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Tip of the week: Making sense of PocketWizards, Part I

Gear Talk Tips & Tricks

Welcome to a recurring feature on The Blog @ BorrowLenses.com. Every Thursday, we will post a photography-related tip here. These tips are typically inspired by questions we get from our customers. Sometimes we might feature a technique tip, and sometimes a gear recommendation. If there’s something specific you’d like to see in this section, let us know. Email us at [email protected]

Making sense of PocketWizards, Part I.

A few of the PocketWizard products on our site

A few of the PocketWizard products on our site

The increasing interest in off-camera flash has led to a number of our customers requesting PocketWizards to trigger off-camera flashes. The problem is, there isn’t just one single PocketWizard available to rent – there are no less than a half-dozen transmitters you have to chose from and just as many receivers.

Since there are several combinations of cameras and lights you could be using, this blog entry won’t focus on giving you the list of things you would need for each imaginable combination. Instead, we’ll focus on the basics of PocketWizards and help you figure out what you’re going to need.

The broad categories of PocketWizards

In essence, PocketWizard’s products can be broken down into two key areas: Standard PocketWizards (also called PWs in the lingo) and ControlTL PocketWizards (ControlTL = Control The Light). We’ll address standard PocketWizards today, with a tip on how to select and use ControlTL PocketWizards in a future tip.

Standard PocketWizards

These are the original PocketWizards, the ones that are the mainstay of many professionals, if not most. They are both transmitters and receivers (called transceivers) and can be used interchangeably. There are two products in this category.

PocketWizard Plus II

PocketWizard Plus II

PocketWizard Plus II

This is the workhorse of the photographic industry. Relatively small and simple to use, it runs off 2 AA batteries and has four seperate channels it can use for transmission. These are considered to be the most reliable PocketWizard, and they see more use than any other version of PocketWizard as well.

So, how would you use this? Here are a few combinations.

  • You have a camera and a White Lightning X1600.
    • Connect one PocketWizard Plus II to your camera’s hotshoe. No additional cables necessary.
    • Connect a second PocketWizard Plus II to your White Lightning X1600 using a 1/4” to 1/8” cable (available on request).
PocketWizard setup for studio strobe

PocketWizard setup for studio strobe

  • You have a camera and a speedlight with a PC sync port, like the Canon Speedlite 580EX II or a Nikon SB-900.
    • Connect one PocketWizard Plus II to your camera’s hotshoe. No additional cables necessary.
    • Connect a second PocketWizard Plus II to your small flash using a 1/8” to PC port cable (available on request).
PocketWizard setup for small flash

PocketWizard setup for small flash

The bottom line here is this: All DSLRs have a hotshoe to plug a Plus II into, so you need only attach it to your DSLR’s hotshoe. Most studio lights have a port – either a 1/8” port or a 1/4” port – that you can use to plug a Plus II into. The Plus II has a 1/8” port on it, so one end of your cable will always have a 1/8” plug. The other plug will depend on your choice of light.

There’s a great section on PocketWizard.com’s site that will help you find the right sync cable for your flash.

PocketWizard Multimax

PocketWizard MultiMax

PocketWizard MultiMax

This is the big brother of the Plus II. The MultiMax has 32 channels to the Plus II’s 4, can trigger lights separated into four seperate zones and a host of other features, along with an LCD to make navigating easier.

For basic triggering, the MultiMax is overkill; however, it is capable of doing some pretty complex setups and triggering. This is what you use when you have a something like a dozen-light setup and need selective control over their triggering.

In practice, the MultiMax has the same 1/8” port on it that the Plus II does, so the scenarios outlined above would work just fine with the MultiMax too.

Bear in mind that for both these triggers, the ONLY thing you can do is trigger cameras and flashes. There is absolutely NO exposure information being passed back and forth between camera and light, so all your controls – light power levels, shutter speed and aperture – have to be set manually.

Coming soon

Next week, we will have a tip on how to use gimbal-style tripod heads for large lenses. Part II of this series, in which we will go into the world of ControlTL, will follow soon after. As always, your questions and comments are welcome – leave them in the comments section below and we’ll be happy to answer them, or just email [email protected] with your questions.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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Comments

  • Kevin says:

    The MultiMax’s are absolutely amazing and can do anything. But like you said, complete overkill. I am going to be investing in some Plus II’s soon.

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Kevin, keep the ControlTL stuff in mind too. We’ll have a followup tip on those in a couple of weeks as well.

  • Aaron says:

    Thanks for this! I have been trying to sort out what I actually need for a pocket wizard setup for a while.

  • Stephen says:

    Just a comment, I get 100s of links to look at each week, 1000s of emails which drive me crazy. There is so much info out there these days. We all suffer with information overload. I would like to see just one short tip at a time, just a couple of paragraphs that I can read quickly rather than a page of text.

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