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Tip of the week: Making sense of PocketWizards, Part II

Gear Talk Tips & Tricks

Every Thursday, we post a photography-related tip on our blog. These tips are typically inspired by questions we get from our customers. Sometimes we might feature a technique tip, and sometimes a gear recommendation. If there’s something specific you’d like to see in this section, let us know. Email us at [email protected]

In Part I of this series, we talked about the standard types of PocketWizards, covering the Plus II and Multimax triggers. Now, we’ll tackle the newer, more complex types of PocketWizards, called the ControlTL series.

About the ControlTL series

ControlTL stands for “Control The Light”, and it’s PocketWizard’s way of giving photographers even greater power over their lighting setup. There are several items that make up the system, from triggers designed specifically for studio flashes like the Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 lights, to small flash-specific triggers like the Nikon SB-900 and Canon 580EXII.

The fundamental idea behind the ControlTL series is to give photographers a way to control their lights right from the camera. This means that not only can you trigger an SB-900 from your Nikon D700, but you can also control the power output of that strobe, right from your camera.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “I can already control my SB-900 from my D700. What do I need these triggers for?” Well, as we mentioned in part I, the cool thing about radio triggers is that you don’t need line-of-sight to trigger your flashes. Moreover, in bright sunlight, the Nikon CLS system or the Canon Speedliting system break down and become less reliable. Radio triggers do not suffer from these conditions, and thus are more effective in certain lighting situations.

The ControlTL transmitters and receivers

PocketWizard MiniTT1

PocketWizard MiniTT1

There are two basic items in the ControlTL lineup, the FlexTT5 transceiver and the MiniTT1 transmitter. Let’s look at these a bit closer.

MiniTT1 transmitter

The MiniTT1 unit is a tiny one, and it performs one function only; it’s a transmitter. It’s available in Nikon and Canon versions and is, fortunately, backwards compatible with older PocketWizard Plus II and Multimax triggers. It runs off a button cell battery and is much more unobtrusive than PocketWizard’s other models. The MiniTT1 mounts on the hotshoe of your camera and has its own hotshoe on top as well, so you could, if you wanted to, mount a small flash on top of it.

FlexTT5 Transceiver

PocketWizard FlexTT5

PocketWizard FlexTT5

The FlexTT5 – also available in Nikon and Canon versions – is a much larger unit, roughly three times the size of a MiniTT1, and runs off AA batteries. It also has a flip-up antenna that needs to be raised for maximum range. The FlexTT5 is a transceiver, which means it can do just about everything that the MiniTT1 can, but is larger and somewhat unwieldy when mounted on top of a camera. Like the MiniTT1, the Flex unit has a hotshoe, so you could mount a small flash on top of it as well.

In fact, mounting a flash on top of the Flex is its whole reason for being. The FlexTT5 is primarily used in that way – a small flash (Canon or Nikon brand) is mounted on top of the FlexTT5, which itself can be mounted directly to a light stand with a threaded top (or to the top of an umbrella adapter for off-camera flash use).

Using the Mini and Flex units

The basic way

MIniTT1 on-camera

MIniTT1 on-camera

The simplest way to use a Flex and Mini combo is as follows.

  • Put the MiniTT1 on top of your camera.
  • Put your FlexTT5 on a lightstand
  • Slide a speedlight (Canon or Nikon, depending on your choice of camera) into the hotshoe on the FlexTT5.
  • Put the flash in E-TTL mode (or i-TTL if you’re using a Nikon).
  • Shoot.

In this configuration, the flash thinks it’s attached physically to your camera, and will fire accordingly. You can adjust the power of the flash by changing the Flash Exposure Compensation on your camera.

Flash on the FlexTT5

Flash on the FlexTT5

Getting a bit more advanced

The above configuration works well if you’re using just one or two small flashes off-camera. All your remote flashes will fire as part of one “group”, so you won’t be able to do things like adjust one light so it’s not as bright as the other (also called ratio lighting). If you want to do that, you’ll need to get a bit more gear. We’ll cover ratio lighting in automatic and manual modes in our next tip on using PocketWizards.

PocketWizard ControlTL in practice

The neat thing about these radios is how they can be used in real-world shoots. For solo shooters, this means that you have to mess around with your lights and settings a lot less. Portrait shooters, for example, can now change lighting levels from their camera, which means they can spend more time working with the subject and less with their lights.

Wedding shooters now have an excellent, automatic off-camera flash system without wires to trip up guests, and without the hassle of making sure they have a line-of-sight to their flashes when they shoot. Just stick a couple of flashes with FlexTT5s in the corner of the room, bouncing off the ceiling and let ControlTL do the heavy lifting for you.

Sports shooters have similar advantages. Photographers shooting indoor basketball, for example, have long been clamping flashes to various places to get better coverage of light in relatively dark stadiums. With infrared-based systems (like Nikon’s CLS), flash firing isn’t always reliable. Stick this PocketWizard combo into the spot, however, and you have a much more reliable triggering mechanism with the kind of automation you’re used to with CLS, i-TTL or E-TTL.

In short, the ControlTL system brings down yet another barrier for photographers, so get your triggers, cameras and flashes and go out and shoot!

 

Images Courtesy PocketWizard.com

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

Comments

  • Jack Blakemore says:

    Thank-you for such a beautifully written piece. This is exactly what I have been looking for. Beautifully done!

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