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New PocketWizard Plus III

Feb 20

In Equipment, In The Field, News at 2:32am

When we were out on the road last year, doing the Flashbus tour, our intrepid driver Phil spun tall tales of the turnpikes for us—wild man drivers, white line nightmares, going fast, and staying ahead of Smokey the Bear. I asked him if he ever participated in the cat and mouse games out there on the highway. He resolutely shook his head. “Nope, I drive by the law,” he said. “You can’t outrun ’em. Nothin’s faster than the radio.”

Thank goodness, ’cause just the other week we attached the new Pocket Wizard Plus Three’s to a vehicle that certainly looked like it could give radio waves a run for their money. Driven by the high speed legend Ed Fenn, his current dragster (he’s built over 60 cars) is capable of going about 280 flat out. We took some of these new radio puppies out there, slung them on the car with zip ties, and told Ed to bring the hammer down. #notsmart????

The units, and my cameras, survived. We experimented in particular with the Repeater Mode, or RP, which is capable of extending the signal with additional units used as relays. You transmit from your position, and the signal then gets picked up by another unit downstream and so forth. Handy when you want to get a good run of frames and your subject goes past you like a dust spewing gun shot.

I’ll be direct here. I’ve got a mixed history, along with everybody else, with radio transmission. All sorts of stuff can get in the way–concrete walls, rebar, water, orientation of the antenna. A bazillion years ago, I used a Hawk radio, a boxy thing that was just a step above a garage door opener. (It might have been a garage door opener, actually.) The uncertainty of that system led me to have an emergency sync cord–a hard wire connect–to my flashes hanging on the nearest light stand if (or should I say when) the moment came when the radio failed. PocketWizard came to the fore, and I’ve used them for easily over twenty years. There have been times they’ve saved my ass so thoroughly I basically put them on small altar, lit up some incense and started chanting. And there’s been times, when, like all radios, they didn’t work.

So when something happens in the world of radios that makes them better and more reliable in a very practical, usable way, I pay attention.The big thing I noticed about these units is the enclosed antenna. The rubbery, stand up antennas of the presently available units are often a first casualty because I travel so much, and everything gets jostled on the planes. Now, they’re enclosed in plastic— much safer, and according to specs, more omni-directional. Thank you, thank you. Life on the road is just as hard on gear as it is on the shooter.

The PW IIIs I had performed like a champ, even though they are not production line units, and they all were short of final firmware, which might have affected their working distance. We paced things off, and I was about 350-400 feet up the track from the first repeat. The second one was another 350-400 plus feet down from that one. So, when I started the signal, I could see flashes in the cab starting a couple hundred feet up from me, and then the car would scream past me, and get picked up by the next repeater, and so forth. We generally got 20 plus frames per run, which was good, ’cause sunlight moves fast in the desert, and we only got a few runs done before dusk hit hard and fast. I was limited, too, by recycle on the flashes. Because they were pointed backwards into the dark recesses of the driver’s cockpit, a lot of light got lost back there, and just bits and pieces of it radiated around the Ed’s helmet to be seen by the lens. They were generally at half power or so, with red gelling on them for the late afternoon attempts.

(I was also shooting D3X cameras, not the fastest of cameras. I had both of my X’s hanging on this car. What was I thinking?)

Other stuff: The PW3’s are light, small and side facing. You know how the current Multi-Max’s and Plus II’s have the controls on the back, or broadside of  unit? All the controls here are now on the side when the unit is hot shoed. In other works, you’re holding the camera grip in your right hand, and instead of pulling it straightaway from your face, you just turn the camera and the buttons and dials are there, and they are backlit.

Here’s the thing. They seem very durable, user friendly, and simple, as opposed to the Multi Max, which nearly requires a Ph.D to operate at its most complex modes. I mean, it’s wonderful technology, and if you’re Bill Frakes, running 40 cameras at the finish of the Kentucky Derby, then it’s Multi Max all the way. But, seriously, how often do the rest of us need all that? The III’s will get you covered, I would think, for most of the work I can imagine. And, from what I hear, they’ll be about $30 cheaper than the II’s. When was the last time you heard about new, updated gear with more features, durability and potential getting cheaper?

David Hobby’s got the real rundown on these guys, by the way. He has really looked under the hood and figured them out. So check out Strobist today.

For me, I was thankful to get the assignment. It’s not often you get called up and get paid to use some new gear and do literally anything you want. They sent me the units and told me to mess around with them and see what I could come up with, and then, of course, send the units back, and do some reporting. The field report is excellent. They’re solid, tough to break (I tried), and at the price point, they’re a no brainer compared to the PWIIs.

FYI….. Drew did a terrific job on the video as a one man band, and Cali shot the production pix. Definitely a team effort out there.

More tk….

StefanosL says:

on February 20, 2012 at 2:46 am

Excellent stuff. Thanks a lot.

Mike says:

on February 20, 2012 at 5:55 am

Wow. Joe’s amazing vision and the latest technology strike again. Great as always.

joop says:

on February 20, 2012 at 6:46 am

Awesome photo! Looks like a lot of fun, photographing at such velocities. Too bad you couldn’t see the driver’s face though.
Any improvements regarding Hypersync with this new model?

Jan Oscarsson says:

on February 20, 2012 at 7:19 am

Great job, Joe!
I’m sure you have the most understanding insurance company in the world..! 😉

Ian says:

on February 20, 2012 at 7:29 am

Really enjoyed that ‘typical McNally’ :-) video walk-through of the PW IIIs. Of course their arrival in the UK/Europe/ROW will be delayed and cost the same in Pounds Sterling as you pay (*cough*) in US Dollars, but probably not a deal-breaker. CLS still rocks though. Now where can I read that story about losing 5 Nikons in one shot ….

DLuker says:

on February 20, 2012 at 7:30 am

The thought of cleaning those cameras & gear…I threw up a little.

Tim says:

on February 20, 2012 at 7:36 am

Hi Joe,

What a great way to test the new relay capabilities.

Not sure how many of us would mount not one but two D3x bodies to a drag car in a desert though.

What do you use to attach those magic arms to the chassis to give so much confidence that 150mph wind blast isnt going to have them flapping in the wind? It also looks like a very thorough test of the dust seals on all of the gear!


David Apeji says:

on February 20, 2012 at 8:39 am

Really cool. I would have been scared to drive at that speed with that mass of metal hanging precariously in front of me.

Patrick Clow says:

on February 20, 2012 at 8:53 am

Cylons! With wheels!

Zachary Long says:

on February 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

Excellent video Drew! Also, I’m amazed that they’re cheaper than the PLUS II’s, maybe Nikon and Canon will take a hint here with DSLRs… I’m excited for the upgraded antenna whenever my II’s kick the bucket and hope some of this new technology translates into a more reliable Flex model in the future. Still sticking with the “dummy” Plus system for the time being and loving them.

Ke Toney says:

on February 20, 2012 at 9:33 am

Joe, you told me never to mention them (PW’s) to you again, so I’m not. :-)

Michael Roberts says:

on February 20, 2012 at 9:35 am

Joe, PLEASE TELL US the story about losing five motor-driven Nikons in one shot! That’s gotta be a great story.


Louis says:

on February 20, 2012 at 9:54 am

Will you bring them to GPP?

Gary Dumbauld says:

on February 20, 2012 at 10:28 am

Could be three or four commercials there. One for Joe and his creative vision, two: Nikon’s ruggedness, three: the PWIIIs of course, and four: the hardware that kept the cameras on the vehicle at 150+Mph. To avoid the jinx effect, Joe might have someone else post the tragic story of the motor drive Nikon’s. Great stuff as always, Joe! Thanks!

Dave Prelosky says:

on February 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

As the Voice of Reason and Knowledge – plus experience – could you answer a minor question?
Do the new units come with the old style lanyard, or will I need to tape ’em on to things? The 1/4-20 thread is nice, but overdone for in a lot of applications..

Mike Hagen says:

on February 20, 2012 at 10:46 am

Awesome work Joe. LIke the application and the great BTS work.

Dave Prelosky says:

on February 20, 2012 at 10:52 am

Oops. Never mind. Hobby has that one covered.

schultz says:

on February 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

Hey – is there any way to use the new Plus III system with SB-600 flashes?

Ken says:

on February 20, 2012 at 11:46 am

Very awesome demonstration, and as always great explanation / story telling by Joe. Out of curiosity could this have been done using a camera’s built in intervalometer? With the camera triggering the extra flashes wireless?

Barry says:

on February 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Joe, Thanks for sharing another great post. Loved the bts video. Wondering why you didn’t mount your new D4’s for this project…..Kidding. Glad everything made it home safely.

Bjoern Lubetzki says:

on February 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm

How do you lose 5 motor driven Nikon cameras in one single shot??

Leigh Catley says:

on February 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Leave it you and your team to come up with a unique shooting scenario. Love it! Quick question, how did you deal with what must have been significant vibration/shake?



b.dima says:

on February 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm

JOE is amazing photographer!Thank you JOE!

Walter says:

on February 20, 2012 at 3:47 pm

An extremely expensive complicated way to do what the inbuilt intervalometer would do simply I guess!

DaveB says:

on February 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Thanks… and cheaper… wowsers… news doesn’t get much better than that… unless of course the Toronto Maple Leafs finally make the playoffs (sorry 😉 a Cdn joke)

Benji2505 says:

on February 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I am sure the VAL had a great time cleaning the front lense of that 14-24.
Concerning the cameras: no risk, no fun.

Jamal Alias says:

on February 21, 2012 at 12:27 am

Pretty cool = pretty awesome!!

Ryan K says:

on February 21, 2012 at 6:54 am

IIRC the 5 nikons story is in one of Joe’s books, where the cameras had been set out one or two days before a space shuttle launch and then got battered by the wind and the rain.

I’d be really interested to know with the PW III if I could use one of them as a relay with the recieve and transmit as regular PW IIs, the wallet is going to be hammered enough this year with the new nikons and a trip to gpp, to stretch to all new PW’s.

Barney Allen says:

on February 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

As always, it’s great to see a new video of a Joe McNally shoot but I’m really underwhelmed by these PWII’s.

So you can relay them and trigger a Speedlight a mile away if you want, you still have to walk all the way to that unit to adjust it because the PWII offers no iTTL compatibility & no control of the Speedlight via the trigger. 99.9999% of photographers would benefit more from these features than anything new the PWII offers.

Why Nikon hasn’t realised this and developed a wireless version of CLS is beyond me. It’s also beyond me why they didn’t integrate wireless technology into the D4 & D800 rather than produce a new, separate unit.

I use CLS for 99% of my off camera flash work, and for the other 1% I bought 5 Phottix triggers for the price of a single Pocket Wizard. I use CLS so much simple because of the ease of the iTTL compatibility & control it offers. Give me that same iTTL & control wirelessly and then I’ll be impressed!

Shaq says:

on February 22, 2012 at 8:13 am

Joe, a couple of years ago you took the PW Flex units out to test. I haven’t seen any write up from you about them since – and I would love to get your take on them. I haven’t seen you use them in any of your Kelby Training courses and I’m wondering why.


Joe McNally says:

on February 22, 2012 at 9:08 am

Hi Shaq…I wrote them up in my new book Sketching Light. My verdict was that they are still maturing technology, and I have high hopes. Right now, though, they aren’t in my work flow regularly.

Valentino says:

on February 22, 2012 at 11:15 am

As Joe said earlier it’s PRETTY COOL, a great job of the McNally TEAM! Though I wonder if the equipment, especially the cams and lenses etc., are now sandblasted. – I think if I were an insurance man, I would most likely NOT insure Joe McNally and his team… 😉

Keep on the great work guys!!!

Best Valentino

Steven Noreyko says:

on February 22, 2012 at 7:11 pm

+1 on the request to know more about the mounting hardware for this gig.

Looks like a pair of magic arms and ???

Steven Noreyko says:

on February 22, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Or…. More like 4 magic arms and a bucket of super clamps.

Joe McNally says:

on February 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Yep, 4 magic arms, with 8 super clamps, and the Manfrotto twin camera platform bar and two of the heavy duty Really Right Stuff ball heads….

David G. says:

on February 24, 2012 at 12:47 am

Joe, I watched that video and I LOVE that picture you took with available light!! I don’t suppose you could be so kind as to provide a small copy for my desktop background would you?

That remote setup looks crazy! I wonder about the other things you could strap cameras onto… a rocket, a train??? I would be a bit nervous putting that expensive camera gear out there like you did though!

Thanks for sharing!

Shaq says:

on February 24, 2012 at 7:42 am

Thanks Joe. Will stop by Barnes & Noble today to pick it up. Looks like a great weekend coming up :)

Damien says:

on May 30, 2012 at 7:27 am

good web mate

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