control those functions. Well, from the previous video I explained that basically you hold down this MS button and then it takes you into the mode where at this point we can choose to be an Odin transmitter, an Odin receiver. We can make it a master, a slave. We can do any of those things. If I wanted to receive from my Odin or from another Mitros, sorry this is the Odin, from another Mitros, I would set this to Odin receive. If this is set on Odin transmit, that’s the mode I would use when it’s on my camera. I would transmit to other Odin receivers. Does that make sense?
Hopefully, I don’t know why I’m waiting for you guys to respond to that, but I don’t know. I like to ask questions, even if they’re rhetorical ones.
All right, so make sure that your radio mode is set correctly. Transmit, receive, or transceive, those are your three most basic modes that really most any radio’s going to have.
Now, the next thing, number three, is a faulty cord or connection. Now, what that means is you might have a bad cable but, more likely, you might just not have that cable seated correctly. It might not be quite seated in. Now, these guys, I absolutely despise these guys. This is the PC sync, so you can see on the side it has that PC sync port right here. This is like 20, 30-year-old sync technology and it is absolutely horrendous for that exact issue, for getting it seated properly. I’d highly recommend getting a cable that has this little screw on here. This little screw will allow you to actually screw it into the PC sync port and that way it’ll lock in place and it’ll be much more secure and you’ll get less misfires with this. Usually, they don’t come with these locking PC sync cables. You have to buy these separate. This goes to a 3.5-millimeter stereo on the other side.
Now, by far the best connection, if you have the choice, for example if your flash has both a 3.5 millimeter and a PC sync, by all means use the 3.5-millimeter slot. That’s the standard slot on a PocketWizard and also they have it on LumoPro LP180. This port, this connection, is much, much more consistent, much more reliable, much more effective. It’s just better overall. If you have that option, the 3.5-millimeter option is by far better.
If you’re using, for some strange and misfortunate reason, you have the Vivitar 285 HVs, those use these guys which is a 3.5-millimeter on the PocketWizard side to this sharp and pointy needle thing on the other side. I’ve never had any issues actually with this having a bad connection. The connection always works. The only thing is it’s a pain in the butt to plug in and to take out, but it actually works fairly well. Sometimes the cables can go bad and that’s another reason why maybe your flash isn’t firing and then best way, if you guys can guess, the best way to basically figure out what the problem is is to simply narrow down. You just narrow down by testing out different things. If I think it’s something wrong with the cable, I’ll just take the cable and test it with the PocketWizard with a different flash. If I think it’s the PocketWizard, if I think it’s the radio, I’ll test a different radio and so forth. We just narrow down to figure out what is the common denominator that’s causing all the problems. That’s number three.
Number four is low batteries. Yes indeedy, low batteries can actually cause issues when it comes to relaying radio information. It can prevent radio information being sent for the full range because it’s a low signal that’s being sent out or a low signal that’s being received. It can also do other funky things, so just make sure that you check your batteries. Now, the two rechargeable batteries that we most highly recommend and we’ve done a lot of extensive battery testing which you guys can see on SR Lounge, the two ones that we love the most is the standard Eneloop and the Eneloop XX. Now these guys are quite a bit more expensive and they’re marginally better. I would say for the budget, these are really the best value, but they’re fantastic batteries. Just make sure that if you’re having issues, also check your batteries.
Number five is distance/interference/water. What does that? Well, most easy to understand is distance. If we have exceeded the range for, a Mitros Plus the range is going to be a few hundred feet, it’s not going to have the same kind of range as a PocketWizard Plus 3. Same thing with the Canon, the Canon 600 EXRT, they don’t have as powerful of radios built into the as, say, a PocketWizard. You’re not going to get the same range of 1,500 feet off of this guy. The range is still good, though, and it’s great for most purposes, but that’s the first reason. You might be exceeding or pushing the boundaries of that range limit.
Number two, interference. What does that mean? If we’re working within structures that have a lot of steel, they have a lot of beams, they have a lot things that are coming between you and that receiving side, that can actually reduce your overall range. It will actually reduce the overall range. When they test the range on a PocketWizard as being 1,500 feet, that’s in ideal circumstances. What’s ideal? That’s like being in the middle of a field where there’s basically nothing between you and the receiving side. Just know that if there is a lot of stuff between you, yes, you don’t require line of sight, but still the more stuff between you and the receiving side, the more it’s going to have a potential to interfere with that transmission.
Now, that brings up to the last thing which is water. Water is actually just a natural interfering element when it comes to radio. With radio waves, water is the first thing that’s basically going to cut off a radio signal. That’s why underwater they don’t use radio, they use sonar. They use sound because sound travels better underwater versus radio waves. If you’re working near a body of water, that doesn’t mean that is has to be any big. I, for example, I’ve taken shots where basically I have somebody on the other side of a pool and I’m sitting at one side of the pool, they’re at the other side of the pool. There’s maybe only 20 feet of distance between us, but I’m shooting low and close to the water and they’re standing at the water’s edge and that 20 feet of water right there is enough distance to interfere with the PocketWizard.
What do you do in that situation? Well, you try, if possible, to get a little bit further away from the water. If I could, if I had a cable, I would basically plug in my PocketWizard, rather than running the PocketWizard to the hot shoe, what I would do is plug it in via this little PC sync. Let’s grab this guy. Nope, that’s the wrong guy. Let’s grab this guy. Okay, so I grab this guy, put him into the PC sync port, and then I would plug it in to my PocketWizard and rather than firing with this on my hot shoe, I would lift it up. If I’m close to the water, I’m going to shoot low while holding the PocketWizard up in the air so that way the PocketWizard is further away from the water and the likelihood of getting the signal across to the other one is going to be far better. That’s how we deal with water, but just know that if you’re in this situation where we’re shooting across a vast ocean, even though there’s probably not 1,500 feet there, there is no chance your PocketWizard is going to fire.
One other thing to note about water is guess what? Our bodies are made up of 50 to 60% water at any point in time. Some people have a little bit less, some people have a little bit more. I don’t know. Don’t kill me on that number, but either way, what that means is … This is where people always say, “Oh, my Yongnuo radio system works perfectly fine. It works absolutely fine in every situation. The thing is that when we’re at weddings, what do we have? If we set up a flash on each side of the room and we’re shooting in the middle of the room and there’s 400 people there and there’s 100 people on the dance floor, guess what we have between us and each of those receiving points? We have 100 people and guess what they’re made of? Mostly water. Those people are going to act as interfering subjects and that’s why in those situations we say that we have consistency and reliability issues that we don’t have on, let’s say, a PocketWizard. We don’t have that issue with the Phottix Mitros because the radios are strong enough to get through that interference.
Those are the extreme situations that we say we run into consistency and reliability issues. It doesn’t mean that if you’re shooting more simple stuff, engagement shoots and you’re out on other stuff and you’re doing things in the studio, yes they could totally work just fine, but in certain situations they may not. Just remember if there’s tons of people operating between you and those receiving side of the radio, that is water and that’s going to act as interference as well. You need to have a higher power radio, like a PocketWizard or a better unit like the Mitros Plus. In situations where it still isn’t working, you need to get that radio up higher into the air so they can transmit and receive a little bit easier.
These are the most five common reasons why your off camera flash might not be firing correctly and this is how to troubleshoot them to make sure that on any shoot, you can get your flashes working properly and consistently.