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A Journal of Photographic Exploration.


TTL vs Manual Flash with Radio Triggers

This is an excerpt for a comment on a post on the stobist fourm on Flickr.

The quesetion was:

My Question is simple. Why is everyone banging on about TTL capabilities of triggers now.  

My response:

Different people need different things. We don't all shoot the same types of images.

I use TTL & I use Manual. The best part is I get to choose.

If my subjects aren't changing distance to flash rapidly then manual is just fine.

When outdoors using FILL TTL with a little -FEC is a beautiful and magical tool.

When moving fast in changing environments I'd love to see a manual flash shooter come anywhere near as fast or proficient as a TTL. Not saying it can't be done but I try to spend my time working on composition and finding the decisive moment and not thinking about my gear.

My favorite is when I mix it all up. That is why I love the AC3 and PW Flex gear. In seconds I can change up a lighting set up from which zones are on, which mode, manual or TTL and as needed power levels on Non TTL gear like the Einsteins too. These are effective and efficient tools. But they are only tools.

For events:
Typical for me is to have TTL flash near the camera such as on a bracket or on a collapsible stand that I can move quickly usually with some modifier to soften the light. And two other zones of light around the primary environment as fill, key or rim depending on the position of the camer to the subject and the light as I move around.

The light near me is usually just an on axis fill. Since it is moving with me and my distance to subject changes as I and the subject moves the TTL just makes it work. If it happens to be off because of a high contrast black or white clothing no big deal as it's still set to be just fill ~ -1.7 FEC. Also I can use it as a Key light by bouncing just by rotating the light and the dial on the AC3 a couple of clicks to make it the main light. There is no time to figure out the power level when moving and bouncing. There are just too may factors to get that right often and fast, with TTL the hit ratio is much, much higher for me.

The other lights I can flick a switch as need and move between manual and TTL depending on my shooting position and need. I can even turn them off If I don't want to shoot into them. When used as a rim light so long as the power isn't way-way off being a bit hot isn't a big deal when they are in manual, and TTL as a rim light can get a bit wired if not enough subject is lit.

Point is In seconds I can change up what I'm doing and not miss the moments.

In studio or location doing portraiture or editorial, then manual is just fine. And for me it's just a flip of a switch and I can use the same gear as before being a small strobe or a mono-light and control the levels from camera.

Yes this costs money.
Yes there are cheaper options
No, not every one needs it.

I own 3 TTL strobes, two mono lights and one old power pack with two working heads. They all work together. They all can be triggered without radio systems with TTL for some as needed, and the combination gives me lots of choices and I can be totally portable in one backpack if I have to.

Think about your stile of shooting and what works for you. But don't knock manual or TTL just because you don't need it, understand it or haven't used it. Would you remove shutter priority if you mostly only used aperture or Manual. Would you give you a white balance option if you only shot in daylight. No, they are just options on your tools. 

Learn them, use them, do what works for you to get the results you need.

And please don't cast aspersion on me because I like TTL. ( I've been beaten up on this form before for suggesting TTL solutions) 


Using the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and Nikon SU-800 with Paul C Buff Einstein 640

The SU800 does a fine job of controlling an Einstein 640 when used with a PocketWizard MiniTT1 and the PowerMC2 adapter.

As expected there is no TTL or iTTL support. When the Zone is in TTL or AA the remote Einstein will fire in sync with whatever power setting is on the back of the flash head.

When in Manual the power tracks from 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 in whole stop increments down to 1/128. There is no way to get it to go down to 1/256, which is supported by the Einstein 640. There also seemed to be no support for the fractional 1/10th stop increments that the flash supports.

Interestingly the power adjust in near real time with the adjustments on the back of the SU-800. The lag is very short, as in less then a second. 

One or two times a test shot was needed to sync it up for power. Otherwise performance was rock solid.

The test was done on different zones, which are easily adjusted on the back of the Einstein. 

The last item of note was that when the zone's mode on the SU-800 was disabled the Einstein dimmed the modeling light to it's lowest level and dumped power down to 1/256 and did not fire, as expected since the zone was disabled. It was neat to see the remote unit just behave all on it's own from the wireless sync.

Overall very pleased that the Einstein unit can integrate with the PW ControlTL system.

I have not tried with the AC3 yet as mine is out for service. Just waiting on UPS since the Mac Group ships with signature in person required.

The expectation is that the Einstein will be controlled from 1/1 to 1/64 in 1/3 stop increments since that is what the range of the AC3 is from +3 to -3.

So far I'm pleased with the Einstein units and the PW integration. I will say that the PCB CyberCommander is also very, very, very cool. The built in meter and the full control to the 1/10th of a stop plus lots of zones and groups. It is an impressive setup. I can see using the PW integration when the Einsteins are used for ambient and fill that does not need to be TTL. And the CyberComander system for more studio like conditions.

Next to test will be using the two systems together since the CyberSync system can be triggered via PC port of the camera or on the hot shoe of the camera or MiniTT1. It may even work on a remote FlexTT5 relay style. That way I could use something in the MiniTT1 for 3 zone control plus the Einsteins via the CyberCommander for more direct control of the remote units.


This post is based on a discusion in the PocketWizard group on Flickr.