Better and less expensive. With the rapid rise in cameras, lenses and flashes from Japan since the tsunami, it’s unusual to see a significantly improved product with lots of new features arrive at a lower price. And that’s exactly what Pocket Wizard has done with the new Plus III radio slave system. The Plus III can be purchased from B&H for under $140, a $30 reduction over its predecessor.
The Pocket Wizard III is incredibly easy to use. There are no slide switches to fumble with or forget to change. Like the Pocket Wizard Plus II, auto-sensing means the same unit can be used as transmitter or receiver with no setup. As long as the units are in transceiver mode, any of them can be used on the sending camera, the receiving camera, or the receiving flash. My first test, which is what I do with all radio slaves, is see if I can use it without reading the manual. One unit went in the shoe on the camera, the other got the cable for flash in the box. Turned both on and they come up in “Transceiver” mode. Shoot.
Then I try it with two cameras. Put one Plus III in the hot shoe of the camera I’m holding and another one in the camera that will be controlled remotely. Attach the cable from the remote camera to the Plus III in its shoe. Shoot.
The Plus III sits in the hot shoe with the opposite orientation of a lot of devices. While this has the disadvantage of not being able to see the screen while looking at the back of the camera, it does present a smaller profile. You can see the orientation in two of the photos. The screen is bright enough and the text large enough to see easily. This is a problem with some devices, including my primary portable flash, which has type I can’t see without digging out my glasses. Changing settings is easy and obvious.
When I first used radio slaves, they had almost no controls other than power and channel select. We’ve come a long way since then.
There are 32 channels and four zones. 32 channels means that you can avoid firing other photographer’s units, and four zones means you can control multiple units independently. For a pro sports photographer, or shooting big weddings, the zones are a huge plus.
There are a number of modes, including a long range mode, which drops sync speed for flash, but gives extended range. There is a repeater mod that enables re-transmitting the signal, which also extends the range in a multi-camera setup. There is a high speed receive mode that allows firing up to 14 frames a second.
The antenna is short and stubby, primarily an internal antenna. This prevents the snap-off problems that have happened with typical external antennas.
Two-stage triggering, using the Test button, allows waking up a remote camera that has gone to sleep. However, if you are using a flash that goes to sleep, this won’t wake up the flash since it doesn’t connect through a dedicated hot shoe.
One of the problems I encountered with Pocket Wizard’s TTL system, the Flex TT5 and MiniTT1, is that the MiniTT1 takes a button battery that isn’t likely to be easy to buy in a hurry if the battery dies. The Plus III takes two AA batteries, which is a huge advantage in this respect. Also, the Plus III has a battery life indicator, a feature I have not seen on slave systems in the past. I didn’t run the battery down, unfortunately, it might take longer than I have had the units, but it would be interesting to see how it handles the difference between alkaline and rechargeable discharge cycles.
There is also the capability to power a Plus III from the USB port. If you are doing a long shoot and have access to power, this can be a huge advantage. Think about shooting basketball with a camera over the net – if the batteries die midway through the game, you are not going to be climbing up the ladder to change them.
This is one area that users have to think about. If you are going to need a remote camera, this is no-brainer, it’s a great solution for sports and nature shooters. It has great range, up to 500 meters, and multiple cameras can be easily controlled. A flash can be controlled from the receiving camera as well.
The other application is for flash control. For the typical photo.net user, there is probably an advantage to using Pocket Wizard’s Flex TT5/MiniTT1 system, which allows using dedicated TTL flash with all control maintained. My earlier review of this system discusses the advantages of using this system. If you are using a dedicated flash with the Plus III, you lose all TTL functionality and have to adjust either the flash or the aperture to get to the right setting. Also, you lose high speed sync if you using the flash outdoors. For a small studio setup, there isn’t a big advantage to all the features either. I use a power pack-based setup and don’t need any fancy control, a very simple radio slave or even a cable works just fine.
I used the Plus IIIs to control a flash in an umbrella. Don’t follow my lead on attaching the Plus III to the light stand – if this wasn’t a review unit, I would stick velcro to the back of the Plus III.
However, if you are shooting in a crowd of photographers using remote flash, 32 channels reduces the likelihood of setting off another photographer’s flash. This kind of situation crops up at events where photographers can set up their own lights. And if you are shooting with multiple flash and need to easily control which ones pop when you shoot, the quad-zone triggering is indispensable.
I was able to test the flash operation on several occasions and can say that it worked fine. There was nothing complicated about the setup and nothing complicated about shooting. Several examples populate this review – one is a member of my household who thinks he is funny. The other example is from a CD cover shoot that happened while I had the review units. It is an inside shot for an upcoming CD from Percy Howard and Robert Rich.
I also did “bench” testing of the remote camera setup. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a situation during the time the review units were available that let me do real usage testing. I had planned to shoot a street festival with a remote camera on the stage for a band that probably wasn’t going to allow for on-stage shooting, but the event couldn’t guarantee security of the camera and I was reluctant to put both my camera and the Plus III out there when I might see it missing later. My testing did show that it worked fine. One feature I would like is a slide switch – I know, it goes against the design philosophy of the units – that allowed instant on and off for the transmitting function. There are going to be times when you don’t want to fire both cameras at the same time. The remote can be fired alone by pushing the Test button, in fact the unit can be carried off camera and used for this, but there isn’t a quick way to enable and disable sending a signal when firing with the Plus III on the transmitting camera.
My testing showed these to be easy to use and full featured radio slaves. They work exactly as they are supposed to and will be a terrific addition for the photographer who needs them, and they are less expensive than their predecessors. For multiple camera setups they are invaluable, and for complex flash setups, they fill the bill. For the typical photo.netter, I would recommend the Flex5/MiniTT1 system despite the higher cost as it is far easier to use with TTL.