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Premium radio trigger guide

PocketWizard MultiMax/Plus III & RadioPopper JrX systems, etc.
by Gisle Hannemyr
Published: 2010-08-10.

This article discusses premium radio triggers for flash and digital cameras. To be more precise, it is a survey of manual radio triggers with very high reliability and range.

For an introduction to wireless triggers, you may also want to read our general articles about radio triggers and optical triggers.

1. Introduction

While optical triggers may be fine for wireless control of off-camera flash indoors, nothing beats radio for range and reliability outdoors. Also, if you want to have off-camera flash inside cars or behind furniture, radio is your best option.

2. Survey

Professionals that want a solid construction, high reliability and extended range may pass on the low cost radio triggers described in a previous segment and instead go for one of the more expensive brands. These are described below.

PocketWizard MultiMAX (US: 344 Mhz, EU: 433 MHz, Jp: 315 MHz)

PW MultiMAX
PocketWizard MultiMAX.
Photo: PocketWizard

When it comes to radio triggers, The PocketWizard MultiMAX is the gold standard. It is super reliable, but it will cost you USD 590 for a pair. And it will still not give you TTL. (Check prices at: Adorama, B&H, eBay.)

The MultiMAX unit has a dual function, where each unit can act as either as a transmitter or a receiver. You toggle between these two functions by flipping a switch.

The MultiMAX can be used both to trigger remote speedlights and studio flashes, or to trip the shutter of a digital camera. To trigger remote flash units, you but one tranceiver in the camera's hot-shoe and use the locking collar to make sure it stays put. You then you connect each remote flash you want to trigger to anothe transceiver with a cable.

To trigger the shutter you need to connect the camera to the MultiMAX through a 3.5 mm monoplug socket. You then keep one tranceiver in your hand and press the “Test”-button to trigger it.

There is a broad selection of cables available, making it possible to connect the MultiMAX to almost any type of speedlight, studio flash or camera. To find the correct cable, please refer to the cable finder available on the PocketWizard web site.

The units are powered by two standard AA batteries, with a typical life of approximately 60 hours. It also has a 5 volt DC power port.

One of the main features of the MultiMAX is supposed to be up to 500 meters (1600 feet) triggering range. However, this range is only achievable with line of sight between units in a noise-free environment. In a real setting about half, 250 meter (800 feet) is what you can expect. However, several units can be relayed together if it is necessary to extend this range. It also has a close range setting to prevent the transmitter from jamming the receiver when working at extremely close range.

The MultiMAX lets the photographer select one of 32 digital channels, to avoid interference from other radio control units at crowded events where many photographers may be using such devices simultaneously. In addition, the MultiMAX lets the photographer set a unique identifier. This is an exclusive code installed on top of an existing channel. The receiver will only trigger if the signal it receives on that channel is signed with that code.

The MultiMAX has a clever flash grouping system referred to as “zone control system” in the manual. It let you set up up to four zones (ABCD). Each zone can be switched on or off individually from the camera position. The receiver can be set to trigger on more than one zone. For example: If two photographers are working on the same venue, and agree to share area flashes that light the ceiling. In addition, each photographer has portable speedlights that he move with him. One photographer could use zone A for his portable speedlights while the other photographer could use zone B. The receiver triggering the area flashes could be set to zones A & B, and could then be triggered by both photographers.

The MultiMAX verifies each successful triggering and indicates misfires via audio and visual confirmation signals.

The MultiMAX also as a built in noise sniffer and signal strength indicator that can by used for finding the best channel and also for troubleshooting in environments with a lot of RF-noise.

Another unique feature is called SpeedCycler. This lets the photographer set up the MultiMAX for sequential triggering for up to four cameras or flashes. Applications include multi-angle camera shots, and and fast paced photo shoots. With four MultiMAX receivers connected to four cameras, the SpeedCycler will quadruple frames-per-second firing speed. It can also help to overcome recycle time limitations. By setting up four flash units connected to four MultiMAX receivers, the SpeedCycler will automatically trigger the next flash in line, while the three other flash units is recharging.

Camera shutters and remote flash units need to be triggered at slightly different times (the camera's shutter does not operate as quickly as the flash. The MultiMax understands this and let you mix units to perform both functions.

With Lag Time Equalizer Software, the photographer can measure the lag time between the camera trigger signal and shutter firing. This lag time can then be used to synchronise single or multiple cameras and flashes to fire in absolute unison with measurable accuracy to 1/10,000th of a second.

Additional features on the MultiMAX includes Rear Curtain Sync, Intervalometer, SpeedCycler and Multi-Pop (stroboscopic effect), contact closure adjustment, and trigger counter.

The unit has a USB-port and the firmware can be upgraded by the user with the help of a program called PocketWizard Utility

The versions for different geographical regions use different radio frequencies, and are not compatible with each other. Make sure you get the version that uses a frequency that is legal in the region you are going to use the unit.

The Multimax is compatible with Sekonic L-358 and L758DR light meters (with RT-32 transmitter). See the Sekonic manual for instructions regarding wireless flash triggering and proper metering settings.

PocketWizard Plus III (US: 344 Mhz, EU: 433 MHz, Jp: 315 MHz)

PW Plus III
PocketWizard Plus III.
Photo: PocketWizard

The Plus III is a more basic model with the same range and reliability as the MultiMAX, but without all the bells & whistles. It will cost you around USD 278 for a pair. (Check prices at: Adorama, B&H, eBay.)

The Plus III is compatible with MultiMAX, and you can use one to trigger the other. It uses also the same cables, power supply, and other accessories.

The Plus III unit has a dual function, where each unit can act as either as a transmitter or a receiver. You toggle between these two functions by flipping a switch. It can be used both to trigger remote speedlights and studio flashes, or to trip the shutter of a digital camera. The camera connects to the Plus III through a 3.5 mm jack socket. There is a broad selection of cables available, making it possible to connect the Plus III to almost any type of speedlight, studio flash or camera. To find the correct cable, please refer to the cable finder available on the PocketWizard web site.

The units are powered by two standard AA batteries, with a typical life of approximately 60 hours. It also has a 5 volt DC power port.

The Plus III lets the photographer select one of 32 digital channels to avoid interference from other radio control units. Channels 1-4 are compatible with the channels 1-4 on the Plus II and earlier four-channel PocketWizards, while channels 1-16 are compatible with legacy PocketWizards from the 1990s. Channels 17-32 offers quad zone selection (any A-B-C-D combo) and is compatible with the more expensive MultiMAX.

The versions for different geographical regions use different radio frequencies, and are not compatible with each other. Make sure you get the version that uses a frequency that is legal in the region you are going to use the unit.

The Plus III is compatible with Sekonic L-358 (with RT-32 transmitter) and L758DR (with RT-32 transmitter) light meters. See the Sekonic manual for instructions regarding wireless flash triggering and proper metering settings.

Phottix Atlas (EU: 433 MHz)

Atlas
Phottix Atlas tranceiver.
Photo: Phottix

The Atlas is a professional grade tranceiver from Hong Kong based Phottix that offers the same functionality as four channel PocketWizards at a lower price (search eBay for Phottix Atlas).

Like the PocketWizard units, the same unit can work as both transmitter and receiver, and automatically switches to transmit or receive mode when attached to a camera or flash.

The European 433 MHz version of the Atlas uses the the same communication protocol, encoding and frequency as the European PocketWizard units, and works seamlessly with them. The Atlas' four channels are the same as the channels 1-4 on all PocketWizard devices, and the Atlas also send the same coded digital trigger signal. This makes the systems fully compatible.

However, unlike the latest generation PocketWizard units, the Atlas does not let you set up and select zones or groups. You may fire any individual channel, but there is no grouping function.

According to Phottix, its range is about 100 meters. However, I had no problem getting it to work at 200 meters (650 feet) in a busy urban environment. Sync speed is up to 1/250 second.

The camera or flash may connect to the Atlas through a 3.5 mm monoplug socket, making it compatible with PocketWizard shutter release cables. The basic Atlas kit consists of tranceiver pair, and also includes two cables that fit the unit's 3.5 mm monoplug socket: One standard pc-sync. cable and another 1/4" (6.35 mm) mono jack-plug for connecting a studio flash. To trigger a camera shutter by radio, you need to buy an extra cable.

The units give a solid feel, and have a twist type locking collar to make sure the transmitter stays put in the camera's hot-shoe.

Unlike the PocketWizard units, the Atlas is fitted with a standard ISO hotshoe. If you use it to trigger a camera flash that is designed to be mounted in a hot-shoe, you do not need to use a cable. This means that unlike the PocketWizard units, the Atlas can work with flashes without a pc-socket, such as the Nikon SB-600.

For power, it uses two standard AA batteries. It also has a 5 volt DC power port.

The Atlas is compatible with Sekonic L-358 (with RT-32 transmitter) and L758DR (with RT-32 transmitter) light meters. See the Sekonic manual for instructions regarding wireless flash triggering and proper metering settings.

Phottix Atlas is also sold rebranded as the Interfit Titan Pro and the Calumet Pro Series Wireless Transceiver.

Legal note: On Jan. 11. 2011, LPA Design (the company that own the PocketWizard brand) filed a patent complaint against Phottix. LPA Design claims radio communications and auto-switching transceiver technologies used by the Atlas infringes two patents owned by LPA Design. The lawsuit may delay the introduction of the US (344 MHz) version of the Atlas.

Quantum 4i (A-D: 290 mHz, 300 mHz, 310 mHz, 320 mHz)

Quantum Instruments manufactures a wireless flash sync and shutter control known as Radio Slave 4i. A typical kit, consisting of TX, RX, belt clip, sync cord, mounting kit, and instruction manual, cost USD 354.

To avoid interference, each units has 4 channels of operation and comes in one of 4 discrete frequencies labeled A to D. The radio frequencies are: A: 290 mHz, B: 300 mHz, C: 310 mHz, and D: 320 mHz. When buying extra units, you need to make sure that the new units match the labled frequency (either A-D) with previous units.

I've never used Quantum Radio Slave 4i. I've only included it in this survey for completeness.

RadioPopper JrX (US: 916 Mhz)

The RadioPopper JrX system is a manual radio trigger. It is not compatible with TTL, but certain configurations are capable of manual varipower control with compatible camera flashes and studio flashes.

The JrX system comes in two flavours: The bare bones JrX Basic that costs about USD 140 for a kit consisting of a transmitter and a receiver, and the slightly more sophisticated JrX Studio that costs USD 160 for a similar kit. In additon, you can buy the RPCube hotshoe adapter for around USD 30.

RP TX
RadioPopper TX. Photo: RatioPopper

Search eBay for RadioPopper JrX units:

Both kits use the same transmitter. Note the three knobs on top of the TX shown to the right. These are three manual varipower controls (one for each group) that can be used to control the power ratio of the a remote flash connected to the JrX Receiver Studio. These work like the volume knob on an audio amplifier. You twist the knoob clockwise to increase power. There are no markings on them to tell you what power level you set.

The JrX Receiver Basic is simply a trigger that fires when it receives the signal from the transmitter. With this receiver, remote flashes fire at whatever power they've been set to on the flash unit itself.

The JrX Receiver Studio is capable of controlling the manual power control of selected speedlights and studio flashes from camera position. Up to 3 groups can be independently controlled. To be more precise, the JrX Receiver Studio is capable of the following:

  1. The photographer can control the power of all current Alien Bees, White Lightning and Zeus brand monolights. Power levels are controlled directly from the camera position with a JrX or a PX Transmitter.
  2. With the addition of a RadioPopper RPCube dedicated hot-shoe adapter, the photographer can control the power of compatible past and present Canon Speedlites and Nikon Speedlights that support analog quenching of the flash pulse directly from camera position with a JrX or a PX Transmitter.

Note that the varipower manual control feature of the RPCube is not compatible with flash units that does not support analog legacy flash modes. Units I know for sure that do not support this type of manual control are Nikon SB-700, SB-900, SB-910 and Nissin Di866. For such units, the RPCube is just a hot-shoe adapter that you can use to fire units without an external sync socket (e.g. Nikon SB-700).

Manual power control by means of the RPCube should work fine with the Nikon SB-600 and SB-800, as well as older Speedlights such as the SB-26 that were designed to used with film SLRs.

RP TX
RadioPopper RPCube connectted JrX Studio RX.
Photo: RatioPopper

Both the transmitter and the receiver use one CR123a or RCR123a 3 volt lithium battery.

The cord connection used by RadioPopper is the same as PocketWizard connection. You can buy a PocketWizard cord compatible with your camera to use the JrX Receiver as remote shutter release.

You can trigger the JrX receivers with the transmitter from RadioPopper's TTL-compatible PX-system. Going the other way (using the JrX transmitter to trigger a hybrid PX receiver) is, according to RadioPopper, feasible with the Canon version, but does not work with Nikon.

So far, RadioPopper only makes a version of the JrX for the US 916 MHz band. There is no version that can be used in Europe.

3. Final remarks

If you know about other radio triggers that belong in this survey, please use the comment field below to add your experiences.

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2 responses:

avatar
trigger pw with another brand

hello, i've got a question...

can i trigger a 344 mhz PW plus II with any other brands 344 mhz trigger?

can radio slaves trigger each other, if they work at the same frequencies, no matter which brand they are?

avatar
No compatible 344 MHz Atlas yet

In general, radio triggers are not compatible across brands, even if the use the same frequency. This is because the protocol and encoding will be different.

However, the European (433 MHz) version of the Phottix Atlas is designed to use the same frequency, protocol and ecoding as the 433 Mhz version of the PocketWizard units, making the units fully compatible.

Phottix also wants to release an US (344 MHz) version of the Phottix Atlas, to be compatible with the 344 Mhz version of the PocketsWizard units. However, LPA Design (the company that own the PocketWizard brand) is currently suing Phottix over patent infringement. This lawsuit has so far delayed the introduction of the 344 MHz version of the Atlas. If LPA Design prevails, the US version if the Atlas may never reach the market.

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