Pocket Wizards allow wireless control over your camera from a distance and are used extensively by press photographers who may not be able to get close enough to the action themselves.
Have you ever fancied being able to fire your camera remotely while sat somewhere more comfortable? I mean you paid all that money for a camera, the least you can expect is for it to do some of the hard work for you. After hearing stories from other sports photographers and reading lots of good information about the Pocket Wizard system I thought it was about time I gave them a try.
After making a number of attempts at contacting the manufacturer of the devices I received a call from a great guy called Fraser at The Flash Centre and we arranged the loan of a set of Pocket Wizards and all the extras necessary to use them with my Canon 20D. A few days later the package arrived and the fun began. I planned to use them in two different situations to see just how good they actually were.
- Behind the Goal at an FA Cup Match
- Strapped to a kart doing around 50mph around a circuit less than 15cms from the floor
Having arranged my press pass for the Barnsley verses Walsall FA cup match, I arrived at the ground about an hour before kick-off to set up. The plan was to place the camera behind the net with a 17-40mm f/4 lens at 17mm covering the left side of the pitch. Why the left? I had a word with the clubs regular shooter and he informed me that Barnsley’s attack very often comes from that direction, that direction also afforded the best background with the stand behind it.
The actual set-up was very straightforward, you simply stick one end of the cable into the camera and the other end into the socket marked ‘flash/camera’ on the Pocket Wizard Receiver, turn them both on and that’s it. As it looked like it might rain I had prepared a nice little jacket for my camera from a black bin liner and bubble wrap. I then retreated to a nice dry position under the shelter of the stand with the transmitter at the ready. As I wanted full control over the exposure I left the camera in Manual and after the first 20 minutes of play I dashed back to the rig and swapped the CF card (this was so I could have a quick look at the shots on the laptop). Everything looked fine but I knew I had nothing special at that point so I kept my eyes on the game.
Half time came and went and there was still not much action to be had around the goal mouth (well not around the goal mouth where I had the camera set up). However I had managed to collect quite a few shots in the first half, a few of which I edited in the press room at half time while half a dozen photographers looked over my shoulder too see what I’d got.
I knew I wanted to be able to use the camera with a 70-200mm lens on before the end of the match just to bag some action shots, so with about 15 minutes left of the game I dashed back out and collected the rig. Knowing I didn’t have much time I quickly changed lenses and packed the Pocket Wizards away into my bag, no sooner had I zipped the bag shut, Walsall knocked one in from the exact side my camera would have been covering, I was gutted but was also the nearest photographer to the Walsall celebration where a few of the players jumped up onto the wall so I had to keep focused (no pun intended).
Full time and the game finished 1-1. Back in the press room I had a little more time to edit my shots and found one or two decent ones amongst all the rubbish. Now I know they aren’t excellent but you must remember I was shooting by floodlight only and the focus was simply a guess, but for a first attempt I am quite happy with the results. I would love to give them a go in the summer months.
I arrived at the Circuit at around 10:30, giving me about 20 minutes to set-up the camera and find a willing volunteer before the 3 lap practice slot I was allowed. I set the Pocket wizards up just as I had at the football except on a Manfrotto arm and clamp instead of a mini tripod. Now this time I knew there would be a lot of dirt thrown up by the karts in front so I had completely covered the camera in plastic and gaffer tape except for the lens which has a skylight filter
permanently attached. A few test shots and a quick double check of the clamp later and we were ready for the off. The driver Ayrton, was running in a new set of wet tyres so wouldn’t be travelling at race speeds and he would be setting off from the back of the grid. With only a couple of minutes left to go he checked the engine which started on the button, he cut it off and we sat waiting. The pit lane marshal gave the signal and everyone started their engines…Oh no, Ayrtons engine was coughing and spluttering this time, he was left in the pit lane and no amount of messing with the engine or blowing the fuel through could change it, it was broken. Still, I had managed to rattle off a couple of frames while he was sat on the grid. As it was only a short practice session I then had to rush to remove the rig I had spent 15 minutes securely attaching to the kart. Be warned that it isn’t a good idea to rush when equipment like this is concerned, especially not with a pair of scissors. And for anyone interested, the cable’s cost £82 to replace. I certainly won’t be doing that again in a hurry.
That brings us nicely to the conclusion of this review, one which I have had a great amount of fun compiling. Wildlife isn’t really my thing but I can think of a number of ways in which you could use these in such environments. I’m sure a bird, fox, etc is more likely to approach a camera than it is a person. They can also be used to fire flash remotely in much the same way as an ST-E2 would but with more reliability and control. Personally, I love these little gadgets and would buy a pair straight away… however I might have to save up for a little while longer as a set of these will cost you £260 + vat + the cost of the cable at £82(canon) and £115(Nikon). However I can almost guarantee that at some stage I will end up buying a pair of these magnificent tools, I have sent them back now but my brain is still doing overtime thinking of all the other ways I could use them…from the rafters at an indoor circuit, above a basketball net, on a kart (properly this time), on a motorbike, in the kitchens of EPZ towers at dinner time… the possibilities are endless.
A BIG thank you must go to Fraser at the Flash Centre (www.theflashcentre.com) and the lovely people at Manfrotto for helping me out with the arm and clamp, also to Barnsley Football Club’s Regular Freelancer Keith Turner for tipping me off about their attack and last but not least, Ayrton the kart driver of www.racewaykarting.co.uk for his permission to clamp the camera to his kart in the pit lane.
Reviewed by Jamie Lorriman www.sykc-pix.co.uk