Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

Repurposing A Photographers Tool For Cinema Use

Since the DSLR revolution began, we in the filmmaking community have been repurposing photography equipment to create motion pictures. I recently stumbled across another tool used by photographers that can be repurposed for our needs: the Pocket Wizard. Continue reading to see how to use this tool on your sets.

From what I understand, the Pocket Wizard is simply a remote triggering device that you can tether to your camera or a flash. Since I don't use flashes as a cinematographer, I haven't paid attention to this product. However, the fact that it can also be set to trigger a camera does interest me. So I set out with Nic Rios to put a set of Pocket Wizards to the test, and we found that with a simple menu change in the camera, we could turn it on and off remotely. Here is what you need to do to make this happen on the Canon 5D MarkIII:

Change the Movie Shoot Button from: Start/Stop to ...

You may be asking- Great, but what is the big deal? Well, here is where I see wireless remote triggering as a very useful feature for DSLR cameras:

- Hard to access locations.
Wireless remote triggering can be very helpful if you have mounted your DSLR to a long jib, on a car, or your fully extended tripod. The fact that you can start recording without having to physically touch the camera can save a lot of time in these situations. This could also come in handy for recording an event like a wedding where a camera needs to be placed on stage, but an operator is not permitted to be with the camera. Set it up with a Pocket Wizard and you can start recording just before the event begins without having to waste a lot of card space with a long pre-roll. And you don't become a distraction to the audience as you run to your next camera.

- More cameras than operators.
I have worked on a shoot where I had to run 6 cameras but we only had 3 operators. (The other three cameras were locked off). If we would have had Pocket Wizards on us, it would have been a lot simpler, and quicker to use one remote to trigger all of the non-operated cameras then to have each of us make sure that an additional camera was rolling before we began.

- Hidden cameras, Surveillance, & Bullet Time
Here are some other wild ideas that came to mind: If you need a camera package to be ultra low profile and to hide it somewhere inconspicuous, you could leave the camera bare, and only mount the Pocket Wizard to the hot shoe of the camera. Then start recording when your subject enters the frame. Or let's say you wanted to film four different angles of a building all at the same time. The Pocket Wizard can be set to receive and also transmit a signal. So each Pocket Wizard becomes a repeater. That means you could stage cameras around an entire building and each camera only has to be in the line of site of the previous camera. Now with one click, you trigger all of the cameras together. This gets me thinking about the Matrix, and bullet time photography. While originally done with stills, what if you did it instead with video? Now you can move in and out of motion from any camera position - not just the start and end frames...
Nic triggering the camera with the second Pocket Wizard

If you don't find yourself needing wireless remote triggers, then this isn't the tool for you. But at $150, it's handy to have around and it will not break your wallet. The configuration I'm using is the Pocket Wizard connected to the 5D via the Pre-Trigger Cable. Line of site, distance, and metal objects in close proximity are going to be your biggest limiting factors with this setup. If your remote isn't triggering the camera, make sure it isn't one of these factors that is causing you issues.

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

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