April 14, 2009

This is not quite so much as a review as it is a preview – I managed to get hold of a set of the new PocketWizards – the miniTT1 and FlexTT5- and got to play around with them a bit.

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.

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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.

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more equipment reviews …

more articles on off-camera flash …

 

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steel Photo April 15, 2009 at 7:42 am

Great tip on another use for cropping Neil.

Additionally, thanks for the review.
I think Im going to wait for the bugs to get fixed then, but am still quite anxious to get my hands on a half dozen of them.

Did you get to keep the new wizards, and if so, I am sure many of us would love to hear your results bouncing remote ETTL strobes during a wedding or reception or similar.

Of course, we may have to wait a while since you switched to Nikon and it sounds like you have departed with most of your Canon gear.

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2 Neil April 15, 2009 at 8:22 am

Jeffrey .. the Nikon version of the miniTT1 and FlexTT5 are scheduled for release at the end of June, so I’ll keep everyone updated how they work out.

About the cropping – it is probably just a semantic difference, but I didn’t crop out any part of the image because of the shutter curtain showing in the image. The shutter curtain didn’t show at all, because no part of the image on the edges were lit by flash. The cropping was just done after the fact to tighten up the composition a bit.

I wanted to mention the crop, or else there will be people wondering why the curtain shadow doesn’t show up on the model in that image … and mentioning the crop will explain that she was actually more central (and smaller) in the original image. And hence you wouldn’t see the shutter curtain shadow from using a shutter speed higher than the max sync speed.

Neil vN

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3 Rob April 15, 2009 at 8:43 am

Did you ever try using the TT1/TT5 setup on manual? Maybe without the preflash the range would have been better. Remote control of manual flash is pretty handy for those of us without voice-activated light stands.

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4 Neil April 15, 2009 at 10:27 am

Rob, I didn’t get to do a thorough test on these units, so I didn’t check out manual flash.

I’ll do a more thorough test when I get the Nikon units in the next month or so.

Neil vN

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5 Jack April 15, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Can you please explain how to set up my D3 / SB900 combination so that it WILL show a dark band when using HSS?

I want to purposely underexpose part of the foreground when using flash but have so far been unsuccessful,

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6 Neil April 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Jack, you won’t get the shutter curtain to show when using high-speed sync. That’s the exact reason why HSS was developed .. to use shutter speeds higher than max sync speed when using flash.

What I think you intend, is for the camera to use a higher shutter speed and no go in to HSS mode. And thereby see the shutter curtain’s shadow in the image. Or not, depending on your composition of the photo.

Off-hand I can only think of two ways to that you’d be able to do this.

With the flash on the camera, you’d have to somehow block off some of the hot-shoe contacts and only leave the center pin open. But that’s a mission.

The simplest way would be to use the flash in manual mode or Auto mode off-camera, and then trigger it with a radio slave such as the PocketWizard Plus II units. Or any other radio slave. Then you’d be able to have the camera go to any shutter speed, and still trip the flash .. without the flash over-riding the choice of shutter speeds, or going into HSS mode.

Neil vN

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7 Rob April 16, 2009 at 6:14 am

I ordered a Mini and is on the way! I didn’t purchase the Flex because I wanted a lower profile unit for on top of the camera. I plan on using mine with my PW IIs in manual mode. From what I have read so far, the distance should be around 1200 ft and I will still be able to use HyperSync.

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8 Walter April 17, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Hello Neil, Very interesting review. Have you ever had the chance to take a look at the radiopoppers? I’ve used them with the same Photoflex Q39 and they didn’t fail once, granted that the distances were not greater than 30/40ft. I’m still trying to learn, you made me wonder if my exposure might have been affected by the internal buffle reducing the light output and therefore causing TTL to apply an incorrect amount of flash?
D3/SB900

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9 Neil April 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Walter, a set of the new RadioPoppers arrived a few weeks ago, but I’ve been so backed up with work that I haven’t had time to test them out yet.

I hope to get time after this weekend to play with them. So hopefully I’ll have a mini-review up next week.

Neil vN

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10 Steel Photo April 22, 2009 at 8:19 am

Neil,

There is a discussion going on in the flickr pocket wizard group about the distance issue.

If you still have the new wizards for testing, take a look and see what you think of what they have come up with to increase distance. Still not 1600 foot, but their results have yielded over 200 ft.

The link to the thread is here:
http://www.flickr.com/groups/pocketwizards/discuss/72157616561730052/

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11 Neil April 28, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Rob Galbraith just reported that PocketWizard has super-charged the performance of the miniTT1 and FlexTT5 with use of the Canon 5D mk2.

So I am still hopeful that many of the problems can be sorted out, because the new PocketWizards are an exciting development in flash photography.

Neil vN

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12 Denise Cregier May 6, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Awesome post. Thanks for sharing!

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13 rafiayub February 27, 2010 at 2:45 am

Hi Neil,
I would like to go for this wireless setup. Can you please advice?
What about the present status? Did they fix the said problems? Now, I am using canon 5d Mk11.
I hope, you will write another article for the same, I mean, the present level of MiniTT1 and FlexTT5.
Thx

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14 Neil vN March 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Rafiayub .. I’m not sponsored by any company or distributor or manufacturer. Therefore any expense for new equipment, whether to use or test, and whether I buy it or rent it, comes out of my own pocket.

As such, it would be a prohibitively expensive hobby to continually test new equipment. So I too am waiting to see what develops further with these units.

The delays with the Nikon units surely can’t be good news.

Neil vN

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15 mike March 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Neil,
i need to buy a wireless set up……what do you think? the new mini/flex or radio poppers?? i guess ttl is the way to go so that kind of limits me, thanks again for all the help and great advice

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16 Neil vN March 12, 2010 at 1:26 am

Here is the latest update re the Nikon miniTT1 and FlexTT5 Pocketwizards … and it still looks quite tentative.

Mike … I do think that if the TT1 and TT5 units worked properly, they would be the obvious choice. But right now, if you want wireless TTL flash that works, then the choice is Radio Poppers. The Pocketwizards are better integrated though with the camera and flash. If only they worked properly.

Of course, for decades photographers created magical images with the old-school radio slaves that only trigger manual flash. So that is still a very viable option of course. Simplicity and reliability.

Neil vN

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17 mike March 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm

thanks neil……i so wish the PW’s worked all the time, that would make the decision easy…..do you have confidence in radio poppers?? are there limitations with that system that PW’s dont have(if they were consistent)?? thanks again

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18 mike March 12, 2010 at 8:43 pm

ps i am using a the 5dmk II and 580ex II

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19 Neil vN March 15, 2010 at 3:22 am

The design of the Radio Poppers actually shows a remarkable level of reverse engineering, getting to implement each camera maker’s TTL flash system and making it work in a non-line-of-sight way.

The Radio Poppers work very well, and if you want a reliable wireless TTL set-up, I would recommend it.

Most times though, I find it is simpler just to use old school Pocket Wizards and use manual flash.

Neil vN

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20 Dickie Gill April 22, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Neil, What do you think of the Nikon SU800 with regads to wireless flash operation ? I will be using it in conjunction with a D3 & SB 900 ?

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21 Dickie Gill April 22, 2010 at 11:09 pm

PS Bloody good site by the way, very informative & easy to understand……..Thanks !

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22 Neil vN April 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I like the Nikon SU-800. It is small enough to fit in a pocket. The main problem will be the need for line-of-sight (or close). And also, bright daylight tends to diminish the effectiveness of these wireless controllers.

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23 Roger Mew October 30, 2012 at 5:35 am

Hi, it seems none of you have really read the blurb. These things are really in many parts of the UK not fit for purpose.
Why? Oh yes they use 433Mhz for the radio frequency, and have such a wide “front end” that any radio amateur repeater, ATC unit radios will jam these toys. Just think how many cars in car parks get blocked when I go up on a 433 frequency with my 100w mobile. Oh to you thats about a 50 mile radius. So, my daughter and I chatting, her about 90 miles away will mean that about 30% of the country will NOT be using “pocket wizard”.
If you have one of these, then do be aware that they possibly will not work reliably, or not at all in towns.
Do also remember, that I was here first, have a licence, and that all users of this frequency have to accept they may not work.

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24 Shane Whelan January 2, 2014 at 7:17 am

Hi, I am having quite a few issues with my Canon 5D mark ii, pocket wizard tt1 & tt5 with a Canon 580 ex ii it is very hit and mis when it comes to firing the flash. I found it very temperamental and would have expected this from such an expensive product. I wonder if you are experiencing this or any suggestion to get it to fire the flash every time as it is very embarrassing in front of clients.

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25 Neil vN January 2, 2014 at 7:27 am

You’re hitting snags with the Radio-Frequency noise that the Canon 580 EX ii emits. This interferes with the PocketWizard TT5 units. There are some work-arounds for this.

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