Multiuser Environments

From PocketWizard Wiki
Revision as of 12:36, 30 May 2012 by Patrick (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

This page outlines the best practices when many photographers are simultaneously triggering remote cameras at large sporting or other events.

We are very proud of our radios. They provide rock-solid mission-critical performance in venues around the world. Thanks to our broad frequency range, powerful Custom IDs, and proven digital RF signaling methods, our MultiMAX radios can handle several photographers at the same event while providing control and exclusivity like no other remote trigger system.

But they are not originally designed to handle over 100+ photographers capturing the same finish-line moment as happens at the largest sporting events.

We continue to improve operation for exclusivity (Custom IDs), simultaneous use (Patterns), and greater distances (Long Range Mode). But too many photographers on the same frequency can still be a concern. Please read this information to learn the best methods to increase your odds of getting that once-in-a-lifetime remote shot at the most crowded events.

Quick Check List

Here is a quick check list to get you started:

  • Get MultiMAX radios from your favorite local source, or upgrade your old ones
  • Send them to LPA Design/PocketWizard for Custom IDs
  • Upgrade your firmware to the latest that includes Patterns
  • Know your frequency
  • Find the Sign-up Sheet
  • Set a Pattern
  • Set a long contact time on your Receiver
  • Use Long Range Mode on your transmitters *and* receivers
  • Press and *hold* TEST or your trigger button, don’t tap it
  • Use ferrite chokes on long cable runs.
  • Get the receiver’s antenna as high as you can
  • Maintain line of sight whenever possible
  • Dress cables away from antennas
  • Consider hard-wiring

Custom IDs, myths and realities

A Custom ID is a private digital code on a MultiMAX. In crowded shooting environments, Custom IDs allow only you to trigger your remote flash or camera. Other photographers cannot trigger your remotes.

A Custom ID is not a “private frequency.” It is an exclusive code installed on top of an existing PocketWizard frequency.

Too many photographers triggering simultaneously on the same frequency can be a serious issue, even for Custom ID users. Your remote might not trigger because it cannot “hear” its digital code through all the other digital codes being transmitted on that frequency. How many is too many? Hard to say, but the fewer the better in all situations!

The methods throughout this document can be used to improve operation in multiuser environments.

To get a Custom ID on your MultiMAX you must already own MultiMAX radios, then send your radios to LPA Design / PocketWizard in Vermont, USA.

Custom IDs are $95 USD per ID per radio as of May 13th, 2008.

Special Custom ID notes

  • Custom IDs can only be installed on MultiMAX radios. They are not available for any other PocketWizard radios including Plus III, Plus II, FlexTT5, MiniTT1, etc.
  • You cannot buy MultiMAX radios directly from PocketWizard. If you do not own MultiMAX radios, you must purchase them from your local dealer, then send them to LPA Design / PocketWizard.
  • Dealers and distributors do not sell MultiMAX radios with Custom IDs already installed. Many dealers will let you drop-ship your MultiMAX radios directly to LPA Design for a Custom ID service.
  • All MultiMAX radios that you want to work together must have the same Custom ID installed.
  • Custom IDs cannot be installed via the PocketWizard Utility.
  • Future firmware upgrades will not erase your Custom IDs. They are permanent.
  • You can get more than one Custom ID on a radio. Each additional ID is $95 per radio.
  • LPA Design / PocketWizard maintains a database of Custom ID holders. Only you can get your Custom ID on future radios.
  • Custom IDs are exclusively installed at LPA Design / PocketWizard in Vermont, USA:
LPA Design / PocketWizard
21 Gregory Drive
Suite 140
South Burlington, VT 05403

Know your frequency

More important than knowing your Custom ID is knowing what frequency it is using. At any large event, the goal is to have as few photographers sharing a single frequency as possible.

If you have a USB-capable FCC MultiMAX with firmware version 7.50 or higher, you can move your Custom ID to different frequencies. Even though the Custom ID appears on Channel 17, it will use the frequency you set in the radio. Set the frequency under the Other Functions/Custom ID menu.

If you have a non-USB FCC MultiMAX, your Custom ID is locked on a single frequency. The last digit of your Custom ID determines the frequency. See the table below. Even though your Custom ID may appear on Channel 17, it is likely using a different frequency to transmit.

To see your Custom ID, simply turn on your MultiMAX. It should show as part of the power-up sequence. You can also hold "A" on your MultiMAX as you power it on to display your Custom ID(s).

Last Digit of Custom ID Frequency (MHz)
0 354
1 353.5
2 353
3 352.5
4 352
5 351.5
6 351
7 350.5
8 350
9 349.5
A 349
B 348.5
C 348
D 347.5
E 347
F 346.5

There are some Custom IDs in use that do not follow this table. If you are unsure, contact LPA Design for more information. We will research your radio in our database and help you understand which frequency you are actually using.

CE MultiMAX radios only have 1 frequency for all Custom ID use due to regulatory limitations. USB CE MultiMAX radios can use Patterns to get more simultaneous users. Non-USB CE MultiMAX radios do not have access to Patterns.

Set a Pattern

There can be multiple Custom IDs triggering on the same frequency at very large sporting events. Your Custom ID will prevent someone else from triggering your camera, but it won’t prevent someone else from stepping on your trigger signal and potentially canceling out the triggers.

MultiMAX firmware 7.51 or later has a feature called Patterns. Patterns help when there are multiple photographers triggering on the same frequency. When you press and hold TEST on your MultiMAX, repeated triggers are being sent at a steady pace. If your triggers overlap with another photographers, neither of your remote cameras will fire. Patterns help keep repeating triggers from overlapping and dramatically reduce the possibility of cancelling each other out on the same frequency.

Patterns are only helpful for remote camera triggering. They are not helpful for remote flash triggering.

For USB FCC MultiMAX radios with Custom IDs, Patterns are set under the Other Functions/Custom ID menu. This menu only appears if you have Custom IDs installed in your USB FCC MultiMAX with firmware 7.51 or later.

For USB CE MultiMAX radios, with or without Custom IDs, Patterns are handled differently. Channels 17 – 32 are all on the same frequency already, so Patterns are available without Custom IDs installed. Select a Pattern under the Other Functions/Custom ID menu, and make sure to set a different channel or Custom ID from other CE photographers.

Patterns are only available for USB MultiMAX radios, FCC or CE. MultiMAX radios without USB ports cannot take advantage of Patterns.

Engage Long Range Mode

MultiMAX firmware version 7.50 and later has a special feature called Long Range Mode.

Long Range Mode increases the usable distance, up to double, between two MultiMAX radios. This mode must be activated on all radios that are expected to work together. When it is activated on a transmitter, LT will be displayed. When it is activated on a receiver, -LR- will be displayed. Long Range Mode is designed primarily for remote camera triggering.

Long Range Mode is set under the Other Functions/Range Mode menu.

Long Range Mode is only available for USB MultiMAX radios, FCC or CE. MultiMAX radios without USB ports cannot take advantage of Long Range Mode.

Long Range Mode can be used with Custom IDs and Patterns. Use longer Contact Times and hold TEST when triggering instead of tapping. This is the recommended configuration for triggering a remote camera at any large sporting event.

Set Longer Contact Times in your Receiver

Contact time controls how long a receiver holds the shutter button pressed on your remote camera after it receives a radio trigger. It is always set on your receiving MultiMAX. Setting it on your transmitter has no effect on remote cameras.

A longer contact time on your receiver helps RF performance in a crowded multiuser environment. If your remote MultiMAX receives a single correct RF trigger packet over the air, it will trigger your camera for the duration of the contact time. If another single RF trigger packet makes it through before the contact time finishes, it will continue holding the camera triggered. It only takes a very few trigger packets to get a long motor drive burst which may yield more usable finish line results.

EXAMPLE: You want a remote finish line camera to trigger a lot of frames right at the end of the race. Set your contact time to a reasonable burst length. If your camera can do 6 FPS in high speed drive mode, consider setting your contact time to 1 second. Any single RF trigger packet received will guarantee you get at least 6 images.

Contact time is set in a MultiMAX under the Basic Settings menu. Adjust using the letter and arrow keys.

Hold TEST, don’t tap it

When triggering a remote camera in a crowded environment, you will get better results if you press and hold the TEST or trigger button on your transmitting radio. Pressing and holding TEST will put hundreds more trigger packets into the air for your receivers to hear. Tapping TEST, or pressing and releasing it rapidly, will put fewer trigger packets in the air. The more trigger packets that are sent, the higher chance your remote receiver will hear one!

Plus III

The Plus III can be used at large events, however it cannot get Custom IDs installed, nor can it use the new MultiMAX Patterns. A USB MultiMAX with a Custom ID is the preferred solution.

On the Sign-Up Sheet, Plus IIIs must use the first column only: “No Custom ID and/or non-Pattern radios.” Plus III Channels use the same Standard Channel Numbers and Frequencies as MultiMAX and ControlTL radios.

Using ControlTL radios: MiniTT1 and FlexTT5

ControlTL radios like the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 can be used for remote camera triggering, and offer a few more frequency choices, however there are some important considerations.

ControlTL radios cannot get Custom IDs installed and cannot use MultiMAX Patterns. A USB MultiMAX with a Custom ID is the preferred solution.

FCC ControlTL radios share some frequencies with the FCC MultiMAX. CE ControlTL radios do not.


Using FCC ControlTL radios on ControlTL Channels 5-14 puts a large amount of radio packets in the air that can negatively affect all MultiMAX users on those shared frequencies. This is because a ControlTL radio transmits a lot of settings and information as it communicates with the camera, while a MultiMAX only transmits a trigger signal. If you are using a ControlTL radio at a crowded event, set your ControlTL Transmit Channel to channels 1-4 or 15-20 which do not have shared frequencies with the MultiMAX.

Remember that ControlTL radios transmit on two Channels, a Standard Channel and a ControlTL Channel. Set your Standard Channel to a frequency that is not in use, or use Standard Channel 5 (344.04 MHz) which is outside the range of modern MultiMAX Custom ID users and the Plus II.

On the Sign-Up chart, ControlTL radios must use the first column only: “No Custom ID and/or non-Pattern radios.” Note the overlapping frequencies, and try to use a non-overlapping channel.

Using the PocketWizard Utility, set the following features in your ControlTL radios:

  • On your receiving FlexTT5, engage “Disable Shoe Communications” on the Misc Tab. This will allow you to trigger more quickly when the radio is mounted in the shoe of your remote camera, and will generate less radio traffic by disabling Auto-Relay Mode.
  • On your transmitting MiniTT1 or FlexTT5, consider changing the settings below. This will generate less radio traffic on your frequency, benefitting other users:
    • Flash Tab / Speedlight control – set to “No Change (Trigger Only)”
    • Flash Tab / Remote Studio Controls – set both to “No Change On Wakeup”
    • PowerTracking Tab / PowerTracking control – set to “No Change (Trigger Only)”
    • Modeling Tab / Uncheck “Modeling Light Control”
    • Sleep Tab / Uncheck “Remote TTL Flash Sleep Mode”


Consider hardwiring your remote camera. The more hardwire triggers in use, the greater the reliability for all photographers at a venue, whether you are using radios or not.

Your low-voltage, low-current camera motor drive can only push so many electrons around, so give it the best conditions to do so:

  • Avoid add-a-taps. These zip cord connectors are convenient, but a crimping/piercing connection can often be more fragile than other solutions like miniphone connectors. A “stale” crimp that has been spooled up is a recipe for failure – it can be physically weakened when rolled/unrolled, and unseen corrosion can cause poor connectivity.
  • Soldered wires are usually better than connectors. If you have the ability to solder wires directly together instead of using snap-together connectivity, like miniphone connections or add-a-taps, you should consider it. Every “adapter” or snap-together connection represents another potential failure point.
  • Use ferrite chokes. When lots of unshielded cabling like zip line is used, it can act as a big antenna for EMI. Even if you aren’t using a radio, EMI can cause you to miss triggers. Your low-voltage motor drive circuit might not be able to tell if that was your switch closing on the line, or just random electrical noise from the “Swiss timing” box. Place ferrite chokes near both ends of your hardwire run. 2 or 3, clamped 30cm or so apart, is usually enough.
  • Run your hardwire as exclusively as possible. The more wires piled on top of each other, the worse EMI can be. This is especially true if your hardwire is running in the same catwalk/conduit/trough as power, AV, precision timing, scoring, or other cords and cables. If you are limited and must share space, definitely use ferrite chokes as described above.
  • Polarity matters for multiple cameras. If you have more than one camera on the same hardwire, make extra sure to check that you have used the same polarity for each connection.
  • Keep the run as short as possible. Avoid extra piles or loops/spools of cable as part of your setup. Spooled or looped cable gathers and amplifies EMI.

If you have any hardwire questions, feel free to ask! Even though we are a radio company, we’ve learned a thing or two about hardwiring over the years.

More coming soon!

Other topics will be posted as they are ready, like:

  • A master sign-up sheet - the most important tool at crowded venues
  • Buddying up - multiple receivers on the same channel/Custom ID and/or multiple cameras with one receiver
  • “Slaving” one camera to another - a remote camera can trigger from the shoe pulse of the camera in your hands, but is it wise? (probably not!)
  • And more!