Introduction to Pocket Wizards and ControlTL Transmitters

Introduction to Pocket Wizards and ControlTL Transmitters

The increasing interest in off-camera flash has led to a number of our customers requesting Pocket Wizards to trigger off-camera flashes. The problem is, there isn’t just one single Pocket Wizard – there are no less than a half-dozen transmitters you have to chose from and just as many receivers!

Since there are several combinations of cameras and lights you could be using, this blog entry won’t focus on giving you the list of things you would need for each imaginable combination. Instead, we’ll focus on the basics of Pocket Wizards and help you figure out what you’re going to need. First, check out the prerequisite post on this topic: Making Sense of Pocket Wizards.

Categories of Pocket Wizards

In essence, Pocket Wizard’s products can be broken down into two key areas:

• Standard Pocket Wizards

• ControlTL Pocket Wizards (ControlTL = Control The Light)

In this post, we’ll address ControlTL Pocket Wizards, the more advanced of the two. For a beginner’s primer on standard Pocket Wizards, please see Making Sense of Pocket Wizards.

What is ControlTL?

ControlTL stands for “Control The Light” and it’s Pocket Wizard’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 triggers for flashes like the Nikon SB-900 and Canon 580EX II.

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 Making Sense of Pocket Wizards, 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 are more effective in certain lighting situations.

ControlTL Transmitters and Receivers

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

minitt1-transmitter-pocket-wizard-tutorial

MiniTT1 Transmitter

The MiniTT1 unit is tiny and it performs one function only: it’s a transmitter. It’s available in specific Nikon and Canon versions and is, fortunately, backwards compatible with older Pocket Wizard Plus IIs and Multimax triggers. It runs off a button cell battery and is much more unobtrusive than Pocket Wizard’s other models. The MiniTT1 mounts on the hotshoe of your camera and has its own hotshoe on top as well, so you could mount a small flash on top of it. That hotshoe on top also allows you to attach the trigger to your camera without sacrificing a connection point if you’re using hotshoe-based grip accessories.

PocketWizard FlexTT5

FlexTT5 Transceiver

The FlexTT5 (also available in Nikon and Canon-specific 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 doesn’t just transmit – it also receives. But it is 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.

While the TT1 transmits information from the camera to the flash only, the TT5 can send and receive. Here is how to use them together:

MIniTT1 on-camera

The simplest way to use a FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 together is as follows…

 

  • Put the MiniTT1 on top of your camera.
  • Put a FlexTT5 on a light stand (it has a standard port for this).
  • Slide a flash (Canon or Nikon, depending on your choice of camera) into the hotshoe on the FlexTT5.
  • Put the flash that E-TTL mode (or i-TTL if you’re using a Nikon).
  • Make sure both are on. The Mini will transmit from your camera to your Flex-connected flash and fire wirelessly every time you fire the shutter!

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

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).

Pocket Wizard 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 pair 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 Pocket Wizard 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 tears down another barrier for photographers, so get your triggers, cameras, and flashes and go out and shoot!

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

1 Comment

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

    Reply

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