Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Clash Of The Titans - Phottix Atlas vs PocketWizard Plus II (Long Range Testing) - Part 3 of 3)

This is Part 3/3 of my review of the Phottix Atlas and it's comparison to the PocketWizard Plus II...

Check out Post 1/3 (Introduction To Phottix Atlas)
Check out Post 2/3 (Product Showcase & Short Range Testing)
Check out Post On The Update (Random Triggering Fixed)

OK...so it has been longer than anticipated to post the final part of this review as I had a roll of assignments here in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I actually got the opportunity to cover the launch of the Ferrari California at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi...sorry, I feel that I am allowed a little bit of excitement over this lovely car.  I also covered an exhibition (Automechanika) for AC Delco at the Dubai World Trade Centre, a friend's family portraits and a 'soon to be open' hotel in Abu Dhabi.  The reason I mention all of them is on account of me using the Phottix Atlas for all of them as my primary wireless radio triggers.  I say primary because on the Ferrari & hotel job I had to use my PocketWizards for additional strobes. More after the jump....

Anyways,  getting back to the long range comparison of the Phottix ATLAS and the PocketWizard Plus II...
On the 9th of May, 2010, I had some time (about an hour) while waiting for the sun to set to get my hero shot of the new Meydan VIP bridge (Client: Aurecon) during dusk. 
I decided to take my radios for a walk.  Basically, I drove off into the nearby deserted desert and park under a tree.
I mounted the Atlas and a PocketWizard each on it's own stand.  Both the stands were the similarly setup except for the radio triggers.  Each of the stands were mounted with a screw-in hot shoe, a Canon 430EX and a cord used to trigger them attached to the respective radios.  Both the strobe and the radios had a set of newly (& fully charged) Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries.  The 2 rigs were placed under the tree next to my vehicle and pointed out to the direction I planned on walking-away.  The PocketWizard Plus II was placed on the left (from the perspective of the camera) while the Atlas was on the right.  I also carried an extra Plus II with me to should the Phottix Atlas decide to not trigger. The last 2 points are important for later!
On the camera, I had to debate on which radio I would use.  Since, I felt I wanted to put the Phottix Atlas through it's paces, I decided to mount it on the camera hot-shoe.  While I was putting this all together, I also decided to mount my 2nd camera (on a tripod) with an Atlas and connected it to the camera remote trigger port using a Phottix C8 Cable I acquired when I purchased the radio triggers.Reason for using this setup was to actually photograph the flash heads to ensure that they were going off while I was meandering off in the desert.  (On hindsight, when you look at the photos below, you will realize that I didn't a good job of this as you can barely see the flash heads - oh well...next time!)
I shot with the Canon 5D (not MKII) handheld and the Canon 1D MKIIn mounted on the tripod.  The 5D was coupled with the 16-35mm L 2.8.  I had given my other lens 70-200mm L 2.8 IS USM for calibration at the local Canon Service Centre.....where it lovingly lay for nearly 3 months!!! (Well now I have it back)

On the MKIIn I had a 50mm 1.8 mounted. Set the focus on manual after focusing on the back of my sturdy steed - the now defunct Hyundai Galloper.  I wasn't happy with the choice of lens on the Canon 5D but that was what I had with me at the time and decided to use it.  I think I will do another one of these with the 70-200mm 2.8 IS USM soon (with soon being equivalent to maybe another month or so....my excuse....it's sweltering in the deserts of Dubai at this time of the year).

Also, the 2 cameras were not synchronized (time wise), which I have now corrected....another long story on how I got them to synchronize.

Oh....one more thing.

I did not have a tape measure with me at the time so could not get exact measurements of the distances.  Yeah, I know, I know!  Not very scientific.  I hope to correct that with my next test.

However, the thing is that the pictures give a good indication of the distances. Below are the pictures of the test.  On the left are the pictures with not cropping or editing (except to downsize the image for web resolutions) and to the right are the zoomed in versions.  In the zoomed in pictures I (equally) decreased exposure (software) by 2 stops to highlight...well...the highlights...which in this case are the strobes being triggered.  Look for the 2 bright spots.

Table I Full Image Zoomed
After image 8 (which I did not realize at the time) you will notice that only 1 flash is being triggered.  On closer inspection you will see the flash on the right is firing.  This is the Atlas coupled strobe.  The PocketWizard fired only when I took the Phottix Atlas trigger off the camera and hand-held it way above my head.  Since this did not prove that the Plus II was at fault (after all, it could have been the Atlas not wanting to work with the PW Plus II), I put it on the camera and took a test shot (below).

However, this time both the flashes didn't fire.  Well, let me correct that.  The Phottix connected strobe fired intermitently.  Then I started to walk back towards the car (while taking a couple of shots) to see when both the flashes would fire.  Here are the pictures...

Table II Full Image Zoomed
You can clearly see the right flash (Atlas) setup is triggering (images 18-22). Both flashes go off as I get closer (PocketWizard PlusII trigger on camera) for images 23 to 25.  Image 25 doesn't have the zoomed version as it is eveident that both the flashes are firing.

Next I move the 2 strobes facing in another direction and then do the same test again.  I take a shot of my hand (holding the Phottix Atlas) to indicate my use of the Plus II on camera as a trigger.

Table III Full Image Zoomed
Images 26 to 30 were shot using the Phottix Atlas and then I switched to the PocketWizard Plus II. You will see in the zoomed images (31 to 41) that only 1 flash (the one with the Phottix) is firing. I took a few extra images with the Plus II mounted on the camera as I wanted to make sure that it was not a random error.

Below are a few extra images that were taken by the remotely triggered camera.....

I believe that the furthest distance I walked out to was about half a kilometer (though I think it might have been more).  With this distance, I was dumbfounded by the range that these new triggers were providing.

To me, this was pretty solid proof that the Phottix Atlas had a longer range than the PocketWizard Plus II, both in transmission as well as reception.  But since I didn't do a good job of taking proper measurements and synchronizing my cameras, I feel that this deserves another go to make this inconclusive proof that the Atlas is better when it comes to range.

The one con of this trigger is (soon to be 'was') the random triggering of an attached strobe.  Now, while Phottix says that "this seems to be only with Canon flashes when used on the hot shoe", I found that there was no consistency in it's randomness!  And...I had not (till date) mounted the flash on its hot shoe.  But in their defense, I have now heard that this issue has been resolved and I can get my triggers swapped.  So, I will definitely post an update on this issue!

Steve Peer, CEO of Phottix, had advised me when I was purchasing the Atlas triggers that the antennae need to pointed upward (or the radio triggers needed to be perpendicular to the ground).  With that basic condition he said that their triggers would beat the range of the Plus IIs.  I snickered inside.  Boy, do I feel sheepsh now!  He was right.

UPDATE (15th June, 2010): I have been advised (actually on the 28th of May - prior to this post) by Phottix that the random triggering/firing issue has been resolved.  In all fairness, I wanted to post what I had initially thought when using these triggers.  Now that Strobist (Thanks for the pointer, David) has mentioned this review in his blog I didn't want people to put this issue on the top of their lists.  This is the reason I am adding this update now!!

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I have since used the Atlas triggers as my primary radios at most of my jobs and they have not let me down.  Here are some pictures (these are client images and therefore request that you do not use any of these images - they are solely here for your reference)....

Meydan VIP Bridge
So happy was this photographer with the performance of the Atlas during the test, that he even decided to use it that evening to remotely trigger a camera on a tripod from quite a distance away for the wide angle shot.  He used the trigger camera to shoot bridge detail.

My Classmates' Family Portrait

The AC Delco Job

The Hotel In Abu Dhabi

....All done with the Phottix Atlas wireless radio triggers

I appreciate all the comments and inquiries (from part 1 & 2) regarding this review.  I have tried to answer all I could, but may I suggest that you contact Phottix for queries such as specification, launch dates and pricing issues as they are in the best position to do so.  Please keep that questions coming in and let me know if you have had a chance to play with these new radios.  I appreciate any links, link backs, blogposts and tweets.  Feel free to use any of the images posted here (with the exception of the last 7) as long as there is a link back to this blog (or my website - www.charlesverghese.com) or I am given credit.

I also definitely feel that this should not be kept a secret.  While I'm not against PocketWizard...they did get us to where we are now.....I think a little healthy competition in our suppliers gives us choice and in the end we (photographers) benefit.  So, all you Strobists, One Lighters and generally any photographer that wants to get better range for their buck....spread the word!

Looking forward to all of your feedback!


UPDATE (17th June, 2010):
Check out RedDotPhotos' unboxing & review YouTube Video below

Check out Post 1/3 (Introduction To Phottix Atlas)
Check out Post 2/3 (Product Showcase & Short Range Testing)
Check out Post On The Update (Random Triggering Fixed)


  1. Thanks for the effort setting up this test, very interesting.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you for your extensive testing and detailed report, Charles.

    I might need to make my next trigger an Atlas... but then I'll be pushing my PW+ IIs to the bottom of the bag for backups. :)

    I hope the North American version is as effective.

  4. Very interesting thank you, we are using manual radio triggers currently while we decide which / where to get something that is ittl capable. Really the only advantage from our point of view would be being able to use high speed sync in bright sun, at the moment we do that with a long ittl cable when we need.


  5. thanks very interesting info appreciate it a lot

  6. Thanks for all of your comments!

  7. I use canon 5d & 5dmII with 550 & 450 flashes and sometimes find PW fail to trigger. I' ve heard there is some issue with canon interfering with the radio signal. Very annoying and makes me look like a jackass. Have you noticed this problem with either product?

  8. HI Barbara,

    I personally did not notice this issue with the Atlas triggers. With the exception of the fact that they fired randomly (which has apparently been corrected by the manufacturer), flashes were triggered consistently.

    I myself, use 1 Canon 580 EXII, 3 Canon 480 EX's and 1 SB800.

  9. Very awesome. Great job on the field testing. I am already sold and have had the chance to recommend them to somebody within 5 minutes of finishing your blog post! Thanks a bunch, I now have a new blog to follow. Just can't wait until the US version is released, I will probably buy two to go with my existing PW setup.

  10. Great series of writeups. The placement of the flash shoe on the trigger compared to the foot seems like it might be a weak point in terms of mounting the trigger and then adding the weight of the flash. How secure and robust does it feel in reality?

  11. Does this work with the Pocketwizard transmitter in the Sekonic L-358 lightmeter

  12. Reactivestills,

    I would presume that this will work with anything that operates on the same frequency as the PocketWizard PlusII (European models as of now). So, if your (European - EU) PocketWizard PlusII triggers the Sekonic L-358, so will the Atlas.


  13. I have just pre-ordered 3, and will get the Module for the L-358,cant wait..About time someone came out with this..The multimax system from PW is understandably expensive because of its functionality but the plus II's are way over priced considering all they do is trigger 4 channels.. Coming from the Skyport system these are fantastic!

  14. Hi, Charles.

    I followed your reviews on the Atlas. Many Thanks. I ordered two of them to complete my PW range :-)

    I have two questions on your review:

    Phottix speaks about "4-channel and fire “ALL” function", but I can just see a switch for channels 1-4, no "all" switch. Can you acknowledge that it can also trigger all 4 channels at the same time??

    And second question: The model you tested works in the same frequency range as european PW models, if I got you, right?



  15. Hi Charles

    Thanks mate - the review was quite convincing. I am just an amateur photographer. I had been waiting since the photo exhibition to see when the Photox Atlas would be launched in UAE. I saw it recently at a shop in MOE and would pick it up now.

  16. So what is the latest on importing these into the US?