It's been a while since I wrote in detail about gear on the blog, but when I stopped by the LensProToGo studios yesterday and Mike asked if I wanted to give them a whirl and write about it I couldn't really say no.
I've been a Plus II user for years, and as far as radio triggers go, they just work. With everything. My SB-800s, SB-900s, the old SB-80's I used to use, my old Alien Bee, my new Elinchrom Ranger, everything. They just work, they're rock solid, run on standard AA's and have ridiculous range (1,600').
The limitation of the Plus II units was that they are just dumb triggers, you can't change the power of the light from the camera like you can with Nikon's infrared CLS system, and you have to shoot in manual mode (how I usually shoot anyway). The big advantage of Nikon's CLS system is that you can control the power of remote flashes from the commander on-camera flash (awesome right?) yeah, but the drawback of infrared is that the system only triggers when it has line of sight from the commander to the remote unit. Another weakness was the cables, they are the weak point of the Plus II system and are forever coming detached from the flash and outright dying. I think I've been through 3 sets of cables in the last year alone (though the good folks at Flash Zebra solved part of this problem with lockable cables.)
A couple of years ago Pocketwizard came out with new units designed to be integrated with Canon's E-TTL system, an as they attempted to merge the benefits of radio triggers with TTL flash and provide the ability to ratio the power from the camera. Awesome right? Yeah, if it worked. The Canon MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 Pocketwizards received mixed reviews at best. Without going into too much detail, the Canon flash units provided some type of radio interference which prevented them from working every time, which had always been the draw of the Plus II units - they were rock solid.
So yesterday when I swung by the studio and saw the new Nikon MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units were in stock I took them for a brief test drive. Anything had to be better than my current solution. In my quest to combine on-camera bounce flash abilities with off-camera radio triggering, I spent last wedding season with a small flash bracket that I modified with a $7.50 Manfrotto cold shoe holding my Plus II unit (below). There had to be a more elegant solution.
When testing the new units, I wanted to look for a few things, range, triggering reliability, TTL reliability, and backward compatibility with the older Plus II units. Now (clearly) this is an unscientific test, and I'm interested in seeing how they would work in a real world setting at a wedding, but so far, I was impressed.
These first two images were shot with the Nikon D3, 24-70mm lens and 2 SB-900's. The remote flash was set to TTL with 0 exposure compensation dialed in. The first was without the wizards, using Nikon's CLS system, in the second the remote was triggered with a MiniTT1 on-camera and a FlexTT5 off camera. In both the flash was bounced off a diffusion panel 4' across or so.
These next images were again shot with the D3 and 24-70, at F/2.8 200ISO at 1/250 - again with an SB-900 and Mini on-camera and a flex and SB-900 off-camera. The real benefit (other than TTL functionality) is that I can now control the power settings from the commander flash, exactly the same way I can when using the CLS system.
This next image was shot with the MiniTT1 on camera, but with an older Plus II unit on the remote flash. Everything still worked great.
Another one of the weaknesses of the infrared CLS system is that in bright light there can be a tendency for the flashes not to fire - essentially the sun is overpowering the signal. With that in mind, Tony and I took the Mini and Flex units outside to check out their range in bright midday sun. Worked every time.
Are there imperfections? Sure, I'm a little nervous about the stress of mounting a large SB-900 on the Mini's plastic shoe at weddings every weekend (would metal have been too much to ask for?) But that's a risk I'm willing to take, to, you know, ditch the flash bracket. Another potential weakness is the CR2450-size batteries that the minis take (think watch battery). The Flex's take standard AA's, but the CR250's aren't something you can pick up at any supermarket/target/pharmacy either. That said, I look forward to more field testing of the new units and purchasing some sets of my own.