Tuesday, February 2, 2010

PocketWizard Canon TTL Radio Triggers

As promised here's the technical information on the new PocketWizard TTL Radio Triggers. I'm in no way sponsored or receiving any compensation for my comments.  There are other less expensive radio triggers that work just as well, I just happen to use these.
Let me begin that I don't shoot using Canon's E-TTL system. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know that I set my flashes manually. So why would I use these new radio triggers? For a couple reasons. First of all they're compact and require no additional cables.

Take a look at the next 2 images. This is my typical setup using the PocketWizard PlusII Transceivers.
I use a bungee cord to fasten the PlusII to the flash. Some have used Velcro to attach directly to the flash. Regardless, you still need a cable between the flash and the Transceiver. These cables can be damaged and you should always have a spare. I've also used a PC Sync cord to attach to the 580EXII, but have found that the connection is not as reliable as the hot shoe adapter.

Now take a look at how compact the new FlexTT5 is when attached to a flash.
Much easier and quicker to setup and less parts to worry about breaking or losing.

So let me address the issue of reliability with the MiniTT1 & FlexTT5. There is a problem with certain Canon flashes. The worst offender is the 430EX. 530EXII has issues as well. Below is my personal experience with these models.

580EXII - Trigger failed beyond 25 feet
430EX   - Trigger failed beyond 6 feet

For most situations photographers won't even need to place a flash beyond 25 feet, but occasionally you may need to (I recently had to place a couple flashes about 50 ft away to light up the interior of a room while shooting outdoors, details in a later post). It is more than likely to place a flash beyond 6 feet and the 430EX was causing some serious problems. The 430EXII has no known issues. The reason for the problem is with the actual Canon flashes and not the radio triggers. These particular models generate unfiltered radio noise. Considering that these flashes have FCC approval, you'd think that someone would have caught the flaw in this design. PocketWizard tracked down the problem and came up with a solution, the AC5 Soft Shield.
It has also been referred to as a sock. PocketWizard is providing these to current owners for free. Future FlexTT5 will include the AC5 Shield in the box. It also comes along with a hot shoe adapter that aides in  suppressing the RF noise. The sock is not made of ordinary material. It contains metal fibers that make contact with the hot shoe adapter and create a barrier so that the RF noise does not interfere with other radio signals including the FlexTT5.

Here's a close-up view of the AC5 Shield. Hard to see the metal fibers in the image.
Here's the close-up of the hot shoe adapter.
Here's a video that demonstrates the placement and use of the AC5 Soft Shield.
Once I got my AC5 Soft Shield I tried it out on the 430EX & 580EXII. I tested them out up to 50 feet and they fired reliably every single time. I went around corners where I lost line of sight and they still fired. I don't know how far they will go, but for my purposes, 50 feet is sufficient for the kind of photography that I do.

The other reason I purchased these new triggers are the ability to be upgraded via firmware. Since my purchase in April 2009, PocketWizard has released at least 3 firmware updates. Some have been to support new Canon camera models, others have been to fix bugs, but most have been to improve the functionality and provide additional features. Updates can be done on your computer while connecting the units via USB cable.

Here's the MiniTT1. It's the transmitter and attaches to the hot shoe on your camera.
USB connection can be seen on the left.

Below is the FlexTT5. It's a Transceiver and can trigger the flash or be used as a transmitter on your camera.
USB connection can be accessed when the antennae is raised.

One of the features that has been added to the latest firmware, displays the battery strength.
If you look at the bottom half of the above image, you'll notice the features that you can customize. Here are a couple of the benefits of these new triggers.

High Speed Sync (HHS) allows you to shoot at higher shutter speeds than you would with other radio triggers. Yes, flash power is reduced and there's no way you'll be able to tame the sun at high noon, but you'll be able to provide fill and produce better images.

The other feature is setting Rear Curtain Sync. When shooting at slow shutter speeds, it's better to trigger the flash right before the 2nd curtain closes. Because the flash freezes action, you can shoot at slower shutter speeds than you thought you could and still get sharp images where the light freezes your subject. All this happens automatically. No need to touch the flash controls, even if you're not shooting in TTL. Nice!

I've also seen posts that the plastic hot shoe on the triggers can break off. Yes they are replaceable. I don't know how much it would cost to replace or fix. When I spoke to a PocketWizard rep last week, he suggested to use the post mount instead.
See the screw thread underneath the FlexTT5. That's what you're supposed to use.
Screw the brass post to the bottom and then mount onto the umbrella bracket. This method is stronger and more secure. Only use the hot shoe mount to attach to your camera.

I still need to experiment with High Speed Sync and determine how much light is given up in order to shoot at a higher shutter speed. I did one shoot at 1/320 with pretty good success. It allowed me to under expose the sky by almost 1 stop and tweaked it further in Lightroom  to get a nice rich blue sky.

I don't know that I'll be shooting TTL anytime soon, but I like the ease of use, setup and the possibility of future feature expansion.

The MiniTT1 & FlexTT5 are backward compatible with older PocketWizard models. Unfortunately, you can not use the older models to trigger the new ones. Keep that in mind when planning your shoots.

I hope this answers some questions about the new TTL triggers. Feel free to send me comments or any additional questions and I'll do my best to answer them here.

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