Monday, August 15, 2011

Pocket Wizards and Radio Poppers- One photographers struggle for a solution

Kansas City Photographer- Todd Davidson

Photography can be confusing and frustrating.  I have experienced both many times, shooting portraits, escpecially when it comes to gear.  I guess I have a love/ hate relationship.  I love the ideas and new technology that are coming out all the time in the photography industry.  Many of them are great, and make our photo craft much easier and even more fun.  Much of the awesome new photography gear costs way TOO MUCH!  What I want to share today can be pricey, and many times don’t work.  The double whammy!  So hopefully my frustrations with this photo gear can help someone out there.

I love shooting portraits and commercial photography outside, on location, and in new spaces.  Most of the cool areas I stumble upon for photography need some lighting help for my subject. The world of on location photo lighting has been revolutionized in the last 10 years with the perfecting of radio transmitters, smaller battery packs, and better location lights.

So let’s talk some about radio transmitters.  I use a Canon 5D Mark II for my photo work, and I have had the Pocket Wizards Plus II system for many years.  They have never failed me, and are perfect for firing your studio strobes, at whatever manual setting you set on your pack or mono light.

I really wanted to be able to control my photo strobes from my camera,  without my photo assistant or myself running over to the light, lowering and raising the stand, re-metering, and doing it all again until I reached my desired exposure.  So I started looking into some TTL remote options.

First I tried the Canon speed light transmitter st-e2. It’s around $250.  It worked fine inside, in line of sight of the camera .  Otherwise it was awful, unreliable, and not very user friendly.  I returned it and moved on to my next option.

I decided to go with the company I have used for many years with my photography, and try the Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 and Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 system.  I had held off on this choice for awhile because I had heard mixed reviews from other photographers.  Even when I bought them I was wary.  They came with a “sock” that was to go over my Canon flash to help with interference, and some other “hot-shoe” radio shack contraption.  Well, I should have known then I was making a bad choice.

Let’s start with the positives.  When they work, they are amazing!  They offer everything I wanted for my photo shoot.  I can use them with my Canon speed lights and my Alien Bees.  With full TTL function on the speed lights, I could adjust the power from the 5D Mark II camera menus, and it allowed me to work fast and precise, giving the customer a great photo experience and great finished photo product.  BUT, there is one problem.  They don’t consistently work.  At least once or twice every photo shoot, I would have to turn everything off, then go through a systematic process of turing on the transmitter, receiver, camera, then speedlight, all the while apologizing to my photography client and ruining the flow that we were in.  On top of that, I would get back to the computer, and the exposure was inconsistent.  Ahhhhhh… I have sat with other photographer friends (thanks, Paul Versluis Chad Hickman) and been on many photo shoots with them, and some just deal with the dance to make them work.  But I am done!  They are now for sale, let me know if you are interested.  (Haha, after that glowing review)

Photography Gear Radio Transmitters

Photography Gear Radio Transmitters

So now I am on to Radio Poppers.  I shot with my photographer friend Chuck Arlund awhile back, and he was using the Radio Popper JrX system.  I loved that you can easily control three different groups of light, directly from the top of your camera.  Piece of cake.  And they fire… EVERY TIME!  What a novel thought.  A photography product that works? So I bought a set, which were not badly priced, $169 for the set.  But I am a bit in the hole now, after my fourth photography radio transmitter system.  So here’s hoping this is it.  I shot with them this weekend, and I love them.  I shot a family photo of 30 people with my Alien Bees, and a couple different umbrellas and reflectors.  They worked great.  My only desire is that they would allow me to sync above 1/250th sec., so I did some more research, and they make a TTL system called the Radio Popper PX.

The draw backs for me on the  Radio Popper PX

  1. The price- about $500 for a transmitter and receiver
  2. User interface- it doesn’t look as simple as the JrX
  3. I would rather use my Alien Bees, instead of speed lights.  I have more modifiers, and they have more power.
  4. They work in conjunction with the Canon speed light transmitter st-e2. Which I have already used, didn’t like, and returned.  Grrrrr…

So finally, I still don’t have a solid solution.  Will I really end up carrying four Pocket Wizards Plus II, to use at weddings with other photographers and assistants, one Radio Popper JrX– system because I love the ease of use, and a small Radio Popper PX for fast sync speed and traveling situations?  All in my camera bag with my Canon gear?

Let me know your thoughts.  Maybe we can find a solution together.

What a mess.  I’ll let you know how it evolves.

Todd Davidson

Kansas City