February 11, 2011

photo session w/ PocketWizard MiniTT1 & FlexTT5 & AC3 ZoneController

My friend Carol Beuchat, who works as a professional dog photographer, is back in New York for this year’s Westminster Dog Show. Some of you may remember the portrait we did last year of Chanel, a champion whippet. Carol asked me to help her again with portraits of Keegan, an Irish Water Spaniel, who will be competing at the Westminster Dog Show.

Keegan’s owners wanted some photographs with New York as a backdrop. I immediately thought of doing this on the Jersey side, with a grand view of Manhattan across the Hudson. I had just received a set of the brand new PocketWizards which offer wireless TTL control for Nikon cameras.

I specifically wanted to use this as a TTL setup, because I knew we would have to work fast, and I would have to control everything from my camera. The previous night the temperatures in New York had dropped to a bone-chilling 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 Celsius), and there just wouldn’t be time to run to and from the light setups, and change settings. It had to be done from the camera …

I had the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller, and this made it very quick to dial exposure compensation up or down for either of the two lights I would be using.

Here is the pull-back shot as we were setting up Keegan.  I had my 70-200mm f2.8 on a tripod, low on the iced-over ground. I wanted that low perspective of Manhattan across the water.

The two lights were SB-900 speedlights in Lastolite softboxes. The right-hand one was set to 2 stops under compared to the left-hand speedlight. The over-all compensation on my camera was set to -1.7 EV, to compensate for the dark tones of the dog and the background.

There it is … we were able to get a few good photos of Keegan, and we were able to work fast enough and not freeze over completely.

I have to tell you how icy cold it was.  To get to this viewpoint, we had to scale small mountains of iced-over snow which the snow plows had heaped up on the edges of the parking lot. Every time I climbed over these heaps of crunchy ice-snow, there would be moments when my feet would sink into the ice, deeper than my knees. Setting up my lights and the cameras, my hands were frozen over. No fun at all. Except, that it was fun. Working on a photo shoot is always interesting.  And this was a bit of a challenge because of the cold, and having to work fast to keep Keegan’s attention.

So how did the new Pocket-Wizards fare?

First of all, I have to say that I didn’t spend much time acclimatizing to them. I had been too busy to study the manuals. So this shoot was essentially done with out-of-the-box units, after I had briefly scoured the Quick Guide that came with each set. What really impressed me was how intuitive they were to use. If you’re familiar with the way that Nikon’s speedlights work with the different channels and groups, then the PocketWizards will instantly make sense. No steep learning curve to get to the essential use of these.  I am sure that careful reading of the manuals will reveal more features and nuances, but they can be used nearly immediately.

This isn’t a test report yet, since I still need to do my homework properly, but I thought I would share my initial impressions of them on a first try. I like what I see so far.

You can order the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio slave system from B&H here:


MiniTT1 transmitter

FlexTT5 transceiver

AC3 ZoneController

related articles:
- photo session – Shawna – with the PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController
- using the PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController

 

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JBecker February 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for this post! !!

Reply

2 Jerry February 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Thanks Neil for a great site. You’re a “go to” site every morning. Were you shooting in AV since you mention being at -1.7 EV? What were your settings? Also, you say that the one on the right was 2 stops under the left. Are you talking camera right and left? Because the dog’s left side looks brighter to me than his right.
Thanks again for inspiring me to be better, better, better! I preach the black foamie thing to photogs all the time who laugh at me until they see your site.

Reply

3 Neil vN February 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Jerry, sorry, I wasn’t as thorough as I should’ve been. I got this post up quickly before dashing off again.

Re the compensation:
I use the Nikon D3 in manual exposure mode. Then the overall exposure compensation only affects the TTL flash output. It thereby effectively becomes the FEC control. So by dialing in -1.7 EC in manual mode, I affect all the speedlights’ FEC by the same amount. (I have to do it this way, because for some unfathomable reason, the Nikon engineers neglected to add an FEC button to the Nikon D3 and D2x / D2H.

Re the directions:
I meant camera-left and camera-right.

I also noticed that the right-hand flash added more light than you’d expect from the FEC that I had set. I can’t explain it, other than that it was so cold and dark, that I may have bumped the AC3 Controller to manual flash for that speedlight. Too many variables to really tell why. But whatever happened, it really worked in giving texture to Keegan’s fur and give separation from the dark background.

Neil vN

Reply

4 Jazz Guy February 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Where did you find the AC3 Zone Controller for Nikon? I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

Reply

5 Johann February 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Im with jazz on this one, how did you get a PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller already?

Reply

6 Neil vN February 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Jazz Guy … I know people who know some people …

Actually, the people over at PocketWizard were kind enough to send me an early release of the AC3. The addition of the AC3 makes a lot of sense to the entire setup. I might just keep it.

Neil vN

Reply

7 Ced February 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I find this photo really funny, could be a movie poster!

Reply

8 Stephen February 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Rather than using the AC3 Controller, could I just mount a SB-900 on top of a FlexTT5 and control the flash groups’ FEC in that manner? I thought I read somewhere that the FlexTT5 will suppress the pre-flash information from the speedlight.

Reply

9 Neil vN February 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Stephen, I could have. But the AC3 is faster to dial and change the output of the other speedlights.

Neil vN

Reply

10 Joe Leong February 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm

I am waiting for the AC Zone Controller. Love my new PWs.

Reply

11 Bart February 12, 2011 at 12:01 am

did you use the ac zone controller? From what you say you only used the ttl mode and used the flash compensation feature the lower the output of the flash? If The right-hand one was set to 2 stops under compared to the left-hand speed light u had to use the zone controller cause -1.7 compensation would work for both flashes?

Reply

12 Neil vN February 12, 2011 at 3:39 am

Bart .. I’m not sure I understand your question.

I did use the AC3 Zone Controller.
The initial few test shots showed over-exposure. I therefore wanted to dial both flashes down by the same amount. I could do this by individually dialing their FEC via the Zone Controller. But it was dark and the buttons were hard to see.

Much simpler to dial the overall Exposure Compensation button on the D3 to affect both speedlights in tandem.

I hope this makes sense.

Neil vN

Reply

13 Bogdan February 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

From what I could gather, the AC3 is a simpler SU-800. Is this a correct statement?
You seem pleased with the performance of your new set and this is reassuring for the rest of us still on the fence between them and the proven Poppers. I have used Elinchrom triggers for the last few years and their reliability was 100% even outside in the cold Canadian winter. How did your new set react to the cold?

Thank you for the write-up!

Cheers!

Bogdan

Reply

14 Stephanie Zettl February 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Bogden – The AC3 attaches to the MiniTT1 and allows you to adjust the exposure of your flashes in either TTL or Manual. It takes the place of using a SU-800 or SB-900 flash on the camera to control EVC. The AC3 does not transmit info like if you were using the SU-800 in the Nikon CLS – of course that’s why it is about $80.

Unless I need flash on camera, I like it SO much better than having the SU-800 or a SB-900 on my camera. It keeps the camera light and the profile smaller. I also like how I can flick a dial to change my EVC on any group without having to punch buttons to get to the right group on the SB-900 (I personally find changing EVC on the sb-900 a bit of a pain) It makes it quick and effortless.

It’s a very valuable addition to the PocketWizards.

Reply

15 Bart February 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Neil, sorry for the confusion.
Because you said that “The right-hand one was set to 2 stops under compared to the left-hand speedlight” I assumed you used the Ac3 to set different power levels between 2 flashes and on the top of it you used the overall exposure compensation to add extra -1.7? thx
Also, I love your tips, and I just realize that in manual mode on my d90 I can use the overall compensation to go much higher then with flash compensation.

Reply

16 Neil vN February 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Bart, that’s exactly what I did, as described.

Neil vN

Reply

17 ron lemish February 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Neil did you get away with murder !! Your own photographic proof shows that you USED A TRIPOD WITHOUT A PERMIT in Jersey. By-laws state thet tripods are not allowed under 4 Ft. of snow.. permits are required ;-)

Reply

18 Neil vN February 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Yup, that’s me. The Rebel Without A Clause.

Neil vN

Reply

19 Dave February 13, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I bought these for my canon cameras and flash, thinking they would be just as trustworthy as their pocket wizards… Just a terrible product. Missed so many shots due to poor exposures. After a 2 months I contacted pocket wizard and they took them back no questions asked. I’ll give them a 10 on customer service but the product was terrible. I went to radio poppers and haven’t looked back since.

Reply

20 Neil vN February 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Dave, as I mentioned in my original review of the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 for Canon .. I was entirely unimpressed. But then, I did use the 580EX speedlites, and felt no compelling reason to downgrade to a 430EX just for the Pocketwizards.

I was really disappointed, since I *wanted* those PocketWizards to work. They looked good, and made sense, and were of an elegant design … but they just didn’t work like they were intended to.

I do mention this in the initial review of the PocketWizard MiniTT1 & FlexTT5 for Nikon.

Hopefully with further testing, these units will prove reliable and consistent.

Neil vN

Reply

21 Bogdan February 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Had a closer look at these… Looks like the Mini is mandatory… not sold on the small battery design. Would have been so difficult to make it run on one AAA ? Those round cell things are a pain in the proverbial “derriere”. They are the only thing I don’t like about my Elincrom transmitter, my forgetful nature ALWAYS forgets to turn it off and these batteries don’t last too long. Did I mention I like standard batteries ? :-)

Cheers!

Bogdan

Reply

22 Gordon Cahill February 14, 2011 at 7:01 am

The mini isn’t required. You could use a TT5 on camera. They run on AAs. That’s what I do.

As for the Canon thing. I run 580ex II’s and 550s with the latest firmware. The sock does help. But with the current firmware I’m finding them extremely reliable. I use them every week and haven’t had a single issue. A lot has changed as the firmware updates have flowed from PW.

Gordon

Reply

23 Bobby February 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Love my AC3. With that I can get consisent expsoures like shooting with flash in manual mode. So simple to adjust flashes. Wish Radio Poppers guys used control wheels like AC3 on their JRx.

Reply

24 Phil N February 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Thanks as usual for the very informative write-up. I am very excited to get my hands on these.
After reading this, I am questioning my intended set-up and I am hoping you can help. I was going to get one FlexTT5 for each of my speedlights (3) and then one (1) MiniTT1 for my camera.
Aside from the $20 savings, do you see any other advantages to getting the MiniTT1 as opposed to the TT5 for my camera. Why not a setup of all TT5s? Am I missing something?
Thanks in advance.

Reply

25 Pattyd February 16, 2011 at 11:00 am

Hey Niel…….I saw Keegan last night on the Westminister Dog Show. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt like I knew him from studying your post all week.

To Phil N I think that you can use all tt5s if you would like. The miniTT1 is considerably smaller and if you get an AC3 on camera you will probably appreciate less bulk. The one thing to note also is the MiniTT1 uses cr2450 or cr2354 battery. The tt5 uses 2 double AA. Not a big deal just good to have a spare handy. I have the miniTT1 and 2 tt5′s and so far so good!

PattyD

Reply

26 Neil vN February 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Phil … I still have two TT1 units, but I am going to opt out to only using the FlexTT5 units, simple for the AA batteries that the TT5 uses. The TT1 has the coin cell battery.

Neil vN

Reply

27 Phil N February 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thanks Patty! Great points.
Any tips on where you got your TT1s and TT5? I have been on the list at a large photo retailer here in Chicago and they have no idea when they would see them. I seemed to have more updates than they did.

Reply

28 Pattyd February 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Phil…I think I just got lucky. I too was on a waiting list for a very long time. I probably still am on it. I just googled nikon tt5 ect. and Dale Photo and Digital in Florida popped up that they had them in stock. I am in NY area so I was a little hesitant not being familiar with that shop. I ordered the set and they came in 3 days with free shipping. I hope you have the same luck.

Patty

Reply

29 Joe Leong February 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

Neil, were your flashes set to TTL for the zone controller to work

Reply

30 Neil vN February 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Joe .. The actual speedlight has to be set to TTL mode. But with the AC3 ZoneController, you can set it to work in TTL mode or as a Manual unit.

But the actual speedlight is set to TTL mode, and not set up with the usual CLS method of being the Slave. That’s all handled from the FlexTT5 and AC3.

Neil vN

Reply

31 Martin Wong March 15, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hi,
I have few small questions if you don’t mind:
1. Did you use/get the mini only because of its size? and doesn’t the TT5 do more (or can the mini also act as a receiver for a remote flash?)
2. Which softbox and tripod/lightstand did you use since you are using the new PocketWizard Flex?

Thanks

Reply

32 Neil vN March 15, 2011 at 11:42 am

I used the MiniTT1 because I had it. But since then, I’ve used the FlexTT5 as the transceiver on my camera. Mostly because it uses AA batteries.

The MiniTT1 is only a transmitter.

I used two Red-Wing light-stands there.
The softboxes are the Lastolite 24×24 Ezybox softboxes.

Neil vN

Reply

33 Jason August 13, 2011 at 10:13 am

Hey Neil. Have you noticed that the regular sync speed goes from 250th to 320th of a second when using the flex? Its only when you move to 1/400 that there seems to be a drop in power due to hss coming in play. I also find it interesting that you can fire in continuous burst mode once you go to hss versus having to wait for the flash to recycle in regular sync. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Reply

34 Neil vN August 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Not on my D3 … there is definite loss of power going over max sync speed. Are you in hyper-sync mode or such perhaps? (I haven’t explored hyper-sync yet.)

Neil vN

Reply

35 Jason August 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Neil I first noticed this with my d700 and either an sb900 or 800 mounted on the flex. If I was at 2.8,1/400 and say 1/4 power set on the flash using the ac3 zone controller, and geting perfect exposure on my subject, and then changed to 3.2, and 1/320 I would completely obliterate my subject with flash. As far as hypersync mode, I assume you are referring to alienbees and some other studio lights. I have been ableto get my ab800 to sync at full power at 1/800.

Reply

36 Neil vN August 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Jason … you have too many variables there to make an assumption that the TT5 allows you to sync at higher than max sync speed without loss of power.

Neil vN

Reply

37 Jason August 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Neil, I guess my point is I believe there is little if any loss of power unless you go past 1/320 when using a flex with an sb800 or 900. Give it a try.

Reply

38 Neil vN August 14, 2011 at 10:52 pm
39 Jason August 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Hey Neil. I did exactly as you suggested this evening. F4, iso 200, 1/250 and an sb800 in a softbox. Light output was set bythe ac3 aboard another flex on camera. Took a shot at 1/250 and then1/320. Exactly the same exposure. Even the histograms matched perfectly! I took another shot at 1/400 and there was a drastic fall off as I am accustomed to seeing. I don’t know how it works, but it sure is interesting.

Reply

40 Neil vN August 16, 2011 at 12:04 am

Jason … aaah, not the method is consistent. Interesting observation.

(I don’t have ready access to a D700 though. Just D3 bodies.)

Neil vN

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: