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Casting light on the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 - Continued
PocketWizard FlexTT5 overview

If you've worked your way through the MiniTT1 overview on the previous page, you already know a lot about the FlexTT5. That's because the FlexTT5 incorporates all of the transmitting features of the MiniTT1 and can do the job of the smaller unit in all instances.

It was designed to be a receiver too, connected to studio strobes and remote cameras via its miniphone jacks, while also providing a hot shoe for a remote wireless TTL flash. It operates on the same 52 channels, supports ControlTL and HyperSync, is interoperable with existing PocketWizards and incorporates a camera brand-specific foot on the bottom and hot shoe on the top. It's a MiniTT1, plus more, in a somewhat larger shell.

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Flexible: The PocketWizard FlexTT5. Roll your cursor over the photo to see the antenna in its closed position (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The FlexTT5 transceiver measures 3.6in (9.2cm) L x 2.9in (7.3cm) W x 1.4in (3.6cm) H and weighs 5.4oz (153g) with batteries installed. It's powered by two AAs and is rated for 60 hours of battery life. On one side is the battery door (whose hinge mechanism works especially nicely). On the other side is the same power and configuration selector found on the MiniTT1, a switch for setting the zone (relevant when the FlexTT5 is being used as a receiver) and a test/learn button.

Around the back is an LED that shows device status and battery levels, as well as two 1/8in (3.5mm) miniphone jacks. The one marked Flash/P2 is mono, the same as the equivalent port on a Plus II or MultiMAX, while Camera/P1 is stereo, which makes it the same as the bottom ACC port on the latest MultiMAX (except that on the FlexTT5, it's not an AC adapter input as well). This also means the FlexTT5 supports a nifty feature of the latest MultiMAX (set as a receiver) that allows a remote camera to be kept asleep in the hours leading up to the event, then woken up simply by enabling its zone on the transmitter MultiMAX. With a FlexTT5 connected to the remote camera you can do the same thing; the transmitter must still be a MultiMAX.

The FlexTT5 incorporates a rubberized swivel antenna with 180 degrees of motion. Because it swivels, the antenna can be oriented in the optimum position - usually straight up - for maximum range and triggering reliability, regardless of how the FlexTT5 itself has been mounted. (Roll your cursor over the photo above to see the antenna in its closed position.) Raising the antenna reveals the unit's USB Mini-B port.

The base of the FlexTT5 incorporates a threaded 1/4-20 socket for mounting it on a lightstand or tripod. Its bottom foot also slides easily into the small stands included with various Canon and Nikon flashes (mostly out of habit, this is how we've deployed the FlexTT5 during the beta test period). A lanyard eyelet forms part of the front right corner of the FlexTT5, near where the antenna locks down. The base of the FlexTT5 has a large enough unused area to allow for a strip of adhesive-backed velcro to be placed there, making that another mounting option.

A rollover in the mini-gallery down this page will give you an idea of how the FlexTT5's profile compares to a MultiMAX.

Relay mode, which allows for a remote camera to be fired in sync with remote flashes, is also supported. As of this writing, if you need a remote camera to fire continuously and want to use a FlexTT5 as that camera's receiver, the FlexTT5 must not be attached to the camera's hot shoe. Single frame remote camera shooting is fine, even with the FlexTT5 in the camera's hot shoe.

The reason for this single/continuous behaviour is a minor firmware bug, a bug that may in fact be stomped out by the time the FlexTT5 for Canon hits the streets. Note that even if LPA Design has this bug sorted out by launch date or shortly thereafter, the user guide in the box might still make reference to the single frame restriction (the online PDF version does currently). This is only because of the timing of the completion of the user guide relative to the tackling of this bug, so you'll want to ignore the user guide paragraph about this and instead try the FlexTT5 as a continuous motor drive remote camera receiver to see for yourself if the firmware bug has been stomped out yet (and use PocketWizard Utility to check for and download any new firmware that might contain the fix).

Like the MiniTT1, the FlexTT5 supports Custom IDs. This feature, only available on the MultiMAX to date, enables a photographer-unique code to be programmed into the unit, such that even if two photographers are operating on the same frequency, one photographer's transmitter won't trigger the receivers of the other. Initially, the procedure is the same as for the MultiMAX; Custom ID programming requires the units be shipped in. The fee is expected to be similar to or the same as for the MultiMAX now. By mid-year, LPA Design expects to have a process in place that won't require sending the units away and that will use PocketWizard Utility to perform the Custom ID procedure.

The official range of the FlexTT5, when sending to Plus II or MultiMAX receivers and therefore using Standard channels only, is about 1200ft (about 365m). When transmitting to another FlexTT5 in a wireless TTL configuration, which means ControlTL channels and Standard channels are being used, the range is about 800ft (about 240m).

As with any wireless device, there are variables that impact the real range in a given situation, including the presence of radio frequency interference. There are a few points worth making about the range of the FlexTT5:
  • Strictly speaking, the Plus II and MultiMAX, communicating with each other, still offer the longest range in the PocketWizard line, at about 1600ft (about 490m), while the newest MultiMAX offers a repeater function that enables multiple units operating in concert to have a longer range still.

    It's possible for two FlexTT5s to exceed the working range of two Plus IIs or two MultiMAXes, however, if the FlexTT5s have their antennas oriented straight up, and the older PocketWizards don't. Since the FlexTT5's swivel antenna allows for optimum orientation, in practice it may well offer the longest unit-to-unit range on Standard channels, even if its specifications suggest otherwise.

  • When using Canon Speedlites as remote flashes, the working range is impacted by which flash model is sitting on the FlexTT5. The 580EX, 580EX II and 430EX all emit considerable RF noise in the frequency band used by PocketWizards. Of the three, the one that will gobble up the most range is the 430EX, reducing the real working distance to dozens of feet rather than hundreds. Partial solutions include linking the Speedlite and FlexTT5 using a cable like Canon's Off-Camera Shoe Cord OC-E3 to position the flash as far away as possible from the FlexTT5's antenna. To maximize the effectiveness of this workaround, attach an interference reducing clamp-on ferrite core to the cable, near the flash.

    The real solution, however, is to use the 430EX II if you need lots of range. Of the four Canon flash units that are compatible with the FlexTT5 - the 580EX, 580EX II, 430EX and 430EX II - the 430EX II offers the longest range because it produces almost no RF noise across PocketWizard frequencies.

    We tried both the 430EX and 430EX II on top of a FlexTT5 on shoots, and the 430EX introduces misfires and odd behaviour when the transmitter to receiver distance exceeded about 30ft (about 9m) or so. By comparison, the combination of FlexTT5 and 430EX II has fired reliably at distances up to about 90ft (about 27.5m). That distance is the longest we've tried with this flash and receiver together. Based on the FlexTT5's range specifications, it's likely that the 430EX II will continue to fire reliably at much greater distances than this.

    Nikon's Speedlights emit minimal range-reducing RF interference in LPA Design's testing, so this particular problem is restricted to Canon gear. Also note that it's principally the U.S./Canada version of the FlexTT5 that's impacted. The European FlexTT5 operates on a different set of frequencies, most (but not all) of which are outside the frequencies affected by the RF noise coming from the trio of Canon Speedlites. Also, the RF noise emitted by these flashes only interferes with signal reception; the range of a MiniTT1 transmitter is not reduced by placing any one of these Canon flashes in its shoe.
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Left: Zone selector, power and configuration switch, test/learn button. Click to enlarge
Right: Battery door. Click to enlarge
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Front: The antenna in closed position. Click to enlarge Front: The antenna in its open position, revealing the FlexTT5's USB Mini-B port. Click to enlarge
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Back: Twin miniphone ports, status LED. Click to enlarge
Power: Inside the battery chamber. Click to enlarge
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Low Profile: Roll your cursor over the photo to see a profile comparison with the MultiMAX
Ready: The FlexTT5 and Canon Speedlite 430EX II. Click to enlarge
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Two Bright: A pair of FlexTT5s light up twin 430EX IIs (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

HyperSync

One of the slickest capabilities of the new PocketWizards is HyperSync. It can be used in two ways:
  • Incrementally bumping up the standard shutter sync speed while simultaneously not sacrificing strobe brightness or introducing a thick black band at the bottom of the frame (when the camera is held horizontally).

    This HyperSync mode is most useful when you're trying to minimize ambient light and maximize strobe efficiency at the same time. Prior to HyperSync, this task was most easily accomplished by running a wire between camera and strobe, because the delay associated with any wireless flash trigger meant switching to a slower shutter speed to avoid a black band invading the base of the frame. By signaling the flash to fire a bit ahead of when the camera normally would on its own, HyperSync allows for a sync speed that is both higher than previous wireless trigger devices and higher than a wired connection too.

  • Allowing flash sync up to the top shutter speed of the camera, but at the expense of strobe efficiency. This second HyperSync mode works by firing the flash well before the camera normally would, which means the camera's shutter opens well after the strobe's peak brightness has passed. As a result, the camera captures the gradually fading light at the end of the strobe burst. If the strobe's light dims gradually enough during the very brief time the shutter blades are letting photons pass through to the sensor, it simulates, sort of, continuous light.

    You can expect to lose several stops or more of light intensity, plus you'll need a long flash duration strobe to achieve fairly even illumination and fairly consistent colour from the top to the bottom of the frame.

    Despite some significant restrictions on its usability, this HyperSync mode may be among the few ways to balance or overcome sunny day ambient with your strobe, in those situations when a Canon or Nikon flash in high speed synchronization mode doesn't have enough jam to light the scene (which is often the case in our experience).
The second HyperSync mode was only partially implemented in the beta MiniTT1s we've been using, so other than confirming that the concept does work we've not tested it further. Based on what we've seen so far, though, it should be incredibly useful when paired with the right strobe.

The first HyperSync mode is what we'll discuss from here on in, because it's tailor-made for the strobed sport shooter. Using big flashes to shoot fast-moving sports like basketball and volleyball requires you to strike the best available compromise between flash output, duration, recycle time and ambient light intrusion. Use a more powerful strobe and the effect of ambient ghosting is reduced, but at the expense of longer flash duration and slower recycle times. Go with a less powerful strobe and both flash duration and recycle time shortens, but at the risk of increased image ghosting from ambient light.

HyperSync helps strike a better compromise. By enabling a shutter speed that is as much as two increments higher, ambient is pushed down further and ghosting is less of a factor. It's the difference between being able to sync at 1/500 rather than 1/320 with the EOS-1D Mark III, for example. This is a small improvement that can be a big help in the battle against ambient in this type of photography.

The two photos below tell the story. Both are shot at 1/500, but in the top photo the strobes have been fired with a Plus II, while in the bottom photo a MiniTT1 with HyperSync was used. Neither photo is cropped, you're looking at the entire frame.

Regular Sync: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 70-200mm f/4L IS at 200mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/7.1, PocketWizard Plus II triggering MultiMAX receivers connected to Dyna-Lite Arena packs + 4080SP heads (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
HyperSync: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 70-200mm f/4L IS at 200mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/7.1, PocketWizard MiniTT1 with HyperSync set to -200 triggering MultiMAX receivers connected to Dyna-Lite Arena packs + 4080SP heads (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

If you shoot sports with strobes too, or you simply struggle to keep ambient at bay when snapping flash pictures, then you're probably in agreement that this is super cool.

HyperSync must be configured to ensure that the flashes are fired at the optimum time for your combination of flash and camera. To do that, it's necessary to select a HyperSync Offset value in PocketWizard Utility (see screenshot below), then load that into the MiniTT1 (or FlexTT5 if you prefer to use that as a transmitter).

The value you choose from the slider is the number of microseconds early you want the strobe to be triggered. For the EOS-1D Mark III and our Dyna-Lite Arena packs set to 600ws and driving a 4080SP bi-tube head, that value is between -150 and -200. If you choose a value of 0 (zero), then the maximum sync speed will be identical to what you can achieve with a wire. A higher (negative) value moves the sync speed into better-than-wire territory.

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Early Riser: The Sync Timing tab in PocketWizard Utility

Finding the optimum value is done the old-fashioned way, by shooting pictures with the camera and strobe combo you intend to use, at speeds at and above 1/250, then adjusting the HyperSync Offset to give a clean or nearly-clean result at the highest possible shutter speed your camera allows. For the example pictures on this page and on the next two pages, that's what we did to arrive at the HyperSync values listed.

The oscilloscope graphic below shows two things:
  • When a HyperSync Offset value other than 0 is selected and the shutter speed is higher than 1/200, the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 will send out their trigger signal before the camera would otherwise choose to (that's X-Sync in the graphic).

  • The HyperSync Offset value, when other than 0, is applied at 1/400, dynamically lowered between 1/250 and 1/350 and dynamically raised at 1/500 (this increment isn't shown below). LPA Design discovered during the development process that including this dynamic shifting helped achieve optimal HyperSync results at shutter speed increments both at and up to the camera's highest possible, particularly with cameras that have fast shutters.
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On Screen: Oscilloscope traces showing the first HyperSync mode in action (Graphic courtesy LPA Design)

This ties into the overall behaviour of HyperSync. Specifically:
  • At 1/200 and slower, the HyperSync value is ignored and syncing is equivalent to a wire link between camera and strobe.

  • Between 1/250 and 1/500, the first method of HyperSync is used, both when triggering strobes over Standard channels and when firing Canon or Nikon flashes either locally in the shoe of a MiniTT1/FlexTT5 or remotely in a FlexTT5.

  • Above 1/500, you can choose between the second HyperSync method or, if the remote units are Canon or Nikon flashes perched on FlexTT5s, High Speed Sync/Auto FP High Speed Sync.
As of this writing, certain HyperSync implementation details are still being sorted out, so the above is subject to change somewhat prior to the first day of sales of the Canon versions of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5. HyperSync will also be in the Nikon versions, but it's implementation may also vary slightly from what's ultimately decided for the Canon units.

Returning to the EOS-1D Mark III, it can manage 1/320 clean - that is, without a black band entering into the bottom of the picture - with a previous PocketWizard transmitter like the Plus II. But, 1/400 is one step too far, it's black band city.

Switch to a MiniTT1 and 1/400 is clean, while at 1/500 there is a tiny sliver of a black band at the bottom and slight shading at the top. You can see both in the HyperSync volleyball example above, and also see that neither harms the photo. In most cases, particularly when shooting sports, cropping eliminates any evidence that you skated along the limits of this HyperSync mode by shooting at 1/500. The three EOS-1D Mark III photos below were shot at 1/500 and HyperSync. Because each has been trimmed to suit the content they're all free of bands or shading.

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Dig: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 70-200mm f/4L IS at 89mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/7.1, PocketWizard MiniTT1 with HyperSync set to -200 triggering MultiMAX receivers connected to Dyna-Lite Arena packs + 4080SP heads (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Kill: Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 70-200mm f/4L IS at 200mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/7.1, PocketWizard MiniTT1 with HyperSync set to -200 triggering MultiMAX receivers connected to Dyna-Lite Arena packs + 4080SP heads (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Jubo:Canon EOS-1D Mark III + EF 70-200mm f/4L IS at 200mm, ISO 160, 1/500, f/7.1, PocketWizard MiniTT1 with HyperSync set to -200 triggering MultiMAX receivers connected to Dyna-Lite Arena packs + 4080SP heads (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1D Mark II N and EOS-1D Mark II are the only camera models capable of a nearly-clean 1/500 using the first HyperSync mode, but all Canon cameras will see a one or two step increase in usable shutter sync speed compared to previous PocketWizard transmitters. The bump is greater still when compared to certain other wireless triggering devices.

In Canon's lineup, the EOS 5D and 5D Mark II bring up the rear. While the first method of HyperSync still allows for a one or two shutter speed step wireless bump with these models, their maximum standard sync speeds are relatively slow to begin with. Therefore, a clean 1/250 is all we've been able to achieve with our Dyna-Lite sports strobe configuration. Other Canon models fall in-between 1/250 and 1/500; the 40D and 50D, for example, can manage a fairly clean 1/400.

Your mileage will vary slightly, even with the same cameras, because the strobe's characteristics play a major role. One of the by-products of using fast flash duration strobes, as we do for sports and for all HyperSync pictures in this article, is that the light's tail is comparatively short. That is, once peak brightness has been reached during the strobe burst, the light dims quickly. This makes for harder-edged shading at the top of the frame, because the shading is the light's dimming tail. A longer flash duration strobe will dim more gradually, which is terrible for freezing sports action but does make the shading at the top of the frame less obtrusive.

On the next page is a collection of shutter speed sync examples shot with the EOS-1D Mark III and six different triggering options.

Next Page: HyperSync, part 2: the EOS-1D Mark III
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