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|| News Item: Posted 2005-03-05

Pocket Wizard basics and then some! (Part 1)
By Shawn Cullen

Photo by

First off, if your system works for you, great! If it's not broken, don't fix it. However, in many of the new massive sports arenas, small college arenas, and even in photo studios, the use of state of the art electronics and wireless products is increasing rapidly.

The only way to get the most out of your PocketWizards is to know the basics. This article is intended to inform photographers about these basics, and also how to get the best performance out of the PocketWizards. The vast majority of the information here is from the manual.

Yes, the one thing we all hate to read, especially with all the technical speak. We are lucky however, to have it. Try using the Flash Wizard II's. They do not come with a manual, which is why my hairline has receded 3" in the last 5 years. This why the Manual, the Quick Guide, and the web site are great tools of information.

There are a ton of features that the MultiMAX offers, but I am only going to stick with the basics. PocketWizard does have a web page that is very, very cool! It explains in step-by-step detail and with pictures, how to do all these advanced features. The link to this page, "MutliMAX Operating Essentials", can be found at the bottom off this article.

Improving your Pocket Wizard's range of distance and performance

PocketWizard Receivers are rated for 10 percent or less trigger failures at 1600 feet in open field "equivalent" testing at a height of 4 feet off the ground for both the Transmitter and Receiver unit.

If you move a PocketWizard closer to the ground, the range will start to reduce. For example, if you move both the Transmitter and Receiver units to about 2 inches off the ground, the range might drop to about 250 feet due to ground interference. At 50 feet above the ground for both units you might get 3,000 feet. Remember, 250 feet is in an open field "equivalent".

That number can decrease when shooting in an arena full of people using cell phones and hand radios. Studio photographers usually will not run into this problem as most studio sets are small in comparison to Hockey or Basketball arenas. However, with the increasing amount of electronics in studios now, the amount of interference will increase.

When you are triggering strobes, whether in a studio or arena, you are best served to put the Transmitter unit in the hot shoe of the camera.

If you use Hasselblad cameras you can keep the Transmitter in the hot shoe and use a miniphone to PC cord. The 10' or 16' miniphone to PC cord can be used if you want to mount the Transmitter on a tall light stand, on a railing, or on the supports of a Basketball basket. For best results you should use the 4" or 8" mounting bars with Super clamps and be sure to plug in the miniphone ends in to Port 1 of the Transmitter.

One very important benefit in using the PocketWizards to trigger your lights is the PocketWizard protects the camera from high flash sync voltage. All PocketWizard Receivers can accept up to 250 volts, with a safe 3.3 volts present at the hot shoe or Port 1 of the Transmitter, protecting the camera.

Receiver units should be off the ground, do not mount the Receiver unit on the side of the power packs, and have line of sight to all Receiver units. To get the best reception you should use the 4" or 8"mounting bars with a Super Clamp and put them on the light stands.

You can get the miniphone to household male cord in lengths of 1', 16", 3', 10', & 16'. If your lighting system takes the 1/4" phono plug you can get the 1/4" to miniphone cords in lengths of 16" & 3'.

Here is a list of which cords should be plugged in to Port1 or Port 2 as per the Manual:
Port 1 takes the input from the camera sync terminal, an external trigger button, and the Flash Confirmation Cable. Port 2 takes the output to camera motor drive (Pre-release or standard), and the output to flash.

However, one of the cool things about the MultiMAX (and the Plus to some degree) is that those ports are both trigger outputs when you are using the MultiMAX as a Receiver. They are slightly different electronically. If you have a flash that won't trigger in PORT 2 like it's supposed to, then you can try it in PORT 1 and it might just work. Both ports can trigger cameras or flashes, they just happen to be a little better at one or the other. And both ports trigger at the same time (unless you use delays)!

Using the lanyards to hang the units off a light stand, clamp, or structure near the basket might work for you, but it is not recommended. Some metal objects can act as an antenna. The radio noise in an arena may be conducted by the metal and can reduce the range of a Receiver unit which works harder to reject extra noise.

Also, try to keep the antennas vertical and parallel to the other antennas. However, if you are triggering an overhead remote camera, you should turn the Transmitter to about a 45 degree angle and the same with the Receiver unit. This should be done because of the way the signals are produced by the Transmitter unit. The signals are emitted from the sides of the antenna, not the top.

Keep in mind, even though the PocketWizards are designed to operate at long range, units may not trigger normally at an extremely short range of a few inches or less. It is not recommended to have antennas touching each other. Move the units several inches or a few feet apart and try again.

Differences in trigger types

When using the PocketWizards there are several different ways you can trigger cameras and strobes. You can use the hot shoe of the camera, from the PC connection and the motor drive connection on your camera, a Manual Hand trigger, a foot switch, and even the new Sekonic light meters.

The easiest way to trigger a Transmitter unit is to put the unit into the hot shoe. This will trigger the Transmitter with every picture you take.

However, keep in mind that if you are going to trigger a remote camera, it will also fire the remote camera every time you take a picture with the hand held camera. The same is true if you use a PC to miniphone cord (PC1) from the PC terminal of your camera to Port 1 of the Transmitter; as well as, if you use a motor drive plug to miniphone cord (pre-release or standard).

Although, if you use the motor drive to miniphone pre-release cord, you will get the quickest triggering of a remote camera. The reason for this is as you press the camera's shutter button, it is firing the motor drive. Whereas if you were to have the Transmitter in the hot shoe, or a cord plugged into the PC terminal, it would not trigger until it received the sync pulse from the camera.

The foot switch is a popular choice for triggering remote cameras for baseball, hockey, boxing, and horse racing. It can be very difficult to trigger when sitting on the baseline at a basketball game. You are obviously better served sitting in a chair or standing up.

One of the most popular methods of triggering remote cameras is using the manual hand trigger button. The easiest and most common one to use is the trigger button to miniphone. It comes in lengths of 16" & 3'. You plug it into Port 1 on the Transmitter and tape the trigger button to the camera, or hold it in your hand, and simply push the button when you want to trigger the Transmitter. The trigger button to household male can be used as well, but it would need a female household to miniphone adapter to fit into the Transmitter.

The Sekonic Light Meters have always been a great tool when taking meter readings. Now with 3 new models, the L-358, L-608, and L-558R, you can use them to trigger your camera and strobes at the same time! These new meters now have a MultiMAX chip in them and allow you to use the meters with out sync cords or an additional PocketWizard unit in your hand.

Not only can you trigger lights but you can fire remote cameras as well. This could be very helpful for still life, portrait, youth sports, and even sports photographers that may have forgotten or do not have an additional PocketWizard unit.

To do this you will want to use the Relay Mode feature. In this mode the camera's motor drive is triggered by a MultiMAX set for Receiver mode. The MultiMAX then switches to Transmit mode and waits for a sync pulse from the camera. Upon getting the sync pulse from the camera the unit then triggers the remote flash unit via radio and returns to Receive mode, ready to trigger the camera again.

The switch from Receiver to Transmitter takes about 30ms, so unless you are using a camera with an extremely fast lag time, you should be able to use the fastest sync speed your camera offers. When using the Relay Mode with your Sekonic Meter makes it possible to use only 2 MultiMAX Transceivers. Relay Mode is available on all channels 1-32.

To make or not to make your own cords

If you are going to make your own cords, keep in mind that both Port 1 and Port 2 are female mono plugs. They will trigger male stereo plugs; just make sure you solder the 2 wires to the correct connections on the male plug. Also, it is recommended that you use a male miniphone that has a right angle to them, not the male miniphone that is a straight in-line. The reason for this is that the straight in-line cords can block signals being transmitted or received, because they run parallel to the antenna and the signals are emitted along the sides of the antenna.

When making your own motor drive cable or "Pre-release" cable, PocketWizard suggests that you use the motor drive connections that have a silver locking cap so that the connection will stay in place, and use a switch in the cord to turn the Pre-release on and off. Continuously plugging in and unplugging can reduce the life of the motor drive connection.

If you plan on making your own Trigger Button, please make sure you use a "Momentary on-off" button, and "Soft Touch". Momentary meaning exactly that! As you push the button in the Transmitter is activated, and as you let go it is off. The "Soft Touch" buttons give you the most realistic feel compared to the camera's shutter button.

If you have any questions on making your own cords, the LPA staff is happy to help with advice and instructions. You can contact them here, If PocketWizard does not make the cord try, they can custom make almost any cord you need.

What types of batteries?

LPA recommends AA Alkaline batteries, in which the MultiMAX will operate for approximately 150 hours. This time may vary depending on temp, battery type, battery quality, extensive use of back light, amount of triggering, and extended trigger contact times. Lithium batteries will last about 10-20% longer.

Rechargeable batteries are not recommended by LPA because after time they may lose the ability to stay charged for an entire game. Using AC power is an option especially if you have a permanent set of strobes in an arena or if you shoot the vast majority of your time in a studio. In the event the circuit breaker or switch is turned off, this could create a problem. If you use batteries as well as the AC adapter, the Pocket Wizard unit will not function if power is turned off to the AC adapter. The plug from the AC adapter to the PocketWizard unit will need to be unplugged for the PocketWizard unit to work again.

(Shawn Cullen is a current Sports Illustrated lighting technician. He can be reached through his member page:

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