Breaking the Sync Limit… Part 1

So if you’ve read my blog you know that I’ve been more than happy with my Pocket Wizard Flex TT1/TT5 combo units since I beta tested them last year.  The production versions are more than I could have hoped for by any stretch of the imagination.  Because of my experiences with them, Roberts Distributors asked me to review their Competitors units, the RadioPopper PX System; which may I add is also a very powerful piece of equipment in the world of small flash photography.  The problem with a lot of it though is just that; It’s Small Flash Photography.  I can’t say that I’m complaining about small flash photography as that’s how I do most of my shooting.  Very minimalist, very small flash friendly.  I’ve shot Presidential Suites, Cars, and even lit large scale sporting venues with the help of Speedlights.  Both Canon, and Nikon.  Do I miss my Studio strobes?  Not totally, but the flex TT1/TT5 combo made me reconsider that when they were reportedly coming out with a feature called: Hypersync.

Hypersync was a programmed timing inside of the Pocket Wizard that would allow your camera to Sync at up to 1/500th.  With the pre-production units, I’ll have to admit that my Sync Speed was lucky to get past 1/320th, showing a heavy underexposure after that.  When the beta firmware was released for the production units though, I noticed something odd about the behavior of my units while I was shooting a Naptown Roller Girls home bout here in Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis Team was winning pretty handily so I decided to see if the Hypersync worked any better with the new firmware.   What I found blew my mind.

(Nikon D3s, 6400ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2@185mm. 1/8000th@F2.8.  Single Dynalite Uni400JR about 50′ back to camera right with the standard reflector set to 1/2 power triggered by Pocket Wizard FlexTT5.  Single Dynalite Uni400JR about 50′ back to camera left set up the same way except it was 1/3 stop more powerful.  Both units triggered by the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1 on camera.)

That photo was snuck into the last set of Roller Derby photos that I shot at the Pepsi Coliseum this season.  There’s nothing visually epic about it unless you’re a photography uber nerd, and you know how it was shot; I mean it doesn’t even look like she’s skating flat out.  If you look at the shooting data below the image you’ll see that I shot that frame at 1/8000th of a second while using my Dynalite Uni400JR heads.  It took a second for it to sink in, but then I realized that I had just broken the Sync limit.

It wasn’t perfect but it was very consistent as there was a black band on the right 6% of the frame above, as there was also for several shutterspeeds and the subsequent 30 frames or so.  (Cropped out of course).  After being in touch with the folks at Pocket Wizard I learned that they were re-implementing the way they had originally done the Hypersync inside their Flex TT1 and TT5 units.  An incredibly patient and knowledgeable tech named Ian at Pocket Wizard’s home base helped me recalibrate the unit’s Sync Timing inside the Pocket wizard utility and I was off.  It still wasn’t perfect so I played around with it some more, and now I am able to sync effectively all the way up to 1/8000th of a second.  I was immediately in my email and on the phone with my girlfriend Shannon talking about arranging a few shoots to shot off what I like to call, “Epic Sync”.

(Nikon D3s, 1250ISO, Nikon 80-200F2.8 Gen 1 Push Pull@160mm, 1/3200@F5.6.  Single Dynalite Uni 400 Set to 1/4th fired from behind camera right in a standard reflector.  Single Dynalite Uni400 to directly in front of Jody set to 1/2 with a 30 degree Spot Grid.  Single Dynalite Uni400JR about 30′ behind Jody set to Full Power with a Green theatrical Gel to give the rain a little color. All Dynalites were triggered with Pocket Wizard Flex TT5’s from an on Camera TT1.  All Dynalites were covered in Oven Roasting Turkey bags to keep them dry.)

That shot was an idea that I had coming out of that last Roller Derby bout that I mentioned earlier.  Jody and his troop of Hurler’s were the halftime show.  I’ve known Jody and his girlfriend Orla for a while and the moment I realized that my Pocketwizards “went to 11”, I decided I needed to give them a call.  (Or in modern day terms, send them a message via Facebook).  Jody and a few of his cohorts were more than pleased to come out for some photos.  The original idea was to make it seem like they were playing in the rain, but as you can tell it’s not working and that’s my fault because of where I requested the Water be directed.  Quick trick here.  When you’ve got a shoot outside stop at Kroger, Meijer, or anything of the likes ahead of time and pick up some Oven Roasting Turkey bags.  Why?  They are they are transparent, waterproof, and they normally sit at almost 500 degrees without melting into your food.  When it comes to keeping light’s dry while still being able to fire them, there’s nothing better.

Like I said, the rain isn’t real and you can tell which is why I don’t think this shot really works.   The rain is actually being directed out of a garden hose by my good friend Michael Guio and the problem is that he did exactly as I instructed him which was to place the droplets mostly between Jody and the Light.  In this case the water is ALL in that position and while this demonstrates what the pocket wizards can do by freezing the rain, club, and ball…. it doesn’t do it for me photographically.   The sky was 100% genuine though as it was getting ready to downpour on us while we were out there.  The advantage of using the Dynalites instead of Speedlights in this case is any number of things.  Power and Coverage are the two big ones.  You would need several speedlights in each light placement to get the amount of light spread as well as the raw power of each Dynalite head.  It gives Jody room to move around a bit instead of needing to stay in the eye of the needle if you will in regarding to the small light coverage of some full power speedlights.  Plus, in order to achieve these shutterspeeds outside in the rain normally I’d have most likely had to raise my ISO quite a bit, especially if I was shooting wide enough to catch a lot of movement.

(Nikon D3s, 1000ISO, Nikon 80-200F2.8 Gen1 Push Pull@86mm. 1/8000th@F7.1.  Single Dynalite Uni400 set to Full Power about 10′ to camera left, Single Dynalite Uni400 set to 1.2 power directly to the left of Brad about waist height for some fill under his ballcap, and a Dynalite Uni400JR with a 30 Degree Spot grid set to Full power directly behind brad to give him some separation from the black void.  All Lights triggered by Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 units with a Flex TT1 unit on the camera. All lights covered in Oven Roasting Turkey bags to keep them dry.)

Speaking of a lot of movement, you won’t get a whole lot more than that.  Brad here got pretty hopped up on the whole possibility of playing with water and actually impromptu volunteered to hit some water balloons with a baseball bat.  Frankly I couldn’t think of anything that might show the water stopping, ISO saving abilities of the Hypersync than that, and everybody gets to benefit from it because lets face it; who doesn’t want to see a waterballon explode on a baseball bat?  We actually had a few more plans for the day too, but then it started to rain for real……

(Nikon D3s, 1250ISO, Nikon AF85F1.4D, 1/2500th@F1.4.  Single Dynalite Uni 400 Set to 1/4th fired from behind camera right in a standard reflector.  Single Dynalite Uni400JR about 30′ behind Tom set to Full Power with a Green theatrical Gel to give the rain a little color . All Dynalites were triggered with Pocket Wizard Flex TT5’s from an on Camera TT1.  All Dynalites were covered in Oven Roasting Turkey bags to keep them dry.)

They say that when it rains it pours, and in this case that was definitely so.  There was nothing left that we could do.  I stayed out and risked it for a bit with the gear to get this last portrait of Tom, but otherwise Shannon’s Fire Dancing was out, as was anything else we had planned.  Am I happy with these?  Not yet.  But then again, that’s why this is part 1……… More very soon.