USB Onboard: A PocketWizard MultiMAX with USB port. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
LPA Design has released a revised version of their PocketWizard MultiMAX
wireless remote transceiver, one that incorporates a USB port to enable the installation of future firmware updates by the end user.
The addition of USB headlines a brief list of changes in the company's do-everything camera and flash triggering device. The new version also features improved close range operation (triggering will be more reliable when transmitter and receivers units are within one to three feet of each other, says LPA Design's Jim Clark) and reintroduces Fast Mode. Enabling Fast Mode when triggering non-dedicated strobes enables some cameras to sync at a 1/3 stop faster shutter speed - 1/320 rather than 1/250, for example - and is a useful PocketWizard function when you're attempting to minimize ambient light in the exposure.
Fast Mode is a longstanding feature of the MultiMAX, but was left out of units that shipped in 2007
. LPA Design, says Clark, is exploring whether units that are without Fast Mode can have Fast Mode brought back to life, through a firmware update that would require the 2007 MultiMAX to be sent in. Any unit that is running v6.xx firmware lacks Fast Mode now and would be eligible for the update, should LPA Design determine that it's feasible to do.
(To check the firmware version, hold down the A key when powering up the MultiMAX; to check the firmware version and reset the MultiMAX to factory settings, hold down the C key. If your MultiMAX has a custom ID, it will show the firmware version every time the unit is turned on.)
The USB port on the 2008 MultiMAX is a Mini-B type, the same as found on most digital cameras. Future firmware updates will be installable by the end user via software that is nearly complete (we've used an early version, and it found a connected MultiMAX and installed new firmware without a hitch). LPA Design, says Clark, will be releasing both Mac and Windows versions of the software, and both the software and any firmware updates will be downloadable from the pocketwizard.com
website when they come available.
The company is evaluating whether the process of assigning a custom ID to a MultiMAX - a task that requires the unit to be sent to LPA Design currently - could instead be handled via the the same software that does the firmware updates. This would have to be accomplished in a way that ensures the uniqueness of a given photographer's custom ID, says Clark, and if they can develop a rock-solid way of doing that, the company may roll this functionality into the MultiMAX firmware update application. In the meantime, getting a new MultiMAX outfitted with a custom ID is possible in the same way as before: direct from LPA Design.
Plugged In: The latest version of the MultiMAX includes a USB port above the mode switch on the side of the unit (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Accessorize: A new-design pre-release cable plugs into the accessory port near the base of the MultiMAX (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Rounding out the MultiMAX changes is a new pre-release cable design that brings to life a slick new way of enabling and disabling a camera's pre-release status. Traditionally, enabling pre-release to keep a camera perpetually awake required the flipping of a mechanical switch on the cable, which in turn meant to enable or disable pre-release you had to be at the camera. With the new cable and a 2007 or later MultiMAX (specifically, any MultiMAX running v6.xx or v7.xx firmware and equipped with an accessory port), it's possible to turn pre-release on by activating on the transmitter unit the zone (A, B, C or D) the camera's receiver is set to.
In this way, a remote camera can be left asleep - and draining minimal battery power - in the minutes, hours or even days between the setup and the shoot, then awakened from a distance simply by enabling its zone on the MultiMAX transmitter. As long as the zone is active (ie the zone's letter is visible on the MultiMAX display), the camera will be kept in a pre-release state. Make the zone inactive and pre-release is disabled.
As mentioned, this trick requires a new pre-release cable design, one that incorporates a stereo miniphone plug, has no inline mechanical switch and inserts into the accessory port near the base of the MultiMAX. LPA Design has developed cables for both Canon's N3-type and Nikon's 10-pin remote ports.
We've had a brief chance to try the new cables, on both a Canon EOS-1D Mark III and Nikon D3, and things work as advertised: activate the corresponding zone on the transmitter and the camera wakes up and stays awake; deactive the zone and, once the camera's own sleep timer times out, the camera nods off. We tried leaving both cameras dormant for about 10 hours, then waking them with the MultiMAX and shooting pictures: both cameras awoke instantly and made frames without a problem, and both cameras used almost no battery power during their nap: the D3, for example, registered 96% battery life at the outset, and 94% battery life after the 10 hours.
While the MultiMAX receiver has to be a newer one with an accessory port, the transmitter can be any MultiMAX, old or new (but it does have to be a MultiMAX, since it's only this PocketWizard model that has the zones feature).
Tip: If the transmitting MultiMAX is an older unit running v3.xx or v4.xx firmware, at least one other zone besides the remote camera's zone must be active on the transmitter or the signal to disable pre-release won't be sent. For example, if the remote camera is on zone A, be sure to make active at least one of the other zones (B, C or D) prior to pressing the A key to disable pre-release (that is, make the A disappear from the MultiMAX display). Regardless of the vintage of transmitting MultiMAX, the enable signal will be sent even with only one zone active, so this trick is only required to disable pre-release. And finally, if your transmitting MultiMAX is a newer one with v6.xx or 7.xx firmware loaded then this tip can be ignored, as the disable signal is sent regardless of whether another zone is active.
Also note that the MultiMAX transmitter unit doesn't have to be kept on for the MultiMAX receiver unit and its attached camera to retain the pre-release state you've chosen, enabled or disabled. For example, if you bring the remote camera awake by activating its zone on the transmitter, and then turn the transmitter off, the receiver will continue to keep the remote camera awake.
The combination of the new pre-release cables and the functionality built into new and recent PocketWizard MultiMAXes should make life a fair bit easier for photographers who routinely set up remote cameras.
If your MultiMAX is a bit older, but it does have an accessory port and is running v4.xx firmware, you can also make use of the new pre-release cables, though the implementation of the feature isn't as useful as it is now. In v4.xx firmware units with one of the new pre-release cables attached to the accessory port, pressing the zone button enables pre-release, but only for six seconds. Each time the zone button is pressed the unit's non-configurable pre-release timer is reset for another six seconds, but there's no way to lock pre-release on. As implemented in this particular generation of MultiMAX, the function was really to enable the waking of a camera, but not to keep it awake always. To gain the full pre-release functionality of the new cables, you'll need a newer MultiMAX with v6.xx or v7.xx firmware.
MultiMAX units sold in Europe have never had an accessory port, so the new pre-release cables aren't compatible with all European MultiMAXes shipped to date. The accessory port also serves as the AC adapter jack, says Clark, and was left off units destined for Europe so as to avoid the steep costs of certifying the unit for powering from the mains in European countries.
Starting with the 2008, USB-equipped MultiMAX, however, the European version will have the accessory port and it will be fully compatible with the new pre-release cables. Unlike the MultiMAX version sold in the U.S. and Canada, however, the accessory port will not serve as the AC power port as well.
If your MultiMAX lacks an accessory port, or you own another PocketWizard model like the Plus II, you'll want to stick with an existing pre-release cable that includes a switch, since the switchless cable type won't provide a way to enable or disable pre-release with anything other than MultiMAXes with an accessory port.
Other than the addition of a USB port, the 2008 MultiMAX is identical in appearance to the 2007 accesssory port-equipped version. It shares the same core specifications, including 32 digitally-coded channels, a 1600-foot (488-metre) range and compatibility with other PocketWizard remotes and accessories. A section of the PocketWizard website called MultiMAX Operating Essentials
contains a good overview of the unit's many functions (note that as of this writing, it hasn't been updated to include info on either the USB or accessory ports).
The PocketWizard MultiMAX
with USB port is shipping now in the U.S.and is slated for release in Canada and Europe in February 2008. Canon N3-type and Nikon 10-pin pre-release cables compatible with the accessory port are to be out in February 2008 as well.
On a related note, the Hildozine Remote Transceiver Caddy
, a nifty accessory for the PocketWizard Plus, Plus II and MultiMAX, is worth checking out if you're looking for an easier or more polished-looking way to secure a PocketWizard to a lightstand or other location.
Update, January 21, 2008: More information is in a press release below from MAC Group, the distributor of the PocketWizard line in the U.S.
U.S.A. PocketWizard MultiMAX Revised!
Elmsford NY, January 21, 2007 – The latest version of the MultiMAX has several incremental features that distinguish it from previous MultiMAX versions. Based a new radio chipset, the units now have:
• A USB Port for firmware updates
• Enhanced close range performance – they work better when very close together
• FAST MODE, a welcome return to the feature set
• An improved user interface
• Remote pre-release control – turn on or off pre-release remotely using the proper cables
USB Port – Firmware Updateable
The USB Port will be used for future firmware updates as needed. It requires a common Mini-B USB cable like those used with many digital cameras, PDAs, cell phones, MP3 players, etc. The cable is not included but is widely available.
Firmware updates will be announced on PocketWizard.com. They will be available in both MAC and PC versions. See below for instructions on finding your current firmware version.
Recent MultiMAX units without a USB port may also receive firmware updates in the future, but those models will need to be shipped to the distributor or factory for reprogramming. Older MultiMAX units are not likely to receive any more updates.
Enhanced Close Range Performance
Extreme close range operation (working distances between 1 and 3 feet) has been improved, while retaining PocketWizard’s legendary long distance capabilities This is a benefit for users that use MultiMAX units grouped very close together like at sporting events where transmitting and receiving units may be used at the same fixed location. It is still recommended that units be a few feet apart for best performance, but these improvements increase reliability and reduce overload at close range.
The latest chipset used in the MultiMAX is capable of FAST MODE, a feature that enables photographers to use faster shutter speeds with remote flash. Some units produced in 2007 lacked this feature (firmware versions 6.11 and prior 6.xx versions) while previous versions (4.xx, 3.xx) did have FAST MODE. With compatible cameras and flash units, up to 1/500 shutter speeds can be used with focal plane shutters (SLR digitals) or 1/1000 with leaf shutters.
Improved User Interface / Menus and other features
Introduced mid-2007 in the 6.xx models, the easier-to-use menus are continued in this latest MultiMAX. Previous models were marvels of programming with their rich feature set packed into a small memory space, but had to compromise on simplicity. Newer chipsets have much more memory and thus an improved UI and better features including:
• Faster Frames Per Second handling in line with the latest SLRs (12 F.P.S. or more)
• Hours:Minutes:Seconds display in Intervalometer mode, including countdown to next trigger
• Low power operation in Intervalometer Mode (up to 2 weeks on a set of AA batteries)
• Maximum times for many features increased (Contact Time, Intervalometer, Multipop, etc.)
• Ability to use arrow keys in menus
• Consistent numeric entry across all functions
• Improved low battery / AC adapter detection
• “Contrast adjustment” and “Reset to factory defaults” have their own menu items
Remote Pre-release Control
Utilizing the 6-pin ACC port and a new cable design, it is now possible to toggle on and off pre-release (like pressing the shutter button halfway) for a remote camera.
Pre-releasing a camera causes it to auto-focus / meter and it also responds more quickly and consistently. It also consumes the camera’s batteries more quickly. Previously, using older style cables, setting up the camera before an event required you to flip a hard switch that left the camera pre-released for the entire event, or until the batteries died.
Now, when you toggle on a Quad-Triggering Zone on the transmitting MultiMAX, pre-release is enabled on remote cameras set to the same Channel and Zone. Imagine setting up a camera hours before an event and not pre-releasing it until just a few minutes before it is needed. The camera’s batteries will last much longer and the entire event will be captured.
The new cables are currently being sourced and should be available mid-February. Visit PocketWizard.com for more information.
This feature is already available on 6.xx and 7.xx MultiMAX units.
Version 4.04 units with the 6-pin ACC port have a limited version of this feature. On 4.04 units, toggling any zone (including local) on or off will cause remote cameras to be pre-released, but only for 6 seconds. It may be possible to extend this time using Custom Functions in some cameras.
How to determine what you have:
Turn off each MultiMAX, hold down A, and turn it back on. It will display the installed firmware. Look at the unit and note its distinguishing features per the chart below:
User Interface/ Feature Set
||USB Port 6-pin ACC Port
||Via USB by user/owner
||6-pin ACC port (no USB)
||Distributor or Factory onlyD
|Up to 2006A
||6-pin ACC port (no USB)
||Distributor or Factory onlyD
No 6-pin ACC
||Distributor or Factory onlyD
A = Ship dates are approximate. Dealers may have new, in-warranty stock on the shelves from various times.
B = LPA is determining if a firmware solution can re-introduce FAST MODE to these units. If so, then they will need to be returned to the distributor or factory for reprogramming. Watch PocketWizard.com for information.
C = See “Pre-Release Control” above for notes on 4.04 operational differences from 6.xx-7.xx firmware.
D = Unlikely to receive future firmware improvements, however it is recommended that you bring the units up to the latest firmware available since the updates contain bug fixes. If you do not have the latest firmware, contact the distributor or factory for information on obtaining a firmware update and to assess warranty eligibility.