The first thing that is impressive about the mini TT1 and Flex TT5, is that they will do away with sync cords. That constant struggle to figure out a way to use the older PocketWizards while you have a speedlight in the camera’s hotshoe, is now a thing of the past. Both the mini TT1 and Flex TT5 units have a remarkably low profile on top of the camera’s hotshoe – and can take a speedlight.
A minor hiccup was that I first tried this with the Canon 5D mk2. After being frustrated in not being able to consistently get results from the on-camera speedlight while mounted on top of the camera-mounted miniTT1 or FlexTT5 .. I bothered to read the instructions and noted that the 5D mk2 can’t yet be used like that. Such are the problems when reverse engineering and improving existing technology. These types of incompatibilities will occur. Hopefully the PocketWizard crew will be able to sort this out in the future with a software update.
So I borrowed a friend’s Canon 5D to test the new PocketWizards out further.
One of the things that makes the new PocketWizards so interesting, is that they are designed to expand on the current wireless TTL flash technology and make it more reliable, and workable over longer ranges .. while offering you all the advantages of wireless TTL flash. One of those things would be high-speed flash sync.
1/800th @ f2 @ 100 ISO
Canon 5D; Canon 85mm f1.2 II
Where high-speed flash sync shines is in allowing us to use wide apertures for a specific look. Photographing my model, Allison, in Hoboken, I wanted the Manhattan skyline to be just a softly out-of-focus haze in the background. This meant a wide aperture like f2 on the 85mm lens. This in turn implied a shutter speed of 1/800th.
The PocketWizards were simplicity itself to use here.
Slide them into position, and switch them on. Dead simple.
But there was more to it than this …
The light in that photo was via a softbox on my right-hand side, held up by my assistant. The softbox was a medium Photoflex Litedome Q39 (24×32) held in place on top of the monopod by the the Westcott Magic Slipper, as described in this posting on the softboxes I use with speedlights.
And this is where a problem arose. The Photoflex has a baffle inside, so the light is reduced somewhat. More crucially, the pre-flash sequence that the wireless TTL system uses to determine exposure, is significantly cut. This apparently made it difficult for the new PocketWizards to fire properly every time. The further I moved from the softbox, the more intermittent the slaved speedlight in the softbox would fire. The distance that I was able to get the slaved speedlight to consistently fire, was disappointingly short. (Perhaps 20 ft)
Another part of this problem is most likely due to the well-documented fact that the Canon 580EX emits radio-frequency bursts in the range that the PocketWizards use to communicate. This significantly affects the range of the new PocketWizards when used with the 580EX and 580EX II.
Interestingly enough, in the video clips on the PocketWizards site, nearly all the photographers except for maybe one, were using the new PocketWizards on a light-stick as direct off-camera flashes. That does work very well .. but I prefer the look that a decent sized softbox provides. But this is the point then where we hit a problem area with the slaved flash not always firing.
This is most likely not specifically a PocketWizard problem, but a limitation of the TTL metering technology. The camera needs to see the pre-flash to calculate the exposure, and with the softbox (with the additional baffle), the preflash might very well be too faint to register by the camera’s metering.
Hopefully these are problems that the engineers at PocketWizard can still figure a work-around for. (The release of the new PocketWizards have in fact been held back while certain known issues are being sorted out.) So I really hope that they get the problems sorted out, because everything else about the miniTT1 and FlexTT5 look very attractive.
But … in the end with this shoot, we just went “old school”, and used the older PocketWizard Plus II transceivers. Keeping it simple with manual flash, firing the speedlight in the softbox with the older and super-reliable PocketWizards proved to be easier.
1/320th @ f8 @ 200 ISO
Nikon D3; Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S
Aaah, you may well ask why I was shooting at 1/320th when the max flash sync speed of the D3 is 1/250th. The answer lies in that that image is a slight crop from the full image, and with the model centrally in the photo, I was able to get full flash exposure without the black band showing of using non-high-speed-sync flash over the max sync speed. In other words, you simply can’t see that the flash was blocked by the shutter curtain since the subject isn’t close to the edge of the frame.