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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2009-09-03

The Frugal Photographer: The Perfect Pre-Release Cable For You!
By Shawn Cullen

Photo by Shawn Cullen

Photo by Shawn Cullen
(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of columns on ways photographers can save money through DIY and looking for less expensive alternatives.)

Two years ago I started making custom Pre-Release Cables for several photographers that I know within the Sports Photography community. The purpose was to make the perfect Pre-Release cable for the various situations that they would need it. The standard PocketWizard Pre-Release Cables is not always perfect. The length might be to short or not long enough, the enclosure might be too big or too small, or a rocket switch is preferred over a sliding switch. Even the type of cable might not meet specific requirements.

To have a custom Pre-Release Cable made for you can cost as much as $200 or more. However, if you were to make one on your own, you could spend as little as $15 on parts, excluding the motor plug. The cost of Motor Plugs can differ greatly depending on what brand of motor plug you buy, and where you buy it. They can range from about $25-$70.

When I started making Pre-Release Cables, it was very difficult to find a local electronics retailer that had a good selection of the various parts and supplies that I would need to make my custom cables. I was very discouraged that not even Radio Shack or Fry's Electronics had the selection I was hoping for. So my searches led me to the Internet and this where I found my current retail suppliers for the parts and supplies I use for all of the custom cables I make.

The companies I have used include Mouser, Allied Electronics, DigiKey, and Newark Electronics. Within the catalogs of some of these companies you will find large selections of mini-phone plugs and jacks, enclosures, switches (including rocker, sliding, and pushbutton), and the different types of cable you might want to use.

At www.mouser.com you can download the entire catalog in zip format. Here you will be able to search through all the different products a page at a time and have access to PDF data sheets that give dimensions and specifications for that particular item. This is extremely helpful when you are not able to see the product in person and are not able to verify if the product works for your needs.

Right angle vs. straight mini-phone plugs. I prefer the right angle to the straight mini-phone plugs because the straight plug can block the majority of the PocketWizard antenna, and the right angle plugs are easier to tape into the top of the PocketWizards.

There are several types and sizes of switches to choose from, rocker switch, sliding switch, pushbutton switch, etc. Personally I use a rocker switch. They are easy to tape down in the ON or OFF position. The switches I use have ON/OFF printed on to the switches so that it is obvious what position the switch is in and it is easier to read in low light situations.

* If you are using a Nikon camera body, you might need to use a diode depending on the type of switch you choose. If it is a single pole single throw (SPST), you will need to use a diode. With a single pole double throw (SPDT) you will not have to use a diode. For more information on this and what type of diode to use, feel free to email me through my member page.

Photo by Shawn Cullen

Photo by Shawn Cullen
Enclosure types and sizes can vary greatly. Plastic enclosures are easy to punch out the holes for the cable and the switch. Finding the right dimensions for the enclosure and the switch can be very time consuming since they need to fix each other. This is why the PDF data sheets are so valuable!

The two most popular types of cable/wire to use in your Pre-Release Cable are lamp wire, or round audio cable. You will have more flexibility with the lamp wire with respect to adding add-a-taps in the wire before the switch box. This will allow you to use multiple methods of triggering the camera even if the plug at the end of the cable breaks, or you can now use it as a hard wire remote cable. However, the round audio cable will fit strain relief's better and it will possibly provide better shielding to RF noise. Whenever you have long runs of cable, whether lamp wire or the round audio cable, it is recommended that you use a ferrite seen here:
www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3012599

As you can see there are several ways to make a Pre-Release Cable, but to make the Perfect Pre-Release Cable to work for you, think long and hard about the situations and environment you will be shooting in. For example, if you are going to be triggering a goal remote for Hockey, you will probably want to find the smallest switch and enclosure so that the entire cable will fit in the housing. If you shoot a lot of basketball and set up glass remotes, you might want a longer cable like 25', so the Pocket Wizard will sit at the back of the basket, not right behind the backboard over player's heads. Even the distance from the motor plug to the enclosure should be considered. If the enclosure is more than 1' from the plug it might be hard to access when other photographers set up there remotes using magic arms set up in all directions. So a shorter distance from the motor plug, like 10', might work better.

The tooling needed to start building your own Pre-Release Cable is pretty basic equipment, drill, Phillips screwdriver, wire stripper/cutter, and a soldering iron. As for the wiring of a Pre-Release Cable, please refer to this story, Ask Sports Shooter: The Hardwire Remote Cord. Please note that when using a SPDT switch for a Nikon Pre-Release, you do not have to use a diode. I personally use a SPST switch and I thereby have to use a diode when making a Pre-Release Cable for Nikon.


(Shawn Cullen is a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter and has been assisting photographers for over 10 years; He is based in the San Diego area. He has written about assisting previously for Sports Shooter: http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/2086 and http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/1933. You can reach Shawn through his member page http://www.sportsshooter.com/scullen)

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