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Supercharged High Speed Sync, improved EOS 5D Mark II support in new firmware for PocketWizard MiniTT1, FlexTT5  
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
The latest firmware updates for the Canon versions of the LPA Design PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 improve the use of the new wireless radio system with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, provide a user-selectable starting shutter speed for HyperSync and correct several bugs.

The biggest change, however, in the v4.250 firmware is a reworking of Canon High Speed Sync support that makes this Speedlite operating mode more powerful and efficient. With certain Canon cameras, the boost in both maximum Speedlite brightness and the shortening of recycle time at high shutter speeds is dramatic, relative to the Canon flash system without the aid of LPA Design's wireless radio remotes.

Here's a rundown of what's new.

Supercharged High Speed Sync At shutter speeds at or below a camera's X-sync speed (1/200-1/300, depending on the Canon digital SLR), a linked Speedlite will emit a short burst of light during the exposure. With the Speedlite set to High Speed Sync mode, and a shutter speed above X-sync chosen on the camera, the flash's behaviour changes: it switches to emitting an extended sequence of light pulses that keeps the flash tube glowing, allowing it to briefly mimic a continuous light source. This in turn gives fairly even illumination during the time the shutter's narrow slit is traveling rapidly across the image sensor.

With High Speed Sync mode enabled, an attached or remote Speedlite lights up well before the shutter opens. Then, with most Canon cameras, the flash stays lit up for a time after the shutter closes. LPA Design found that, in their own implementation of High Speed Sync, if they tightened up the flash start and end times to more closely match the opening and closing of the shutter, it brought about an increase in flash efficiency. This translates into two key High Speed Sync benefits, says LPA Design's Jim Clark: faster recycle time and brighter maximum output.

For the geekier among you, the oscilloscope graphic below tells the whole story. It shows the difference in the flash start and end times between Canon remote optical High Speed Sync by itself vs a MiniTT1 sending tighter ControlTL High Speed Sync duration commands to a remote Speedlite on a FlexTT5. The camera is a Canon EOS-1D Mark III, set to 1/1000. The flash is a 580EX II (though the results aren't dependent on using a particular Speedlite model), operating in TTL mode.

By shortening the light pulse sequence to just before the shutter opens, and ending it immediately after, the graphic shows it's possible to bump up light intensity by as much as 1.8 stops at this shutter speed.

high_speed_sync_scope_trace.jpg
Screen Test: An oscilloscope graphic showing the difference in light pulse duration and maximum achievable intensity for Canon High Speed Sync on its own and with the aid of the new PocketWizards. The camera is an EOS-1D Mark III, set to 1/1000. The flash is a Speedlite 580EX II operating in TTL mode (Graphic courtesy LPA Design)

The efficiency boost varies with the camera model, but it generally ranges from noticeable to dramatic. The EOS-1D Mark III serves as a good example, because it's one of the models that sees a dramatic benefit, owing to the fact that LPA Design was able to shave off six milliseconds or more of light pulse duration at most higher shutter speeds and still illuminate the image area completely.

In flash terms, six milliseconds is an eternity, and results in a 65-70% reduction in flash energy used during a High Speed Sync exposure in the upper shutter speed range of this camera. (At 1/1000 on the EOS-1D Mark III, the new PocketWizard ControlTL implementation of High Speed Sync actually trims the light pulse duration even more than that, at over eight milliseconds.)

All this conserved energy is put to good use, giving faster High Speed Sync recycling times - the improvement in flash readiness is not unlike the experience of connecting a high voltage battery pack, but without the fuss of the cable and external battery. Plus, in the case of the EOS-1D Mark III, you can expect a maximum TTL brightness bump of about 1.8 stops, compared to Canon's flash system on its own without the new PocketWizards in the mix. This is true when the flash is configured as a remote in the hot shoe of a FlexTT5. When the flash is in the shoe of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter on the camera, the jump in maximum brightness is about 1.7 stops.

The biggest gain of all for this camera comes when the flash on a remote FlexTT5 is configured for manual output at 1/1 (full power). In our own testing with beta firmware, at 1/8000, we measured a brightness bump of two stops, relative to firing a remote Speedlite using Canon's wireless system by itself.

Gaining up to two additional stops of light from small portable flashes is incredible, particularly for shooting things like large aperture sunny day portraits with Speedlites in a softbox. The extent of the gain is camera-specific, but not Speedlite-specific. For example, we saw the same two stop brightness increase on full power manual from the 430EX II, 580EX and 580EX II.

There are three instances in which you will see no brightness boost (that is, maximum light intensity will be equivalent to Canon's flash system with no assist from the new PocketWizards):
  • When the Speedlite is set to manual output and is sitting in the hot shoe of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter on top of the camera. To achieve the manual output brightness bump described above, the Speedlite must be on a remote FlexTT5. ControlTL High Speed Sync with the flash operating in TTL mode is a different story - you can expect to see an increase in brightness from both local and remote Speedlites.

  • When the Speedlite on the remote FlexTT5 has been set to manual full power output using its own interface. That is, if you set the remote flash to full power by walking over to it and directly changing its operating mode to M and then dialing in 1/1, you won't see a bump in brightness. The M 1/1 information has to come from the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter on the camera, which means that a 580EX II set to Master has to be sitting in the shoe of the transmitter, and that 580EX II has to be set to M 1/1 for the relevant remote zone.

    This is the only way to achieve the manual output brightness increase, and for 580EX II owners it's also the most convenient way, so no problem there. If you don't own a 580EX II you can dedicate to being a Master unit, however, you'll still see a TTL brightness increase, but not a manual power output one.

    That said, you will in one or more instances still get an efficiency gain, even when you can't get a brightness gain. Looking at the scenario described just above, where you don't have a Master 580EX II to put on top of your transmitter, and the remote Speedlite on a FlexTT5 has been set to M 1/1 on its own LCD, the remote's maximum brightness will not change, as noted. But, its recycle time will be noticeably shorter than if no new PocketWizards were used. There may be other manual output configurations in which these same efficiency gains can be realized even when no Master 580EX II is present, but as of this writing we've not done additional testing beyond what's outlined here. The fact is, life with the new PocketWizards becomes especially sweet when a 580EX II is available to be used as a Master, thanks to changes introduced in this and the most recent MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 firmware updates.
     
  • When the camera's shutter speed is at or below X-sync. The efficiency gains being talked about kick in only when High Speed Sync is enabled and a shutter speed above X-sync is selected. Incidentally, ControlTL High Speed Sync is switched on the same way as Canon native High Speed Sync: enable it on the LCD of the Speedlite in the shoe of the transmitter PocketWizard on the camera. If you're using a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter on the camera with no Speedlite attached, then ControlTL High Speed Sync will automatically enable when you choose a shutter speed above X-sync.
The table below summarizes which Speedlite operating modes will show a High Speed Sync brightness increase when you connect up the flash to a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 in either a local (on top of the camera) or remote configuration.

brightness_gains.jpg

The table below, compiled from information provided by LPA Design, shows the High Speed Sync brightness increase you can expect with the EOS-1D Mark III at the shutter speeds listed, when the Speedlite is in TTL operating mode. The increase is relative to the Canon flash system alone.

hss_efficiency_table.jpg

As you can see, the maximum brightness increase is higher for remote Speedlites than for local ones, but in either type of configuration, at any shutter speed above X-sync, the new implementation of High Speed Sync in the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 gives your Canon flash a lot more TTL jam. And as noted, the maximum brightness in manual output mode can be greater still: up to two stops with this camera model at 1/8000.

The photo below was shot with an EOS-1D Mark III at 1/8000. The remote flash is a 580EX attached to a FlexTT5; a MiniTT1 on the camera is handling the remote triggering. A 580EX II is in the shoe of the MiniTT1, but its own head's output is disabled. Used this way, the 580EX II serves only as a configurator, providing a local interface to dial in full power manual output for the remote Speedlite.

If you roll your cursor over the photo, you'll see what things looks like when the PocketWizards are removed, but all other elements of the configuration, including the shutter speed, ISO and f/8 aperture, remain the same. The on-camera 580EX II's head is still disabled, and the remote 580EX is still being told to operate in manual output mode at full power. Canon remote optical High Speed Sync offers its own, different take on full power, one that means a longer light pulse sequence and lower light intensity. The outcome is a frame that is almost exactly two stops darker.

Brighter by Design: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L at 35mm, ISO 800, 1/8000, f/8, Speedlite 580EX at 1/1 (full power), PocketWizard ControlTL High Speed Sync. Roll your cursor over the photo to see how flash brightness is reduced when the PocketWizards are removed, but all other elements of the shot, including the shutter speed, ISO and f/8 aperture, remain the same (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media; cardboard cutout courtesy of Canon Canada)

When using Canon remote optical High Speed Sync on its own, rendering the scene with the same brightness means opening up to f/4:

hss_8000_c.jpg
Syncing Feeling: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L at 35mm, ISO 800, 1/8000, f/4, Speedlite 580EX at 1/1 (full power), Canon remote optical High Speed Sync (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media; cardboard cutout courtesy of Canon Canada)

The improvement in recycling time for a given light intensity is also cool. The QuickTime video clips below show how this affects sequence shooting. In each clip, the camera first fires off a twenty-frame burst, followed by a succession of shorter sequences.

The camera and settings were the same in each case: EOS-1D Mark III, 1/2000, f/4, ISO 400. Only TTL operating mode was used. The flashes were powered by fresh Maha PowerEx 2700mAh NiMH batteries. Between the initial burst and later shorter sequences, about 15 seconds was given for the flash(es) to fully recycle. To keep things moving along, this long pause has been edited out.

What isn't shown in the clips is that the camera's TTL flash exposures from frame to frame are as bright when the PocketWizards are attached as when Canon's system is going it alone. In other words, the recycling time improvements the videos show come entirely from the efficiency gains brought about by the new ControlTL High Speed Sync implementation, and not because the new PocketWizards force the system to shoot darker flash pictures or something wacky like that.

Note: If you've noticed that the model in the photos and videos seems a little stiff, that's because she's a cardboard cutout. Canadian musician Avril Lavigne is featured in a spring promotion by Canon Canada, and this life-size version of her is currently gracing camera shops across the country. Because photographers shooting celebrities in bright sunlight will be among those who benefit from the ControlTL High Speed Sync improvements, the subject matter seemed appropriate.

In this video, a 580EX in the shoe of a MiniTT1 is able to keep up throughout.

Local, with PocketWizard: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 400, 1/2000, f/4, PocketWizard ControlTL High Speed Sync, Speedlite 580EX in TTL mode (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media; cardboard cutout in video courtesy of Canon Canada)

By comparison, the 580EX attached directly to the camera fires in only eight of the first 20 frames, and then only sporadically after that:

Local, no PocketWizard: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 400, 1/2000, f/4, Canon High Speed Sync, Speedlite 580EX in TTL mode (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media; cardboard cutout in video courtesy of Canon Canada)

A 430EX II in the shoe of a remote FlexTT5 fires during every exposure:

Remote, with PocketWizard: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 400, 1/2000, f/4, PocketWizard ControlTL High Speed Sync, remote Speedlite 430EX II in TTL mode (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media; cardboard cutout in video courtesy of Canon Canada)

It can be difficult to make out what you're seeing in the next video. In it, a Master 580EX II (set not to fire during the exposure) attached directly to the camera is triggering a remote 430EX II. Even though the 580EX II is firing only prior to the exposure (to send commands to the remote flash), it doesn't always keep up to the camera's frame rate, which means neither it nor the 430EX II emit any light at multiple points in the video. More often, however, the 580EX II does fire off a trigger signal to the 430EX II, but the remote flash is out of gas at that moment and doesn't light up during the exposure.

The result resembles a lightning storm in a low-budget movie. If you look closely, however, you can make out when the 580EX II successfully sends a command because the left side of the 430EX II catches the light. And, you can see when the 430EX II is successful in firing during the exposure by looking for a shadow briefly appearing on the background, to the left of the cardboard cutout.

The net effect is a configuration that's not really usable for any sort of sequence shooting:

Remote, no PocketWizard: Canon EOS-1D Mark III, ISO 400, 1/2000, f/4, Canon remote optical High Speed Sync, remote Speedlite 430EX II in TTL mode (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media; cardboard cutout in video courtesy of Canon Canada)

Video watching tips:
  • The way the flash burst records in the videos is a bit odd: you'll spot that it doesn't evenly illuminate the frame. This is a quirk of the video capture and not something strange happening in the flash exposure itself.

  • If you turn the sound up on your computer, you can hear the whine of the on-camera 580EX intermingled with the firing of the camera's shutter.
Not all models gain as much as the EOS-1D Mark III. It's fair to say, however, that all compatible Canon digital SLRs gain enough to meaningfully improve the usefulness of High Speed Sync. The graphs below show the range of High Speed Sync brightness increases you can expect from several other Canons.

The blue bar shows the gain, in stops, when the Speedlite is on a remote FlexTT5 receiver. The red bar depicts the improvement, in stops, when the Speedlite is attached to a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter in the hot shoe of the camera. The flash operating mode in all cases is TTL. As of this writing, LPA Design has not completed the gathering of similar data for manual output mode.

hss_canon_20d_graphic.jpg
hss_canon_30d_graphic.jpg
hss_canon_40d50d_graphic.jpg
hss_canon_1dmkii_graphic.jpg
hss_canon_5d_graphic.jpg
hss_canon_5dmkii_graphic.jpg
Raising the Bar: Graphs showing the High Speed Sync brightness gains introduced in firmware v4.250 for the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 (Graphs compiled from data supplied by LPA Design)

As we wind up our ControlTL High Speed Sync lovefest, there are a few things to note:
  • To get the full benefit of the new High Speed Sync implementation, you must select your specific camera model in the Misc tab of PocketWizard Utility, then store that change to the transmitter PocketWizard's configuration(s). If you routinely shoot with two or three different Canons, you can expect to find it tricky to manage which configuration in which transmitter has the right camera model chosen.

    If you leave the Camera Model popup set to Auto (the default setting), there will still be a High Speed Sync efficiency gain, but it will be much smaller than if you tell the software which camera you're using.

    Update, April 7, 2010: New versions of firmware, including the current 5.0 release, automatically detect the camera model, so it's no longer necessary to choose your specific camera to get the full High Speed Sync boost described in this story.

  • A future firmware update, says LPA Design's Clark, will slightly refine the way the light pulse sequence start and end times are set. This should eliminate any instances of a thin shadow appearing on one edge of the frame. In our own testing with an EOS-1D Mark III, for example, there is a sliver of a shadow at the bottom (horizontal) or side (vertical) of photos at some High Speed Sync shutter speeds (you can see it in the first of the cardboard cutout photos earlier in the article).

    We've only noticed this in indoor testing; outdoors, when the flash is blending with ambient, the shadowing hasn't been noticeable thus far. And, as noted, it should be excised completely by a later firmware release.

  • In configurations that permit a manual output brightness gain from the remote Speedlite, you may notice that you have to adjust the remote's manual power level down several increments from 1/1 before you'll see a reduction in brightness. With a remote 430EX II, for example, its brightness stays fairly constant as the Master 580EX II's interface for the remote zone is turned down to nearly 1/4 power.

    This is a byproduct of the trick LPA Design has performed to bump up maximum manual output brightness and represents something to be aware of rather than a real problem. But, says Clark, the company is evaluating a way they can combine both the new manual output brightness bump with manual output controls that always show a change in brightness when adjusted. If this comes together, it will be part of a future firmware release.

  • If you don't need increased brightness or faster recycling, then here's one more benefit of ControlTL High Speed Sync: better battery life. Because the flash tube doesn't stay lit for as long at a given shutter speed above X-sync, drain on the Speedlite's four AAs or external pack is reduced. How much? We haven't done any specific testing of this, but the user's guide addendum says "if you are shooting exclusively at [High Speed Sync] shutter speeds, you will get more than a doubling of battery life from your Speedlite, possibly eliminating the need for an external battery pack."
     
  • As before, ControlTL High Speed Sync isn't the only higher shutter speed flash synchronization option available to MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 owners. They also offer HyperSync, and with certain cameras it will be the best Speedlite option in the 1/250-1/500 range. For example, an EOS 50D set to 1/400 will see a gain of 0.75 stops in TTL's maximum brightness courtesy of ControlTL High Speed Sync mode when the remote flash is attached to a FlexTT5, relative to Canon High Speed Sync on its own. Switching to HyperSync, however, the TTL increase jumps to 1.7 stops at this shutter speed.

    The HyperSync advantage varies with the camera. If you need to shoot with Speedlites just above X-sync, rather than at really high shutter speeds, you'll want to compare the brightness, recycle time and action-stopping capabilities of HyperSync vs the new ControlTL High Speed Sync implementation. In this shutter speed range, the real limiting factor for the combo of HyperSync and Speedlites is the intrusion of not-so-thin black bands on two edges of the frame. If you see that at the shutter speed you need, then ControlTL High Speed Sync will likely be the better way to go.
More functional Canon EOS 5D Mark II support With this firmware release, the usability of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 with the 5D Mark II is greatly improved, says Clark. In fact, it's equal to other compatible cameras now, including with a Speedlite in the shoe of the transmitter on the camera, which had been the main incompatibility problem previously.

The good news of the paragraph above comes with a large caveat: If you use a fast aperture lens set to a smaller aperture, the timing of the firing of both local and remote Speedlites will sometimes go haywire. For example, if you have a Speedlite in the shoe of a MiniTT1 on top of a 5D Mark II, the mounted lens is an EF 50mm f/1.4 and its working aperture is f/4, all should be well. If you change the working aperture to f/11, and leave everything else the same, the flash will no longer fire at the correct time. The result may be a ruined frame.

Swap in an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, and no timing problems occur at any working aperture, from f/4 through to the lens' minimum of f/22.

With affected lenses, the usable aperture range varies with each lens model, and whether there is a flash on top of the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter on the camera. For example, the EF 50mm f/1.4 can safely go to about f/5.6 in LPA Design's testing, when a Speedlite is in the shoe of the on-camera transmitter. This jumps to about f/8 when the only Speedlites are remotes. Similarly, the EF 28-70mm f/2.8L is good to roughly f/10 with a Speedlite on top, or roughly f/13 with no Speedlite on top.

If you own a 5D Mark II you'll obviously need to test this out with your lenses, but in general, the faster the lens' maximum aperture, the more likely you are to run into this problem as you stop down.

Clark indicates they're hoping this remaining 5D Mark II incompatibility will get solved in the future, but as of this moment they're still investigating possible solutions.

pw_utility_camera_menu.jpg
Choosy: To take advantage of the 5D Mark II improvements in this firmware update, you must select "Canon 5D MKII" in the Camera Model popup menu in the Misc tab of PocketWizard Utility, then store the change into your transmitter(s)
To take advantage of the 5D Mark II improvements that are in this firmware update, it's necessary to explicitly select "Canon 5D MKII" in the Camera Model popup menu in the Misc tab of PocketWizard Utility, then store the change into your transmitter(s).

You'll need to do this for each configuration (C1 and/or C2) that you intend to use with the 5D Mark II, and once set this way for a given configuration, the transmitter won't work properly with other Canon cameras (until configured again, back to Auto or that particular camera).

With Bottom Shoe Disable mode enabled in a FlexTT5, remote triggering of a connected camera would fail for several seconds after shooting a picture or burst of pictures. Specifically, after transmitting a signal to the remote FlexTT5 to fire the camera for one or more frames, and then stopping the transmission (by releasing the transmitter's test button, for example), the remote camera could not be triggered again until after its meter went to sleep. This has been corrected.

Pressing the test button on the MiniTT1 caused improper flash exposures for any pictures taken in a subsequent three-to-five second period. This has been corrected.

Lenses with apertures wider than f/1.4 could not be used. This has been corrected; lenses as fast as f/1.0 are now compatible.

If the FlexTT5, acting as a transmitter, was attached to the hot shoe of an EOS 30D, it would occasionally stop transmitting. This has been corrected.

With a Speedlite in the hot shoe of a FlexTT5 (acting as a transmitter) in the hot shoe of a compatible Canon camera, High Speed Sync would malfunction. This has been corrected.

With High Speed Sync and M output modes enabled on a Master 580EX II (on top of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter), and a high shutter speed selected on the camera, all remote FlexTT5 flash groups would fire, even if C group or both B and C groups were disabled. Now, the remote groups will honour the enabled group settings dialed into the Master 580EX II.

pw_utility_shutter_speed_menu.jpg
Crossover: The shutter speed at which ControlTL High Speed Sync kicks in can now be selected, from 1/250-1/640
User-selectable shutter speed crossover point for HyperSync and ControlTL High Speed Sync Previously, the crossover point between HyperSync and ControlTL High Speed Sync was fixed at 1/640, which meant there was no way to choose ControlTL High Speed Sync at shutter speeds between 1/250-1/500. It was HyperSync flash triggering only in this shutter speed range.

Now, the shutter speed at which ControlTL High Speed Sync kicks in can be selected, from 1/250 to 1/640. The default has been set at 1/400, which means if you liked the previous behaviour, you'll want to ensure that your transmitters are configured back to 1/640.

A previous firmware update made it possible to disable ControlTL High Speed Sync altogether (that's the checkbox in the screenshot above) for those times when you want HyperSync at even stratospheric shutter speeds. Conversely, if you want to disable HyperSync completely, set the crossover point to one increment above your camera's X-sync speed.

Battery life in Basic Trigger Mode has been improved.

Remote flashes would sometimes fire a low-power burst of light when arousing in response to a wake-up signal from the camera. This has been corrected.

Installing the update

To install the v4.250 firmware, launch PocketWizard Utility 1.18, connect via USB the first of your Canon-version MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 units to be updated, then click the Check for 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.

The ControlTL High Speed Sync implementation rolled into the v4.250 firmware is not compatible with v4.100 and earlier. Be sure to update the firmware in all your new PocketWizards to prevent High Speed Sync malfunctions resulting from mismatched firmware.

Tips
  • 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.
A new user guide addendum, one which covers the changes in v4.250, has been posted on the PocketWizard website.
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