On Tuesday I did a post about my latest “Epic Remote Camera” fail (my 2nd fail in a row at an NFL game). The camera shoots fine in tests minutes before the players take the field, but once I move into position a bit farther back and the players actually come out, the remote camera only triggers intermittently at best. Arrrrggghh!!!)

ABOVE: That’s my basic remote floor mount rig: four pieces: a metal floor plate (from fplate.net), then an Oben BB-0 Ball Head which attaches to that plate. Then a PocketWizard Plus X and a sync cord that connects the PocketWizard to the camera. The Camera is a Canon 1Dx and I generally use either a 16-35mm lens or an 8-15mm Fisheye zoom. 

Anyway, the folks at PocketWizard contacted me and had some ideas as to what might be causing the interference, and strategies to get more reliable results (and to keep me from pulling my hair out). I asked if it was OK to share key parts of their three-page letter to me with you here, and they were happy to let me share it in hopes it might some other shooters experiencing similar issues. It sounds a bit “markety” here and there, but it’s still solid info. Here’s a few highlights:

“Our first piece of advice; Use the right gear for the occasion, in this case use the Plus III or MultiMAX the next time. The PlusX is our “value priced” radio and is perfect for simple setups, but shooting remotes in a stadium requires a bit more than the PlusX has to offer. Both the Plus III and especially the MultiMAX have special features that help make sure the radio signal gets through in challenging environments.”

OK, that makes sense, and when I look back, I realize that I’ve done most of my remote triggering using the PowerWizard Plus IIIs or the older Plus IIs and haven’t had many problems, so I’m wondering if using the Plus X instead couldn’t be the main culprit right there. Next time, I’m going back to the Plus IIIs for sure. Test results soon on this swap out.

“Second, you’re putting your camera close to the ground; real close in fact. The ground is a sponge. A radio sponge. It absorbs radio waves like you wouldn’t believe. The higher you can get the radio the better but we realize that isn’t always possible which is why we’ve designed special features just for situations like this. Those features can be found on both the Plus III and MultiMAX, but not on the value priced PlusX.”

Ah Ha! More reason to use the Plus IIIs instead of the Plus X. And those features are…

“In both the Plus III and MultiMAX you have a couple of special features designed particularly for remote triggering.  The one that would have helped the most here is Long Range Mode.  What this does is double the communication to make sure the receiving radio can hear it.  Just like repeating yourself to someone who can’t quite hear you. It’s a bit more technical than that, but that’s the general idea.  Using this feature should effectively double the reliable distance your radios will work in.”

Definitely will turn that feature on. Don’t actually know how yet, but that’s why God invented Brad Moore. ;-)

They also just had some troubleshooting tips in general to help for more reliable remote triggering:

“Due to the invisible nature of radio waves, understanding exactly how they work is not for the faint of heart.  Any one of a million things can have an influence on them and getting them to do exactly as you want is both science and art.   

Here’s a short list of the key things you can do to increase your success with remote cameras so before you go out on your next remote triggering event, read these basic rules of engagement: Whenever possible,

  • Maintain a line of sight between radios.
  • Keep the antennas parallel and at least 12” apart.
  • Make sure the radios, especially the antennas, are not near any large metal, concrete, or high water-content objects.  
  • Make sure the radios are not blocked by large objects or hills. Crowds gathering between you and your remotes will reduce range. Try to keep the antennas above the heads of crowds.
  • PocketWizard radios will have reduced performance if deployed close to the ground. 
  • Try to get them up high – 4 feet or higher improves range dramatically. Consider using a cable to locate the receiver higher up.
  • Avoid mounting them to metal railings or other building structures.
  • Avoid “Dead spots”.  These can be caused by a number of things but the solution is usually the same: move the unit a few inches or feet away from the problem area.
  • Avoid mounting them near long cable runs for other equipment or close to wiring.
  • When a long burst is needed or especially when using a radio in the hot-shoe of your handheld camera, increase the contact time (MultiMAX only) on the remote receiving unit. If range is an issue or remote operation is intermittent, this will help. If any single trigger is received, a long burst is guaranteed.”

I really found this all helpful, although there are some things in that last list that I can’t change [like deploying remotes close to the ground, or for things like mounting in the ceiling of arenas or domed stadiums, not mounted to metal railings], but at least I know there are some things I can try when I run into interference. I do think just switching to the Plus IIIs might do the trick for my situation, as I’ve never run into these problems before, so I’m hopeful, and will hopefully get to test this fairly soon.

My thanks to Dave Schmidt and his team at PocketWizard for reaching out, and for letting me share this troubleshooting info. and I fully expect to have a better story next game (if I can get permission to set up a remote, which I’d better get on if I have a prayer of doing that).

Have a great Weekend everybody, and Happy Holidays. :)

-Scott