Archive for EX

Pocket Wizards and Canon Flashes, pt. 2

Posted in Unsorted posts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2009 by restaurantouring

This is a follow-up to my first blog post about range issues when using Canon flashes with Pocket Wizard remotes. If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to check here so that you’re not left out of the loop. Thanks!

Disclaimer: This is an individual case study (my own) and is applicable ONLY to my particular Canon-brand flashes. I have not thoroughly tested Nikon or other brand flashes, and so I have nothing to say about how PW works with those systems. For all I know, they work perfectly.

Okay, so it’s been a while and I’ve got a few things to update on this issue.

I tried testing the system thoroughly. Shot video, too. First, I tested the PW+II’s by themselves, without any flashes or cameras attached. I had someone hold one and watch the blinking light as I kept walking and punching the Test button on one of the transceivers (Can you hear me now?). Got about 900 feet before I started getting spotty results and decided to turn back. 900 feet is almost half of the 1600 feet I’m SUPPOSED to get, but I’m not complaining. I can’t imagine ever needing that much distance.

Then, I tried testing them with both my 430 EX and my 580EX II, without a camera (didn’t want to factor in the possibility that RF noise from the camera itself could interfere). I gave the PW+II system every benefit of the doubt and tried to give them the best real-world shot at producing stellar results and range. My result: I still couldn’t get a longer range than about 20 feet. The only reason I’m not posting the videos is because there’s A LOT more info to come, and more testing to come, too:

I’ve been in contact with both Canon and Pocket Wizard about the range issues with just the old PW Plus II system. Spent 3 hours on the phone with Canon (about numerous other problems I’ve been experiencing, so don’t let the amount of time freak you out) and 1.5 hours on the phone with PW. I also spent a little over an hour at the Canon repair center in Jamesburg, NJ. Here’s what they had to say:

won’t even touch the 430EX to see if it’s working properly without charging me around $116 USD. (Nice that they stand by their products — even their old ones /sarcasm. Then again, I suppose it’s out of warranty by now, anyway).
*note: they most likely won’t look at your old 580EX or 550, since those have been replaced as well

will check out my 580EX II, since it’s new enough to still be under warranty. It’s been a week since I handed it over — no word from them yet about what’s going on.
*note: again, I don’t think anything will be wrong with the 580EX II. It’s new enough and I take good care of my gear.

won’t test your flashes with anything Pocket Wizard-related, since PW isn’t made by Canon.

Pocket Wizard:
*note: I’ve spoken with at least 4 different people from Pocket Wizard:
1) The people at the Pocket Wizard Flickr group were initially very responsive and willing to help, but after numerous back-and-forth messages, I think they gave up on me since I haven’t heard back from them about a number of my questions since we last exchanged messages almost 3 weeks ago. I’m not holding it against them — they weren’t really telling me anything that I didn’t already know, some of what they told me was actually false in reality (e.g. they told me that PW+II’s don’t work with a slaved flash in manual mode. In fact, they DO work in slave mode, they DO work on manual power, and they DO work when both in slave and in manual power). Also, I’d have given up on me, too, if I were in their positions. I can be a real pain in the butt, even when I’m trying to be polite and understanding. It’s my secret superpower.
2) A phone call and a voicemail to PW went unanswered for two weeks before I decided to give them another call.
3) I finally reached a tech support operator, who was informative, if rude. Between getting cut off while I was trying to speak, I was informed that:

– the PW units are all advertised as being usable “up to” a certain distance. For example, the PW+II’s are billed as giving you a range up to 1600 feet, or nearly a third of a mile. That doesn’t mean that they’ll actually WORK at 1600 feet. Basically, as long as your working range falls between >0 feet and 1600 feet, PW isn’t falsely advertising their product. Thus, the 20 feet that I’m getting is technically “up to 1600 feet” by this one tech support rep’s twisted view of the product, and therefore PW isn’t at fault when you’re disappointed that you’re unable to shoot at ridiculously long distances.
*note: a master Canon flash or the ST-E2 commander will give me better distances than 20 feet WITH TTL reliability. The only limitation will be that I’ll need to have line-of-sight.
– tech support rep spewed a bunch more crap at me, which I won’t repeat here — mostly because the manager I spoke to after this guy was a lot nicer and more informative

4) I finally talked to Phil, the manager at PW. This guy was a pleasure to talk with. He was understanding, patient, and helpful. He doesn’t go by the >0 – 1600 feet thing the tech support rep mentioned above (thankfully!), and agrees that getting 20 feet when I’m supposed to be getting something much longer (i.e. “up to” 1600 feet!) is really pretty bad.

Unfortunately, he’s still trying to sell me on the PW brand — trying to keep me from jumping ship (over to Radio Popper, maybe).

His suggestions (which most of us know very well already) are to 1) orient the PW as close to vertical as possible, using a PW holster, tape, velcro, or a wizard bracket, 2) get the PW unit as far away from the flash as possible (e.g. by extending your sync cable with something like a 5′ coiled mono miniphone cable), and 3) cut down on RFI/EMI using one of the Radio Shack ferrite chokes I blogged about in the previous entry. Since these don’t fit right, you’ll need to double-loop the wire around the ferrite choke before snapping it shut.

So far, I haven’t tried the extension cable, and neither tape nor velcro are reliable options in general.

So, that’s what’s coming next: I’m waiting for my PW holster and my coiled extension cable to arrive in the mail. I found an open field with 1/3 of a mile of flat space with no trees or obstructions, away from any residential areas that may offer a world of RFI or EMI of varying frequencies. That’ll be the true test — the final battleground. If it still doesn’t work for me, I’m gonna abandon ship.

I KNOW there are even more fixes out there. I KNOW PW is coming about with the AC7 RF shield soon. I KNOW I can get VeilGuard fabric or whatever it’s called to block RF noise in the meantime. So what’s my problem?

It’s impractical. Again, I want my gear to work like they’re supposed to, out-of-the-box, with no additional accessories except fresh batteries.
– Buying a ~$50 AC7 shield is not practical. Carrying around that big hunk of metal will be even less practical in the long run, if I can even find space in my gear bag for it (let alone any additional AC7 shields I may need to buy for future multiple-speedlite setups).
– Letting my PW dangle on a 5-foot cord is not only impractical, but potentially dangerous to the PW (or anyone I might hit with a wildly swinging PW).
– I don’t want to buy a 5-foot extension cord
– I don’t want to carry a 5-foot extension cord
– I don’t want to have to untangle a 5-foot extension cord
– buying, and then installing and having to uninstall, AND carrying a PW holster or Wizard Bracket not only takes up space and time, it’ll get to be frustrating as hell in the long run. I’d rather be shooting pictures.
– I don’t want to have to devote so much time and effort and brain power into 1) figuring out why my gear doesn’t work, 2) figuring out how to make it work, 3) remembering all the little things I have to do in order to make it work.

Again, I’d rather be taking pictures.

Note: For all the people sending me hate mail and messages, please stop. I’m well aware by now that you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I still think it’s funny how you keep insisting that something is seriously wrong with my PWs or my flashes or both, since they’re in great condition. Still, to give you guys the benefit of the doubt, I’ve sent everything in to be looked at and repaired if necessary. The PW’s work just fine, as I’ve tested above (up to 900 feet with no problems). The 580EX II is at the Canon repair center being looked at and I should get it back tomorrow. I’ll still test the 430EX in future tests, simply because I’m curious, but I’ll make proper notations to indicate that it’s an uninspected flash for you naysayers out there. Thanks.

– Conway

Issues with Canon Flashes and RF Noise, Pt. I

Posted in Unsorted posts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2009 by restaurantouring

Once again, I apologize for the lack of updates. I’ve been busy lately — I suddenly found that I needed to find a new roommate or be financially forced to move out, I was unable to find a new roommate that I could trust, and subsequently had to move out. Additionally, work has been crazy and I have been absolutely engrossed with photography as of late. Mostly, I blame David Hobby and his Strobist blog. If you’re a photographer and you’d like to learn more about how to use flash in an elegant and intelligent manner, Strobist is THE place to go.


Long story short: I (and many other people) have problems getting my Canon-brand strobes to sync off-camera while using Pocket Wizards (the industry gold standard for rock-solid reliability and range — even through walls and other objects). While PW advertises ranges of 1800 feet with the old Plus II’s and maybe half of that range with the new PW TT1 and TT5’s, I can’t seem to use them at distances greater than 35 feet, max. What’s going on? Read on for the full deets:


Despite saying that I’ve been engrossed in photography lately, I haven’t actually been shooting as much as I would have liked. I spent most of the weekend agonizing and researching radio frequency interference (RFI or EMI for electromagnetic interference) generated by my Canon flash units. As it turns out, I happen to own two of the [RF] noisiest flash units ever produced by Canon (430EX and 580EX II), and I’m fortunate enough (sarcasm) to own what appear to be two PARTICULARLY noisy specimens of those models.

If it sounds nerdy, it is. It’s got nerd in spades written all over it.

Warning: nerdy pseudo-scientific rant mode ON. I apologize in advance to anyone actually reading this and especially to anyone who finishes reading this post. Also, be aware that this situation is a bit complicated. There are a lot of details and factors involved, and I may not get to every single little issue here in this preliminary post. If I did, you’d all be reading for hours, probably (That was sarcasm. Sort of).

RF noise can be a big issue for me (and other people who use radio triggers) because I shoot my flashes off-camera. The industry’s gold standard for firing flash units off-camera are little radio triggers called Pocket Wizards (PW). You simply hook up your flash to a PW receiver, stick a PW transmitter onto the hot shoe on top of your camera, turn them on, and fire away. The PW’s will synchronize the firing of the flash to the opening and closing of your shutter, up to the maximum “sync speed” of your camera (most Canon cameras will go up to 1/125 sec to 1/250th of a second, even though they’re advertised as 1/200 minimum. Personally testing my cameras tell me 1/125 is the fastest I can go on my old XTi. Not that that matters to you — unless you own an XTi and you’re looking to sync off-camera).

At any rate, PW’s are supposed to be super super reliable, with an advertised range of 1600-1800 feet. That’s almost 1/3 of a fraking mile. That’s insanity.

On top of that, since it’s RF, you can run around, you can trigger your flashes even with walls and large objects in the way, you don’t have to worry about staying close to the flash units, you don’t have to worry about line-of-sight from your transmitting “master” unit to your receiving “slave” units. . . . It’s just a really AWESOME idea.

So what’s the problem? I can’t seem to reliably trigger my strobes from more than 10-15 feet away when I’m outdoors. As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, it seems like the RF noise from the Canon flashes I own (again, the 430EX and the 580EX II) is causing interference with the PW tranceivers I have (“Pocket Wizard Plus II”‘s — which cost me about $160 – $180 USD each when I bought them. I have two and you need at least two to use them).

Research online (e.g. Rob Galbraith’s tests) confirms this: it turns out the frequency of the noise generated by the Canon strobes is at about the same frequency of the channels that the PW’s operate on. Oops?

So who’s to blame?

Canon, for making such noisy strobes? Nikon’s strobes emit almost no noise at all. Nikon’s strobes are also a lot more powerful and useful than Canon’s strobes, yet they’re similar in price. Most third party strobes emit almost no noise, too. Why is Canon so noisy?

Or is PocketWizard to blame? They’re bent on backwards compatibility so it’s not like they want to change the frequency on which their units operate. They picked the frequency to use because it was one of the least noisy frequencies available, after taking into account RFI generated by any and all electronic equipment in the US (basically, anything powered by electricity tends to produce some sort of EMI at varying levels. There are laws that are supposed to regulate EMI noise, but it’s hard to figure out what’s being noisy and what’s not sometimes). Funny how Canon’s flashes are so perfectly noisy, isn’t it?

Or maybe I’m the one to blame? After all, I probably should have done some more research before spending the big bucks to buy all this gear (all in all, the two flashes, the PW’s, and the necessary adapter cable required to use them all cost me $1000+). Maybe I should have waited to hear more in-depth, intelligent reviews instead of leaving it up to the sometimes clueless customer/user reviews on Heck, my original intention was to go with Nikon when I first wanted to get my feet wet with the whole DSLR scene, but I went with an XTi cuz it would have saved me 200-300 bucks (which is a lot when you’re a poor, starving, buried-in-debt-as-it-is college student trying to foolishly get into DSLR photography).

:sigh sigh:

I just want my shiny, expensive toys to WORK, damnit!

But in case you’re wondering, there are ways around PW’s inability to reliably trigger remote Canon flashes. The folks at PW recommend a $6 ferrite choke from Radio Shack. I’ve ordered one and will test it. I’ll let you know about the results, even if it may be redundant considering the info you’ll probably find on the web if you just look hard enough. I don’t care. I want to see it with my own eyes.

PW is also developing an RF shield that is worth mentioning, except it will likely cost $50 or so when it comes out (IF it ever comes out, since it’s taken quite a long time for them to develop a simple RF shield).

Additionally, there’s a relative newcomer to the off-camera RF triggering scene. They’re called RadioPoppers and they seem to be really awesome. They’re not perfect and I’ve got some issues with those units, too (I don’t own any. Yet. I just decided to do some heavy research first to prevent getting bitten by more expensive radio triggers again), but if you’re looking for rock solid stability and reliability up to 600-800 feet and you need that capability RIGHT NOW, it’s a good alternative to PW’s until PW and/or Canon fixes their shizz. Still, I can’t give them a full, 100% recommendation, and I’m not trying to endorse Radio Poppers here.

As the name implies, RadioPoppers DO operate on radio frequencies, but at a higher frequency than the noise emitted by Canon. Field tests and controlled tests confirm that RP reliability is pretty darn good. REALLY good, in fact.

What I love about Radio Popper is that they offered a limited time rebate deal for their first generation triggers. Basically, if you had a 1st-gen trigger, you could send it back for a heavy discount off of their 2nd-gen product. If PW’s weren’t so ubiquitous with serious enthusiasts and professionals who shoot Canon, I would suggest/pray/hope that PW did this, too. Recall the old units, either retool them to operate on a frequency that doesn’t get affected by the RF noise emitted by Canon strobes, or offer a discount for people looking to upgrade to their new, vastly improved, E-TTL-compatible triggers (Flex TT5 and MiniTT1).

And forget about complaining to Canon. Word on the net is that they don’t listen, don’t seem to care. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen by me, personally. I’ve got big big big issues with Canon’s flash units even besides the RF noise issue, since it only really came to my attention recently. Circumstantial evidence leads me to have problems with their apparent drive to excel and innovate as well, but I won’t get into that since I’ve already written a fraking 12-page essay to you about it with this post. Plus, I’d like to give ’em a little more time before actually blowing a gasket.

/end nerd rant

Again, I apologize for the long rant. If you have any thoughts, comments, questions, disagreements, whatever — PLEASE sound off in the comments. I do moderate comments, so if you wish to remain private please start your comments with the words, “DO NOT PUBLISH.”

I’m just trying to put more info out there on the net to let potential customers of these companies know what’s up before spending the obscene amounts of money needed to use this stuff — trying to help out. If a meaningful dialogue can be started here, it will be worth it — even if I only ultimately help out ONE dSLR user out there.


Coming soon:
– field tests with range issues on the above mentioned flash units.
– putting the ferrite choke through its paces
– testing some work-arounds to increase range
– DIY RF noise shielding (a.k.a. where’d I put my aluminum foil?)
– more nerdy Canon rants