PocketWizards for Nikon

I’ve been using Nikon’s light-based CLS system for triggering my SB-600 and SB-900 strobes, but as others have experienced, I’ve been running into the line-of-sight limitations of that system. Last week I bought a set of Nikon-specific PocketWizard radio triggers. Learning how they work took a little longer than I expected, but the preliminary results are good. The supplied instructions are rather terse, so perhaps the following will save you some time if you go this route. In addition, you’ll want to refer to the wiki-based online documentation. (The Nikon-specific information is in an appendix.) There are all sorts of peculiarities such as how the PW system interacts with Nikons VR lenses.

The Nikon-specific PocketWizards are primarily designed to work with Nikon’s excellent TTL-based exposure system, iTTL, although they will also trigger older PW receivers. The basic setup is to pop a PocketWizard MiniTT1 transmitter on the camera’s hot shoe and a FlexTT5 transceiver under each Nikon strobe. You then set the strobes to TTL mode, make sure all PW devices are on the same configuration (C1/C2) and you’re set. All strobes will fire in sync and the Nikon CLS will do its thing to compute the exposure. I found:

  • Flash exposure compensation works as usual.
  • High-speed sync (FP) works well to 1/8000 sec, and you don’t have to do anything special to enable it. It just works all the time.
  • Even the modeling light works when you press the camera’s depth-of-field preview button.
  • Don’t put your strobe into Remote mode. Just set them up as though they were connected to your camera’s hot shoe.
  • In this basic configuration, the selection of groups (A/B/C) on the FlexTT5 makes no difference.
  • Automatic strobe zooming does not work, which makes sense whenever the strobes are not in the camera’s hot shoe. You must zoom your strobes manually.

Nikon’s Commander Mode, the ability to adjust the power of remote strobes individually (Nikon menu: Flash Control for Built In Flash) doesn’t work with PocketWizards. Instead, you need to buy a third device: the AC3 Zone Controller. This gadget sits on top of the MiniTT1, which is already atop your camera. The AC3 lets you dial-in power adjustments in 0ne-third stop increments for strobes in three groups (A/B/C). Note that these have nothing to do with Nikon’s A/B/C groups. It took me a while to comprehend this. The remote strobes think they’re each connected directly to the camera’s hot shoe. When used with PWs, the strobes know nothing about Commander Mode. They’re not “remotes” in that sense.

The AC3 really is a must-have unless you’re only shooting manually.  In addition to adjusting the power for each group relative to what Nikon’s CLS/iTTL would otherwise direct, you can switch a group into Manual mode to override the CLS control. The AC3’s +/- control wheel for each channel is mapped into controlling the flash output from 1/64 to full power. Note that so long as you want to use the AC3 for exposure control, leave your strobes set to TTL mode, even if you select Manual (M) on the AC3.

I occasionally use a Sekonic L-358 flash meter, so I decided to buy the optional Sekonic RT-32N module that fits inside the meter and allows one to trigger the strobes from the meter via PW radio signals. It took me quite a while to figure out how to configure everything for this mode of operation. It required changing the internally stored configurations of the PocketWizard devices, which in turn requires that you connect them to a computer via a USB cable, then use the PocketWizard Utility, which you can download from the company’s website. It runs on OS X or Windows and is very simple to use. You can save configurations in files, which makes updating a set of devices a simple matter.

I ended up using the two configuration settings (C1/C2) for TTL and “metered” mode, respectively. Here are the configuration values I’ve used successfully:

Config 1: AC3 for TTL or Manual Exposure Control

  • Strobe: TTL/FP Mode
  • FlexTT5: Normal Trigger Mode, Channel 7
  • Mini TT1: Normal Trigger Mode, Channel 7

Config 2: Sekonic-Meter Triggering and Manual Exposure Control

  • Strobe: Manual (M) Mode
  • FlexTT5: Basic Trigger Mode, Channel 27
  • MiniTT1: C2: Basic Trigger Mode, Channel 27
  • Sekonic: Channel 27, Group A (or other groups as needed)

With the above configuration, you can simply switch all the devices from C1 (for TTL) to C2 (for manual metering). In the manual-metering mode, you no longer have the ability to control strobe output using the AC3. Instead, you have to go to each device and set its power output manually. This is because the trigger signal is being transmitted directly from the Sekonic meter to the FlexTT5 transceivers. The camera, MiniTT1 and AC3 aren’t involved. Of course, you can still press the camera’s shutter release to trigger the strobes, which is why you need to set both the MiniTT1 (on the camera) and the Sekonic meter to the same channel as the FlexTT5 transceivers.

It all makes sense once you work your way through it. Or you can just copy my configurations as a shortcut. You might want to use channels other than 7 and 27 if you’re going to be shooting near me!

After just a few days, I’ve grown to like the PW system, as have most others who’ve tried it. On one hand there are more gadgets, batteries and things to go wrong. On the other hand, they don’t seem nearly as finicky as using Nikon’s optically based system. I can just set and aim my strobes where I wan’t. I don’t need to worry about whether they can read the signals from the camera. Now to see if I can get past the gadgets and make some good pictures with them.

2 thoughts on “PocketWizards for Nikon

  1. Set up without AC3 to shoot in a home made light box. Everything was too dark. Had inadvertently set the camera to high speed sync and was running at 1/500th, next, I had fat fingered a power boost on one flash to +1EV. Lastly, taking pictures of a bottle is a lot damn harder than I thought! PW called me directly to talk candidly and professionally about my options when I wrote to them. I am lovin’ these things and have not scratched the surface…

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