Keep your Nikon Lens Extended Warranty Paperwork!

Just a few days ago my sparkly, shiny new Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens arrived from B&H Photo. I was lucky enough to check their website during one of the ten-minute periods when they have these in stock and placed my order right away. Half an hour later, they were sold out again.

Inside the box was a packet of papers, one of which was was the form you have to fill out and send in to get the extra four years of warranty coverage on the lens (one year is automatically included.) In the past I've found it very useful to have that extra coverage, because it's free and even normal wear and tear on a lens can necessitate a trip to the repair shop every few years. But there's a terribly important secret that I didn't learn about until just recently..

The form you mail in warns that you must send in the paperwork to register for the extended warranty within 10 days of the date of purchase of the lens. "FAILURE TO DO SO INVALIDATES YOUR ESC (Extended Service Coverage)" The capital letters are mine to make it sound more ominous.

But last November when I had some trouble with the mount being worn on my 70-200 f/2.8, which was well within it's five-year coverage period, I was mighty surprised to get an email from Nikon containing an estimate of around $500 to repair it.

Immediately I called them. "That sucker's under warranty!" I barked. "We don't have any indication of that," they calmly responded. Fortunately, I'm extremely anal-retentive and I saved my copy of the mail-in postcard for the warranty extension. "Send us that (or fax a copy) and if it's real your repair will be covered," they told me. So I did, and it turns out that I was spared the distress of having to cough up $516 to get the work done.

Bottom line: I still mailed in the postcard for the 24-70, because maybe somewhere in the filing system at Nikon where "Top Men" are studying it my paperwork might really have some meaningful purpose. But I will make sure to send along my copy (or a copy of my copy) if I ever need this new lens fixed because the folks down at repair central don't seem to have access to that secret warehouse where the warranties are kept.

One quick note:

The 24-70 is one helluva sweet lens. It is super-frickin' sharp, so much so that I have to wear extra thick glasses when I look at the photos on my computer to avoid cutting my eyes. And it's a great range. In the past I've carried around the 17-35mm f/2/8 and the 35-70mm f/2.8, both of which are great lenses but meant that I was sometimes fumbling around changing lenses when I wanted to be shooting. You know, that frustrating feeling when you start composing that perfect shot and find yourself thinking, "golly, I wish I was zoomed in just a LITTLE tighter on this." The 24-70 fills most of that range and when I used it at last weekend's wedding I didn't feel like I was missing the few extra millimeters on the wide end. Even better, I had to carry around less glass for the 8-9 hours I was shooting, which makes my knees and back happier. So I'm giving a big "thumbs up" to this new lens.

My choice: RadioPoppers or Pocket Wizards

I've had a couple people ask me what I would recommend they do about purchasing either the RadioPopper Px and JrX system or the new Pocket Wizard system, both of which will allow tremendous control of your flashes and studio systems right from your camera.

Short answer: I'm going to go with RadioPoppers. Long answer: it's hard to know from here which system is going to be better in the long run. I'm going with what I've found to be easy and reliable.

My first set of remotes was a getup called Hawk Remotes. They were, if I recall correctly, essentially garage door openers for your flash, only less graceful. When I used them, I was amazed that I didn't have to run a sync cord all the way across the room to my flashes. And they were much better than the optical slaves out at the time, because my flashes would fire only when I wanted them to: not when somebody else took a picture. True, they were about the size of a small shoe and had that fancy bronze finish on them, but I used the hell out of them. Frankly, I don't remember how long ago I got rid of them.

When Pocket Wizard came along with their system of transmitters and receivers, I was again thrilled. Over the years I have been very loyal to them, and they to me. Now I have four transmitters (one's a "transceiver," so it swings both ways) and five receivers, and about the only time they've ever failed me is when I let the batteries die or somehow mangled one of them, which is pretty hard to do.
But with the Wizards I wasn't able to do anything except know (and believe me, the knowledge alone was comforting) that my flashes would fire when I pressed the shutter. If it turned out they were too bright for the amount of ambient light — something that is very common when you're shooting in one place over several hours, like at a wedding reception — I had to stop shooting, go over and adjust the lights, meter it, take a few test shots, and then go back to actually working.

RadioPoppers took away all that hassle. Well, most of it anyway. Now, if I had some SB-800's set up around the room I could change the power output right from the camera. It saved several minutes, and over the course of a 5-hour wedding reception it probably saved me maybe 20 minutes that I could be using to better advantage. But the first generation (P1) system didn't let me do anything about the Alien Bees I might have in place, and in fact I had to rig up a system where I had a Pocket Wizard on teh bottom of my camera going to my PC outlet and a flash with a RadioPopper on the top so I could fire both.

Now RadioPoppers will, they say, let you fire all these off-camera lights right from the one Px transmitter unit. When the JrX system comes out in another few days, I'll be able to hook up an inexpensive (they're saying well under $100) receiver up to my Bees and work everything right from the camera. If something's to bright or too dark, no more walking over to the lightstand, brigning it down from 13 feet, dialing down the power and hoisting it back up. Super frickin' sweet, if you ask me.

Pocket Wizard has a system out now that they claim will let you do the same thing, and that's great. But so far it only works with Canon cameras and flashes, and being a Nikon guy that's makes it useless to me for the moment. When they come out with the Nikon technology maybe that'll be great. By the way, many of the Canon flashes apparently generate their own radio interference field, so there is a condom you can put over it which looks just about as elegant and professional as I describe.

Because I already have money invested in the Poppers, I think it's likely that I'll stick with that system. (By the way, I'll be selling all those Pocket Wizards on ebay before long if everything works as described.) They've been extremely reliable, and the only instance where I've had any difficulties with my Px units has been MORE than made up for by the amazing customer service out in Arizona.

Now, it does appear that the Pocket Wizard units let you do some fancy fudging to get a little more power out of your flash, in part by subtly changing the timing sequence for when the flash fires. But to be honest, I've got enough on my plate. It took me forever to figure out how to make the pictures on this blog pop up when you click them, and I don't need another learning curve heaped on the pile of learning curves I already have.

One other concern I have about the Pocket Wizard transmitters is related to design. You see, the RadioPoppers fit snugly to the side of my flash. So when I'm carrying around a camera with a flash in the hotshoe, the Popper doesn't add a great deal to the profile of my gear such that it might catch on something or get in the way. The Pocket Wizard transmitter is designed to work with your hotshoe, as a kind of extension of it. That may give it more flexibility in terms of function, but it also raises the flash up another inch or so away from the camera.

Now, I already find my cameras a little top-heavy when I have a flash mounted on it, and the last thing I want is for the flash to stick up even higher away from the body, changing the center of gravity all that much more. If they made powerful, intelligent, versatile squatty little flashes that would only stick up a couple inches from the camera I'd use those in a heartbeat, but they don't.

Lastly, it appears that the foot of the Pocket Wizard transmitter is made of plastic, while the trend has been to make those feet of metal in most modern pro flashes. I have heard some colleagues argue that they like this in a flash (the plastic foot) because if the camera takes a hard shock they want the flash to be the thing that breaks away, instead of the prism being damanged. But I also have to say that I've never known anyone to whom that has happened, and these are folks that cover wars and other shoots that are hard on gear. I have, however, had the plastic foot on my older flashes crack from the stress of daily wear, so I'm glad that my Nikon's now have metal feet. I think a metal foot for the Pocket Wizard would have made sense here.

Whether one or the other system is right for you, I can't say. The Px transmitter and receiver are more expensive than the Pocket Wizard model, but I can tell you there's very little i have to worry about or configure when I set up my flashes using the Poppers. And they do offer an enormous amount of flexibility in how you control your light. Combined with Nikon's ittl "commander" capabilities, you can have six different sets of lights firing at different values, some ttl and some manual or all manual. Impressive. And the JrX models, if they really do come in at the price that's been hinted about, will be one helluva bargain for the money. Leap Devices has delayed the release of the JrX units a couple times, but I think that's because they really care about making sure these things are terrific as they head out the door. I think it will be worth the wait.