San Francisco California © 2011 Julian. All rights reserved.

Gear Check: The New PocketWizard TT5’s for Nikon

Fair Oaks Skate Park

I’ve been waiting for these things. The radios there. The bigger one is a Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 Transceiver. The little one only transmits and it’s the PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Transmitter.

After suffering the rueful wrath of somewhat-reasonable, but definitely-curmudgeonly friends who insist that I’d be fine with the Cowboy radio triggers; who deride that I’m using SB-900 Speedlights instead of Elinchrom Rangers; after muddling through an attempt to use the awfully fussy, awfully Mad Max-y Radio Poppers that attach like their the mother alien in Alien and look about as comforting. After all this — my patience finally paid off and the Pocketwizard people came out with a kit that does high-speed sync for the Nikon Speedlight system.


Sorta. Well — they work as advertised, generally speaking. They aren’t cheap. At all.

Here’s what they do for me.

They *do, though let me trigger my Speedlights outdoors where the usual antique quaint IR system of the Master/Commander jig just plain-old won’t work. Not a chance in the sun. ((And — c’mon. I don’t understand why radio triggering of some sort isn’t defacto built into pro cameras. But, maybe I’m the only one flashing in the Hawaii sun..)

What I can do is have a reliable trigger *with high speed sync*.

I *can control the flash power in three zones from my SU-800 flash commander unit mounted atop my Nikon D3S. (Although I’m typically using only one zone with all the flashes on one stand..occasionally two zones, with two flashes on a stand and one off somewhere else.) You can also use the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller. It’s nice to know there’s an option. Either way, you’ll need one additionally PocketWizard radio — either another TT5 transceiver (receiver *and transmitter) or the smaller Mini TT1 transmitter attached to your camera’s hot-shoe. In that capacity, either the TT5 or the TT1 sends out the radio signals that tell each flash in each zone what to do and when to do it.

PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller
The PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller

I *can trigger a second camera for “production” shots when I’m the only photographer, although I haven’t got this to work reliably with my D700. It just zips of photos with no regard for when I trigger it. That’s a bug in my set up somewhere, I’m assuming.

I *cannot seem to figure out why there are random triggers of the flash just while we’re setting up. I figure it’s stray radio noise from *something..probably iPhones and the like? It’s sorta annoying — I’ve flashed my eyeballs on more than one occasion.

You can probably see that a PocketWizard TT5 won't fit in the "V" made by the Lightware Foursquare's tent-pole poles. In the smallest version they have — the one that fits small enough to comfortably fit in overhead baggage — the angle of the "V" is tight enough to be narrower than the width of the Pocketwizard. A little hotshoe extender thing raises it up enough, but that all feels cheap and wrong.

I *do have an annoying mounting problem. The PocketWizards with an SB-900 (honking, hulk of a flash, to be sure) do not fit inside my portable-fits-in-an-overhead-sized-bag Lightware Direct Foursquare 20″ kit. The SB-900’s fit in fine, but the PocketWizard is too wide to fit between the collapsible soft box poles. The best I can do is get cheap-o hot shoe adapters raise the PocketWizard up sufficiently so that it can fit in the “V” the poles make.

But..they’re cheap crap with an assembly split line right in the middle and so they will break in two from a tiny bit of torque that the SB-900 — now sort of being lightly squeezed by the top of the soft box — exerts on it. I’ve gone through a bunch of those. A rabid twist of gaffers’ tape seems to help a bit.

On the other hand, I’ve found that before the golden hour, I may as well shoot without the soft box, depending on the overhead conditions. In the meantime, I’m going to see about machining some aluminum equivalents of these extenders.

What these PocketWizards do is brilliant and somewhat expensive. I can get my light off the camera, and have enough of it to shoot into the sun with some reasonably satisfying results. It takes a bit to sort of the power settings and such all — and I’m almost always shooting at manual power — but it’s worth the hassle of set up. And having high-speed sync? For what I’m shooting? That’s basically a requirement. I don’t want to monkey around with “stopping the motion with light” and that stuff. I rarely shoot slower than 1/750 and wide-open — f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0 if I can, and f/2.8 at most on the super wides and fisheyes, which is wide-open for them.

High-speed sync? This is the future already. That motion stopping stuff is like disco strobe light nonsense. I want my camera to think that there’s a perfectly synchronized blast of light — however it’s made — when the shutter opens and evenly lights across the frame for the length of the exposure. No black bands anywhere. One headache eliminated. ((And others introduced, of course.))

Lake Cunningham Skate Park
Hunter Long, Venice Beach Skate Park, Venice California
Hunter Long, Venice Beach Skate Park, Venice California

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