Review: Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 for Nikon

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: February 8, 2011

Category: Review

So after what has seems like an age, Pocket Wizard have finally released the new Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 units for Nikon DSLR’s; but now that they have the question is … “Do they really live up to all the hype?”

To answer that I thought I’d put together a short review but do it in such a way that is relevant to how I work and the way I use ‘Off Camera’ Flash…

When using ‘Off Camera’ Flash I can safely say that for 90% of the time I’m shooting with the camera and flashes in Manual; be that with my Nikon Speedlights, my Elinchrom Ranger/Quadra or Profoto Heads in the studio. This is something I’ve always done for the main reason that I like the consistency of exposure that it gives me from shot to shot.

Up until now when shooting with my Nikon Speedlights I’ve used Pocket Wizard Plus II’s which I absolutely love for their reliability and range of use but with the introduction of the new Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 things have changed…BIG time and I’ll explain why as we go through.

Shooting in Manual Mode
Using the new Mini and Flex in straight forward Manual Mode is no different to how it’s always been with the Plus II’s apart from the fact that now there’s no danger of poking your eye out with a big aerial sticking out the top of your camera. Also there’s no wires connecting the transceivers to the Speedlights so no worry of them coming out during a shoot; so straight away things are looking alot more compact and ‘user friendly’.

There’s a couple of ways to mount the Flex TT5 to a light stand; the hot shoe adaptor (but this has a very ‘plasticy’ feel to it and feels as though with a bit of abuse may end up getting damaged) or my preferred method of screwing in a spiggot which can then drop into the umbrella bracket as shown below…

I’ve been really impressed with the build quality of these new units. Despite being plastic they feel solid and very well made, in particular the aerial on the Flex TT5’s.

The Nikon Creative Lighting System
I’ve always been a big fan of the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) for it’s ease and speed of use but that’s ok so long as I’m not shooting in bright sunlight or the flashes are positioned in such a way that the ‘line of sight’ signal isn’t blocked.

If only there was a way to combine the Nikon CLS with Radio Waves/Signal so that the ‘line of site’ issue was a thing of the past…

Well, that’s exactly what we can now do when we attach the Nikon SU800 Commander Unit ontop of the hotshoe on the Mini TT1; all of a sudden we can now take complete control of a number of Speedlights and all in different groups if need be…

Experience from shooting in Manual has meant that each time I set up the lights I have a pretty good idea of what power settings I need to put them on and what camera settings I’ll be working with. However there are the times when adjusting the flash power by opening up or closing down the aperture isn’t enough; sometimes I’ll have to physically return to the flash and manually alter the power setting. Now though, by mounting the SU800 ontop of the Mini TT1 I can do all of that from camera position which means I can again work alot quicker, I don’t lose my shooting position and so on…

Hyper/High Speed Sync
Without question the big interest in these units evolves around the apparent sync speeds that can be used. Syncing a DSLR and a Speedlight at up to 1/8000th second and not the standard 1/250th second as in my case, have been mentioned across the internet many times, but is this really possible?

Well in a word…Yes! The image below was shot in the middle of the day with a fairly bright sky and just a few clouds but nothing worth shouting about, but when shot at iso 100, f/2.8 and 1/8000sec things certainly take on a whole new look…

A single bare Nikon SB800 Speedlight zoomed to 105mm was used for this shot. Incidentally before using the Mini and Flex units, to get anything near this look would have meant shooting later in the day if I was using Speedlights or bringing along more powerful packs such as my Elinchrom Ranger. In the case of using Speedlights, shooting later in the day might have meant losing the shot as the clouds may have completely gone by that point and that’s happened to me on more than one occasion.

Below are some more examples of shooting the same scene but at varying shutter speeds:

Another big advantage of being able to shoot at higher sync speeds means that wider apertures can be used. By this I mean that before I could only use a maximum sync speed of 1/250th second so to darken the scene down a touch more would mean closing down the aperture to maybe f/8.0, f/11 and so on. The problem here is that the narrower the aperture becomes the more depth of field there is in the shot, but now with the Mini and Flex units we can shoot alot wider and at higher shutter speeds which in turn will give us that beautiful shallow depth of field.

So what next?
I’ve not had a chance yet to try these units out on Studio Strobes or my Elinchrom Ranger/Quadra Packs but I’ve heard on the grapevine talk of being able to sync at 1/500th second. Needless to say this is something I need to check out asap and once I have done I’ll be sure to let you know what I find out.

Final Thoughts
Overall I’m extremely pleased with the new Mini and Flex units. They appear to do everything that was claimed and in true Pocket Wizard style are proving 100% reliable with not one misfire or failed triggering of the flash. The ability to use the Nikon SU800 on camera to control the power of the strobes in the same way as the Nikon Creative Lighting System but without the need for ‘line of sight’ is a big plus! Build quality is in my opinion very impressive. The Plus II’s I’ve used for some time, despite doing a fantastic job, always felt very fragile but these new units feel like they could certainly take some abuse. Being compact and no need for wires to connect to Speedlights too is a very welcome advance as is the fact that they can be used in conjunction with other Pocket Wizard units such as your Plus II’s.

Having used them a number of times now I’m liking them more and more and have actually struggled to come up with a negative but in an effort to balance this out I’m going to say the price as at around the £400 mark (roughly £200 each) for the Flex and Mini it is quite an investment.

•    •    •

Got any questions about the new Mini and Flex units? Thinking of getting some for yourself? If so feel free to make use of the comments section below and if it’s something I can answer for you from having used them then I’ll do so otherwise I ‘know a man who can’.
Enjoy 🙂

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35 Comments

  1. Lee

    Great post Glyn.

    One question though,
    whats the difference between the flex and the mini?
    Is the flex used on the camera hot shot and the mini’s at the flash locations? or would you need more then one flex?

    Awesome images!

    Cheers

    Lee

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Lee…The Mini is a dedicated transmitter mate so you’d only ever need one of those whereas the Flex does both…transmit and receive; much like the Plus II units.

      Cheers, Glyn

      Reply
  2. Keith

    Good review mate as usual, now i know your a manual shooter but did you try them in Ap / Shut priority mode, thats were the TTL magic comes into play doesn’t it ?
    I’m confused a bit, is this correct, with just the Mini & Flex you don’t need line of sight and you can make changes to the strobes if shooting TTL. But if shooting manual and you want to change strobe settings you need to be using an SU800 or wait for the AC3 to arrive on our shores.
    If you are using say 2 or 3 strobes then they would all be the same output unless you were controling them independantly with the SU800 or the AC3, so as in your case you need the SU800 to make changes.
    Iv’e just read that back and iv’e managed to confuse myself, i hope you can get what i’m on about 🙂

    Reply
  3. Mark

    I think I’m a little confused too. This is possibly the same question as Keiths, so forgive me.
    I thought the point of these units was that you could control the manual power of the speedlights, without the need for the SU800? or are you just using the SU800 until the AC3 comes out, so you can control more than one unit?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hopefully this answers your questions…

      On their own you can use the units in either TTL or Manual. If using it in manual then it is as always has been…flash power can be adjusted by opening/closing aperture and/or manually adjusting the flash power by it’s own controls. These units trigger the flashes by radio waves and are not dependent on ‘line of sight’

      Using the units in TTL is exactly that…basic TTL. Obviously you can use exposure compensation to adjust the overall ambient exposure which the TTL will compensate for but to actually take more control and adjust flash exposure over what TTL does then you need to use the SU800/AC3 or a Speedlight in Commander Mode ontop of the mini.

      I always shoot in manual so with just the flex and mini I gain nothing apart from a neater, more compact unit etc… However I can adjust the flash power manually by the SU800 etc as opposed to walking over to the flash and doing it that way.

      Whatever mode you shoot in, you can take advantage of the Hyper/High Speed Sync.

      Hope that helps.

      Oh and re the AC3, I will be getting one of these units to take the place of the SU800 as it’s purpose built, compact etc…

      Reply
  4. Mark

    Thanks Glyn, that all makes sense now. I panicked for a sec, as I’d just ordered mine! Sadly I’ll have to wait for the AC3, which I’m told will be available at Focus.
    Great Blog BTW.

    Reply
  5. Laura

    I am using this Nikon Mini TT1 with Plus IIs and Alien Bees and cannot get the hypersync to work even though I’ve tried all different types of settings. Has anyone had more luck??

    Reply
  6. Sanka

    i am also bit confused about AC3 / SU800. So if I have a su800, sb900 and a sb600 then can i get a mini tt1 put it on camera and put su800 above that, get two flex units and put sb900 and sb600 on them and;

    1) put sb900 in group A and put sb600 in group B
    2) control their power (in manual mode) individually from su800
    3) control FEC values (in TTL mode)individually from su800

    or do i have to get a AC3 to do above 3?

    thanks.

    Reply
  7. Paul

    Laura, I had a problem with HSS and hypersync with my D300s. I eventually found it wouldn’t sync faster than 1/320 if I was using 14 bit RAW recording. 12 bit is fine, as is JPEG and TIFF, with these I can go to 1/8000 seamlessly.

    Reply
  8. Andy Rapkins

    Nice review and – more imortantly – great images.

    On the topic of sync speeds, syncing at 1/8000 has always been available with CLS – this is the Nikon High Speed Sync where flash output is pulsed as the shutter travels. In practice it works well but the downside is reduced flash power and it can cause banding (take a frame of a white wall to see what I mean).

    Hyper sync is the PocketWizard juju tech which cleverly offsets the flash trigger point to allow higher sync speed. Whilst mega fast sync speeds are claimed, in practice the best I’ve managed so far is 1/400. 2/3 stop might not seem much but it’s welcome for daytime shooting. To get this, you need to use the PW utility, enable the function and experiment with the offset speed to get a result without shutter banding. It’s easier to do than explain.

    Anyway, to Glyn: if you have got Hypersync – that is full power flash using the PW technology – then I am massively impressed and please can you share your utility settings as I want to adjust mine!

    Great stuff and to see your excellent shots. Regardless of the supposed limitations of HSS, the end result speaks for itself and radio control of CLS is an absolute winner.

    Reply
  9. Tim Skipper

    Glynn,

    Glad to see they are working for you. I have had some sketchy results with them on a Canon, but I keep using them. You are right the high speed sync is awesome. One question though, where you still using manual or had you switched to TTL?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Tim…In the last shot at 1/8000sec I was shooting in Manual mode mate

      Reply
  10. Tim Skipper

    Never mind Glyn, I should have read all the comments 🙂

    Reply
  11. Keith Hammond

    OK got it now, will still keep your SU800 for any CLS work, Clifton Cameras are doing the AC3 for £60 when it comes into stock, thats a lot cheaper than an SU800 and it’s going to do the same thing only better right ?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi All.
      Following on from some of the questions posted here about using the SU800 Commander Unit along with the Flex and Mini, tomorrow morning I’ll be posting up a ‘follow on’ which goes through how to do this covering shooting in Aperture Priority and Manual Mode; hopefully that will help out.

      Cheers, Glyn

      ps> Keith…Spot on mate!

      Reply
  12. CatchlightPhotographyOnline

    Glyn,
    I had the chance to be a beta tester for the Nikon PW Flex/Mini, and I can tell you that they are magnificent! They have extended the application range of our Speedlights so much that they are becoming our primary on-location lighting kit. As you say, there is not much you CAN’T do with them, now that we have a reliable, radio-powered, TTL-capable firing system that can sync faster than 1/200 – 1/250. By adjusting flash exposure to create a delta between two Spedlights, TTL can provide a lot of consistency as the ambient lighting changes.

    Reply
  13. Rick Wenner

    Nice post here Glyn, thanks for the info (even though I’m a Canon guy). Do you know if these new PW’s are compatible with studio strobes such as the Rangers? I’d love to get a higher sync speed but am unsure how to get it. Maybe these are the answer?

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Rick…I’m led to believe they are compatible and can increase the sync speed of studio strobes up to 1/500th sec. I’ve yet to try it out but will be in the next couple of days mate.

      Certainly sounds promising 🙂

      Cheers

      Reply
  14. Barry Frankel

    Aloha Glyn,
    Thanks for this post. I’m hoping to have similar success as well.
    After a very long wait, I finally received my Mini and two Flex’s for Nikon with great anticipation. As a wedding photographer shooting on the beach under extremely bright conditions with fluctuating light due to incoming clouds, I typically shoot in shutter priority at a 250th on the camera and use TTL on the strobes. The line of sight has obvious limitations under these circumstance as the IR eye is usually facing the sun but does work somewhat despite the challenges. Clearly the radio triggers were the answer to my prayers………or at least I thought. Despite numerous testing with my D700 with an SB900 as commander and two SB800 remotes, they are delivering completely erratic results with no consistency whatsoever. Naturally I assumed this was caused by the knucklehead operating the camera. PW suggested this is a firmware issue, however the firmware is up to date on all three units. They are sending replacement units immediately, and I really hope these will work as they are intended.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @Barry…Sorry to hear you’re experiencing some unpredictable results with the units at the moment. So far everything seems ok this end so maybe it’s the units you have that are faulty…who knows.

      Hopefully it’ll be sorted for you soon enough.

      Regards,
      Glyn

      Reply
  15. Julien

    Glyn,

    Can you use the mini with SU800, a flash on a flex using the pocketwizard synch and in the same time using CLS to command two other flashs (SU800 as commander and two other flashs as remote) ? That would be fantastic because a lot of time I would have only one flash that would be out of sight.

    Cheers

    Reply
  16. Ian

    Glyn, It’s good to see some stuff actually being shot with these things, so good start. I expect that the CLS over radio works as well as the Nikon system does, so I’m not too interested in that really as it should just work as expected (if I ever desire to use it). I am however, interested to know whether in Hypersync or FP mode sync you are getting any more ‘light on subject’ than you would by just using the Nikon optical signal CLS? Is for instance – 1/250s at full power – the same flash exposure level as you get at 1/500s Hypersync (if thats the speed you can manage in hypersync.. what is that speed?) thus resulting in a +1 stop increase over ambient? Any increase over ambient, or the highest possible output otherwise attained I am interested in. Do you know what this is with your setup, or if there is actually an increase? Thanks.

    Reply
  17. Ian

    OK, to answer my own question.. I can get sync with a D3x and TT1/TT5 combination off camera at 1/800s with barely no light loss. (1/3 of a stop perhaps). This translates to 1.66 stops more effective output and about +4.33 more output than illustrated in your samples above using HSS. Using HSS with the ControlTL system compared to the optical Nikon CLS system there is no difference to output and result. Using Hypersync with the PW ControlTL the improvement over CLS/ControlTL can be up to 5.66 stops better (although I’ve not optimised for 1/8000s so at this setting there is still a 15% black band on the bottom, if your subject is against a dark background this would not be noticeable) At 1/800s which I have optimised for, you get a good +4.33 advantage over CLS. All good, but the ControlTL software doesn’t cater for the 1/800s optimisation on camera yet, here you’re restricted to using only 1/500s.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Ian, thanks so much for such a detailed comment; I really appreciate it mate.

      Cheers,
      Glyn

      Reply
  18. Budy

    I was wondering if you use SU-800 on top MiniTT1, which one is actually triggering the remote flash?

    Unless of course you turn off SU-800 right after setting remote powers or before shooting.

    Reply
  19. Budy

    Please ignore my previous comment. Having read the PW quick guide, all remote flashes are not in “Slave” mode (likewise using SU-800 only CLL mode) , so obviously they are triggered by PW.

    Reply
  20. John Cooper

    Hi Glyn, Great review and images from the Pocketwizard system. Hope you can answer something for me. I understand the difference between Hypersync and HSS and also the benefit of radio over infrared, but what I’d like to know is, when using High Speed Sync, is there any advantage in effective light output at high shutter speeds when compared with Nikon’s CLS? I use SB-800’s and an SU-800 commander and the light loss at higher speeds is significant when using high shutter speeds, meaning that flashes have to be very close to the subject. Pocketwizard claim a more efficient light pulse and therefore ‘brighter’ light. What’s your experience of this compared with the Nikon infrared version.
    Thanks,
    John.

    Reply
    • Glyn

      @John…To be honest the light output between using HyperSync and HSS is there but nothing to shout home about. However the battery usage and recycle time is very noticeable.
      I was a big user of the Nikon CLS and infrared…love it..still do, but the new pocket wizards are fantastic! I can do everything I did before with CLS but no worry about line of sight, sunlight and so on…gives me so much more flexibility.

      Hope that helps,
      Regards,
      Glyn

      Reply
  21. rick

    I too have had problems with my miniTT1. Using it with Plus II. It would fire for about 20 to 30 shots and then shut down. After a couple of days just sitting around, it would start working again. Have tried mulitple batteries as well as checking firmware and performed a factory reset. Have sent it to repair shop. They said that they would send me a new one. Hope it gets here soon.

    Reply
  22. Ray

    I’m not getting the same lighting as you. I am using a D700 and SB-900s. Are there some setting that need to be made on the pocket wizards? If so, where can I go to for this information?

    Reply
  23. Stephane

    Hi Glyn, what is your feedback using flex and mini flex with the quadra? Is it working like hell? Cheers, Stef from Paris 🙂

    Reply
    • Glyn

      Hi Stephane. i mainly use the Quadra with the Elinchrom Skyport but have tried it with the PW units. Worked great but obviously no High Speed Sync.

      Reply
  24. Micol Phillip

    Dear Glyn,

    I’ve been thinking of getting the unit. But i need some advice from you which combo is the best for my current budget.
    · get 2 units of TT5
    · get one unit of each Mini TT1 & Flex TT5
    Thanks for helping me out.

    Reply
  25. Adam

    Did you ever try these on your Quadras?

    Reply
  26. Andy White

    Where does one get that male spigot?

    Reply

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