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Product Review: PocketWizard MiniTT1, FlexTT5, AC3, and AC9 For Canon, Part 3

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Because of the scope and capabilities of these products, trying to cover everything in one review would not do these products justice and so I will be splitting this into multiple reviews. The first review covered what these products are, what they can do, and setting up and configuring. The second one looked at the AC3 and AC9 components and how they tie in with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units. This time I will take them out into a real-world, and much less controlled environment.

For this testing opportunity, I am going to take the units to a Gary Thomas Extreme Lighting Workshop. Gary Thomas is an Oklahoma photographer who is known for his use of models and light in unusual situations. Whether it is on a burning lake of fire, on dancers floating under a bridge, or catching up to a tornado for that down home Oklahoma look, you just never know what he will come up with next. He has even been known to jump out of planes with his camera gear!

PocketWizard Transmitters and Receivers

His workshops are no different. They are always on location, hands-on, and will challenge you to understand light and the way it works. This workshop took place in a warehouse that was being converted into a roller derby rink. The conditions are dark with poor natural lighting. The walls are silver and can be reflective and blow your light all over the place. The floors are a drab gray color that can suck the light up, and the only ambient lighting comes from florescent tubes about 25 feet up.

The models are the Outwest Outlaw Roller Derby girls. They are an Oklahoma City banked track roller derby team that not only hits hard, but actively participates in the local community as well. What this means for the photographers participating is that not only are they going to be shooting in less than desirable conditions, they will need to capture these skaters in motion as well.

The since these are hands-on workshops, they are usually limited to around 10 participants. The workshop started at 10am and was scheduled to conclude around 6pm. The first one to two hours is an instructional demonstration of lighting techniques as well as a discussion on the kinds of problems that the students would encounter while on the rink floor. Everyone who participated had to sign a liability wavier and have it notarized. I did say that this was an extreme workshop didn’t I?

PocketWizard Transmitters and Receivers

The main goal for the workshop was to overcome the poor lighting situation and come out with good shots. The students started off with setting up some posed shots and would work up to the motion shots throughout the afternoon. While I did participate as an assistant, I also “borrowed” a couple of the girls for creating some of my own shots.

PocketWizard Transmitters and Receivers

For the first shot, I wanted an action shot. Again, because of the conditions you have to be careful about how much light you use and where you put it. The timing window was about a five-foot path before the fall off would make the shot unusable. I took the shots while lying on the track as the girls were coming toward me. I used a single flash that was on a stand, located off of the track. The AC3 makes it really nice to dial up or down from your current position giving you the ability to make adjustments when in close corners.

PocketWizard Transmitters and Receivers

For the next shot, we went to another area of the warehouse with the Alien Bees 1600, AC3, AC9, and a single flash on a stand. After trying out a number of different options, one of people who has been helping me work with the PocketWizard’s by supplying the Alien Bees, Ryan Adams of Janrya Photography suggested this shot. As you can see in the setup shot, the strobe is pointed directly at the back of models head, with the Canon 580 EX II providing the fill to her right. Below is one of the resulting shots.

PocketWizard Transmitters and Receivers

For the final shot, we went back to main area of the track. We took one of the girls and did some multi-flash shots. This was done in a cross fire pattern with a reflector to add fill light to the front of the girl. Again the AC3 lets you make your modifications without interrupting the flow of your work.

It was interesting to note that there were a number of people with PocketWizard setups at the shoot. Most were the older models, but there was one person who had just purchased the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units. He had updated the firmware, but this was the first time he was trying to use them. He was having some problems getting them to fire, but I was able to help him as he had the channels configured differently. We also had to make sure that everyone was on a different frequency so we wouldn’t trigger each other’s flash.

PocketWizard Transmitters and Receivers

Again and again, I am amazed at the reliability and quality of all of these pieces and how well they work together in any situation. I also love the HyperSync ability that comes with the ControlTL system. This is what allows you to shoot at faster speeds than your camera would normally allow — all the way to 1/8000 second with full power flash. It allows you to capture more creative shots than you can with regular flash.

I also like the fact that everything just works together. There are no cords and no Velcro — just the FlexTT5 and the Speedlite. The ability for the system to work seamlessly with the Alien Bees and the flash unit made this a joy to work with. If you want the ultimate in the ability to control your flash and strobes from right on your camera, then I very highly recommend you add the AC3 and the AC9 to your MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.