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Casting light on the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5
Monday, February 16, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
LPA Design has taken the wraps off two additions to its line of radio remote flash and camera triggering devices. Called the MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 transceiver, they offer wireless TTL control of Canon (and soon Nikon) flashes with some clever twists, a way-cool technology dubbed HyperSync that allows for higher flash sync speeds, new compact shapes (the MiniTT1 is particularly small), user-updateable firmware, interoperability with existing PocketWizards plus superb triggering reliability.

We've been shooting with beta units for some time, and can sum up the experience like this: these are killer new tools for the working photographer.

Fraternal Twins: The PocketWizard MiniTT1, left, and FlexTT5. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

What follows is a detailed look at the new PocketWizards. This article is broken up into four sections: a summary of the MiniTT1's and FlexTT5's capabilities, an overview of each model plus a detailed description of two of their standout features, HyperSync and ControlTL.

Feature summary

The PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 include the following features:

ControlTL Support for the Canon (E-TTL II) and Nikon (i-TTL CLS) wireless remote flash systems, including the transport of flash control commands over radio signals for longer range and improved firing reliability. But, the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 are more than just wireless TTL range extenders. As you'll read in the ControlTL section, they offer their own take on TTL that, among other things, enables:
  • Much faster shooting rates than are possible with a camera maker's wireless remote system on its own
  • The ability to control the output of a room full of TTL remote flashes but have no flash at all on the camera
  • Flashes like the Speedlite 430EX II, which are designed to serve only as remotes in a wireless TTL setup, to act as Master units
Plus other feature variations that set PocketWizard ControlTL apart.

HyperSync Normally, the quickest shutter speed a camera can be set to, when using a wireless radio device to fire studio strobes or other non-dedicated flashes, is somewhat slower than when camera and flash are linked by a wire. HyperSync mode turns the tables, making the wireless link the one that allows the highest shutter speed, higher than a cable running from the PC sync socket to the strobe with all compatible SLRs.

When you want to capture the peak output of a powerful, fast duration strobe, while incrementally pushing up the shutter speed (as high as 1/500 with certain SLRs) to minimize the intrusion of ambient light, this mode is for you. We've been shooting all indoors strobed sports recently with HyperSync used exactly this way, and it's great.

That's one half of the HyperSync story. When you need to shoot with non-dedicated flash at an abnormally high shutter speed, a second HyperSync mode comes to the fore. It allows for any shutter speed up to the camera's maximum to be selected, but at the expense of the strobe's effective output. That's because, to light the entire frame fairly evenly, only the long tail of the strobe's burst is used, which in turn means its maximum light intensity drops several stops or more.

The first HyperSync mode is broadly useful, while the second is usable with a more restricted set of strobes and circumstances.

The MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 also support Canon High Speed Sync and Nikon Auto FP High Speed Sync, allowing flash synchronization up to the camera's maximum shutter speed with each camera makers' flash units.

Low-profile design Both the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 feature a design that spreads out rather than up. In the case of the MiniTT1, an internal antenna and coin cell power source means it doesn't spread much in any direction and is the most compact PocketWizard to date.

USB connectivity Like the latest iteration of the MultiMAX, the firmware in the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 can be updated over a USB connection using free companion software called PocketWizard Utility. The Mac and Windows application also handles the job of configuring the new models' various internal settings includes channels, HyperSync values, sleep timers and more. It then stores them in one of two possible user configurations in each unit.

Interoperability with existing PocketWizards It's possible to mix and mingle existing and new PocketWizard models in a wireless setup, as they all share channels that overlap. In this way, a MiniTT1 can trigger a Plus II connected to a studio strobe, or a MultiMAX can fire a FlexTT5 connected to a remote camera. These are just two of many possible examples; the primary limiting factor in most instances will be the lack of support for some of the new features in older units.

Wireless remote TTL, for example, is possible only with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5. That said, HyperSync works with a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 at the camera and any PocketWizard connected to a studio strobe or similar flash. While the list of reasons to purchase an older PocketWizard just got a lot shorter with the introduction of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5, the overall interoperability of the new units with existing ones means your Plus IIs, MultiMAXes and even Pluses, MAXes and Classics are still useful. In fact, we're betting the MiniTT1 transmitter will be bought up in large numbers by photographers solely because of its compactness, even if they intend to operate it exclusively with existing PocketWizard receivers.

Compatibility with both Canon and Nikon cameras and flashes The new PocketWizards will ship in separate Canon and Nikon versions, which is necessitated by the fact that each camera brand utilizes a different hot shoe pin arrangement.

The following Canon cameras are compatible with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5:
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark III and EOS-1Ds Mark III
  • Canon EOS-1D Mark II, EOS-1D Mark II N and EOS-1Ds Mark II
  • Canon EOS 5D and 5D Mark II
  • Canon EOS 20D, 30D, 40D and 50D
  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT/350D, XTi/400D, XS/1000D and XSi/450D
Of these models, there are two with limitations. First, Auto Power Off must be disabled in the 30D or remote triggering won't be possible after this camera automatically powers down. Second, it's not possible to use a flash in the hot shoe of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 attached to a 5D Mark II (the new PocketWizards operate fine with this camera when no flash is in their shoe). LPA Design anticipates being able to correct this through a firmware update sometime in the months ahead.

Canon's compatible flash units are the Speedlite 580EX, 580EX II, 430EX and 430EX II, plus Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2. All four Speedlites can be used as either TTL remotes or Masters (when acting as Master units, the 430EX and 430EX II are limited to single zone operation). There's more on the use of these flashes with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 in the FlexTT5 overview and in the ControlTL section.

Nikon cameras and Speedlights that utilize i-TTL and support Nikon's Creative Lighting System (CLS) are expected to be compatible with the Nikon versions of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5. LPA Design has not yet released a detailed list of compatible Nikon products.

Availability This is something to take note of, since when the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 will arrive at your favourite pro photo retailer depends on where you are and whether you shoot with Canon or Nikon. The Canon versions of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 will be released first, and are to begin shipping on March 1, 2009 in the U.S. (which means they'll be available for purchase from dealers starting a few days after that). In Canada, the Canon version of the MiniTT1 is to ship sometime in the first half of March 2009; the Canon version of the FlexTT5 will follow approximately one to three weeks later. In Europe, both the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 for Canon are expected to land in late March 2009 at the earliest.

The Nikon versions of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 will follow sometime in the second quarter of 2009.

In the U.S., the minimum advertised price (MAP), which is usually a good indicator of the street price initially, is US$199 for the MiniTT1 and US$219 for the FlexTT5.

The Canon versions were developed first and are what we've had access to in beta form leading up to today's introduction, which means this article focuses mostly on the use of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 with Canon cameras and flashes. That said, the Nikon versions will offer almost all the same features and functions. In cases where we've learned of Nikon-specific differences we've included that information.

PocketWizard MiniTT1 overview

The MiniTT1 transmitter is a squat unit measuring 2.8in (7.1cm) L x 1.9in (4.9cm) W x 1.3in (3.3cm) H and weighing 2.3oz (65g) with a battery installed. (A rollover in the mini-gallery towards the end of this page will give you an idea of how its profile compares to a Plus II.)

It features 52 wireless channels: 20 ControlTL channels for the new protocol developed to carry Canon Speedlite or Nikon Speedlight control signals, plus 32 that are the same as previous PocketWizard products (and are now called Standard channels).

Shoe Size: The PocketWizard MiniTT1 on top of a Canon EOS-1D Mark III. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

There are in fact two different models of MiniTT1, one for Canon called the MiniTT1C, and another for Nikon called the MiniTT1N. On the bottom is a foot that's pin-compatible with the hot shoe of either Canons or Nikons, depending on the MiniTT1 model. Similarly, the top incorporates a hot shoe with a pin arrangement that mirrors one or the other camera system. In this way, it's possible to have the MiniTT1 in the hot shoe of a camera, and have a shoe-mount flash (or a controller like Canon's ST-E2 or Nikon's SU-800) sitting on top of that.

Placing a flash in the shoe of the MiniTT1 on top of the camera was conceived as one of the primary usages, and as such both its top shoe and bottom foot are mated together in a single component, called a shoe cartridge, that utilizes glass-reinforced plastic for strength and is designed to offer similar freedom from breakage as the camera below and the flash above. There's also effectively no unwanted flex: while the MiniTT1 looks too small to be able to support a full-size Speedlite like the 580EX II, in our experience it handles this flash without a problem. (The Nikon variant of the MiniTT1 should be able to comfortably manage Nikon's biggest flash, the Speedlight SB-900).

The combination of camera + MiniTT1 + flash seems about as sturdy as camera + flash alone.

Note: Because of the different hot shoe pin arrangements, you can't use a Nikon Speedlight on the MiniTT1C or a Canon Speedlite on a MiniTT1N.

The placement of the MiniTT1 between the camera and flash isn't merely for convenience, it's to intercept and in many cases alter the communication that occurs between the two. Or, when no flash is in the hot shoe of the MiniTT1, to communicate with the camera as if there were. As will become clear in the ControlTL and HyperSync sections, putting a PocketWizard directly in this communications path makes certain features possible.

On one side of the MiniTT1 is a USB Mini-B port for connection to a computer. PocketWizard Utility, a Mac/Windows application that accompanies the new PocketWizards, handles the installing of future firmware updates, configuring the unit and checking battery strength. On the other side of the MiniTT1 is a three position switch for selecting from two different user configurations and turning the device off, an LED that shows device and battery status plus a test button (which when held down for 10 seconds puts the unit into a mode where it can "learn" a new channel or combination of channels from another PocketWizard).

The MiniTT1 is powered by a 3VDC Lithium coin cell (CR2450 or CR2354). As a transmitter, it only needs to fully draw on the battery in the brief moments it's transmitting, plus it's designed to enter its own sleep mode whenever the camera sleeps. As a result, battery life is rated at "hundreds of hours" in the MiniTT1 user manual. Based on our own use so far, this seems like a reasonable rating.

To use the MiniTT1 as a transmitter in a wireless TTL setup, the receiver unit must be a FlexTT5. For other uses, such as triggering a studio strobe or firing a remote camera, the receiver can be any PocketWizard capable of performing these tasks now, including the Plus II or MultiMAX. The MiniTT1's 32 Standard channels include channels 1-4 of the Plus/Plus II, 1-16 of the Classic and 1-32 of the MAX and MultiMAX. When set to Standard channels 17-32, the MiniTT1 will transmit trigger signals on all four of the MultiMAX's zones (this is not to be confused with the A:B:C zone feature of ControlTL, which is discussed in the ControlTL section of this article and requires a FlexTT5 at the receiving end).

The official range of the MiniTT1 transmitter, when sending to Plus II and MultiMAX receivers and therefore using Standard channels only, is about 1200ft (about 365m). When transmitting to a FlexTT5 in a wireless TTL configuration, which means ControlTL channels and Standard channels are being used (in this mode, the MiniTT1 sends both ControlTL and Standard signals), the range is about 800ft (about 240m).

Put in more practical terms, we've been able to swap the MiniTT1 transmitter in place of a Plus II or MultiMAX for strobed sports shooting, in a facility that's large enough that the transmitter-to-receiver distance is in excess of 125ft (38m) at times, and the strobes have fired as reliably as always. Which is to say that reliability has been excellent; we've been devout PocketWizard users since 1996 because of LPA Design's ability to make wireless triggering work exceptionally well.

Similarly, we've now done two, three and four FlexTT5 wireless TTL setups using 430EX IIs as the remote flash, all in medium to large venues, with trigger distances up to about 90ft (27.5m) and obstructions like slide screens, partitions, walls and several hundred humans in the way. Triggering reliability has been, well, like a PocketWizard. There's more on range in the FlexTT5 overview on the next page.

The MiniTT1 can handle all the transmitting duties involved in supporting both new PocketWizard features such as ControlTL and HyperSync, and older features such as, well, firing flashes and triggering remote cameras. While the radio inside the MiniTT1 has the capability of acting as a receiver too, it's not being launched with any receiving capabilities. There's a sensible reason for that: its coin cell battery has sufficient capacity to power a transmitter, since as implemented in the MiniTT1, the transmitting task draws peak current only very briefly during triggering. Then, the MiniTT1 returns to a low-power state, or nearly a no-power state when the camera goes to sleep.

By comparison, a receiver has to constantly pull a healthy dose of current from its power source as it stays on the lookout for incoming signals. Used in this way, the MiniTT1's battery would rapidly be exhausted.

The MiniTT1 (and FlexTT5) support 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.

Update, February 19, 2009: Though conceived as being for Canon and Nikon only, LPA Design is evaluating whether to enable the MiniTT1 to work as a no-frills transmitter in the hot shoes of other camera makers, for PocketWizard owners who want a small transmitter but don't shoot with the two dominant digital SLR brands.

If they opt to do this, this is likely how it would work, says LPA Design's Jim Clark: a photographer would buy either the Canon or Nikon version of the MiniTT1, then use PocketWizard Utility to disable the unit's camera communication pins, leaving only the centre (trigger) pin active. The MiniTT1 would then serve as a transmitter on any of its 32 Standard channels, but would not be capable of HyperSync or ControlTL. Also, it might not sync at quite as high a shutter speed as a Plus II now, owing to the way the MiniTT1's battery power management works. That is, you might see a slim black band at the base of the frame at a shutter speed that is band-free with the Plus II on your camera (this assumes that your camera has a focal plane shutter; if it's medium format and has a leaf shutter, then this caveat won't apply).

If LPA Design chooses to add this to the MiniTT1's feature set, we'll make note of it in a future article.

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Left: Power and configuration switch, test/learn button. Click to enlarge
Right: USB port (behind port cover). Click to enlarge
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Front: The PocketWizard logo. Click to enlarge Inside: 3VDC CR2450 coin cell battery. Click to enlarge
mini_plusII_rollover_B.jpg
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Low Profile: Roll your cursor over the photo to see a profile comparison with the PocketWizard Plus II Hefty: The MiniTT1 supporting the simultaneous weight of a Speedlite 580EX II and EOS-1D Mark III. Click to enlarge
Mini Squared: The MiniTT1 connected to the USB port of a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

On the next page, we look at the FlexTT5 and HyperSync.

Next Page: FlexTT5 overview and HyperSync, part 1
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