Archive for photography

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


Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2009 by restaurantouring


[One of my photos has been published at a blog owned by NBC and written by chef Ariane Duarte. Check out the entry here!]

Hello, people of the interwebs! Sorry for the lack of updates in a while. I’ve been pretty busy lately, mostly with work, eating, and taking pictures.

I still need to blog about my trip to Taiwan (amazing), Hong Kong, and Macau.

I’ve eaten at Le Bernardin since I last blogged, as well:


And this past Monday, I had a life-changing meal at Thomas Keller’s Per Se.


Lately, I’ve been cruising the Montclair restaurant scene, collaborating with local restaurants to get some food photography done. I’m not making any money doing it — I’m just doing it out of a bit of boredom and a desire to collaborate and help grow some of these businesses. Thanks go out to David Hobby at the Strobist blog for getting me off of my lazy keister. I’ll let you know when some of these pictures make it up onto their websites. In the meantime, if you’re from around my area, definitely check out CulinARIANE restaurant and Mesob Ethiopian restaurant.

The photo of the Jonah crab at the top of this post was shot for Oceania Seafood company, in New York (check my Flickr photostream for more pictures). They’re building a website, and I’ve been working very closely with an awesome IT support company called “Blue Lion Solutions” to help Oceania Seafood company grow its online seafood shipping business.

So, if you need the freshest seafood around, contact Oceania Seafood at 917-662-8028 (website coming very soon!)

And if you need web hosting services, IT support, and boatloads more help from tech-savvy types, contact Blue Lion Solutions (or just click here).

Honda Crave Contest

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food experiments at home with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2009 by restaurantouring

20090503 Chipotle Meatloaf

So, the competition is over. I submitted my savory dish for the competition, but I’m not too confident in how the picture turned out (Pictured above. Chipotle-spiked meatloaf. Roasted red pepper coulis. Smoky Chipotle BBQ sauce. Bacon mashed potatoes. Mac and Cheeses: cheddar, lots of freshly grated parm, and a habanero pepperjack. I know it’s cropped on the right. Still working on that / I have been too lazy to fix it. Click on it to see the full picture on my Flickr account). I was dumb and waited too long to make the dish, so I had too little time to remake it.

20090504 Chocolate Lava Cake 019

Also, I fell asleep/passed out on my bed last night when I should have been making an entry for the dessert competition. Molten Chocolate Hazelnut “Kiss” Cake. Orange-raspberry coulis. Tahitian Vanilla creme anglaise. I thought I was clever with the kiss part, but only because my body was sleep deprived and because my brain is addled.

I woke up this morning cuz the fire alarm went off — not because something was burning, but because I fell asleep on top of it (and all my freshly laundered clothes, which now have lots and lots of wrinkles in them thanks to my fat ass) and apparently, it detected carbon monoxide emanating from my nether regions. Just kidding, it was sticking into my back (I took it down last night when I was roasting peppers in the broiler and threw it on top of my bed).

I always do this. Procrastinate, that is. And I liked how the dessert picture came out, too. Sigh.

Moral of the story: I suck.

Also: I got a 38 dollar parking ticket because I fell asleep and forgot to move my car last night. Alternate side parking, FTL.

Ratios and Photo Competitions

Posted in Books and gear, Food in the news, Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2009 by restaurantouring

I’m excited. I just got my copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking in the mail. As I told him in New York, at the book signing event for Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure, a few months ago, I can’t stop reading his books.

For those who know me, yes, I know I wasn’t a big Ruhlman fan at first (I was just holding a grudge against him for seeming a bit harder on John Besh than on Michael Symon on the Next Iron Chef competition on Food Network a couple years ago), but the man can write. I can’t wait to dive in.

I’ll let you know what I think once I’m done. In the meantime, any food photography enthusiasts should check out the national skill contest hosted by Honda CR-V. You can submit pictures of sweet or savory comfort foods, and the best entry wins $2,500. Other prizes go to 2nd and 3rd places, too. If you’re interested, hurry up! The deadline is this Monday, May 4th, 2009. Check out the official rules here. Good luck!