Off camera flash undergoes a revolution – the new Pocket Wizards

Written by Gary on February 17th, 2009

Presumably due to international differences in radio frequency usage, the camera manufacturers use infrared technology for triggering and syncing their off-camera flashes – including Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony and Pentax.

Whilst this is OK indoors with direct line of sight, they fail when used in direct sunlight, at distances > ~10m or so, and if the off-camera flash is not in a direct line of sight.

This has been extremely frustrating.

There are many third party devices that allow radio wave triggering of off-camera flashes, but these did not allow TTL-exposure until RadioPoppers hit the scene last year.

BUT now Pocket Wizard, which has produced professional line of radio triggers for some years, has just trumped the scene technologically with its new products – the PocketWizard FlexTT5 and MiniTT1.

These beautifully designed products do away with cumbersome wires to connect to your flashes and are backwardly compatible with older Pocket Wizards (just not for TTL) but revolutionize off-camera flash by allowing:

  • full TTL control even at distances up to 240m (in practice perhaps only 40 feet), in bright sunlight and no line of sight required
  • maintains the camera’s high speed sync flash (focal plane flash) capability so that if you system allows it, you can shoot off-camera flash in bright sunlight at 1/8000th sec shutter speed
  • an exciting new capability – “hypersync” – a user customisable functionality that allows you to adjust the timings of the flash so that you can increase the sync speed of your camera by 1 stop (eg. to 1/500th sec) without losing any flash output power as you do with “high speed focal plane flash mode”
  • mode 2 hypersync that simulates FP flash on non-FP flash systems
  • allows 8fps ttl flash if your system can cope
  • allows a flash to be mounted on it either at the camera’s hotshoe or on a lighting stand
  • can use with the new Bowens Gemini R flash units – see here

Now the bad news:

  • as they use the same camera flash pins, they are specific for ONE brand of camera
  • initial model is ONLY TTL compatible with Canon EOS
  • although they will be releasing models for other countries and for Nikon, there is no guarantee they will do so for other camera systems such as Olympus, Sony or Pentax
  • for these devices to work together they MUST be running at the same radio frequency – thus do not buy one made for US (which uses 344-354MHz) and expect it will work with one made for Australia, Europe, India, China, Malaysia, etc which run at 433.62-434.22MHz or one made for Japan which runs at 315.5-317MHz – see here for details
  • range may be substantially reduced when used with certain Canon flash guns due to their RF interference – see here – essentially you only get 24-31m with 580EX II in US and 52m in EU version, 6-12m with 430EX in US, but 207-259m with 430EXII in US, and 290m with 550EX as it produces almost no RF interference BUT unfortunately, there appear to be incompatibilities with the 550EX. You can double the range of a 580EXII by using RF shielding fabric around it – see here
  • initial version has had multiple issues, which hopefully have been resolved by this firmware update, see also here

Where does that leave Olympus, Sony and Pentax users?

Assuming Pocket Wizards are not made specifically for these brands, I suspect, one can still use them on your camera (perhaps via a normal hotshoe adapter that only passes the main flash sync and ignores the other pins).

You will of course lose TTL flash capability (no big loss really, as manual control is often better anyway), and you lose high speed FP flash, but you will have off-camera triggering in direct sunlight, at a distance and not have to be in direct line of sight, PLUS you should hopefully still be able to program the hypersync mode to work – now this will be a BIG BONUS for outdoor flash as it will allow you to open up one more stop of aperture for more shallow depth of field or allow more underexposure of ambient lighting.

There is also a mode 2 hypersync that simulates FP flash on non-FP flash systems which may work.

More information:

RadioPoppers still may be more desirable for those who have both Canon and Nikon systems as the one product will work on both brands (as I understand it), and you get full TTL and high speed flash sync, and in addition remote control of some studio flash systems BUT you will not be able to have access to the hypersync capability of the new Pocket Wizards.


Comments are closed.