Fstoppers Nikon Pocket Wizard FlexTT5, MiniTT1, And AC3 Review

Patrick and I have been in contact with LPA Design (the company that makes Pocket Wizards) for a few months now and we were excited to hear that they would be sending us a few beta units of the unreleased Nikon FlexTT5, MiniTT1, and AC3 units. Our website is not about reviewing gear but we did want to push these units. I called up Sigma and asked for a loaner 800mm 5.6 lens and Patrick planned a shoot that involved every SB-800 and SB-80DX that we own. Check out the video below, and then scroll down to read detailed info about the shoots and check out the high res images. If you enjoy this content, follow us on Twitter to stay updated when our next video is released.

 

The 800mm Portrait By Lee Morris

Initial Tests
When I first heard that we were getting these units I knew that I wanted to shoot with a huge telephoto lens. The main thing that Pocket Wizard has going for it over other triggers is their reliability and their range. Before the shoot, Patrick and I went outside and tested the FlexTT5 VS a Plus II Transceiver in terms of range. At the time of the test we did find that the new units were not quite as reliable as the older Plus II's and we had a few other quirky issues. After the test we learned that there was a firmware update and it seemed to fix many of the issues. We didn't have enough time to run the test again before the shoot but since we did not have the actual shipping units anyway (we had older betas) running full tests would not be fair at this point.

High Speed Sync (FP mode)
Another key feature that these units have that standard Wizards do not have is the ability to sync strobes above your cameras highest sync speed. I had hoped to shoot in very bright direct sunlight at 1/8000th of a second and light my model with a single SB-800. What we found, however, was that even though you can sync beyond your sync speed, you are loosing flash power as you raise your shutter speed. We did not run precise tests of this but we learned that you seemed to get flash power proportional to ambient light as we went up in shutter speed. For example; normally if you shoot anywhere from one second up to 1/250th of a second, your flash will effect the image in the same way (a full power flash is full power). Once you go into high speed sync mode, however, your flash power decreases as the shutter duration gets quicker. This means that a full power flash at 1/500th of a second is more powerful than a flash at 1/2000th of a second because not all of the flash is reaching the sensor. Long story short, it appeared to us that you are not actually gaining flash power by raising the shutter speed above 250th so it wasn't worth doing for my shoot.

As a side note, these new PW units do have a mode called Hyper Sync which falls between shutter speeds of 1/250 and about 1/500 that DOES give you one extra stop of flash power that isn't using the FP mode I just described. It's pretty complicated to explain but it does work and is most effective with 2.8 lenses so I wasn't able to use it in my shoot with the Sigma lens since it was a 5.6 lens.

Getting The Lens
When I called Sigma and asked for a lens I actually requested the 200-500mm 2.8 lens. It's a 30k lens so I knew it was a long shot. I was really excited when they said they would let me use it for the video but a few days later I got a call that they only had a Canon mount version available. Instead, they sent me an 800mm 5.6 which is still quite a lens.

The Shoot
We got out to the park 1 hour before the model was due to show up to scout out the best location. It was much harder than I thought it would be because we were actually looking for backgrounds that were a quarter mile away that would look good extremely out of focus. We would pick a spot that we thought would work but when we took a test shot we would notice that the bokeh was ugly or wouldn't register as we would have imagined. We finally settled on an awkward location that required the model to stand on a bench and I was forced to shoot in between a tree and a canon. As the sun went down we were able to move to a much simpler location where I could take full body vertical images. I love the full body shots but I love how different the bokeh looks in the first horizontal images.

Final Thoughts
For my test the pocket wizards did very well firing about 95% of the time at about 200ft. For me, being the simple type of guy that I am, I am most excited that these units lock directly onto the hot shoe of my off camera flash. Up until now, I have had to use sync cords which are the most unreliable piece of gear that I own. Shooting in "auto TTL" is something that I will try to work into my wedding photography in the future but for commercial gigs I am going to keep everything manual. Shooting in high speed sync mode only seems useful to me if you want to take a shallow depth of field shot in bright sunlight and so at this point, I don't think I will use that feature much.

 

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The 13 Flash Dunk By Patrick Hall

When the guys at Pocket Wizard sent us the new Flex beta units for Nikon I was really excited.  I rely on the Pocket Wizard Plus II units for every single wedding event I shoot as well as every commercial shoot.  There are several features that the new Flex and Mini systems have that really sparked my interest including being able to control my remote flashes from my camera, gaining auto TTL over long distances, and even being able to squeeze out an extra stop of power with the new Hyper Sync Mode.  But since I have already invested a lot of money into my own arsenal of Pocket Wizard Plus II units, I wanted to make sure the new Flex units were completely compatible with the previous models I already owned.

The Concept
Since Lee was going to test the range, I wanted to test their compatibility with older units. One idea I have had for a long time was to photograph a sports player at the peak of their action with a lot of flashes going off in the background.  This idea could be the perfect shoot to test both units together.  The setup was simple yet admittedly pretty ridiculous:  a couple of soft light sources triggered with the new Flex units lighting my subject from camera right, and about 10 flashes being triggered with Plus II units in the distance to make up the background.  With this setup I could test both the TTL and manual remote control features of the Flex system while still checking to see that my manually set background flashes were being fired through the Plus II triggers.

The Setup
Local model, designer, and basketball player Chelsie Ravenell was excited to donate his skills to the project and we gathered the Fstoppers crew to help build a studio set within a local basketball court.  Lee and I own 13 on camera flashes between the 2 of us and I didn't want to waste one by putting it on top of my camera so I wound up using the soon to be released Pocket Wizard AC3 zone controller which essentially acts like an SB900 or SU800 in commander mode without having to have one actually mounted on my camera's hotshoe.  The AC3 worked great and allowed me to switch off my key lights when testing the background as well as set the key lights to auto and manual when it was time to lock in the exposure on Chelsie.  The other issue I had was trying to build a perfect exposure within the camera when so many lights were being triggered.  Placing SB800s near the bleachers and firing directly towards the camera was inadvertently spilling light onto the background and not giving me the dark background exposure I envisioned.  So my solution was simply to expose Chelsie as well as I could, knock out 95% of the gym's ambient light, and position the background lights so they would still appear to be coming from the crowd and allowing me to control the level of their spill later in photoshop.

How Did They Work
If I were shooting in manual mode with the older Wizards it would have been much easier because I would have simply set all of my flashes to SU-4 (slave mode) and they would have all fired when they saw another flash. Since I was controlling the flash from the new units this would not work because the of the pre-flashes that go along with Nikons iTTL system. I really thought the Pocket Wizards would have reliability issues because one, we were using 13 units, and two they were all placed near each other in a small gym.  I've learned the hard way many times that the more complex you make your photoshoot the more chances you allow for something to fail.  Surprisingly the new Flex units fired about 95% of the time and the background lights fired about 70% of the time.  This is not bad for a set of beta units!  The main issue with the older units was probably a bad sync cable since a single flash would usually not fire every now and then.  Obviously there would be very few times that you would need to fire 13 flashes so I view this test to be a huge success considering how complex the setup ultimately was. The final 3 or 4 frames were retouched in Photoshop by the talented Jaymes Poudrier. 

Final Thoughts
I'm really excited to know that my large investment in Plus II units has not become obsolete and that the Flex (and mini) units work exactly as designed by the guys at Pocket Wizard.  These units are a bit expensive but the technology is the best out there.  I can only imagine the possibilities these new triggers offer for other shoots where your control of light isn't so well calculated like at wedding receptions, live events, or fast moving sports.  I really think the auto TTL feature will shine in spontaneous situations where as on my shoot I primarily controlled the flash output remotely in manual. Since I'm a Charleston wedding photographer, I can't wait to take these units out and use them at my receptions...more on that later :)

 

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For all of you that prefer Youtube here is another version of the same video.


 

If you have any specific questions about either shoot please feel free to leave them in the comment section below and we will personally answer them. We hope that you guys had as much fun watching this video as we did creating it.

Written by Patrick Hall. Patrick Hall is the cofounder of Fstoppers.com and a wedding photographer in Charleston, South Carolina

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88 Comments

chad's picture

very cool. Thanks!

Peter's picture

Those shoots both looked amazing!!!
And obviously the editor has no control over the video editing Lee!

Dzul's picture

what a fantastic jobs ...

Jen L's picture

Gorgeous photos. The pocket wizards performed amazingly.

Carlos Bruno's picture

Amazing Fstoppers!

About the Pocket Wizards ... ahn ... they're OK.
Radio Poppers came with the idea first.
But once they don't put the prices down, we still using the II for while.

So what was I thought cool?
Lee (at least) apologized about the post of Jersey Shore and got the GORGEOUS model (she IS cute huh!), meantime you Patrick, beyond gave us no excuses, said like that SH*T ... so, got the big-sweat-basketball-brother ... nothing against him but, did watch Lee's part? She's AMAZING Mr. "Shore-Shit-Fan" ...
"What's comes around, goes around!"

Mario's picture

I honestly love to watch you guys work. Seems like so much fun and always a good atmosphere. Thanks once again for showing us what it's like to be behind the scenes in a professorial environment. Keep up the good work guys.

Patrick Hall's picture

@Carlos Lee and I have both worked with Christie and are happy to say we may have had a 'small part' in her moving to NYC to pursue modeling (she already has made it into Cosmo in her first 4 months up there)

As for the radio poppers, what these units have going for them is that they fit directly onto the hotshoe. Having to velcro RP onto your flash is a pain and you MUST have a speed light on top of your camera to use the poppers. So the money you may save will be spent on buying another flash where as the PW work with just a unit on top or at most with the AC3 which is like $60 or so. I'll take the PW any day especially since I already have PW Plus IIs and hate the AAA batteries the RP use...Flexes use AA :)

Patrick CN Wong's picture

Pat wins!

the great zeee's picture

great video. you guys are funny as well. nice job editing lee. haha

Z

Adrian's picture

Great Video!!! Both shoots looked sick.

Jon Dishler's picture

Great post and video. For the last six months I have been a beta tester of PW's latest Nikon versions (flexTT5/miniTT1) and they have evolved to perform flawlessly. Their best feature I believe is the ability to do HSS and they can do it at 6 frames per second! With strobes at shutter speeds of 1/2000 or even faster you can beat the sun and get excellent fill lighting. With studio flashes, rather than being limited to 1/250th, hypersync allows for very short duration flash letting you use f/2.8 with several 400 WS lights and shutter speeds of 1/1000 or less. It also works the same at f/8. They work well in manual, A or S priority mode. You can also put strobes outside of direct view, and today I did a shoot with 3 PocketWizards, all TTL (one on camera --an SB700 as master!!) and 2 SB900's hidden behind light modifiers, all working together outdoors [very warm in Colorado right now] in bright sun with shutter speeds of 1/1000 f/2.5 85mm and even with changing lighting due to clouds, had almost all perfect exposures.
Yes, the amount of light is less with pulsing TTL lighting but it is plenty even at 1/8000th. And, unlike the Canon version, there is no radio interference issue from the strobes.

Milton Tan's picture

The orange light towards the left side of the female model was sunlight or gel?

Alessandro Bellino's picture

As usual, the Fstoppers original video never disappoint!

Cheers from Italy,

Ale

Bob's picture

I'd love to see the post-processing that was done for the gym shots.

Tomasz Mumot's picture

Awesome review. Thanks ! Great pictures as well

dhani borges's picture

It is good to hear that the PW people have taken all the mistakes from the debacle that the Canon MiniTTL launch was and have made a product for NIKON that stands up to the PW reputation. I am only sorry that I am a CANON user and that all the solutions that PW have come up with to solve the reliability problems of the MiniTTL are not satisfactory.

Remy Musser's picture

Cool vid, just wondering why you didn't do the photoshoot with the Iphone... Just kidding, love it!

Ghislain Leduc's picture

When did you get a D3s? Niceeeeeee

Ghislain Leduc's picture

Ok, both vids are great but Pat's win here! :) :) :) Very nicely done!!! Great post process too. Next time? More Bloopers!!! Ahahaha

Again, tks for sharing guys!

David Owens's picture

Very funny at the end man! Love it! Been waiting on the release of the Nikon version forever.

Lee Morris's picture

Thanks everyone, glad you are enjoying the video. Just out of curiosity, is anyone actually reading the text in the full post? I know that I probably wouldn't (because I'm lazy) but I just wanted to know if anyone else enjoys the extra info.

Stefan's picture

Great, that you get the same idea of a long telelens portrait session for testing the pocketwizards that I get when I was testing my radiopopper
http://www.stefangroenveld.de/hardware/blitzen-aus-der-entfernung-radiop...
And the basketball shots are really great!

Patrick Hall's picture

@dhani, I think the main problem with the canon versions is the canon flashes themselves. It is true that PW has taken some extra time, okay like 2 years, to make sure the Nikons are good out the gate but it is the Canon flashes themselves that are interfering with the PW units. Yeah if I had to use a sock with my flashes I would not have picked these up in the first place but as a Nikon shooter I'm completely happy with them.

Jay Malone's picture

How unfortunate it is for us Canon shooters! I had the Canon set and loved the output, however they were completely un-reliable. I just sold them and switched to radiopoppers! These are spot on every time! So far I am completely pleased with the switch, even though it was more expensive to switch!

Antoine Thisdale's picture

Guys, this is an awesome video! Love the way you all use the gear!

Lee, i've been a huge fan of "long" lenses, did a shoot with a 600mm once and it was magestic! This 800mm has got to be the coolest thing ever! LOL

And nice editing... as always ;P

Thanks a bunch for sharing!

Antoine Thisdale's picture

Oh yeah forgot; Lee, this quote is quite funny to me, coming from a "Nikon" user ;P

"We finally settled on an awkward location [...]I was forced to shoot in between a tree and a canon."

mouahhaha cheers,

And yes, the extra information in the full post is VERY interesting to me!

Thanks again!

Tim Colston's picture

Have you guys tried using the hyper sync mode for these units? It basically ups the shutter sync speed from 250. Not just for Nikon flashes but ant strobe. You guys posted a shoot earlier this month that touched upon it. I was wondering if there is going to be a post from you guys doing something similar.

Morgan Moller's picture

Great video guys! What a friggin' lens!

What type of umbrella's are u using? The one's looking like Photek Softlighters?

Cheers!

StefanC's picture

I like that you guys didn't do a typical review and just post thoughts, you guys took the units devised extreme circumstances and let us make up our own minds based on how they turned out. This was great. I do think that you guys should consider a Canon shooter for some of your Fstoppers originals so us Canon folk get some love too.

Lee Morris's picture

@StefanC, the slomo dunks were shot with a T2i ;)

Patrick Hall's picture

@Tim...I just got off the phone with another beta tester and he said the magic is really in using studio strobes where you can now shoot at say f4 @ 1/8000th which would be really nice. Might have to try that soon.

@Morgan, yes they were Photex softlighters. We are about to put a gear guide up that will have everything in nice lists.

Pelle Jensen's picture

Great video! Lee: I really enjoy the text in the full post, and i know that others do as well. It's great to get that extra detailed information. Btw. all the fstoppers originals is so cool, keep up the good work! Greetings from Denmark :)

Lee Morris's picture

@Milton, that was some lucky sunlight

jeff zannella's picture

Phenomenal as usual! To answer your question, yes the extended or full version is definitely appreciated. Would LOVE to see a video on your post processing work - especially the basketball shoot here. Keep up the great work!

Sebastian's picture

great post! I am more curious about the editing done in the basketball shoot.. how did you get the background so black while keeping the flares of the strobes there? I take it you just did a precise mask around the athlete and the dark layer was just a 'pulled down black' within ACR (as mentioned in the video)?

Thanks!

Patrick Hall's picture

Sebastian, you will have to ask Jaymes how he did it. I was in no man's land when we were editing this shoot so he really helped us get these images done. I will tell you there was no ACR as I shoot jpeg although RAW might have been helpful in this situation. Let me see if I can get Jaymes to address his PS workflow

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

To answer your questions about the post work, it's really pretty simple.
1)Start with the original Image
2)Duplicate x3 (A,B,C)->
----A)Remove subjects / flares from the scene in lowest level copy.
----B)Divide up the environment into planes. Apply individual gradients towards our foreground subject.
----C)Isolate the general flare areas. Cleanup with eraser tool at different transparencies.
3)Isolate foreground subjects (Hoop / BBALL Player)
4)Generate new flare elements overlaying bball player.
5)Blend Environment/Subject (color matching / overall grade)
6)Finally overlay some greyscale grain at a low transparency.
That's about it. :)

gus calderon's picture

the basketball shoot. the umbrellas. kind of like a backwards Broly-Box. can you tell us the specific model and parts to those light setups?
thanx

Patrick Hall's picture

Gus, yes basically for my shoot I had two Photek Softlighters behind the goal to give a wall of soft light for Chelsie to run into. I also had another softlighter cross lighting the front lights and slightly behind him so it acted more like a rim light than a front fill light. So Three lights total for the basketball player. Here is a link to a soon to be public gear guide that explains our favorite light modifiers. This is also what Lee used for his shoot and watch the King Street Studio video on the right for a lot of examples of what the Photek Softlighter can do: www.fstoppers.com/fstoppers-recommended-gear-light-modifiers

Patrick CN Wong's picture

Actually Lee and Pat, I got questions on those pocket wizard units. I used Plus 2 before and it works pretty good with studio strobes and it seems working fine on both nikon and canon bodies. What is the differeces for the new units. What has been update on the Flex and Mini. Pat used the AC3 for remote control flash value, does it work on strobes and will it work on plus 2?

Patrick Hall's picture

The Flex and Mini system is completely new. They will fire the Plus II but none of the older units do anything except tell a flash to fire. The new units can control the output of some flashes (Nikon, Alien Bee, Elinchrom, etc), do TTL with Nikon, have Hyper Sync for faster than 1/250th syncing, and FP mode for Nikon speed lights for syncing up to 1/8000th of a second.

Jimmy's picture

The images from the basketball shoot were pretty sweet.... nice idea, good job man.

Mike Jones's picture

Great job! You guys continue to be one of my favorite photos websites.

Tim Colston's picture

Nice inclusion of James for the post production. Very nice. Almost like a second reward for the 72 hour contest. Nice work James :)

IPBrian's picture

Great shoots guys...love the outtake Lee! No control over the editing. HA!

Bob's picture

Jaymes - I'm not that good at photoshop so your description is over my head. Any chance of getting a video of the workflow?

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

@Bob: I am working on a video tutorial as we speak. There is no ETA on it as, I'm still trying to wrap my head around how to explain something that applies universally as opposed to just a specific scene. Many tutorials only really help you recreate the same image, rather than understand the concept for why someone might prefer a given technique over another. I've never really done a video tut before, but If I do one I want it to be right...or close to it. :)

Todd James's picture

I love these FS originals. You really do a great job editing them Lee. Something for me to aspire too.

Sebastian's picture

@Jaymes - thanks for taking the time to explain that out! Very helpful!

Jaymes Poudrier's picture

@Sebastian: No Problemo sir! :)
BTW, Just looked through your linked flickr and there are some really cool shots in there!

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