Making Sense of Pocket Wizards

Making Sense of Pocket Wizards

The increasing interest in off-camera flash has led to a number of our customers requesting Pocket Wizards to trigger off-camera flashes. The problem is, there isn’t just one single Pocket Wizard – 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 Pocket Wizards and help you figure out what you’re going to need.

Categories of Pocket Wizards

In essence, Pocket Wizard’s products can be broken down into two key areas:

• Standard Pocket Wizards

• ControlTL Pocket Wizards (ControlTL = Control The Light)

We’ll address standard Pocket Wizards since they are the most common. For info on ControlTL, see Introduction to Pocket Wizards and ControlTL Transmitters.

Standard Pocket Wizards

These are the original Pocket Wizards – the ones that are the mainstay of many professionals. They are both transmitters and receivers (called transceivers) and can be used interchangeably.

Pocket Wizard Plus II (Since Updated with the Pocket Wizard Plus III, $18 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)

This is the workhorse of the photographic industry. Relatively small and simple to use, it runs off 2 AA batteries and has 4 separate channels it can use for transmission. These are considered to be the most reliable Pocket Wizard and they see more use than any other version of Pocket Wizard.

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

You have a camera and a strobe that has a sync cable port. In our example, we’ll use a White Lightning X1600.

• Connect one Pocket Wizard Plus II to your camera’s hot shoe. No additional cables necessary.

• Connect a second Pocket Wizard Plus II to your White Lightning X1600 using a 1/4″ to 1/8″ cable. One will come with your rental.

You have a camera and a Speedlight-style flash with a PC sync port, like the Canon 580EX II or a Nikon SB-910.

• Connect one Pocket Wizard Plus II to your camera’s hot shoe. No additional cables necessary.

• Connect a second Pocket Wizard Plus II to your small flash using a 1/8” to PC cable. One will come with your rental.

All DSLRs have a hot shoe to slide a Pocket Wizard onto. Most studio lights have a port to hold a sync cable, usually either a 1/4″ port or a 1/8″ port, that you can use to connect a second Pocket Wizard to. Plus IIs/Plus IIIs all have 1/8″ ports, so the 1/8″ end of your cable is what you use to connect to the transceiver itself. Most small flashes have PC sync ports but many don’t. If yours has one, it would look like this:

Pocket Wizard MultiMax ($19 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)

This is the big brother of the Plus II. The MultiMax has 32 channels (compared to the Plus II’s 4), can trigger lights placed into 4 separate 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. People who want to fire multiple different lighting setups without having moving their lights (they place them ahead of time and only fire the sets they want one at a time) are served well by the MultiMax.

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. You turn strobe flash power up or down with these devices. They are just radios designed to pop a flash from your camera’s shutter without the flash being physically connected to your camera.

Pocket Wizard X ($10 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)

Released after the time of this original writing, the X is the ideal beginner’s Pocket Wizard. It has just 10 channels with no complicated zones or groups. Simply turn the dial to matching channels for each of your X’s and they will be in sync!

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

5 Comments

  1. 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.

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

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

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. Could you please explain how to read the Multi Max ABCDL and what all that means and how to transmit to Plus X connected to speedlite

    Reply

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