Tuesday, July 3, 2012

REVIEW: PocketWizard Plus III–Too Little, Too Late


PocketWizard Plus III

When I first heard about the new PocketWizard Plus III, I thought – woohoo – I can finally get the power of the PocketWizard MultiMax for less than half the price! I also loved the new design, so as the (former) owner of three Canon 580EX II flashes and a ST-E2, I figured that for less than a new 600EX-RT I could radio control all of my flashes. Of course, I wouldn’t have ETTL like the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5  (review), but I appreciated that they wouldn’t be as bulky and hopefully not as problematic.

At first glance, they seem great. In fact, after watching this video I was convinced that they were so good that they’d be worth the hassle of not having ETTL:

Getting to Know the PocketWizard Plus® III with Mark Wallace from PocketWizard on Vimeo.

The video is spot on in that these units feature a great design, very easy to use group features, auto relay, high speed receive, and more. You can go to the Pocket Wizard Plus III Wiki and Mini Site (full of videos and more) to learn all about that. I’m not here to convince you that you need these – I’m hear to do what most web sites are afraid to do – I’m going to give you my real world impression of these.

Real World Testing

A lot of my readers are geeks, so what I’m often asked is how does one product perform versus another on a technical level. The actual act of taking a photo with the flash and getting great light is a function of the flash and the photographer, so the PocketWizard Plus III is little more than a tool to help make sure that the camera and flash can talk to each other in all conditions. As a result, I focused my energy in this review to simply seeing how it performs to some other products I’ve reviewed recently.

Outdoor Range Test

What I really wanted to see was how this trigger compared to the new Canon 600EX RT and ST-E3 flash system to see if I could get away with leveraging these with my 580EX II’s instead of buying the more expensive flashes. Sadly, I wasn’t expecting the results that I observed yesterday.

Here’s what I typically saw when I tried to take a shot from about 80 feet away from my flash with a PocketWizard Plus III in TxRx mode (as well as LX – made NO difference):


About 80 feet was doable but very sporadic
The optical trigger built-in to the 580EX II was more reliable at this range

Yeah, that’s a picture of a flash not firing. While I could reliably tap the test button and get it to fire up to about 90 feet away, using my camera I got about 5 flashes out of 50+ shots at about 80 feet. It seems my face causes interference because if I moved my camera away and shot the ground or something else it would fire with no problem. To my right were some hedges and a fence, but if I went past that barrier to my right then there was no getting the flash to fire – even if it was closer in than 80 feet.

Thinking that it might be my hot shoe, tried removing (and even swapping) the units – but no luck. I had fresh batteries in all my devices and even a Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack with fresh batteries. Finally out of desperation, I just went to the optical trigger of the 580EX II (the built-in system) using another 580EX II to trigger it and I easily and reliably got 80 feet – over and over again.

YES, you read that right – the built-in optical triggers of the 580EX II were more reliable than the PocketWizard Plus III in my testing. However, the range of 580EX II’s were the same as the PocketWizard Plus III’s. The next two shots show the range of the 600EX RT first using another 600EX RT as the trigger and second using a ST-E3 as the trigger:


Max distance with the 600-EX RT was about 115 feet as shown here.
Notice the sewer cover, hydrant and lamp post.


216 feet was the farthest distance that I could reliably shoot with the ST-E3 RT.
FWIW, I’m shooting at 200mm for all of these shots!

I was pretty dejected after my testing because I had such high hopes for these new PocketWizards. I even searched the web, re-read the manual, wiki, and more trying to find out if I was doing something wrong. Heck, I even contacted my photographer mentor thinking that I must have made a mistake. As far as I can tell, I didn’t – but even if I did, the fact remains the only device that has let me down thus far was the PocketWizard Plus III.

Now, some might blame these results on the fact that I was using a 5D Mark III, but everything I’ve read on the PocketWizard web site says that my camera is compatible with these (but it still has issues with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5). Others may ask about the LR (long-range) mode and using Tx Only and Rx Only, but I tried that and still the results did not change. Finally I even tried a new location thinking that the light pole or hydrant might be causing interference, but I got identical results.

Indoor Testing

Indoors I expected things to get much better, but sadly they didn’t. In my testing the PocketWizard Plus III’s required direct line of sight (which the manual also states) in order to fire. WTF???? – That’s the same limitation of the 580EX II’s optical trigger system, so really using these on my flashes just added bulk and reduced reliability!  Compare this to my Canon 600EX-RT Wireless Real World Test where I reliably shot with my flash complete obscured – ALL of these tests failed with the PocketWizard Plus III!

This is NOT what I was expecting! Of course, if I was close in proximity then they worked very reliable – just like the 580EX II’s themselves.

The only benefits of the PocketWizard Plus III’s found during my testing were:

  • Ability to remote trigger the camera (including half-press wakeup/focus – SWEET)
  • Repeater Mode
  • Much better burst mode (using HSR mode) where the flash fired reliably at 7fps for 49 flashes in a row before I stopped testing.
  • Very nice design for quick access to group selection

Conclusion

Flash technology has improved so much recently that I thought these would just be my answer for remote triggering using my existing flashes. Sure, I’d lose ETTL (which is a big loss), but I can dial back the power and get good results in manual (which I have to do on studio lights anyway). However, these units really let me down. They are dinosaurs in a sexy new suit, but they won’t end up in my studio.

My advice to Canon and Nikon shooters using the previous generation flashes – don’t be envious, what you have already is way better than these. You can try for yourself, but unless my units were defective I think you’ll find that there’s really no point in using these with 580EX II’s or SB-900 or SB-910’s. This is really for the strobist of the world using cheap Vivtars or other knockoffs that don’t have radio or optical triggering.

I do not recommend this product, but if you think I’m full of crap you can click here to buy them here at B&H.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using products featured in my blog, I may make a commission . This means that it is in my best interest to tell you these are great and to buy them, but I can’t in good conscious do that.

My business partner, B&H, was kind enough to loan me two units for this test.

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7 comments:

Cameron Baillie said...

Did you try testing with the shields for your flash? Since the Canon flashes are notorious for having massive amounts of EF noise across the spectrum and pocket wizard make a shield to solve the issue?

http://www.pocketwizard.com/inspirations/technology/range/

Cameron Baillie said...

Did you try testing with the shields for your flash? Since the Canon flashes are notorious for having massive amounts of EF noise across the spectrum and pocket wizard make a shield to solve the issue?

http://www.pocketwizard.com/inspirations/technology/range/

Ron Martinsen said...

Cameron,

No, I did not because I test the product as they are shipped. There's no mention anywhere on PocketWizard's web site that the Plus III is impacted like the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 (which are more suseptible to interference due to more complex communications due to ETTL).

In the case of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5, PocketWizard offers clear guidance and provides the sock (as well as the optional shields).

FWIW, I tested these same exact 580EX II's with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 even without the sock and sheild, and they worked great (but for my review I used them for completeness).

Neil Enns said...

Honestly, I don't know why one would use PocketWizard Plus IIIs to wirelessly drive Canon flashes. That's what RadioPoppers are for.

What I do think they are very good for is wireless control of a remote camera, and a remote camera in combination with a set of strobes. I have two PocketWizard Plus IIIs to do wireless camera control at basketball games and they are fantastic. Cheap, 100% reliable, and easy to use.

Neil

Pete Leong said...

I know exactly how you feel. I have three of these I use for weddings all the time usually in pretty close proximity. Today though they performed pretty poorly. Often only firing by pressing the test button but not from the hotshoe of my mkII and mkIII. I kept thinking my hotshoe was perhaps dirty also.

I have a couple of other little weird issues with them also. Great post btw!
Thanks!
Pete
http://www.fotoshisa.com

Scott Gant said...

This has to be because of the 580ex's radio interference with the Pocketwizards. I've heard this from several people, with both the Pocketwizard Plus II and III.

I shoot Canon, but don't have any Canon flashes. Either it's Einsteins, used Nikon SB-800's, or LumoPro 160's, they all work flawlessly with my Pocketwizard III's. I mean, I (knock on wood) haven't had a misfire since getting them.

Ron Martinsen said...

Scott,

Yes, that is likely the case. For Canon shooters that's a big deal especially when a product like the 600EX-RT is on the market and offers a better option. For Nikon shooters it may not be as big of an issue - unfortunately I didn't have a Nikon setup to test.