When PocketWizard first burst on the scene in the late 1990s, it helped trigger (pun intended) a new age of wireless flash photography. The line of radio slave receivers, transmitters and transceivers quickly evolved into the gold standard for strobists. But many photographers—especially those using non-TTL monolights and power pack systems—hesitated to try them, due to the high cost of the units, which ranged upwards of $300. With the release this spring of the $100 PocketWizard PlusX, there’s little reason to continue tripping over wires.
First, the name: Yes, indeed, LPA, the company that markets PocketWizard, called their latest model the “PlusX.” No, I won’t make any jokes about trying to load it into my film camera.
Unlike pop-up flash or infrared-triggered TTL flash slave systems, which rely on line-of-sight operation, radio signals can get around physical blockages—within limits. They have a greater range, and at least in theory, work well when infrared and commander pre-flash systems might fail. But they cost ya. Compared to the $230-to-$300 PocketWizard MultiMAX, $200 MiniTT1 and $150 Plus III, the $100 PlusX is a very attractive bargain.
The PlusX is fully compatible with any PocketWizard FCC-version radio slave ever made. That includes PocketWizard-enabled studio flash units made by Profoto, Photogenic, Dynalite and Norman. It also works with Sekonic light meters. So, if you already are invested in PocketWizard and simply need a few more units for backup, or so you can operate more flashes at a time, this gives you a budget-friendly option.
Externally, the PlusX is bare bones: You tether the PlusX to your flash, meter or camera via a simple 1/8-inch miniphone sync port. (If your Speedlight is TTL-only and lacks the ability to attach via a PC or miniport, you’re out of luck. For studio strobes, a 1/4-inch adapter is included.) So, the PlusX is suitable for studio strobes and for lower cost Speedlights that have a miniphone sync port. If you rely on TTL flash, then the PlusX is not for you, nor is the Plus III, as both are strictly manual.
Ergonomics and Features
There’s a big channel dial on one side, and the channel numbers are backlit as long as the PlusX is turned on. Below the dial is a test button. Flip the unit over to find the battery compartment, next to a standard tripod mount. Just like the Plus III, the antenna is built-in and well-protected. The polycarbonate flash shoe mounts in your camera’s hot shoe, and the outlet for the miniphone connecting cable is in the back, as is the on-off switch. And that’s it. Build quality? Quite good!
There are no LED or buttons, and fewer channels. And there’s no automatic, battery-saving off mode, so when you’re done, remember to turn it off or you will drain your batteries (as I did!). However, PocketWizard didn’t skimp on the internal stuff: It has the same electronics as the more expensive units, and is presumably just as reliable.
The PlusX has ten channels: one through four are what they call “Classic” channels, and five through ten are low-traffic channels, and they are compatible with the frequencies in other PocketWizards. Here’s where the Plus III, with its 32 channels, has a slight advantage. I say “slight” because it is rare that most photographers will encounter enough radio interference that they will actually need more than ten channels.
In the Field
Operation is so easy, first-time wireless users will be up and running in no time. I used three PlusX units in a simple backyard setup. I positioned a monolight behind my model, facing up with no reflector. The bare bulb would provide rim light, and would also illuminate the foliage behind her. I placed a second light just to my left, and adjusted the power settings manually. I deliberately set it up this way to test if the radio signal, physically blocked by my model, would trigger the backlight unit, and it did, consistently: a win over line-of-sight methods.
PocketWizard says the transceiver automatically senses if it is sending or receiving a signal and intelligently switches between transmitter and receiver mode. That’s one less setting to worry about. There’s also an auto-relay mode that lets you remotely trigger your camera and flashes together: Hold one unit in your hand, one PlusX cabled to your camera and one connected to your remote flash. Press the test button—click!
Battery status is indicated by a three-color LED light that glows green for normal, double amber for 50 percent or less, and three red blinks when the battery is under 25 percent. PocketWizard claims a range of 1,600 feet (your mileage may vary but I was able to trigger it from a football field away), and it syncs at up to 1/250 of a second for focal plane shutters and up to 1/500 of a second for leaf shutters.
If you’re just getting started in wireless flash and don’t mind setting your strobes manually, or if you’re a pro who wants to build your system without breaking your budget, the PocketWizard PlusX is well worth your consideration.
Pros: Easy to use; same internal guts as more advanced PocketWizards; lowest cost PocketWizard; plays nice with other PocketWizards
Cons: No TTL; fewer channels; you’re out of luck if you don’t have a miniphone outlet on your flash
Price: $100; www.pocketwizard.com