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

 

About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.

42 Comments

  1. Perhaps another backup option; would setting up an intervalometer and firing off a shot every few seconds work, in case of a faulty/dead remote?

  2. I have the old Multi Max, they have more features and are more complicated to use. Be sure to practice with them before heading out! They also have intervalometer functions amount others.

  3. Now I am confused. If they never worked in those conditions I would understand. But to work sometimes has me trying to guess why. I can undersatand the close to the ground warnings especially with grass absorbing the signal. “Avoid long cable runs” in a NFL football stadium? Then I go to the web site for the Pocket Wizard Plus X (built in antenna) and look for any caveats and find none. “Avoid dead spots” ==> I guess the McNally principle of try it until you get it to work for you applies.

  4. If only Drobo had been this helpful…

  5. It would be great if PW offered a tall antenna accessory (24″ or 36″) to avoid the ground-proximity issue and help “flag” remote cameras to avoid people or things running them over. And make them hi-vis orange.

  6. Mike Carlson was using PW III’s, and had the same problem, according to your post on Tuesday. So they may be better, but might not solve the problem as suggested.

  7. Perhaps you can use a Photojojo look-lock kinda thing (or the arm on this thing http://photojojo.com/store/awesomeness/camera-table-dolly/) to place the PW a bit higher from the ground. With RF signals every inch can make a big difference.

  8. Nice response from Pocket Wizard. Will be using these tips on my next remote camera shoot (next week). Thanks for posting Scott.

  9. You know, you could just scrap this whole football thing and just go back to shooting beautiful models. You could even ditch the knee pads. Just sayin’……

    Have a terrific weekend, and I hope you got all your Christmas shopping done!

    –John

  10. Another better solution may be to use Auto-Relay. (See page 8 of the owner’s manual). This involves a 3rd PW that acts as a relay (receiver and transmitter). It is placed between you and the remote camera high so that it has better line of site to both the remote camera and your transmitting location (be it hand held or on another camera). This 3rd PW simply relays your signal to the remote. Works really well and I have used it on occasion when I had signal problems and had to get the shot. This setup will also extend the working range (physical distance) if being too far away is a problem. Also this does require the using 2 channels simultaneously so you would have to make sure no one else is on either one. Good luck!

    • Auto Relay is for using a remote camera with a remote flash. A radio in your hand and a radio on your remote camera are set to the same Channels, and the remote radio attached to the flash is set one Channel higher. When you press the TEST button on the radio in your hand, it is received by the radio on the remote camera, sends a signal down through the remote triggering cord to the camera’s remote port, then the camera begins to fire. As the camera fires, it sends a sync signal up through the hot shoe of the camera, which causes the radio to switch one Channel higher and fire the remote flash.

      You’re thinking of repeater mode, which takes a signal on the same Channel and repeats it. You can see Joe McNally use repeater mode in this great video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNpN7gXs438

      Chris Valites
      PocketWizard Technical Support Specialist

      • I apologize for my error on the mode name. There is still a PW solution for this problem using a 3rd PW and in my experience it works really well!

  11. So would an e-mail to Pocket Wizard BEFORE the Rant have been a better idea?

    • So, you don’t think I should share my experience — this should all be kept between me and the company so nobody learns anything from it but me, right?

      • Your original post stating you had failures that you need to discuss with PW would have sufficed. A follow up post with your experience, coupled with the suggestions from PW would have been a better post, particularly with your “findings” after trying the suggested solutions and seeing how they worked, or didn’t work. You know how influential you are, and I think that carries a certain level of responsibility to the a product vendors out there.

  12. This was informative. Thanks for posting

  13. Hi Scott, i was going to suggest in your previous blog to get a longer connector wire between the PW X to get it higher off the ground in other words the PW X not sitting in your camera’s hot shoe but on a miniature pole next to your camera.

  14. Scott I know just the place for a test.

  15. There answer to get your camera off the Ground defeats the point of the the wide shot from ground level. Get a long cord and hard wire it

  16. After many years of camera remotes and frustrations we’ve come up with two sure fire must-do’s… We now after following these tips almost flawlessly deploy an overhead remote for hockey every night that also wirelessly transmits the pictures to our FTP.

    First is LONG RANGE MODE-which requires the use of a Plus III and/or a Multimax. Our arena is an RF rich environment and obviously has a huge body of water content to deal with! We went from about 65% reliability to I’d say 95% with just this change alone. It’s the real deal. Two things to remember about LR is that there is an added very slight delay but not a deal breaker. That means this mode is for triggering remote cameras only not strobes. Second is BOTH the transmit & receive radio must be in LONG RANGE mode or they will not work properly.

    Second is not to trigger your transmitting radio via your hot shoe for a remote camera. I believe this info is also in the PW wiki. It works great for strobes as it sends out a correctly timed pulse to trigger the radio for flash. BUT for remote cameras you want a steady constant signal sent.

    The solution: Build or buy a push button to trigger the PW. And if you absolutely need to mount the radio to your hot shoe PW has a solution for that already built into the Multimax’s. In the advance features you can turn it off the hot shoe rendering the foot cold. Then you just use your pushbutton to fire to the remotes.

    I know some of you will say how can you fire the camera and the pushbutton at the same time? I mount my push button on my lens or hold in my left hand i.e when shooting long lens hockey. With practice firing both comes easily enough.

    • Scott Audette – can you share how you wirelessly transfer the pictures? I’m going to do an overhead remote at an AHL game and have an Eye-Fi card. I think I’m right on the edge of its range though, so I would be interested in hearing what you’re using. I’m not too worried about the triggering, I did an ECHL game earlier this year and the PW-IIs seemed to work fine. Thanks!

      • Hi John,

        I am using a EOS-1d Mark III with a WFT-E2A to send via FTP. We have a hidden wifi network that I’m the only one on.

        Once connected the camera will send the picture over this wifi network to our FTP server. From there Photo Mechanic which is sitting on our editing workstation monitor’s the incoming folder on the FTP server for activity.

        Once PM sees a photo land on the FTP server, it moves the photo to our editing workstation, applies a caption, and deletes the photo on the FTP. At that point it’s then ready for us to edit in Photoshop locally.

        The coolest part? It’s literally just seconds before we have it our hands! All from a camera mounted over a scoreboard and unreachable during a game.

        I’ve used the EYE-FI cards a few times but in the end using the appropriate Canon WFT has always turned out to be the best solution for this and other venues.

        There are other systems out there like Camranger which will allow you to wirelessly access you camera as well. That might be an option for you to explore. Their system I believe has a longer reach then the WIFI from the card. That being said I’ve not actually played with one but for about thirty seconds when Scott Kelby had his. So, Camranger is your listening I will glad test one out for you!

        Hope this helps!
        -Scott

      • That’s great information Scott, thanks for sharing. I just stretched my budget this fall to get a 1D Mk IV, so the Canon WFTs are out of my price range at the moment. The CamRanger does look promising, some great reviews when I looked it up and about half the price of the Canon stuff. Not doing much where I really need that kind of range, usually just at the rink to show the parents on my phone or tablet. I’ll see how the Eye-Fi does New Years Eve in a 10,000 seat arena.

  17. Followup: You mentioned others had the same problem so it can’t be your hardware. But you never mentioned the problem before with your other coming out of the tunnel and the goal post mount pictures in the past. So what was different this time environmentally? Natural vs artificial turf? Power lines / scoreboards controlled by IR? Nearby wireless comm lines? Heated underground turf?

    They didn’t mention the amount of humidity that might cause interference.

  18. Hi Scott,
    I work in the telecom industry, and specialize in optimizing wireless networks for stadiums (or Mass Events as we call them since a Rock Concert exhibit a similar properties). The wireless space in this kind of stadiums is a mess. This is why usually your upload and download speed on your phone are not as a great as they are outside. And wireless carriers are pouring money on this one by segmenting the stadiums to ever smaller portions using systems called DAS (Distributed Antenna System) which contains hundreds of smaller antennas rather than the usual 6-9 antennas.
    With that being said my advice to you is very simple, find the most powerful (dB wise) trigger system that you can get to get above this noise floor level.

    Thanks and happy holidays,
    Jay

  19. Sounds like a new course for your training site… remote triggering techniques….

  20. Scott, you said in your Remote Fail post in the Bucs game that your friend, Mike, was using the Plus IIIs, and he was having the same problem. Maybe it’s not a Pocketwizard issue?

  21. Scott, you said in your Remote Fail post in the Bucs game that your friend, Mike, was using the Plus IIIs, and he was having the same problem. Maybe it’s not a Pocketwizard issue?

  22. Confused yet Scott? Some of this advise is good, some actually applies to your problem. I still believe there is a RF engineer in Florida, who loves photography, who would be tickled pink to be invited to Kelby Media to help with your problem. Send a few tweets to find him or her. You need feet on the ground, not email help from thousand of miles away. And you would have a new friend.

  23. Speaking of which, have you tried asking the resident expert user of Pocket Wizards, Joe McNally?

  24. Scott…the “scary shooter” you mentioned is a good friend of mine…Jason Parkhurst. He told me he was triggering with the MultiMax and had NO Issues!

  25. Scott, did I miss some posts, when did you switch to Canon?

  26. Bogus. How is it the Plus X is “missing” crucial features the Plus III and MultiMax have built in with regard to power and range? If anything ALL PW transceivers should share this most important feature that Pocket Wizard is supposed to be known for. I don’t believe they advertise these transmitting deficiencies in their ads for the Plus X. In fact, the 1600 ft. range is touted as being one element that’s shared with the other models. If all you’re going to get from the Plus X is the same look as the Plus III, then it’s not worth the $99 they charge for it. I’m running into issues with the Plus X and my Canon and Yongnuo flash units that was supposed to have been fixed. Pocket Wizard needs to really fix this RF problem. It’s getting out of control.

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