Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 Lesson Learned: 001

Flex TT5 and the Canon 550ex

While this flash is supposed to work better (at longer ranges) with the Flex TT5 compared to the new 580exII. I found it to be quite a bit more finicky than the 580exIIs. At least with my flash, the Flex can lock up the flash so bad, it stops functioning all together even pressing the pilot button won't fire the flash. The only way to get it to work again is to remove the batteries from the flash. I have a theory that it may be due to interruption in communication between the flex and the flash. As the lock up condition is pretty consistent if I don't follow the specific power sequence as follows:

  • Turn on the camera mounted TT5

  • Turn on the remote TT5

  • Turn on the camera

  • Turn on the flash

This sequence (which is in the owner's manual - go figure RTFM) seems to produce consistent results with the 550ex. My 580exIIs don't seem to care how I turn of the equipment.

My Pocket Wizard Saga Continues...

Aly at sunset, originally uploaded by photogeek21.

Well I've mentioned that I picked up a set of PW Flex TT5 triggers before and now that I've had a couple weeks with them and done about 5 shoots my opinion is quickly solidifying, unfortunately it's not very positive.
Fist off, while the build quality is good, the Flex units do not appear to be very robust in design compared to the PWIIs I've used. In particular the antenna design appears to be quite fragile, I know I'm gonna rip one completely off someday, in fact I've already bent one after just my second location shoot with them.
My biggest gripe though is their functionality - They are just not reliable. I had high hopes for the units based the reputation of the PWIIs I've used in the past which were rock solid. I knew there were issues with the range of the units when used with the 580exII that I use but I would still expect them to work reliably at closer range. Well that just hasn't been the case - No matter what configuration I've used, ETTL, Manual, with or without the AC3 controller or which flash 580exII, 550 ex, or even my Photogenic 600W studio strobes - These things just won't fire 100% of the time. Of the 5 shoots I've done since getting these, only one has been done without a misfire - the other 4 had between 10 and 40% of the shots where the strobes didn't trigger. It's quite embarrassing to be fighting with your gear on a gig.

I love the idea of using TTL remotely outdoors at range, In fact, when they're working, they're awesome - so much so that I kept these past the 30 day return policy with the hopes that PocketWizard will figure out how to fix these problems. And to that effect the have been publishing regular firmware updates (which was another reason for me choosing the PWs)

So I'm sure to be posting my woes and wins with this things from time time here - I'm hoping for the best.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Focal Length and compression

On a recent location shoot of some family portraits, I played with varying focal length to control the background of the image. Increasing focal length compresses the apparent distance between subject and background, this I knew, but never before had I actually studied the effect in a single shoot.
In the shots I varied the distance between camera and subject according to focal length to keep the size of the subject in image constant. You can see how different the feel of each of the images below are. You can use this technique to control how dominant an object or landmark is in the background - or even compress it further with longer focal lengths to push it into abstraction.

Image 1

Focal Length =40mm Camera to subject distance=15ft

Image 2
Focal Length =150mm Camera to subject distance=75ft

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Google skymap as a phototool

Google's recent update to their Android app, Skymap, includes a new 'time-machine' function which allows you to see the constellations at any point in time. I must admit I wondered why you'd ever need to do something like this. Well, this week when I was scouting out a location for an upcoming family portrait session that was planned for sunrise it hit me. While there are multiple apps that will tell you when the sun will rise, my favorite being Sundroid, but they don't tell you where it will rise. Here's where Google Skymap comes to the rescue. Just pull up the time machine, enter the date and time of your shoot and just like that you have a map of the sky for that day. Hold your phone to the horizon and see exactly where the Sun will rise. The location I was in was surrounded by hills so I could adjust the time and find out exactly when the Sun would crest the hill and fill my background with glorious golden light. With this knowledge I was able to pick my exact shoot location that would place the sun right were I wanted it, I also knew how much time I had to work setup and the talent before the light would come. It all made for a well planned shoot with no surprises - Thanks Gooqle.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

DIY Pocket wizard Pre-trigger cable - Saved $70

DYI CM-N3-ACC, originally uploaded by photogeek21.

Been playing with a set of Flex TT5's and wanted to explore using the PW to remotely trigger the shutter but when I went to buy one, I found the $95 price tag just to much to swallow.
Well, internet to the rescue, I found a great writeup on the Canon NC3 connector which my 5dmkII uses for remote shutter here.
All I needed to do is figure out the right pins for the 1/8" stereo plug on the PW side. A little time with PW and an ohm meter I eventually figured it out.
The donor for the NC3 connector was a cheap Ebay remote trigger. A trip to radio shack and a couple bucks got me the 1/8" plug. All in, about $20. Works like a charm. Below is the pinout for anyone that feels handy with a soldering iron or if not, I did eventually find them for about $26 at

1/8" Stereo plug pinout for Flex TT5

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wireless TTL

_MG_9569, originally uploaded by photogeek21.

So I gave into my gadget weakness again and broke down and bought a set of Pocket Wizard Flex TT5s to wirelessly sync my speedlights in E-TTL mode.
This image was taken at 10 pm on my front porch the TTL let me play with my ISO - I needed to push it to 6400 inorder to get the landscape lights to show up in the exposure - the TTL automatically adjusted my flash output as I upped the ISO to prevent Aly from being over exposed. Sorta nice to work this way especially when the speedlight is mounted somewhere out of reach.
Now, I did hear how unreliable these TT5s were before I bought them and I'm sadden to say all the reports were true, I was getting about 25% no fires - even with my 550 ex which is NOT suppose to have the RF noise problem my 580exIIs have. But the promise of HSS and Wireless ETTL is keeping me here hoping someone finds a solution....