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 will look at the AC3 and AC9 components and how they tie in with the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units.
As I said previously, the AC3 is a zone controller for the PocketWizard system that attaches to either the FlexTT5 or the MiniTT1 and it will allow you to have three zones of flash control directly from the point of the unit. Most of the time this will be from the camera’s position.
The AC9 is an Alien Bees Adapter that, when paired with a FlexTT5 Transceiver, enables remote power control of Alien Bees or White Lightning flash. This, when used with the FlexTT5, gives you the ability to trigger your Alien Bees or White Lightning flashes directly from the camera. When you add the AC3 ZoneController, you can control three different groups of lights in 1/3-stop increments with a six-stop range.
While the ones I am using are for Canon cameras, there is a set for Nikon as well. The reason for this is that in automatic mode, they are using the native camera electronics to control the flashes. Other than that, they should perform identically.
For this first real-world shoot, it will be at an indoor studio under fairly controlled conditions. We will be using a MiniTT1, FlexTT5, the AC3 Zone Controller, and an AC9 controller for an Alien Bees b1600 strobe with a large Alien Bees Octobox attached.
We will be doing two shots. The first is a standard portrait using a backdrop, a model, and a bit of hand generated wind to add motion. This will be nothing too out of the ordinary – a standard studio use and the type of situation where these units will find themselves being used every day.
One of the first things that we noticed is the way the modeling light mode of the Alien Bees reacted when plugged in – the light just stayed on. Again, after a little investigation to the transceiver, we found that this is all controllable from within the PocketWizard utility. We were able to tell the transceiver to knock down the modeling light power to 10% and to go off after 30 seconds. As soon as you try to focus your camera, it kicks the light back into ready mode. I found this to be a great feature.
The AC3 Zone controller is a small unit that fits in the hotshoe of your camera. It has three separate zones that it can control. A zone consists of one or more FlexTT5 transceivers on the same channel. The AC3 has two controls for each Zone. The first is a three-way toggle switch that can change from off, auto, and manual. The second is a rotary dial that starts off at 0 and can go, in 1/3 increments to plus 3 and minus 3.
What this does is allows you to control each zone separately to turn up or turn down the power of your flash or strobe from its starting position without having to adjust the unit directly. This also means that if you had five flashes – two controlling the back lighting, two for the frontal lights, and one to control the rim light — you can, while never leaving the camera, control how much power comes off of each set of flashes.
While this is handy in the studio, this could become imperative to have in situations where access to your flashes is much more inconvenient. If you are shooting a high school basketball game and you have your flash units mounted on the walls or bleachers around the court, you can now quickly and easily adjust the power from right at your camera. The same would be at a wedding reception where, depending on the current state of lighting at any given time, you can quickly make adjustments to units around the room without losing potential shots.
The AC9 is a unit that attaches to the Alien Bees strobe head and to the FlexTT5 Transceiver unit. It allows you to manage the amount of power that comes out of the strobe from the AC3 unit just as you would with a flash unit. We were able to set the base point of the Alien Bees unit, hoist the strobe and octobox into place and control the lights from right on the camera.
Our second shot was more of a creative shot. Our model was covered in a paper mache mix of newspaper strips and set on a background of news print. Again not too terribly difficult of a shot from a technical stand point, but one that demonstrates the usefulness of the PocketWizard for everyday studio work.
Again the series of units played in harmony together and made for a great series of shots. In my prior review, I stated that I liked the smallness of the MiniTT1. Even with the AC3 on top, the whole set up was not oversized. It felt about right and you could almost forget that it was on the camera.
The AC9 is very small as well. When connected to the FlexTT5, it doesn’t add to the height very much and it was easy to position out of the way. I like the way that you can control the function of the Alien Bees through the FlexTT5 to dim the modeling lights and sleep modes.
Once again, I continue to be amazed at the reliability and quality of these all of these pieces and how well they work together. For my third and final review, we are going to go out into the field to put them through uncontrolled situations. I will be taking them to a Gary Thomas Extreme Lighting Workshop to test them out. Until till then, 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.