If you’re a Nikon shooter I know you’ve been jealous of the fact that the Canon shooters out there have had the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and TT1 now for a long time.  Long time did I say?  Almost two years in fact.  Now while I knew for a fact that before going into the beta test of these devices I could do a lot of what I already do using my SU-800 Speedlight commander, the allure of a RF High Speed Shutter Sync at up to 1/8000th of a second at up to 1,000 feet?  Yea, pretty awesome.  But that’s not all that I was concerned with when I was able to test these Nikon Flex Beta Units.  I was not only worried about how they performed under extreme conditions, but I was worried about how they would perform in every day conditions as well.

First off I’d like to mention that I was not paid for this review, and am not going to say 100% positive things about these units, however I know that the units that I tested were in the beta stages and most of the very few problems that I encountered have been solved in the final hardware that is shipping over seas even while I write this.  So for you tech nerds out there, are you ready for the nitty gritty?  Hope so, because there’s a lot of it.  For you photo nerds out there, I hope the pictures are just as interesting…

Anyone who shoots with Nikons CLS system knows how hard it can be to shoot TTL in the snow.  Luckily the day that I received my beta units was the largest snowstorm we have received here in Indianapolis all season.  Not only that, but my friend David VanDeman had also invited me to tag along for his photoshoot with the Fashion Wrap up.  Needless to say with all the snow, and the capabilities of these Flex units plus the style of Kaitlin Elyse, (That’s Kaitlin above trying not to freeze while I do a light test), the look of Chelsea, hair and makeup by Allure Salon and the accessories of Apricot Lane…….we had an exciting afternoon in front of us. 

Nikon D3s, 100ISO, Nikon AFS50mmF1.4, 1/1600th@F2.  Single Nikon SB-900 Speedlight set to iTTL zoomed in to 85mm shot through a 32″ translucent umbrella attached to a Pocket Wizard TT5 Transceiver on the end of a paint pole and Kasey Pole softbox attachment adapter Speedlight fired by Pocket Wizard TT1 attached to the camera. 

That’s Chelsea there.  Very pretty girl, very good at the modeling gig.  She did an absolutely outstanding job in such a terribly cold environment.  She struck the poses, and made the shots very instinctively and very smoothly.  It went especially well since we stopped about every other minute to put a jacket on her.  Despite how cold it was though, and despite every bit of white that was out there, this shot was done shooting nothing but TTL and the Pocket Wizard FLEX units.  A single Flex TT5, and the TT1 on my D3s as the shooting info suggests.  In just a few frames I had this shot, and it was just like I wanted.  The units performed just as flawlessly as Chelsea.  The FLEX Units performed so flawlessly in fact, that during the course of the shoot I fired only 50 frames, including test shots, and shots of David scraping the windows of his car…

Nikon D3s, 160ISO, Nikon AFS28-70F2.8@70mm.  1/200th@F13.  Single Nikon SB900 zoomed to 200mm with a 1/4CTO fired by a Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 attached to a SC-28 off camera cable on a pole to camera right set to iTTL. (SC-28 Off camera cable was used to attach the TT5 because the TT5 was too large to fit into the hot shoe mount of the Softbox stand adapter I was using).  Second SB-900 Speedlight zoomed to 200mm about 30′ to camera left with a 1/2 CTB, set to iTTL -3.0.  The camera was also set to -.3EV to account that the light on the left wasn’t dark enough.) 

That there is another Canon shooter that if you’ve read the you’ll recognize as Michael Guio.  Mike was gracious to donate an evening of his to help me as a model while I evaluated the units in several ways.  The first thing we did though, was test the units in my every day shooting style.  I easily could have that the image above with the SU-800 (and some shots that evening were actually shot with it, instead of the Flex Units), but what I wanted to know was how the Flex Units did in terms of predictability.  Here’s what his basement looked like without the lights…

Ambient Light in Mike’s basement.  Nikon D3s, 1600ISO, 1/40th@F2.8

This is where I had some of the very few issues that I had with the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and TT1 units.  When it came to TTL and 1 light, they were flawless.  When it came to TTL and 2 lights, they seemed to be cancelling each other out in cross lighting situations.  This was easily remedied by changing the lights to Manual, and probably could have been remedied by attaching the SU-800 to a TT5 unit or with an AC3 command unit.  I was not supplied with an AC3 unit, and was also unable to get my SU-800 to function with my Beta units, but I have been assured the issue is corrected in the final hardware revision.  I know that all sounds horribly technical, and for that I apologize, but either way the punchline should reach home for everyone.  I got the shot.  It just wasn’t like I thought getting the shot would be (which it often isn’t anyway, which the previous blog talks about more).  In the card Shark shoot, I was using two hard lights because I wanted to simulate a hard puddle lit back room in a club; where this guy could be dangerous. I did attempt several shots using a softbox on one light, but it just didn’t provide me the shot I was looking for. 

Nikon D3s, 200ISO, Nikon AFS28-70mmF2.8@50mm, 1/200th@F13.  Single Nikon SB900 zoomed to 200mm with a 1/4CTO fired by a Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 attached to a SC-28 off camera cable on a pole to camera right set to iTTL. (SC-28 Off camera cable was used to attach the TT5 because the TT5 was too large to fit into the hot shoe mount of the Softbox stand adapter I was using).  Second SB-900 Speedlight zoomed to 200mm about 30′ to camera left with a 1/2 CTB, set to iTTL -2.0.  The camera was also set to +.3EV as I needed to make a small adjustment, but didn’t want to go back to the left speedlight.) 

I definitely found that the TTL on the Flex TT1 and TT5 worked better on Spot metering, but in terms of actually firing the lights held up to the epic standard that pocket wizard is known for.  The units were very, VERY reliable.  My only concern is that they fell asleep a few times while I was shooting.  Playing around in the ControlTL software, I was unable to find a way to shut the sleep time off either, which annoyed me.  Either way if you are conscious, it’s not a big deal.  Just burn an extra frame before you start going to wake them up, and you’re in business.  Not that I want to miss a shot because my units were asleep though. I did make sure to mention it several times in my writeup to Pocket Wizard.

These New pocket wizards not only support High Speed Sync, but also support up to 8fps firing rate if your flash is set low enough that it can handle bursts at that speed.  Me, being the fool that I am made my first attempt using TTL at this speed, to which I was pleasantly surprised.  Again spot metering was king of this test, and from time to time the camera would slow down while in TTL, but it was still surprisingly snappy when used that way.

This string of shots were shot at 8fps, with a Nikon D3s.  While the added light of the Pocket Wizards made the 4000ISO very clean and usable in commercial print, I deemed that the frozen speed-bag action wasn’t what I was looking for. 

In the end the high speed 8fps test wasn’t what I had hoped even though I got  few shots that looked very nice; but it also begged me to realize something I myself in the past have preached.  Just because you can do something; doesn’t mean you need to…

Nikon D3s, 400ISO, Nikon AFS28-70F2.8@45mm, 1/200th@F11.  Camera set to -2EV with the Pocket Wizard TT1 on the hot shoe.  Nikon SB900 Speedlight zoomed to 75mm set to iTTL with a light green Gel attached to a Pocket Wizard TT5 Transmitter.  Nikon SB900 Zoomed to 200mm above camera left with a Theatrical red Gel, set to TTL on a Pocket Wizard TT5 Transmitter as well.  Both Hard lights, no modifiers. 

So instead, I found a better way to test the 8fps High Speed Sync with the Flex units with my girlfriend Shannon.

Nikon D3s, 200ISO, Nikon AFS70-200F2.8N VR2@110mm, 1/1250th@F6.3.  Pocket Wizard Flex TT1 Unit on the Cameras Hot Shoe, Nikon SB-900 to Shannon’s right about 15 feet in the air angled down attached to a Pocket Wizard TT5 Transceiver. 

Shannon loves the snow; especially playing in it.  She is also a Poi Dancer, which is something else I’d like to shoot her doing, but it seemed a bit too frigid to have her out swinging fire around in spandex.  Snowballs seemed appropriate.  It was easy for her to work up to throwing snowballs at me as relatively frequently I say or do something that gets her aggravated at me, but I think the snow playing got the best of her as every frame I have she’s grinning like the happiest girl int he world.  Just the way I like her.  Again as mentioned before, the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and TT1 Units performed Flawlessly outside, even at a distance (albeit a small one as compared to the guys over at Fstoppers).

Some will notice my lack of light modifiers in these tests, and I noticed it too as I am mentioning it now.  The thing is that I did use soft-boxes and umbrellas for a few other things, but felt the shots that were without Created more desirable images.  Rare, I know, but true.  Plus I may or may not have a few other images I’m  holding back from these tests for the future, so keep your eyes peeled. 

Conclusion: (finally, I know right?)
Will I buy em?  Hell yea!  Will they be epic?  HELL Yea!  Do I still have some experimenting to do?  Hell yea! Wait what?  Like I said earlier, I couldn’t get my SU-800 to work with my beta units.  I also was not given an AC3 unit to test with my TT1 and two TT5 units.  This leaves a window of testing that is very important to me untouched.  I LOVE the iTTL capabilities of my Nikon SU-800 and Accompanying strobes, and that’s why a lot of people own Nikon Gear.  It’s not the Resolution, Autofocus system, or the fact that the lenses are black.  It’s the fact that they can light stuff very intuitively, and that is the part of this system I didn’t get to play a whole lot with.  That seems like a BIG part though right?  yes and no.  Is having 1/8000th of a second shutter-speed  available in RF important, even if the strobes are on manual?  Hell yea it is!  That and shooting outside with these so I can use my 85 F1.4, or my 50F1.4, makes them totally worth the money (at least for me).  The other part is that these units are capable of syncing with the older Plus II Transcievers, which makes the 7 of those that I have even more valuable to me.  Now, I can’t do a high speed sync, but I can set a light pretty far away, and just trigger it like normal; and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The saavy shooters out there, are now saying that nothing I’ve done here is groundbreaking, and they are right.  Having only 48 Hours to evaluate the units, I wanted to test what was most important to me; and that was the functionality.  I had no time to get an 800mm Lens from Sigma like fstoppers.  I did find time to physically break one of the units, but that’s part of the test right?  If they weren’t meant to be used, why would you buy them?

Hopefully this quick review of the Beta units sheds some light on their operation to at least a few people.  I’ve got a set pre-ordered from Roberts here in Indianapolis, where I buy almost all of my equipment.   Get on the list, as the list is LONG.  These units are most certainly worth buying if you like using your speedlights to shoot everyday, or just from time to time.  For more information, check the following links:

Pocket Wizard Website (For more information)
Roberts Camera  (For pre-order)
The FStoppers Review, and their latest Photoshop Contest 
Another Reivew

More Soon.