When we were out on the road last year, doing the Flashbus tour, our intrepid driver Phil spun tall tales of the turnpikes for us—wild man drivers, white line nightmares, going fast, and staying ahead of Smokey the Bear. I asked him if he ever participated in the cat and mouse games out there on the highway. He resolutely shook his head. “Nope, I drive by the law,” he said. “You can’t outrun ‘em. Nothin’s faster than the radio.”
Thank goodness, ‘cause just the other week we attached the new Pocket Wizard Plus Three’s to a vehicle that certainly looked like it could give radio waves a run for their money. Driven by the high speed legend Ed Fenn, his current dragster (he’s built over 60 cars) is capable of going about 280 flat out. We took some of these new radio puppies out there, slung them on the car with zip ties, and told Ed to bring the hammer down. #notsmart????
The units, and my cameras, survived. We experimented in particular with the Repeater Mode, or RP, which is capable of extending the signal with additional units used as relays. You transmit from your position, and the signal then gets picked up by another unit downstream and so forth. Handy when you want to get a good run of frames and your subject goes past you like a dust spewing gun shot.
I’ll be direct here. I’ve got a mixed history, along with everybody else, with radio transmission. All sorts of stuff can get in the way–concrete walls, rebar, water, orientation of the antenna. A bazillion years ago, I used a Hawk radio, a boxy thing that was just a step above a garage door opener. (It might have been a garage door opener, actually.) The uncertainty of that system led me to have an emergency sync cord–a hard wire connect–to my flashes hanging on the nearest light stand if (or should I say when) the moment came when the radio failed. PocketWizard came to the fore, and I’ve used them for easily over twenty years. There have been times they’ve saved my ass so thoroughly I basically put them on small altar, lit up some incense and started chanting. And there’s been times, when, like all radios, they didn’t work.
So when something happens in the world of radios that makes them better and more reliable in a very practical, usable way, I pay attention.The big thing I noticed about these units is the enclosed antenna. The rubbery, stand up antennas of the presently available units are often a first casualty because I travel so much, and everything gets jostled on the planes. Now, they’re enclosed in plastic— much safer, and according to specs, more omni-directional. Thank you, thank you. Life on the road is just as hard on gear as it is on the shooter.
The PW IIIs I had performed like a champ, even though they are not production line units, and they all were short of final firmware, which might have affected their working distance. We paced things off, and I was about 350-400 feet up the track from the first repeat. The second one was another 350-400 plus feet down from that one. So, when I started the signal, I could see flashes in the cab starting a couple hundred feet up from me, and then the car would scream past me, and get picked up by the next repeater, and so forth. We generally got 20 plus frames per run, which was good, ‘cause sunlight moves fast in the desert, and we only got a few runs done before dusk hit hard and fast. I was limited, too, by recycle on the flashes. Because they were pointed backwards into the dark recesses of the driver’s cockpit, a lot of light got lost back there, and just bits and pieces of it radiated around the Ed’s helmet to be seen by the lens. They were generally at half power or so, with red gelling on them for the late afternoon attempts.
(I was also shooting D3X cameras, not the fastest of cameras. I had both of my X’s hanging on this car. What was I thinking?)
Other stuff: The PW3’s are light, small and side facing. You know how the current Multi-Max’s and Plus II’s have the controls on the back, or broadside of unit? All the controls here are now on the side when the unit is hot shoed. In other works, you’re holding the camera grip in your right hand, and instead of pulling it straightaway from your face, you just turn the camera and the buttons and dials are there, and they are backlit.
Here’s the thing. They seem very durable, user friendly, and simple, as opposed to the Multi Max, which nearly requires a Ph.D to operate at its most complex modes. I mean, it’s wonderful technology, and if you’re Bill Frakes, running 40 cameras at the finish of the Kentucky Derby, then it’s Multi Max all the way. But, seriously, how often do the rest of us need all that? The III’s will get you covered, I would think, for most of the work I can imagine. And, from what I hear, they’ll be about $30 cheaper than the II’s. When was the last time you heard about new, updated gear with more features, durability and potential getting cheaper?
David Hobby’s got the real rundown on these guys, by the way. He has really looked under the hood and figured them out. So check out Strobist today.
For me, I was thankful to get the assignment. It’s not often you get called up and get paid to use some new gear and do literally anything you want. They sent me the units and told me to mess around with them and see what I could come up with, and then, of course, send the units back, and do some reporting. The field report is excellent. They’re solid, tough to break (I tried), and at the price point, they’re a no brainer compared to the PWIIs.
FYI….. Drew did a terrific job on the video as a one man band, and Cali shot the production pix. Definitely a team effort out there.