PocketWizard LogoI have recently acquired a few of these triggers and even though I have worked with a bunch of others, I could never get myself to put down the money to buy anything else. You will frequently see these being used by top photographers in every field and there is a reason why…. actually, there are quite a few reasons why. We will get into that, but first… What are they?

PocketWizards are remote triggers that works a bit differently than most triggering systems. The are the triggers with the furthest range available, and should you need more range, a unit can be used as a signal repeater to extend your range. Depending on what you need to do, you can split your triggering needs into various groups, so even with the smaller Plus II triggers, you can split your triggers into 4 groups, switching solutions with a flip of a switch. They will trigger almost anything, and can be grouped into large complex groups according to your needs.

So why do we like them?

1. PocketWizards are backwards compatible… and sideways compatible:
As far as I can tell, any PocketWizard trigger can be used with any other trigger produced by PocketWizard, so you can keep on expanding, not replacing older units that is still working. Not only that, many of the higher end flash units like the ProFoto’s, Norman and Photogenic flash systems have the triggers built in, and a few Sekonic light-meters already have triggers built into them for the PocketWizards as well.

2. PocketWizards works both ways:PocketWizard PlusII up close
Your Camera can trigger your lights.
Your Camera can trigger your standard Flash units (like EX580′s or SB800′s)
Your lights can trigger your camera.
Your Camera can trigger other cameras.
You can trigger your lights and your camera from another unit.

The units I have (PocketWizard PlusII) is also self sensing, so it will automatically decide if it’s a sender or receiver depending on the signals it receives. fully automatic and on the fly.

Now, you might have caught in list that I mentioned you can trigger your Canon and Nikon flash units with these. And you might already be opening up your email program to send me a note to mention that these units can run as masters and slaves already. But both these have shortcomings. The Canons need line-of-sight as they use infrared signaling, and the Nikons have limited range and prone to other radio interference in certain situations. In that regard the Wizards have about 500m reach, and should you for some reason require more than that, a unit within that range can act as a repeater.

PocketWizard PlusII on Alien Bees B8003. These babies are fast!
As far as I know, and could research, the PocketWizard system is the fastest remote triggers around. Trigger times are less than 1/2000th of a second which essentially allows them to trigger flash units up to 1/250th of a second on standard focal plane shutters (like the ones in almost every DSLR) or up to 1/500th of a second on leaf shutters. Most remote triggers for flash units will give you speeds of 1/125th and 1/160th, even if your camera can shoot faster. You can, however

What may be more important though is the FPS that the PocketWizards can sustain. The PlusII triggers running full tilt can maintain 12fps without breaking a sweat. Ok… seriously though… nothing can go that fast currently, not even the Canon 1DmkIII or Nikon D3 but that is hardly the point as most flash units can’t do that either, but what they definitely can do is 2 or 3 shots in quick succession, and then you don’t want your weakest link to be your radio trigger. I have set up in studio with the Canon 5DmkII and 800watt Alien Bees (toned down in power – at full power they do just under 2sec recharge) Running the 5DmkII as fast as the shutter can (about 4fps) and the bees did not miss a beat.

On the flipside, if you are shooting athletics or sport, and you have remote cameras set up at certain important points, like the starting line or finish line, you would want your cameras to be able to run full tilt at the point where they need to! There is just no other trigger that can do this currently.

4. infinitely adaptable
I really like the fact that the adaptability of these units is literally by cable. They run standard 1/4″ mono jacks (the same as the Bees) but if you want to trigger another camera, you just use the appropriate cable that plugs into the camera,  or light, or anything for that matter!

5. Light!
The units weigh in at less than 200g with batteries, so hardly an extra weight on your camera.

Tap Dancer on White BackgroundAnd my own, actual, on-the-ground working perception:
These things are friggin awesome! but they are not Moses parting the red sea… For one, keeping them light works a bit against them. I have no reason to think they are not robust, but the lack of weight makes them “feel” finicky. I also don’t think the plastic hot-shoe plate will survive a serious knock (but then again, camera equipment doesn’t want to be knocked around)

They are also quite expensive. One unit will set you back in the region of R2,200 depending on what you buy, and you need at least two. I have three currently and have already suckered myself into light setups where I really need more. (In a recent shoot, we wanted very natural light in a home lifestyle setting, I needed to blast light from outside through side windows in the background. The only way to trigger those lights was with a radio trigger, and I had too many lights and too many windows… Luckily, the flash from outside triggered the slave cells on the lights inside, but I doubt whether I would be so lucky next time.)

I am currently limited to 4 separate channels for various light set-ups. I can’t think that I will ever need more, but should the day arrive, at least I can go over to the PocketWizard Max that can give me 32 channels to run on. but in the meantime, I think I am happy. They are supposed to run for about 60 hours on a set of 2 AA-sized batteries. I cannot confirm that, as I have only done 4 shoots with them, so I have only ran them for about 20 hours. I always carry spare packs of AA batteries for the 2 580′s I always have with me, so I suppose that is not the end of the world. I do, however, think they should last a bit longer if I do not use the max 500m range every time…. time will tell, and if my initial feelings about these change, I will update this article!


by Sean Nel
Sean Nel
All images copyright Sean Nel

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