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Old June 1st, 2009, 09:44 PM   #1
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two way radios

Does anyone have a suggestion for two way radios being used at events and weddings for coordination of shots, etc.

I need something that is under $300 and is voice-activated AND reliable with a headset. I have searched B & H photo, but I also would like to hear some recommendations from someone with actual experience with these devices.

Thanks
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 06:39 AM   #2
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There are two kinds of radio now - cheap, almost toys and quality products. The differences are getting very small. I used to deal in 2-way radios and standardised on Icom, but also had good experience with Yaesu, Motorola and Kenwood. The main things to look at are build quality. Do the aerials snap off if you put one in your pocket and sit down? Do they physically break when dropped on a hard floor? Electronics wise (and performance) I don't see much difference nowadays. I even bought some dirt cheap, high spec, very small units from the far east and they performed really well. I've cracked the case on a couple when dropping them on concrete, but they're fine.

I think that now, if I wanted tough and reliable, I'd probably go for Motorola. They are proven products, spares are easily available and they have loads of accessories. If I need replacement battery packs for the foreign ones next month, I doubt if I'd get them - probably cheaper to buy new radios.

I'm ignoring licensing and government approval - understanding the UK system is bad enough without trying to do the same with the US system - but the 'proper' brands can be sorted out quite easily.

Spec wise - performance specs are pretty easy for manufacturers to meet, and the only major differences relate to power output - and realistically mega power isn't required for the kind of distances we're talking about here.

The key feature is realibility and that doesn't just mean the equipment - here in the UK with have 6 channels set aside for license free operation with low power. Some kit on this band is rubbish toy type kit, others is proper quality kit. With 6 channels I'd not like to use it for anything critical. Imagine the camera ready to roll, waiting for the radio call to start! Also imagine the kitchen staff at that very moment calling the office to complain the cabbages are all rotten. Sometimes, this kind of kit is described as having 36 channels, but it just the same 6 with tone squelch to make sure a radio only lets you hear transmissions with the same tone. They won't even know you are using the channel, and could wipe you out!

So - choosing kits and even getting it is easy - BUT for me, trying to ensure a clear channel is much more difficult. Here, we could apply for a license and get given a frequency to operate on - trouble is, they kit also has to have European type approval, and none of the cheap kit has it!
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 06:55 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
Imagine the camera ready to roll, waiting for the radio call to start! Also imagine the kitchen staff at that very moment calling the office to complain the cabbages are all rotten. Sometimes, this kind of kit is described as having 36 channels, but it just the same 6 with tone squelch to make sure a radio only lets you hear transmissions with the same tone. They won't even know you are using the channel, and could wipe you out!
Thanks for the response, but if I am on the same channel as the kitchen, won't the messages just be intermingled? In other words, they will hear my messages and I will hear their messages?
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 09:09 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Bill Rankin View Post
I need something that is under $300 and is voice-activated AND reliable with a headset.
Good luck...

My experience, and I've used a LOT of different types of comms, both pro (ClearCom) and consumer (FRS radios and walkie talkies) is that with FRS radios (which is all you're going to be able to afford, given your budget) the voice activated feature is problematic if it works at all. For example in order to give Camera one direction, expect to have to utter "so anyway, um, camera one, go do that thing..." JUST so the voice activation at least has a FIGHTING chance of picking you up and latching transmit.

As well, if you're shooting with a prosumer style camera with image stabilization, expect the image to shift dramatically in the viewfinder (and on tape or card or...) nearly everytime you "key up" UNLESS you are careful to mount the actual radio as far away as possible from the camera on your person, perhaps to the detriment of signal strength. As well, if the environment is even remotely noisy don't expect to be able to hear transmission OR for your assistants to be able to hear you. The headphone amps are notoriously underpowered and the headsets that are available are less than overwhelming. Expect your radio to key up nearly at random and cut out for no good reason if using voice activated.
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 09:20 AM   #5
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My wife and I shoot weddings what we do is use our cell phones. Set it to vibrate when you are not using it. Right before the wedding starts she will call me and I just take the phone and stick it under my head phone that holds it in place I then can monitor my sound and talk to her if needed and the sound quality is as good as you can get. We have a plan where we can talk to each other as much as we want without running up minutes. I am telling you it is better than any radio I have tried.
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 10:11 AM   #6
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Good idea Ron...I'll try that and see how it goes.
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 10:52 AM   #7
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We were going to get radios until we used our phones. Now radios just seem expensive and bulky compared to what we already had in out pockets.
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 04:02 PM   #8
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A mobile with a headset gives you two way comms - excellent.

The tone squelch system - all it does is (and it's a bit similar to that used on some radio mic systems) prevents the radio letting you hear anything that doesn't have the matching tone superimposed on the audio. So if the radio transmits a 67 Hz tone, only a matching radio that requires 67Hz tone opens up and lets you hear the message. A transmission from somebody else with no tone, or the wrong one - results in silence. This prevents you hearing material not intended for you. Some clever (read: more expensive) radios will also prevent you transmitting if something is already on the channel - useful, I guess but not much good if your message is urgent. Your own system remains private - but only to you. Somebody with equipment working on the same frequency but 'tone-free' will hear every word you say, but if they answer, you don't hear them because their tone is missing or wrong. It does not stop interference from other users, just the nasty noise it makes. It gives an 'illusion' of privacy. If you are waiting for the 'GO' word, but the kitchens (in my example) are chatting, then if they are stronger than the person you are waiting for, you won't get the message.

That's a bit long-winded. Does it make sense?
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 06:08 PM   #9
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I understand what you are saying...thanks...
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Old June 2nd, 2009, 07:35 PM   #10
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Interesting info here.

I have just bet my money on 6 of these: Cobra - microTALK MT 975 EU Twelve KM Radio which should arrive tomorrow.

Would you classify them as upper or lower class, based on how rugged they are, and interfere with other equipment.? There is also mention about a Digital Coded Squelch. Im not sure if its the same type of Squelch mentioned here, since this one has 83 and not 36 subchannels. My understanding here is limited, but if a Squelch is suppose to ensure privacy, they kinda missed the part where the transmitter is supposed to "mute" the signal to any "intruders", not the receiver. (handshaking? no?)
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Old June 12th, 2009, 04:17 PM   #11
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Sorry, have been very busy at work recently and not keeping up with the forums...

In my job at Opera Company of Philadelphia, the crews use two way radios to communicate in the theatre and we have been through a lot of options. For actually running the show we prefer "real" headset systems which are full duplex (meaning that you can talk and listen at the same time). With a half-duplex system, you can't listen while you talk and you may miss something that somebody else says.

But to augment this we also use walkie-talkies. When FRS radios became popular they seemed like a great low-cost solution and we bought them from a variety of companies including Cobra and Motorola. We used them with various headsets as well. After a few years, we just got tired of all the issues and lack of reliability. In an urban setting the WILL be other people using the same channels. And the signal strength also leaves a lot to be desired inside a big building (like our theatre). Beyond that, they are basically cheap consumer gadgets and they don't hold up well to heavy use. We developed a pile of them with broken knobs, bad earphone jacks, etc.

We finally ended up getting "real" walkie-talkies from Motorola - this is what we have (now discontinued): CP100™ Portable Two-Way Radio - Motorola USA

I think we are on our 7th year with these now IIRC and they have held up great - all the original ones are still working perfectly. We're now doing a show in a different theatre which is about 2.5 city blocks from our office in Center City Philadelphia. I had mine clipped to my belt when I ran back to the office a couple days ago and was amazed to still hear the backstage chatter at this distance.

Your budget may not permit this kind of thing, but they have certainly been a great investment for us. For less demanding use the FRS radios may be fine, but just remember that (as usual), you get what you pay for...
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Old June 12th, 2009, 04:26 PM   #12
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The radios you linked to are pretty typical middle ground kit. Don't forget my comments relate to the UK version of your FRS, with less psuedo-channels. They have plenty of features, and look ok - as long as they are physically tough, you'll be ok.
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