Pocket Wizard sells a variety of devices and provide some of the most powerful options on today's market for triggering devices by radio. With that power comes a degree of complexity though that means it might not always be obvious just how all of these devices can be combined together. For those who have an interest I thought I'd take an opportunity to outline just how the main Pocket Wizard devices can be combined together to help those thinking of building a radio triggered off camera flash system. This isn't intended to be a review or a setup guide, instead a highlight of what will work and the inevitable "gotchas" that exist when trying to build up a system based around Pocket Wizards. The discussion will look at how the following devices can be set up to work together rather than a complete list of features which is easily found elsewhere. This discussion is based on the European models which support different frequencies and a different number of channels to the American version. If you get into the Pocket Wizard system take care not to import the wrong version because the EU and American versions are not compatible and may even be illegal to use in some countries.
- Pocket Wizard Mini TT1
- Pocket Wizard AC3
- Pocket Wizard TT5 Flex
- Pocket Wizard Plus III
- Sekonic L-478DR LiteMaster Pro Light Meter
The minimum requirement is to have one device to send and one device to receive. Before it is possible to understand what this system is capable of there are a few basic terms that we need to understand.
Channels - With the radio frequencies that these devices communicate on, it is possible to select a channel for transmission. This means that if you are working with another Pocket Wizard user it is possible to select different channels so that you don't trigger each other's devices. Pocket Wizard assigns numbers to each channel and different devices will support a different number of channels.
Zones - Having selected a channel, different devices can be allocated to a "zone" which allows for devices to be enabled and disabled in groups. Pocket Wizard assigns letters to each zone and different devices will support a different number of zones.
Pocket Wizard Plus III
The Pocket Wizard Plus III is capable sending or receiving a simple trigger for a flash (or camera). It uses channels that Pocket Wizard call a "Standard" channels which are designed to carry a simple trigger that basically tells the remote device to fire. When using standard channels you have to set up the flash with the manual power output to the level you need.
To connect the Plus III to a flash, the correct cable is needed and a selection come in the box although this might not contain the one you need. The Plus III is then left to dangle or it can be strapped somewhere. Third party accessories are available to help with this.
The Plus III is capable of triggering on any one of 32 channels and 16 of those channels will additionally support up to four zones at once. So flashes can be allocated to different zones and then enabled or disabled as required.
Pocket Wizard TT5 Flex
Unlike the Plus III which is fairly generic the TT5 is designed to work with a particular camera system. There is a version for Canon or Nikon. If you have anything else then currently the conversation probably ends here.
The TT5 Flex is
capable sending or receiving a simple trigger for a flash (or camera) on the Standard channel like the Plus III or it can send and receive information to set the power level of the flash using channels that Pocket Wizard call "control" channels.
The TT5 is designed to fit into the hotshoe of the camera like the Plus III to transmit but it also has its own hotshoe which can be used to trigger an appropriate flashgun. (Compatible flash can be found on the Pocket Wizard website) The TT5 will also connect to a flash using a synch cable which you'll have to source yourself.
The TT5 is capable of triggering on any one of 35 channels supporting up to three zones at once (one less that the Plus III). Additionally, the TT5 is capable of triggering on any one of three control channels.
It is possible for the TT5 to transmit on both a control channel and a standard channel at once (in fact it does one first and then the other) which allows for a TT5 to trigger a combination of devices using Plus III's and other TT5's.
Now the thing to be aware of is that the channels cannot be set from the device itself. The TT5 supports just two configurations and each configuration is set using software on your computer. So if you're out in the field and you haven't configured your TT5's correctly for the job then there is nothing you can do unless you've got your computer and a USB cable to hand.
By default when the TT5 is mounted onto the camera, the control channels will operate using TTL information from the camera to the slaves. If there is a flash compensation on the camera itself this can be used to adjust the flash power of the slaves.
If a flashgun is attached to the TT5 which is in the camera's hotshoe and this flashgun can act as a master controller in the systems respective off camera infra-red solution then those controls can now be used to manage the behaviour of the slaves within their groups. So an individual zone can then be set to operate with TTL (with or without flash compensation) or they can manually set the power level of the group.
Pocket Wizard Mini TT1
The TT1 behaves exactly the same as the TT5 although it only transmits signals and doesn't receive so this one is really designed to only sit on top of the camera.
The advantage of this device is that it's smaller than a TT5 which is nice when it's attached to the top of the camera. Unlike the TT5 though it only uses small button batteries which may not suit you if you have a bag full of rechargeable AA's.
Pocket Wizard AC3
The Pocket Wizard AC3 is designed to sit on top of the TT5 Flex or the Mini TT1 and is used when triggering devices over the control channels.
Like using a flash that features master controls on top of the TT5 and TT1, this little unit allows each of the zones to be managed separately.
Each zone can be enabled/disabled, manually set or assigned to use automatically use TTL exposure setting.
In manual mode each zone can be set to run from full power down to 1/64th using a dedicated dial. The dial is marked from -3 to +3 in 1/3rd increments. +3 is equal to full power, 0 is equal to 1/8th power while -3 is euqual to 1/64 power. If 1/128th power is needed then this would have to be achieved using a standard channel and setting it on the back of the flash (or using the a master flash mounted on-top of the TT1 or TT5 instead of the AC3)
In TTL mode the zone's dial is a little more straight forward to understand acting as flash exposure compensation from -3 to +3 stops.
Sekonic L-478DR LiteMaster Pro Light Meter
Finally we have the Sekonic L-478DR LiteMaster which isn't a Pocket Wizard device as such being manufactured by Sekonic but it has been designed to interact which the Pocket Wizard system.
While previous models of light meter did have the ability to trigger flashes using the Pocket Wizard's standard channels this is the first model that attempts to interact with the control system. The L-478DR is capable of transmitting on the Pocket Wizards standard channels as a trigger or on the control channels with the added feature of being able to set the power levels from the light meter itself. This makes things a bit quicker when trying to get the lighting correct.
There is one complication though, after getting the levels set correctly, the values need to be copied into the AC3 unit or you need to set in the transmitter to transmit on a control channel but only send a basic trigger. Which is actually a little complex requiring some careful set up in the supplied software.
The Pocket Wizard system is a very powerful and flexible solution for radio triggers. It's possible to integrate studio flash and speedlights using one system and the implementation of the Pocket Wizard control system into a light meter makes for a pretty unique solution. This post is only scratching the surface of what the system is capable of and hasn't included features like high speed synchronisation or power tracking with compatible studio flash.
This flexibility comes at a price though, not just a price measured in pounds but also in complexity. If you can get over that though this solution should be able to solve most of your radio triggering requirements.