Friday, May 01, 2009

The New Pocket Wizards

Up till now, I've resisted the urge to plunk down the cash for a set of Pocket Wizards. I would need at least 3 of them and that's about $500. I've been using those cheap, Ebay systems that cost about $30 for a transmitter and receiver combo. Sure, they're cheaply made but I can go through a whole bunch of them before I come close to the $500 it would cost me to accomplish the same thing--firing my strobes--with PWs.

I'm not down on PWs. They're awesome! I'll admit, PW's physical high-profile on a camera is not something I've found attractive or practical. Being something of a klutz, I can easily envision myself busting one of them off the hot shoe. While PWs have incredible range, I don't need incredible range. I'm rarely more than 10 or 15 or so feet from my lights and, trust me, being that close means the cheap Ebay triggers work just fine. Yeah, PWs have more frequency options (as opposed to the 4-channel capability of the Ebay triggers) but, again, I haven't found myself needing all those channels: I rarely shoot where there's other shooters shooting so I don't worry about interfering frequencies.

I'm not a gear-elitist. I don't feel the need to seem "all that" from a gear perspective. If a tool, whether it's a camera, a lens, or other gear, gets the job done, and gets it done efficiently and reliably with the right amount of quality, I'm down for that. I'm fairly heavily invested in both photo and video gear so I have to make my dollars go further while still being able to deliver content to my clients that meets their expectations. Besides, if I don't have what I need to get the job done, I can always rent whatever it is I might need.

But now I'm rethinking my attitude towards PWs. Why? Because of the new PWs now available: The MiniTT1 and the FlexTT5.

First off, these new PWs are now low-profile on a camera. Yay! But it gets better than that. Way better! The new PWs offer the ability to exceed a camera's native synch speed, either in TTL mode or in manual.

Now that's what I'm talking about!

My Canon 5D has a max, usable, sync speed of 160th. That works for a lot of the applications I'm doing, i.e., in a studio or at an interior location shooting pretty girls. But when it comes to shooting outside in bright daylight, 160th is fairly restrictive. If I want to overcome bright daylight in a very noticeable way, it becomes quite difficult when the max sync speed is 160th. There's simply too much ambient reaching the sensor.

For the most part, shooting ETTL with Canon Speedlites and surpassing my camera's native max sync speed isn't something I find myself doing. But shooting in manual with monolights at "hyper-sync" shutter speeds, well, yeah baby!

A friend of mine did some testing the other day and managed to get sync at 1/500th with a Canon 5D and some Profoto heads. Another friend, a Twitter friend, tested the new PWs with a Canon 1D mkIII and some Profoto gear and he says he got 1/1600th! With a Canon 5D mkII, he says he managed 1/800th with Profoto Compact Rs at full power and 1/640th with the Profoto lights at lower power outputs.

Damn! Those are some mighty fine sync speeds! My brain is spinning thinking of all the things I can do with 1/500th "hyper-sync" on my 5D, especially considering I can go pretty much anywhere with my strobes now that I have a set of these babies.

Billing-wise, I had a really killer month this past month. Hoping it continues. If my workload continues like it's been, and it's looking like it certainly might, I see some Pocket Wizards in my very near future.

The pretty girl at the top goes by the name Princess. Shot her the other day. Easy to look at IMO. She mentioned something about having recently done a spread for Penthouse. I love when models do that thing with their mouths... that slightly biting the lower lip thing. So sexy! Princess captured with Canon 5D w/ Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 and three Profoto Acute heads, a 7' Photoflex Octodome, a couple of umbrellas, and a fan. ISO 100, f/8 @ 160th. MUA was Holly. Very minimal post-processing.


Kevin said...


1/500 on a 5d? do tell! I recently shot out-of-doors with the alienbees csrb+ and a speedlite (the csrb+ is supposed to allow high-speed sync), and I only got about 1/200 before i started losing coverage.

Was this testing accomplished with the "cheaty" way of composing so that the thing you want lit is on one side of the frame, so the light hits them, but falls off for the unimportant parts of the scene?

inquiring minds are clamoring to know.

jimmyd said...

@Kevin, I've emailed my friend who performed the test with the 5D and the new PW and asked him to respond to your question.

Warfizzle said...

Thanks Jimmy for the review on the new PWs. I have the old ones and they do limit my outdoor shooting with flashes. I always look forward to your product reviews. How's the ExplorerXT holding up?

Neil said...

One thing...the PW Plus IIs which I use only have 4 channels just like the ebay ones. It's the MultiMAX ones that have more channels if I remember right, but at a significant increase in price.

Michael said...

Hey Jimmy, every time I check out your site I'm impressed that you're keeping up the same level of excellent information and entertaining writing. I don't know how you do it, but I'm glad you do.

I've just done a post boosting your site on my blog because PGS is a jewel. Keep up the good work!

Michael B

jimmyd said...

@Michael, Wow! Thanks for the kind words and awesome plug!

Anonymous said...

I am the nameless friend. Our local MAC group representative supplied a set of these to test. Unfortunately, I didn't get to keep them. :-(

You calibrate them to your camera and flash system with a computer, once and they work really well.

We got full frame corner to corner exposures with a tiny bit of fall off on the top. Now in use, this translates to nothing as the ambient light will fill in the missing .2 of a stop. If you were shooting on a perfectly smooth studio seamless, you wouldn't need to overcome sunlight so it wouldn't be seen and in the outdoors, there is enough variation in surfaces texture and light value, that it is effectively masked by that as well.

With a less than full frame camera, like a MKII, it even works better as these artifacts are just on the edges.

A couple of days after our test, Pocket Wizard released some new firmware to even improve the performance on a 5D. Now I gotta test them all over again. :-)

I would say these are a must have thing. PLus they will work with all the other pocket Wizards you already have so you don't have to replace those, just augment with one of these.

The larger one will fire both camera and flash so is perfect for remote camera application. this is good for wedding photographers who may want to stash a camera on the alter and trigger it with their Sekonic meter.

Kevin said...

Nameless friend,
I still don't quite understand how you're getting full-frame flash coverage at 1/500 (with a flash that pops at 1/1000 or less), on a camera in which the sensor is only fully exposed at 1/200. At 1/500, there should only be a narrow ribbon of light exposed to the sensor at any given time, and you'd need a flash of the same duration as your shutter speed to actually capture the full scene.

Do you have any details, optically, for how this can be achieved?

Jeff said...

What I wasn't aware of with the new pocket wizards is that you can get the higher sync speeds with non canon lighting gear. Do I have this right?
Also, it seems they halted production a while ago due to "issues". I presume this is resolved?

Anonymous said...


All I can say is it works. I am pretty sure their proprietary method they would like to keep a secret. :)

You set it with the computer and adjust till you get the best coverage, which for us was complete coverage with a little bit of fall off in the upper 20% of the field which doesn't matter.

I will be testing the new and improved version again on Wednesday. The units are readily available here in Los Angeles.

I used a Profoto pack and an OLD Vivitar 285 at minimum power setting - shortest flash duration and it worked just fine. Manual mode only.

The Nameless one.


you might want to look up GANG LIGHT to get some nice hints and what not. it's pretty neat.


AH CRAP I forgot to mention in my last post, I read a few things online about gang light, and with a cheapo ebay set of wirelesstrigger,receivers, i took my d70, vivitar cheapo flash, and a 35-135mm nikkor outside to some tulips, at dusk, and got a few shots, 1/800 shutter speed, f32 iso 1600, d70, vivitar 728afc flash off camera, wireless triggered.
sync for my d70 is sposed to be 1/500.

One of the pics on my flickr page ( I am living proof that a great camera doesn't make you a good photographer) hehe

Kevin said...


I'm sorry to beat this horse over and over, but physics doesn't allow what you've described unless there's something i'm totally missing.

I know that you can definitely get extremely high-speeds with canon speedlites, because they pulse continuously for the duration of the shutter, allowing a full frame exposure...
BUT with packs like a profoto and a vivitar, there's no hi-speed sync capability, so there's no way to fill a full 500th of a second with light... unless the duration of those flashes actually happens to be 1/500th of a second.

If PWs can do *that*, that's pretty impressive; you should be able to get down to 1/1100 with an alien bee, i'd think. You just have to be sure that the flash starts at the top ribbon and ends at the bottom ribbon. You'll also lose about 2.3 stops of light.

Anyone have any insight on this?


kevin, have you tried it yet? Or are you just going to keep saying it cant be done. for me, i thought they were full of shit. so i went outside and tried it myself. you have a link to the results i got, download it, the picture, and look at the exif data if physics wont allow you to believe it. and then get off the computer AND GO TRY IT YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...


The proof is in the pudding. Can't you just take "yes" for an answer?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, (Kevin) Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Test it yourself if you don't wish to take my personal experience at face value. Because until then, you are clearly missing something.

Kim Guanzon said...

Hi everyone! I'm jimmyD's twitter contact. I was able to sync my 1DmkIII to a usable 1/1600th... and I was also able to fire my 5d MKII at 1/800th with the miniTT1 and the Compact R's with the miniTT1 set to hypersync at -2500 setting.

here's my proof:

check the exif for sync data.

BTW, I was also able to sync up to 1/8000th using hypersync, but the strobe wasnt able to light up the whole frame... so i guess with some framing cheats, you CAN use 1/8000th if you plan the crop ahead.

I also agree with JimmyD on the older PW units... I've broken 3 PW plus II's because of how poorly they are built... but replacement feet are cheaply available for $5 direct from LPA.

@Kevin. I've read on some forums online that people have successfully done hypersync with the 5D and alienbees with just the miniTT1 and some regular PW tranceivers.

I didn't purchase the flex5 because I rarely use my 580EX2 speedlites.

also, here are the settings I had on my computer for the miniTT1:

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for my ignorance but what are you trying to accomplish with the high sync speeds?

jimmyd said...


"...what are you trying to accomplish with the high sync speeds?"

Well, for starters, overpowering bright daylight with strobes--in a very noticeable way--when shooting pretty girls out there in the bright daylight.

Faster sync speeds will dramatically reduce the ambient reaching my sensor. As it stands right now, best sync speed I can get is 160th with my Canon 5D.

Chris said...

Nice post! In this article by Rob Galbraith, he explains exactly how hypersync speed works complete with pictures, diagrams, etc.

Rick said...

Been a couple days since I was able to look at your blog. Those new PWs really are something, aren't they?

I went to my local provider to get a fix today and was dismayed to find that although they had eight -- yes, EIGHT -- of these new PWs come in yesterday afternoon, they're all already gone. :(

So I'm on "standby."

Probably just as well. Last week I bought my first 580 EX II and the 24-70 2.8 Canon L lens.

If my wife finds out about all this, when I still haven't landed a single paying shoot, I may be bequeathing this stuff to someone else.

(But anyone owning or reading this blog is automatically NOT going on that list, because, after all, I can't give you an incentive to find let a certain someone KNOW about this, can I?)

Besides, if she finds out, I'm blaming everything on JimmyD. "Hon, if I hadn't read about it on his blog, I'd have never known!" ;)

jimmyd said...


Wouldn't be the first time I'm accused of being a bad influence on someone. ;-)