Archive for PW

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