Saturday, 13 March 2010

The new Pocket Wizards

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I love off-camera flash and, in the past, have used an ST-E2 transmitter to trigger my 580EX II Speedlites. It works reasonably well provided you can maintain line-of-sight between the ST-E2 and the flash units and it's not too sunny - the reason being that the ST-E2 uses infra-red light to communicate.

More reliable radio-based transmitters from Pocket Wizard have been available for a long time but these could not transmit any E-TTL metering information. The flash units therefore had to be in manual mode - fine if you stick with one set-up, but a hassle if you want to move quickly between set-ups.

Last year, however, Pocket Wizard released the MiniTT1 (which sits in the camera's hotshoe and acts as the transmitter) and FlexTT5 (which attaches to the Speedlite and serves as the receiver, though it can be used as a transmitter too). These units can communicate E-TTL metering information - lots of background info is available at Pocket Wizard's website.

The firmware has evolved significantly over the past year as glitches have been ironed-out (the units can be readily updated since they feature USB connections) and recent reports suggested that they were now working well with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II partnered with fast lenses. I therefore decided to take the plunge and treated myself to a MiniTT1 and 3 FlexTT5s.

The key selling points of these units are:

1. Reliable radio frequency-based triggering.
2. Transmission of E-TTL metering information.
3. Improved flash sync speed for cameras due to optimised flash timings - termed HyperSync.
4. Improved high-speed sync (FP-mode) flash performance - again due to timing optimisation of Canon's existing algorithm. Apparently this can offer an additional stop of flash power.

With a Canon EOS 5D Mark II working with 580EX II Speedlites I've found:

1. Triggering is reliable but the 580EX II emits radio interference which limits the range of these units to 28m. An insulating 'sock' is available to improve the range.
2. Metering is less accurate the further away you place the flash units from your camera - you need to keep a very careful eye on your images. These units challenge Canon's E-TTL algorithm - the camera is having to judge flash exposure with a blip of pre-flash a long way from the camera.
3. The flash sync speed of the 5D Mark II is 1/200 (it's slow since it's full-frame). Pocket Wizard claim that it can sync at 1/250, or even 1/320, with their system before having to switch to high speed sync (which dramatically reduces flash power output). It doesn't work with my 5D Mark II though. This might be because my camera has seen a lot of action and the shutter is sluggish as a result - Damien Lovegrove has also observed this.
4. I've not tested for improved FP-mode performance but it's on my to-do list!

An ST-E2 can be popped into the hotshoe of the MiniTT1 and then lighting ratios can be transmitted as well - although only between groups A and B.

I took the units out for a test run last weekend with my friend Lucy. She's a keen photographer and was eager to practise her posing skills for her forthcoming marriage (which, I'm pleased to say, I will be photographing).

Alas, it was diabolically cold, with a Siberian wind blowing in off the sea, so we didn't stay for very long. The shot above was taken whilst tweaking the set-up - it's not great but shows what can be done. We'll have another go later in the year - probably during August!

It was liberating to be able to place the flash units exactly as I wanted, have them trigger reliably, and be able to adjust flash exposure from the camera. Definitely a useful addition to the camera bag.


Anonymous said...

To get hypersync to work you need either an ST-E2 or one of your 580EXs in the MiniTT1 hotshoe and enable the HSS function. Then, at 250th you should find it will trigger the flash(es), yet they would be strobing like they would have when acutally HSSing. Certainly worked for me on the V5 firmware. Also, another benefit of having the ST-E2 in that hotshoe is it can also trigger other flashes without them having to be in FlexTT5s - effectively via the "traditional" ST-E2 infrared communication.

David said...

I spoke to PocketWizard about this and they said that not all 5D Mark IIs will be able to hypersync. It's probably likelier for cameras which are newer and have seen less action.

Putting an ST-E2 or 580EX in the hotshoe and switching on FP-mode (HSS) forces the system to use high speed sync - this is not hypersync.

The point of hypersync is that the shutter is fully open for a single burst of flash - this gives you access to your unit's full power output.