Pocketwizards ?

As you all know I’m a big Elinchrom supporter, but this does not mean of course that I’m never testing (or using) other brands.
Normally I’m using the skyport system to trigger my strobes. The skyport system is a very good system that can not only divide the studio strobes in 4 groups but you can also change the output from the skyports on the RX/Quadra and BXri sets. There are also universal skyports to trigger other brands…. so why would there be a need for a different system one might ask….. well there is.

 

Small flash
I strongly believe in “horses for courses” which for me means that with both cameras and strobes I will use whatever suits the situation, or in other words sometimes I will shoot with small flash and sometimes with natural light or the big strobes. For the small flash you can trigger in a few different configurations.

 

1. Masterunit
You can use a masterunit to trigger the other strobes, for example the Canon 580EX flash, or the ST-E2.
On both you can set the ratios, HSS works and E-TTL(II) works like a charm.
However the main problem with this method is that there has to be a visible connection between the strobes and the masterunit, don’t even think about placing a strobe somewhere around the corner because that will in most cases not work. Although I have to add that inside this often will work due to the signal/light bouncing off the walls and ceiling and reaching the strobe. But in short there always have to be a visible connection. Also when working in the “bright” sun the range is extremely limited.

2. Skyports (or other triggers)
This works like a charm, just connect the universal skyport to the strobe (for example via a hotshoe or straight to the strobe if that’s supported), and you can use the skyport trigger to fire the strobes around the corner, on top of a mountain or where ever you want, as long as it’s in the reach of the skyports (and that is huge). The main disadvantage however is that you have to work in manual mode…. For me (and maybe also other) that is not a real problem because I almost always measure my strobes in manual mode, but sometimes I wish there would be E-TTL support but hey……. that was not possible…… well it is.

3. Pocketwizard TT series
See the review

 

Pocketwizard TT1-5
This week I received a package from Mamiya Nederland containing the TT1, TT5, ST4 and AC3.
I will focus later on the last two, but let’s first look at the TT1-TT5.

TT1
The TT1 is a very simple/small transmitter but it packs a rather impressive software solution.
Normally with a transmitter you can set the channels and groups (if you’re lucky) and that’s it.
With the TT1 (and TT5) you can do a lot more.
I don’t intend this blogpost as an in depth review (there are some great ones out there) but as a small overview of how I use them, but I can’t resist to list some of the options you can find in the “software” to set the TT1 and TT5, because this is without a doubt some of the most advanced units I have seen. So let’s look at some of the specs of the TT1 which I think are interesting.

Dedicated E-TTL II triggering :
the TT1-TT5 will take over the E-TTLII system and converts it to the radio channel. In practice this means you can even use a 580EX as master unit and set the power output/ratios etc. of the other strobes and send this to the units via the TT1-TT5. Now that’s cool, because in essence this means that although you are working with a radio trigger you can still have FULL E-TTL options including high speed sync…. wow that would be my reason to use this system, but there is more.

Manual power control :
Use an AC3 or 580EXII on top of the TT1 and you open up a lot of extra options in which you can set your power output in 3 groups, and don’t think it stops with small flash NO, read on to the ST4 part of the review.

Optimized HSS :
Pocketwizard uses a “tuned” High Speed Sync system that gives you more power, longer lasting batteries and quicker recycling, and it can be used all the way up to 1/8000.

Hypersync :
With the pocketwizard software (controlTL) you can “fine” tune your response curve from the trigger and in essence make it possible to break the x-sync speed of your camera/strobe combination. And again this is not for small flash but for studio strobes….

Optimized rear curtain sync :
Eliminate the after trails by setting a precise rear curtain sync option.

Pre-flash boost :
Sometimes the normal pre-flash is not enough for E-TTL to work correctly.
With the pre-flash boost you can boost the pre-flash to double the power and get a longer working distance.

Powertracking :
Now this is one cool function.
With powertracking you can set several options, in short it’s possible to set the power of the strobes and when you change aperture or ISO the power output will change accordingly on your strobes (in manual mode), and yes this also works on the Elinchroms and is one real cool feature.

Zone control :
In combination with the AC3 you can use and control 3 zones

Continues fast FPS :
It can happen with systems with high frame rates that the strobes can’t keep up. With the TT1-TT5 system this is no problem any more, shoot at full speed and fill the buffer (as long as the strobes can recycle quick enough).

Built in hot shoe :
You can mount another trigger, strobe or attachment to the hotshoe on top of the TT1-TT5.

Basic trigger mode :
When selecting this mode you can use the TT1 on any camera system that has the same layout, meaning for me that it will also work on my Phase One DF/Leaf combination.

TT5
The TT5 is the larger unit and is usable as transmitter and receiver (switches automatically), the TT5 adds the following options.

Auto-relay mode :
Makes it possible to trigger a remote camera in sync with remote flashes, it can trigger TTL and non TTL lights.

Camera/Flash ports :
Two extra channels where you can connect a camera or strobes to.

Continues remote camera triggering :
On Port 1 you can remotely trigger a camera in a continuous motor drive burst.

 

Using the system
As mentioned before I did not intend to write an in depth review of the system, so please don’t read it as that. I will explain how I use the system and why I think the system excels the system I’ve used before, but also what I miss and some of the problems I have. Let’s start off by saying that the system looks very nice and the design is simply put very good and the software is simply awesome. But with options that are looking so promising there must be something that doesn’t work as advertised right ? well yes and no.

 

Small flash
I’ve tested some setups with a 580EXII and the TT1 on a 5DMKII and the TT5 connected to the 580EXII.
This setup rocks.
E-TTLII works just as good as with the ST-E2 and strobe straight on the camera, so only this is already a reason to use this system when you use small flash, it’s simply put awesome to be able to use radio signals and E-TTL, as mentioned before I love to measure my strobes on manual but sometimes I simply want to put it all on E-TTL and just shoot, with the ST-E2 this works fine but with the limitation that the camera and strobe has to “see” each other. Well that “problem” is now solved.

I tried to push the system to 1/8000 and this worked flawless on manual, but do remember that you can’t shoot more power than your strobes gives you of course, so there are limitations in that, but if you want to fight the sun this system works great (manual mode). The nice thing about the Hypersync is that you indeed get some more power out of your strobes, when I compare the HSS setting and the Hypersync setting you can safely say that there is clearly some more output with Hypersync, I don’t want to label the output but I guess between 0.5-1 stop. So that’s a very welcome benefit.

Big flash (ST4)
I also received the ST4 which can be connected to the Elinchrom System (RX, Ranger RX).
In essence it replaces the Skyport RX.
The unit is nice and small and can be set to operate in the “new” method or the basic mode, meaning I can use it on both the Phase One DF/Leaf combi in basic mode and on the Canon 5DMKII on the “new” mode.

The really COOL thing about this unit is the fact that you can use powertracking.
Imagine you have set your lights perfectly on f11 but after a few minutes you realize you would rather use f8.
With skyport system this is not a big deal, you just press the – button 10 times and you’re done, so I was a bit skeptic on this option, however while working with it the “coolness” factor increased, whatever you change on your camera (within the limits of the strobes of course) aperture wise (or ISO) and the strobe will follow, change to 7.1 and the strobe follow, jump to f16 and the strobe follows, this is awesome for working outside with the Ranger and you want to change the look of the ambiant light very quickly without having to use the skyport to change the output, and this works FAST….. leave the shutter speed at 1/125 and just change the aperture on the camera and the strobes follow.

AC3
The AC3 is a small and very light unit you can place on top of the TT1(TT5) and gives you control over 3 groups of strobes (also RX). With the AC3 it’s possible to control the output of for example an RX unit to + 3 and -3 stops (in 1/3rd steps). I have to say that I love this feature better than the skyports for the simple reason that you can access the three rotating knobs within a second, with the Skyport you will have to first set the group and then change the settings and you will have no feedback, with the AC3 you will constantly see the settings in the mini display, and it’s easy to change the output of for example group 2 without having to count and hope that all the steps are also received by the strobe (which in 99% of the cases is no problem by the way with the skyport).

But this is not were it ends…… no it also works with small flash on Manual, E-TTL etc.

 

Problems
Well not everything is perfect of course.
The reason I asked for the set to test was because I wanted to be able to use higher sync speeds on my strobes outside, on the Canon small flash system it was no problem with my own setup but when using the studio strobes outside I experienced some behaviour I thought/think can be improved. My Phase One DF/Leaf combination should be able to sync up to 1/1600 with a Leaf Shutter lens and it does rather well with the Skyports in speed mode or the Profoto Air system. Both however top out at approximately 1/800 without light loss, when I go up to 1/1600 it looks fine but I loose around 1 stop of light. So that has no use unless I want to freeze action without ambiant light trails. I hoped that with the Hyperspeed I would be able to break the 1/800 and sync up to 1/1600 on the Phase One DF/Leaf combination. At the moment however I’m stuck at 1/320. Whatever I try in the software I seem not be able to break the 1/320 on this combination which is a bit of a let down for me. I do have to add that I’m forced to go to the “basic” mode of course so maybe that has something to do with it, although I don’t think so.

On the 5DMKII I was aiming for slightly less, let’s say 1/800 with the Elinchroms would be fine, but also here I can’t get the system to go much further than 1/320 without having severe banding in the frame from the top down (normal curtain banding is from the b0ttom). I’ve mailed Pocketwizards about this and hope they respond before the review will be online, otherwise I will change the review after warts.

Also triggering with my Sekonic L758DR doesn’t work. I’ve put the ST4 in basic mode but still can’t trigger it. Also for this I hope to get an answer from pocketwizard.

The thing that bothers me somewhat is the fact that when I shoot with the D-Lites I can sync up to 1/1000 without too much light loss (very usable), the D-Lites are a lot slower than the RX and Quadras and when you think about it it’s logical but not what I hoped. The Quadras and Rangers (RX) units are all fast and have a flashduration of well over 1/2200 the D-Lites are all below 1/1000 which means that the light from the D-Lites are longer available for the sensor than the faster units. I’ve tried several settings in the software but I can’t seem to break the limit of 1/320 with the faster strobes. I have to add that outside it will look just fine because ambiant light will also be added to the frame but when you shoot a gray background in the studio the black shadows are clearly seen. I hope I’m doing something wrong and I mailed Pocketwizards about these problems a few days ago, I hoped they would come back to me before the blog post but they didn’t so when they do I will update the review of course. But for now It’s faster on the 5DMKII with breaking the 1/125 limit with normal triggers, but it’s far from what I hoped for, do remember this is with fast studio strobes, when you are using Falcon Eyes, Jinbei, D-Lites or other “slower” strobes you will love this and do I dare to say it’s awesome on those strobes.

 

Conclusion
If you are investing in a new system to trigger your strobes there are a lot of options, and most are A LOT cheaper than this system. I love the Skyport system for studio or location work with the Elinchrom gear. However with small flash I’m stuck at manual mode. With the TT1-5 you can break this “problem” and have great E-TTL via radio signals, add the ST4 and in the studio you can trigger all your Elinchrom RX strobes on location and in the studio. You can’t change the output like with the skyports in 1/10th steps, you can in 1/3rd stops if you add the AC3 so that’s something I think the Skyport wins hands down and I would therefore prefer the Skyports in the studio personally. However for others setting the strobes correctly once and than use the AC3 to change the balance will work fine. Add to this the awesome powertracking and I’m leaning towards the pocketwizard system again.

However do realize that the system is a lot more expensive than the Skyport system so be prepared to invest, when you do however you will have one of the finest sets out there and total control over E-TTL and a great set for the big flash setups.

For myself I will keep using the TT1 on my camera and the TT5 for my small flash setups.
But I will also keep the ST4 to use the powertracking outside on my Ranger RX because that feature really made my jaw drop, I LOVE IT.

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