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LPA Design releases firmware, software updates for PocketWizard MiniTT1, FlexTT5  
Thursday, April 2, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
LPA Design has released firmware v4.100 for the Canon versions of both the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5, as well as PocketWizard Utility v1.18 for Mac and Windows. The firmware and software updates together introduce changes we've written about previously, including expanded high shutter speed sync options, bug fixes and more, plus a change we haven't yet highlighted: the ability to adjust the manual power settings of remote flashes using a Speedlite 580EX II at the camera.

The key changes include:

Controlling: A Canon Speedlite 580EX II set to Manual on top of an LPA Design PocketWizard MiniTT1. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
The ability to adjust the manual power settings of remote flashes using the Speedlite 580EX II's on-flash interface. With this Speedlite in the hot shoe of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 attached to a compatible Canon camera, it's now possible to adjust the manual power of remote Speedlites perched on FlexTT5s, in each of the supported A:B:C groups.

Canon's wireless TTL flash system can already do this on its own; now, it's possible to do this with the new, range-extending PocketWizards in the mix, with one helpful twist. The way that it has been implemented by LPA Design enables both the remote B and C groups to be selectively disabled, rather than just C only, which is what the Canon wireless system offers by itself. These are the available options:
  • With the Master 580EX II set to M and A:B:C groups showing on its display, Speedlites attached to FlexTT5s set to A, B or C group will be triggered. The power level for each group is set individually, using the 580EX II's interface for this.

  • With the Master 580EX II set to M and A:B groups showing on its display, Speedlites attached to FlexTT5s set to A or B only will be triggered. The power level for each group is set individually, using the 580EX II.

  • With the Master 580EX II set to M and no groups showing on its display (that is, Ratio on the flash's LCD is set to Off), Speedlites attached to FlexTT5s set to A only will be triggered. (This is where the difference lies. By comparison, Canon's wireless system by itself will trigger the A, B and C groups when the 580EX II is set this way. The PocketWizard approach, at least for our purposes, is preferable, because it allows for greater control over which groups fire and which groups don't.) The power level for group A is set using the 580EX II.
In all instances, the Master 580EX II will fire as well, at the power level set for group A, unless its light output is set to Off on the flash's LCD.

In testing with a release candidate version of the new firmware, this capability worked as advertised. And, we'll make good use of it: for all of the sexiness of wireless TTL flash control, we shoot as much or more that requires flash output to be manually locked down. When we wrote about the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 at the time of their introduction in February, one of the criticisms we had of the new system was the lack of support for remote manual flash power control, so it's great to see that LPA Design has corrected this shortcoming already, while simultaneously delivering more flexibility over which groups are enabled and disabled than Canon's wireless TTL otherwise does.

Note: One small bug snuck past testing of this new feature, and is to be corrected in a future firmware update, says LPA Design's Jim Clark. With High Speed Sync enabled on the Master 580EX II, and a high shutter speed selected on the camera, all remote flash groups will fire, even if C group or both B and C groups have been disabled. The power output of the remote flash group(s) that should be disabled, but are firing, may also be incorrect. This bug appears to affect High Speed Sync only, and can be avoided if you stick to shutter speeds at or below 1/500 for now.
 
The option to choose between HyperSync and camera maker High Speed Sync at shutter speeds above 1/500. By choosing HyperSync at 1/640 and up, it becomes possible to combine powerful studio strobes, an extreme HyperSync Offset value and a high shutter speed to, for example, balance or overcome bright outdoor ambient light. This HyperSync method works by firing the flash well before when the camera normally would on its own.

In conjunction with this feature change, HyperSync Offset on the transmitter can now be set to a maximum value of 2500 microseconds, up from 1500 microseconds, which means the remote flash can be triggered as much as 1000 microseconds earlier than with previous firmware. To shoot at shutter speeds up to 1/8000 and sync with studio strobes, with fairly even strobe illumination across the frame, a big HyperSync Offset number is required (the optimum value depends on the camera, strobe, shutter speed and strobe power settings, though the first two have the largest impact on this, at least in our experience so far).

pw_utility_118_1.jpg
Synchronized: PocketWizard Utility 1.18, showing high speed synchronization changes

If a HyperSync Offset of -2500 still isn't getting the camera's shutter opening time deep enough into the tail-of-light portion of the strobe's output, and therefore the evenness of strobe illumination isn't meeting your needs, it's possible to have the remote strobes fired even earlier still with some Canon cameras. This has the effect of forcing the actual exposure even further into the dimmer but more evenly-illuminating section of a typical studio strobe's output.

To do this, the transmitter must be set to use FP Flash Sync above 1/500 (in other words, don't check the disabling checkbox in the new version of PocketWizard Utility), and the remote strobe must be connected to a FlexTT5 via its miniphone port (in other words, the remote PocketWizard must be a FlexTT5, and the strobe must be connected via cable to port P2 and not attached to the FlexTT5's hot shoe). LPA Design calls this Automatic HSS Trigger Timing for Manual Flash.

Used this way, the remote strobe will begin to fire even earlier than the -2500 maximum of HyperSync. How much earlier depends on the camera; unlike with HyperSync, you have no trigger time adjustment slider. Most, but not all, Canon camera models will benefit from this. Here are some examples:
  • Canon EOS 30D: -2500 (no benefit)
  • Canon EOS 40D/50D: -2900
  • Canon EOS 5D: -4300
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II: -6000
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark III: -3800
Note that if the studio strobe fires extremely early, as will be the case with the 5D Mark II when used in this way, the strobe may have fully completed its light pulse before the camera starts its exposure. This could translate to a picture with no hint of flash in it.

The Canon versions of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 offer a veritable smorgasbord of high shutter speed flash sync options now:
  • Canon High Speed Sync at 1/640 - 1/8000 (even illumination but very low effective Speedlite output)
  • HyperSync at 1/250 - 1/500 (capture the strobe's full brightness, minimize or eliminate a black band/shadow intruding into the top or bottom of the frame)
  • HyperSync at 1/640 - 1/8000 (capture the strobe's dim, fairly even tail of light, for uses such as balancing strobe and bright ambient light)
  • Beyond HyperSync at 1/640 - 1/8000 (capture the strobe's even dimmer and more even tail of light, for uses such as balancing strobe and bright ambient light)
The new PocketWizards, loaded with today's firmware, enable many usable combinations of strobe + camera + sync speed. Shutter blade travel time, strobe characteristics and your own light evenness requirements impact how you'll use some of the snazzier new capabilities when shooting above 1/500. If you're a novice in the world of flash synchronization at high shutter speeds, or even if you're a seasoned vet, prepare for some learning and experimentation to see which combinations are useful.

A basic triggering mode, intended primarily to allow the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 to be used as transmitters with cameras other than Canon and Nikon. This include SLRs, medium format cameras (with either focal plane or leaf shutters) and pretty much anything else with a hot shoe that works with an existing PocketWizard like the Plus II now.

When set to basic triggering mode, all but the centre pin of the feet of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 are disabled. This mode doesn't include ControlTL or HyperSync; used this way, the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 operate as simple PocketWizard transmitters, like a Plus II, but with the 32 Standard Channels of the MultiMAX.

pw_utility_118_2.jpg
Back to Basics: PocketWizard Utility 1.18, showing Basic Trigger Mode option

Used like this, the trigger delay time is slightly longer than a Plus II or MultiMAX, which in turn may mean having to choose a slower shutter sync speed. For example, if you trigger strobes with a Plus II now, and you can achieve 1/250 without a black band appearing at the bottom of the frame, you might need to sync at 1/200 instead with the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 set to basic triggering mode. Or not - you'll need to test your particular setup to find out. MiniTT1 battery life is also somewhat less than the hundreds-of-hours rating given to the unit when attached to a Canon or Nikon that is fully compatible with the MiniTT1's advanced communications features.

Note that basic triggering mode need only be enabled to use the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 as a transmitter with cameras that aren't on the list of compatible ones capable of ControlTL and HyperSync. Also note that because the foot designs of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 are meant to emulate the fit and pin layout of Canon and Nikon (in the respective Canon and upcoming Nikon versions of each), there's a small possibility that these PocketWizards may not slide easily, or at all, into the hot shoes of some cameras from other makers.

The MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 can fire any flash sitting in their hot shoes, not just ones they detect to be compatible with ControlTL. In this way, it's possible to place a flash like the Vivitar 285HV in the hot shoe of the Canon MiniTT1 on top of the camera and have it trigger normally, or to mount a flash like a Nikon Speedlight SB-26 in the shoe of a Canon FlexTT5 receiver and have it fire, much as it would if it were connected to a Plus II. These flashes are just examples, any number of shoe-mount flash models are now usable in either the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5, because when either PocketWizard doesn't detect a fully compatible flash on top, it sends a trigger signal via the centre pin only and does not attempt advanced communications via the other shoe pins.

The only caveat is that the MiniTT1 is rated to handle a maximum sync pin voltage of 50V. This means the original Vivitar 283, for example, should not be used in the shoe of the small PocketWizard (or in the camera's hot shoe itself for that matter). Practically any modern shoe-mount flash unit, however, will be spec'd to have a sync pin voltage well under 50V.

With a FlexTT5 receiver connected to a remote camera, continuous shooting is possible. This is true if the FlexTT5 isn't in the hot shoe of the remote camera, or if it is in the hot shoe of the remote camera and the FlexTT5 has been configured in PocketWizard Utility to ignore commands coming from the camera via the hot shoe. Continuous shooting using Relay Mode to trigger a compatible Canon Speedlite is still not possible, this scenario remains one-frame-at-a-time only.
Certain combinations of Speedlite 580EX or 580EX II Custom Functions could prevent the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 from detecting that a compatible flash was attached. This has been fixed.

With a flash in the hot shoe of a FlexTT5, it wasn't always possible to fire another flash connected via cable to one of the same FlexTT5's miniphone ports. This has been fixed.

When the new PocketWizards were used on top of an EOS-1Ds Mark III, remote flashes would occasionally not fire, or misexpose the frame. Plus, if the camera was set to a high shutter speed, it would sometimes drop to its X-sync speed unexpectedly. This has been fixed. (A similar shutter speed shift could also occur with the EOS-1D Mark III, 5D Mark II and possibly other models, and the shift should now no longer occur with these models also).

Shooting at a shutter speed above 1/500, then switching to a shutter speed below 1/250, could cause the flashes to no longer fire in sync with the camera. This has been fixed.

The Speedlite 430EX, used as a remote on a FlexTT5, would sometimes overexpose. This has been fixed.

Flash triggering during the calibration shot is no longer wacky. This wasn't so much a bug or even an actual problem, but more of a quirk that LPA Design has smoothed over for a more pleasant user experience when performing the calibration shot.

Specifically, if you'd noticed that remote flashes wouldn't fire in sync when the transmitter was first turned on and the first picture was taken, that behaviour has now been changed so that the flashes will fire all at the same time for that first frame.

The first picture is still the calibration shot from which the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter gathers necessary data to do HyperSync, which is to say that HyperSync isn't active until the second picture and beyond. So the flashes will fire in sync with the first picture, but without benefit of HyperSync. HyperSync works thereafter.
 
When attaching a Speedlite to a FlexTT5 and turning it on, the flash will fire one time at low power. This is both a small feature addition, confirming that the flash has been fully and properly inserted into the shoe of the FlexTT5, and a change that allows the new remote manual power control functions to work. You'll notice, with some or perhaps all compatible Canon Speedlites, that if the flash's capacitor isn't fully charged at the time the connection confirmation routine occurs, the flash won't fire but the AF assist light will illuminate briefly. What's being communicated to the user is the same: the link between FlexTT5 and Speedlite has been successfully established.

Test button response time on the FlexTT5 has been shortened. Now, it will send a trigger signal almost immediately, rather than after about a one second delay.

The list of ControlTL-capable Canon Speedlites has been expanded. This is owing both to minor tweaks introduced in the v4.100 firmware, and to LPA Design's efforts to certify certain older Canon flashes for use with the new PocketWizards. Since we first wrote about this earlier this month, the company has done additional testing that has changed slightly the degree of compatibility afforded by the 220EX, 420EX and 550EX. The current info from LPA Design is as follows:

Both the 420EX and 550EX will work in the hot shoe of a FlexTT5 configured as a receiver. With the FlexTT5 set to be a transmitter, LPA Design has certified the 420EX as compatible, while the 550EX is not. Neither flash is compatible with the MiniTT1.

The 220EX is not compatible with the MiniTT1, and not compatible with the FlexTT5 acting as a transmitter. It's sort of compatible with the FlexTT5 set to be a receiver, but with two limitations that will probably make it not worthwhile to attempt using this low-powered flash in a remote setup:
  • First, in an extended shooting session, the FlexTT5 may begin malfunctioning and need to be turned off an on. Linking the 220EX to the FlexTT5 with an Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord OC-E3 eliminates this problem.

  • Second, its power can't be adjusted properly from a Master 580EX II set to control the remote flash's output manually.
For most shooters, these limitations will mean the 220EX is effectively not usable with the new PocketWizards.

LPA Design has not yet qualified flashes that emulate Canon Speedlites but are made by other companies, such as Metz. Some may work with the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5; as of this moment, however, LPA Design has not done comprehensive testing to determine if this is true.

The list of compatible Canon Speedlites is now comprised of the following (degree of compatibility is listed in parentheses):
  • 220EX (not compatible; see above for details)
  • 420EX (FlexTT5 as receiver/transmitter, not MiniTT1)
  • 430EX (FlexTT5 as receiver/transmitter, MiniTT1)
  • 430EX II (FlexTT5 as receiver/transmitter, MiniTT1)
  • 550EX (FlexTT5 as receiver, not FlexTT5 as transmitter, not MiniTT1)
  • 580EX (FlexTT5 as receiver/transmitter, MiniTT1)
  • 580EX II (FlexTT5 as receiver/transmitter, MiniTT1)
More information on what's new in v4.100 of the firmware for the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 is in a user guide addendum.

Not in this release

These comprehensive firmware updates tackle many but not all of the items on LPA Design's to-do list, including:

Canon EOS 5D Mark II compatibility. The user guide includes the following statement:

5D Mark II with a flash on the top shoe of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 as transmitter in E-TTL II mode. It will do HyperSync, standard triggering, manual flash in the shoe, and even basic remote E-TTL II. The one thing it cannot currently do with our ControlTL system is have a Speedlite or ST-E2 in the top shoe of the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 when used as a transmitter on the camera. This camera came out late in our development cycle, and is very different from all previous cameras. We are reviewing solutions to get this last piece working. 


Applying flash exposure compensation on the Master Speedlite. Flash exposure compensation dialed in on the camera itself is properly applied to the output of both local and remote flashes, but not in some instances when it's dialed in on the Master flash unit.

TTL ratio adjustments aren't always communicated immediately to the local and/or remote Speedlites, when the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter is attached to an EOS-1D Mark II (and possibly the EOS-1D Mark II N and EOS-1Ds Mark II also). When this problem crops up, shooting one picture will usually force the ratio changes to be communicated successfully to the remote units.

PocketWizard Utility

The new version of PocketWizard Utility has been revised to support the changes introduced by the new MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 firmware. In addition, an under-the-hood revamp has taken place that allows it to automatically and transparently support future MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 feature additions. From now on, if new firmware expands the capabilities of either unit, PocketWizard Utility will not need to be updated at the same time to support the new capabilities. Instead, it will get from the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 the information it needs to display any new pulldown menus, checkboxes or other interface elements required.

Installation

To update PocketWizard Utility to v1.18, download and install it from here. Once installed, launch PocketWizard Utility, connect via USB the first of your MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 units to be updated, then click the Get Updates button (you must have an active Internet connection for this to work). The process is straightforward from there. After the PocketWizard has been updated a confirmation message will appear. Clear the message, then repeat the procedure with additional units.

Tips
  • It actually doesn't matter if you install the firmware updates using the older v1.15 of PocketWizard Utility, or the new v1.18. Once the new firmware is loaded, however, v1.18 is required to configure the units.

  • It's not necessary to quit and relaunch PocketWizard Utility when swapping PocketWizards, and the firmware update can be performed with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 off or powered on.

  • If firmware installation is interrupted - from the computer losing power, the USB cable being inadvertently pulled out or some other strange event - in most instances it's possible to simply reestablish the connection between the PocketWizard and PocketWizard Utility and start over.

  • With the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 powered on prior to linking up to PocketWizard Utility, the program will display a battery life indicator.

  • PocketWizard Utility can also be used to check/update the firmware in MultiMAX units equipped with a USB port.
Shipping status

Shipping of the Canon versions of the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 was halted for a time while the v4.100 firmware was being finalized, so that it could be loaded into units destined for store shelves. With the new firmware and PocketWizard Utility 1.18 now completed, shipments are to resume shortly.

Because of the hold on shipments, neither the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 have appeared in Canada yet. Shipments of the Canon version of the MiniTT1 are now slated to arrive at Canadian dealers sometime this month, ahead of the FlexTT5, which may not materialize in this country until May. Note that some dealers might choose to not stock the MiniTT1 until the FlexTT5 is available too, so that they can begin selling both simultaneously.

The release of the Canon versions of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 into Europe is still a minimum of a few weeks away.

Development of the Nikon versions of each continues. They will ship sometime after the Canon versions are available in most regions. This puts the Nikon MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 a number of weeks away from release.

Thanks to Jim Clark for his assistance in the preparation of this article.
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