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More on the PocketWizard remote power control system  
Tuesday, May 25, 2010 | by Rob Galbraith
Last week, LPA Design announced PocketWizard remote power control modules for Paul C. Buff monolights and packs as well as certain Elinchrom flash units. We have more details on how the AC9 AlienBees Adapter and PowerST4 Receiver will work and how connected flash units can be adjusted from the camera position using an AC3 ZoneController.

PocketWizard remote power control

At the heart of the PocketWizard remote power control system is the AC3 ZoneController. When slid into the shoe of a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 on top of a compatible Canon camera, the AC3 ZoneController's three switches and three control wheels give quick and useful control of the output of up to three zones of remote flash units. A Nikon version of the AC3 ZoneController is planned, and will offer the same capabilities as its Canon equivalent. The Canon version, however, will precede the Nikon version by several months.

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Control Freak: The PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController for Canon piggybacking on a MiniTT1, left. The underside of the AC3 showing its foot and lock release button, right. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith)

A controllable flash unit can be comprised of any of the following combinations:
  • A Canon Speedlite attached to a FlexTT5 for Canon or, later this year, a Nikon Speedlight attached to a FlexTT5 for Nikon.

  • An AC9 AlienBees Adapter attached to a FlexTT5 for Canon and tethered via RJ-14 (four wire telephone) cord to the control port of a compatible Paul C. Buff AlienBees, White Lightning or Zeus monolight or power pack. (An AC9 for Nikon FlexTT5s is planned as well.)

    The only current Paul C. Buff light that is definitely not compatible with the AC9 is the Einstein 640, since it's outfitted with a different control port. LPA Design isn't saying publicly whether a power control module for the Einstein 640 is in the works, though it's a safe bet the company is investigating the possibility of supporting this monolight.

  • An RX-series Elinchrom with a PowerST4 Receiver inserted into its Skyport socket. This includes Elinca products such as the Style RX monolights, as well as the  Ranger RX, Ranger RX Speed and Ranger RX Speed AS (the latter three models require an EL-Skyport Transceiver RX Adapter as well; this adapter ships with these Ranger units).

    Elinchroms that lack a Skyport socket, including such models as the Ranger RX Quadra AS, are not compatible with the PowerST4.
  Here's a peek at the new power control modules:

Piggyback: An AC9 AlienBees Adapter in the shoe of a FlexTT5 for Canon. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

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Side Saddle: Views of the AC9/FlexTT5 combo and an AlienBees B1600 monolight. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

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Socket To Me: The PowerST4 Receiver module, left. A PowerST4 plugged into the Skyport socket of an Elinchrom Style 300RX monolight. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

One of the benefits of the emerging PocketWizard remote power control system is the ability to mix and match lights from different makers with ease. The sports portrait below is one example. It's shot with an Elinchrom Style 300RX as the main light, a Speedlite 430EX II is providing low fill and a pair of AlienBees B1600s are separating the subject from the background.

Thanks to the new remote power control PocketWizardry, no trips over to the lights were required. The output brightness of all four lights - configured in three zones - was adjusted from the camera position using an AC3 ZoneController on a MiniTT1. Each increment of a zone's control wheel represents a 1/3 stop brightness shift, regardless of the remote flash being controlled.

Game Face: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + EF 70-200mm f4L IS at 127mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/11. Main light is an Elinchrom Style 300RX with PowerST4 attached and inside a Photoflex MultiDome 24" x 32" gridded softbox on a boom arm. Floor fill light is a Speedlite 430EX II on a FlexTT5 aimed into a 42" reflector. Background rim lights are a pair of AlienBees B1600s with AC9/FlexTT5 attached and inside Paul C. Buff 10" x 36" gridded foldable stripboxes. The manual power levels for all four lights (configured in three zones) were set from the camera position using an AC3 ZoneController on a MiniTT1. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

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On Location: Views of the lighting setup for the sports portrait above. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Enabling, disabling or adjusting brightness for each zone was accomplished exclusively with the switches and dials on the AC3 ZoneController.

Zone A: Main light Zone B:Floor fill light  Zone C:Rim lights 

Lighten Up: Adjusting the main light to the desired brightness by turning up the A dial on the AC3 ZoneController

AC3 ZoneController and studio flash

 In an earlier article, we described in detail how the AC3 ZoneController can adjust the TTL flash exposure compensation or manual power levels of remote Speedlites. Because studio flash units lack TTL, and include features such as modeling lights, the operating modes and related options differ slightly when the remote is a studio flash with one of LPA Design's new power control modules connected. With Paul C. Buff and Elinchrom, the AC3 ZoneController functions as follows:
  • Auto (A) As noted, studio flash units lack TTL output control, so turning the zone's control wheel simply changes the power level on the remote flash. That said, you do have several options for linking camera adjustments to flash brightness in a way that brings automation to the Auto setting. Specifically, the flash's power level can track in step with changes to aperture, ISO or both. You choose the desired tracking combo in PocketWizard Utility.

    Camera body flash exposure compensation (FEC) can also be applied to boost or cut brightness to all Auto zones simultaneously.

  • Manual (M) With a zone's switch set to Manual, the remote flash output is adjusted manually using that zone's control wheel. This is true whether the remote is a Speedlite or a studio flash.

    In PocketWizard Utility, you can choose the portion of the flash's power range that's adjustable from the AC3 ZoneController. For example, if your studio flash unit has a seven stop range, you choose the portion of that range that can be selected using the AC3 ZoneController and its six stop range.

    FEC set on the camera body is ignored by any zones that are set to Manual.

  • Off (O) Setting a zone's switch to Off disables triggering of any remote PocketWizard receivers set to that zone.
Things to note:

The precise behaviour of the studio flash's modeling light can be configured in PocketWizard Utility. It's possible, for example, to have the modeling light come on when the camera wakes up, and then either dim or turn off when the camera goes to sleep. The modeling light can be set to track the flash's output power, or maintain a constant, user-defined brightness level. When the camera goes to sleep the modeling light can either dim or go off right away, or after a user-defined interval.

Most useful of all, at least if you're like us and frequently run your studio gear from a portable power source, the camera's depth of field preview button acts as a modeling light toggle: press it to turn the modeling light on, then press it again to turn the modeling light off.

Model Behaviour: The Modeling tab of PocketWizard Utility

You can also fine tune the behaviour of the flash ready beeper and optical slave.

The power control module receives power change commands in real time. As you turn a dial on the AC3 ZoneController, the power changes are immediately transmitted to the remote. When the remote flash is a Speedlite on a FlexTT5, the time it takes for the flash to ready itself to fire at the new power setting is instantaneous. If the remote unit is a studio flash, however, then it will be a moment or two before the flash has raised or lowered its charge so that it can trigger at the newly-requested power level.

For example, it takes about a second for the Elinchrom Style 300RX to get ready to fire after receiving a power level change; trip the shutter on the camera before the 300RX is ready and the flash won't fire. By comparison, the AlienBees B1600 will fire right away, but it may not be at the new power setting if you don't pause for a moment first. Generally, the B1600 rises to a higher power level quickly, but it can take several seconds for it to adjust to fire at a lower power level.
You don't need an AC3 ZoneController to make use of the PocketWizard power control modules. You can instead use the 580EX II set as a Master on top of the MiniTT1/FlexTT5 on the camera. The ST-E2 should also work. When the new PocketWizards for Nikon hit the streets it should be possible to use the Speedlight SB-800, Speedlight SB-900 or SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander as individual zone adjusters too.

If the only thing you need to do is set remote flashes in all zones to the same power level, and that's the extent of your power adjustment requirements, then FEC on the camera body can accomplish this by itself.

An upcoming firmware change will enable the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 on the camera to send ControlTL trigger signals to remote flashes without altering their power settings. This will enable one camera with a MiniTT1/FlexTT5 and AC3 ZoneController on top to be used to both adjust remote power levels and fire the remote flashes, while a second camera will fire the remote flashes only. Otherwise, the MiniTT1/FlexTT5 on the second camera would override the power settings established by the AC3 ZoneController on the first camera, resulting in exposure mayhem.

Trigger Happy: An upcoming firmware change will enable the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 on the camera to send ControlTL trigger signals to remote flashes without altering their power settings

But wait, there's more

There's more to the power control story than was unveiled last week. LPA Design is also developing a firmware update for the PocketWizard MultiMAX (USB port model) that will bring to it a measure of ZoneController functionality.

Higher Power: A MultiMAX with private beta firmware loaded and set to remote power control mode (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
A MultiMAX configured to be a transmitter will be able to individually adjust the manual power level of up to three zones of remote flashes, in 1/3-stop increments, whether the flash is a Speedlite on a FlexTT5 or a studio flash connected to one of the new power control modules. It will be possible to turn a flash zone on or off too, and the power range settable by the MultiMAX will be full to -9.0 (if the flash supports it).

The MultiMAX won't be able to do TTL, and the maximum usuable sync speed when in this mode is expected to be one shutter speed step slower than the MultiMAX operating in regular trigger mode. For instance, if your camera and the MultiMAX team up to sync at a clean 1/250 now, they're likely to top out at 1/200 when remote power control is active, says LPA Design's Jim Clark. HyperSync, a feature of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5, will not be available in the MultiMAX.

The above paragraph assumes that the MultiMAX will be responsible for both setting remote power levels and triggering the flashes when the shutter button is pressed, presumably because it's perched in the camera's hot shoe. But there is another possible configuration, one that doesn't require the photographer to sacrifice shutter sync speed: place a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5, set to send ControlTL trigger signals only, into the camera's hot shoe, thereby putting this PocketWizard and not the MultiMAX in charge of firing the remote flashes.

Doing so, you get the benefit of HyperSync's higher shutter sync speed. Then, use the MultiMAX off the camera, perhaps in the hands of an assistant or mounted to a nearby lightstand, to send power level commands. Used like this, the MultiMAX becomes a wireless remote flash configuration device and leaves the actual firing of the flashes to the MiniTT1/FlexTT5.

We've been trying out this feature in a MultiMAX loaded with private beta firmware and it works well, really well - it's something for MultiMAX owners to look forward to. LPA Design has committed to making it available free of charge, and it's likely to first materialize as a public beta, though no release date has been set. Note that the final power control interface might not look the same as shown in the photo above.

Price and availability

It has taken awhile for the PocketWizard remote power control system to take shape, but now that the AC3 ZoneController and new control modules are almost on store shelves the system is beginning to look pretty interesting. We hope that LPA Design will be able to quickly add a power control module for the Paul C. Buff Einstein 640, and that support for other brands such as Profoto will follow that.

The PowerST4 Receiver is to ship in June at an expected street price of about US$120 in the U.S. The expected street price of the AC9 AlienBees Adapter for Canon is about US$55 (plus the cost of a FlexTT5 if you don't have one already) and is to ship in July. The price for the AC3 ZoneController for Canon has been set at US$69.95 and is to ship in June.
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