Canon PW TTL update and Nikon questions answered

Nov 8, 2009 | Flash, News, Studio | 10 comments

I’ve had many questions from Nikon users waiting for the new Pocket Wizard TT1 and TT5 units and here is my response to the most common one. Should I buy an SU-800 or wait for the new Pocket Wizard TTL units to come out?

If you don’t have an SU-800 and are wondering weather to buy one or not ahead of the PW launch then here is my advice: D300 and D700 users, use your pop up flash for the ‘big pictures’ where you can take a few frames if you get blinks. If you are covering action at weddings use an SC29 off camera flash cord in conjunction with the Sto-Fen type diffuser that came with the SB-900. The SC29 has an inbuilt focus aid that is powered by the contacts in front of the foot of the SB-800 or SB-900 flash guns. If you are using a D3, D3x or D3s then use a spare SU-800/ SB-900 as a master, buy an SU-800 or use the SC29 as mentioned above.

The Nikon Pocket Wizards are likely to be without a focus aid (similar in design to the Canon units) so it is very likely that you will want to use an SU-800 on top of the Mini TT1 both to allow full control of the flashes and to give you the focus aid beams. I’m fully expecting to be using my SU-800 with the new Nikon Pocket Wizards right from the start when they come out.

Don’t expect to use an SB-800 as a non firing master on the Mini TT1 because the weight of a flash on the Mini will mean the experiment ends in tears. Yes, they show that set up in the advertising but trust me, it’s too heavy for the construction materials and the design of the Mini TT1. Yes you can use it as a firing or non firing master if you keep the camera horizontal but just don’t try using it that way for vertical pictures. You have been warned.

So to sum up, you probably won’t regret spending £229 on a light weight and fully featured SU-800. You can buy one here for that bargain price.

My findings to date with the Canon Pocket Wizard system.

I’ve had a few issues with my units, mostly due to my lack of understanding of the settings when setting up my configurations in the PW utility software. My other problem was a broken foot on one of my TT5 units that was caused by a stand blowing over. That cost me £60 to replace (ouch) and took a week to be fixed by the UK importers.

The configurations you can set in the software and upload to your units via the USB lead supplied can and should be different if you want to get the most from your Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 units.

The receiver in the TT5 can be either the TTL channel or the normal Pocket Wizard channel but not both in the same configuration. So I have set configuration 1 on all my Flexs to be the TTL receiver and operate in the TTL system mode and I have set my configuration 2 to be the classic Pocket Wizard receiver and act like a Plus 2 unit. I have chosen channel 4 as the control channel for my classic non TTL set up and I have set my PW cards in my Bowens studio lights to the same channel. Now I have a pair of Plus 2 units and three Flex units that can trigger remote flashes of any make and remote cameras, all controlled from my Mini TT1. In order to do this I set the units to configuration 2 and all is ready to go. If I want one of my Flexs to fire using TTL, I switch it to configuration 1 and hey presto it all works, when triggered by my Mini TT1.

Before I had finally nailed the settings in the software and written them to my units I had odd trigger timing issues that were a bit of a mystery. So to sum up for now, I blame the software set up instructions for not being written in way that is easy to understand and I blame my lack of ability to understand and apply the best settings for my system of shooting.

I expect that in time with each update of the firmware and software more of the set up gremlins will be eliminated. I also expect that all the PW development team are working flat out to bring the Nikon system to market before revisiting the Canon unit firmware and rightly so.

It’s easy to be the best on the market when you are the only ones on the market.

I will try and source a batch load of the replacement feet directly from Pocket Wizard for Mini and Flex units and make them available for self swap to my Pocket Wizard customers. I’ll keep you posted.



  1. Nigel

    Hi Damien

    Thanks for your reply, I have read that the line of sight was not that much of an issue like the ST-E2 just as lone as the controlling pre flash can be seen.

    Am I wrong in this thinking

    I am mainly doing corporate portraits inside so I wondering if having two 580s would be ok

    Many thanks

    • damien

      I find the ST-E2 more reliable and it has slightly more range than the 580 in master mode. Inside though you will have no problems with either the 580 or an ST-E2. If you have 2 Speedlights you don’t want to waste one using it as a master unless that is you want some light from the on camera unit. I’d buy an ST-E2 to act as a master and have both Speedlights for off camera use at my disposal. Damien.

  2. Tibor Ogrizek

    Thanks Damien. I have now set up my C1 on Flex to receive just on the ControlTL Rx Channel for E-TTL II work. For C2 I have set up the Flex to receive just on the Standard Rx Channel for Manual flash work. A question though. I have an EOS 40D so I chose the 40D field from the Camera Model drop down menu under the Misc tab. I understand this is important when working in E-TTL II mode but was wondering if this setting is of any importance when working in Manual flash mode?

    You also mentioned that using a 580EX II on top of a Mini is not a good idea, so I was wondering if a flash bracket, like this from Really Right Stuff would do. I was thinking of connecting the Mini to a camera hotshoe, putting a 580EX II on the bracket and connecting the two with an OC-E3 cable.

    Also, when setting up my Mini and Flex I found these instructions quite helpfull

    I am looking forward to the 1 December TTL Workshop I`ll be attending. Thanks!

    • damien

      Hi Tibor, Your C1 and C2 settings are the same as mine. The camera model selection has no impact on manual mode C2 type work. It is to allow more effecient high speed sync timing.

  3. Nigel Bird

    Hi Damien

    Thanks for all your review work with the new pocket wizards
    it really helpful. But I am still not sure what to go for. Can you summerize the benifits of using the Mini and flex over buying another 580ex and using there in built communications.

    Many thanks

    • damien

      Hi Nigel,
      The Mini & Flex advantages are:
      • Non line of sight triggering (This is a biggie)
      • More efficient high speed sync
      • Can trigger other makes of flashgun in manual mode

      The Canon system works well with the following limitations:
      • Careful rigging of flash needed to ensure line of sight with camera
      • Can’t be used outside with the flash behind the camera or obscured by a brolly etc.

      If you get the Canon 580 EX11 flash you will have a system ready to go for £350 and you can always add the PW system in the future to free up your second flash once you are ready to take your lighting to the next level or if you need to use two flashguns off camera.

      Regards, Damien.

  4. Karl Bratby

    great advise damien, i agree the su800 is a must even with the pocket wizard on its way, its a great piece of kit as is the SC-29.


  5. Andy Rapkins

    Have been wondering whether to get an SU-800 or not with the PWs hopefully being available soon so this is a timely article for me! Thanks for the information Damien.

  6. Noel Hillis

    Thanks Damien, looking forward to trying Pocket Wizards with my Nikon. As an aside, the very useful Nikon SG-3IR (though a bit awkward for large hands) allows you to use the pop up speedlight on a D300 and D700 to trigger remote flashes by blocking the visible light and letting the IR through. Result – no blinks!

    • damien

      Hi Noel,

      Thanks for the suggestion. I forgot about that. Joseph Viola, a photographer and friend of mine has one and it works really well. I expect a bit of Lee R72 filter stuck on the face of the pop up flash would do the job too. Damien.


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