Jason Talks Gear: Why I Stopped Using Pocket Wizards | Jason Scott Photography
Jason Scott Photography
Sarasota Wedding Photographer - Siesta Key Beach Portraits

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jason Talks Gear: Why I Stopped Using Pocket Wizards

This is part of a series of blog entries written by Jason about the more technical side of Jason Scott Photography. 

Back at the end of 2013, I purchased a set of PocketWizard radios to trigger an off camera flash during beach portrait sessions.  This blog post is an overview of my mostly TERRIBLE experience with them.

Until recently, I used only an on-camera flash for family beach portraits.  I had consistent results, but I wanted a reliable way to group my on-camera 580 EX II and an off-camera 580 EX II (on a stand) to create nicer lighting and more “pop.” I ended up ordering two PocketWizard FlexTT5 units and two PocketWizard PlusX receivers. The addition of an off-camera flash has made a huge difference in the quality of my beach portraits, but it has been a very frustrating process.

Up until a few months ago, I used a FlexTT5 connected to the hot shoe on my 5d Mark iii (and a 580 EX 2 on the hot shoe of the FlexTT5), and the PlusX connected to a 580 EX II on a light stand.  All I ever wanted was BOTH flashes to go off at the same time.  Most of the time, I had issues.

First of all, I found it to be very complicated to get my FlexTT5 setup.  There was software to install on my PC and connecting the FlexTT5 to the PC was touchy.  I often needed to disconnect and reconnect the USB cable or restart the software.  Then, there were many, many options and most of them seemed ambiguous or complicated to me.  It took me a lot of trial and error to get my setup right.  Then there was a firmware upgrade, and even though I had my settings backed up, my backup file was "not compatible" with the new firmware.  So, I had to start over.

Once I (finally) got my FlexTT5 setup, I needed to get it synced with the PlusX. This process had to be redone at every session. You do this by hitting the test button and taking a photo.  This process was fine - but it seemed to undo itself mid-job.  Often in the middle of a shoot, with good batteries, it would all stop working and I would need to power cycle the pocket wizards and re-sync them. As you can imagine, this was very inconvenient. If we had our customers posed and little kids smiling and happy, and then we had to fiddle around with the lighting, sometimes we missed out on a great shot! 

Also, the FlexTT5, with a 580 EX II on it, seemed to be VERY wobbly, and I had issues with it staying on the camera, no matter how tightly I attached it.  The FlexTT5 actually fell off my 5d Mark III twice.  One time I was headed to my car and did not notice, and my flash fell on the beach! Luckily, someone found it and brought it to me!

I had lots of other issues as well...

For example, sometimes the flash on the FlexTT5 would start strobing repeatedly without it being touched, or the Flash on the FlexTT5 would suddenly stop working and start back up  later.

If the PlusX was too close to my 580 EX II, it seemed to stop working. (This is, apparently, a known issue and they make a cover for the flash to prevent this from happening, but the cover makes the flash difficult to use.) If I used the bungee cord attachments, I needed to unscrew them to change the battery.  I couldn't replace the battery on the FlexTT5 without taking it off the camera because of the design of the battery door. As you can see, there were a lot of things about these units that were inconvenient!

Also, if I set my shutter speed to over 1/200 of a second, the flashes stopped working.  I’m not sure if this is a specific setting that I misconfigured, or by design.

I’m sure these PocketWizard products are good for some people, but not for me! I have since ordered 3 new Canon 600EX-RT flashes, which have radio features built in. They work together seamlessly and have made this entire process much easier! Stay tuned for a future blog post about this new flash system!

To find out more about the professional gear we use when we photograph Sarasota Weddings and Siesta Key Beach Portraits, click here.

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