Picking a Radio Trigger: Manual vs E-TTL (aka PW Mini vs Plus III)
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UnknownSouljer
Registered: Oct 18, 2011
Total Posts: 69
Country: United States

I've been researching radio transmitters/receivers for my first light modifier and off camera flash setup. I will be purchasing the radio transmitters/receivers, stand, and softbox. This thread is just in regards to the radio trigger part.


Is it better to buy a bunch of inexpensive PW Plus III's and learn manual modes but have access to great features like zones etc.

OR

Have a stripped down transmitter (MiniTT1) and receiver (FlexTT5) with E-TTL?


Cost IS a factor, and to start I'll be using only 1 light. This setup will be used on location, not in a studio type setting.



<Background (that you can skip if TL;DR)>
I've been primarily an available light shooter for 4 years, mostly doing Nature, Architecture, and Landscape stuff. However, as of late a lot of friends, church people, etc have been asking for work and I'm not one to turn it down (because I like a lot of different types of photography, and planned on expanding anyway). I do have and have used my 580EX II flash. But I would say I'm a novice at it. I have gotten decent results, but it was mostly through chimping.

So, I figure that I should try for the Joe McNally "one light" setup just to get started, which will include a small/medium softbox (I'm thinking a Chimera Super Pro Plus 24" x 32"), a 9'-12' light stand, and my 580EX II flash, which I already own. My second light modifier purchase will more than likely be a (very) large shoot through umbrella/second stand/second flash.

Relevant currently owned gear:
5D Mark II + BG-E6
580EX II Flash
Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II DG HSM, Canon 24-70mm 2.8L (Mark I), Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
</Background (that you can skip if TL;DR)>



I am not interested in PW alternatives (Odin, Radio Popper, etc.). I realize there are PW detractors, I've read a bunch of threads regarding them. Please only respond regarding these two options. I'm leaning towards manual, as it seems like it's something I should know.



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8552
Country: United States

UnknownSouljer wrote: ...Is it better to buy a bunch of inexpensive PW Plus III's and learn manual modes but have access to great features like zones etc. OR Have a stripped down transmitter (MiniTT1) and receiver (FlexTT5) with E-TTL?

I wouldn't call the MiniTT1 a "stripped down" transmitter; far from it. Using the ControlTL System you get a lot of control over your lights from the camera position, and by putting the AC3 Zone Controller on it you can have manual or ETTL automatic control of multiple zones of lights.

The Plus III has a nice feature set, too -- you get 4 groups instead of 3, repeater function, etc. -- but you can't remotely control the power of the flashes.

BTW, I know you said, "I am not interested in PW alternatives (Odin, Radio Popper, etc.)," but since you're not yet heavily invested in Speedlites there is one other option you should consider: the new Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT.

The cost of one of these new Speedlites with built-in radio control is probably not much more -- if at all more -- than the cost of a new 580EX II (while they're still available) and a PW receiver. Plus, you'll get full Manual and ETTL control right from the camera menu of newer Canon cameras. Plus, you have even more Groups than the PW Plus III.

So, plenty to consider.



markd61
Registered: May 26, 2009
Total Posts: 467
Country: United States

My experience has been that the triggers that offer control from the camera are nice but that in practice are more fussy than I care to deal with. I can almost always go to the light and make any changes necessary more quickly than the remote can.
As for zones etc. you have to determine how you will be using the strobes. I have been using lighting setups with up to ten lights on large architectural setups and have had no need for zones or even adjustability. This is because my experience taught me that a light placed at X needs to be set at half power, a light placed at Y needs to be set at one eighth power etc. Tenth of a stop adjustments are meaningless and in the field even half stop changes can be entirely obscured by even a slight change in subject position. If you are photographing people you will see that a simple setup is the way to go as the activity of the set can make it very difficult to be fiddling with a tiny controller on your camera.
I think you are on the right track in going the manual route as it is the most stable setup. The PW IIIs are superb. I have been using PWs for years and the newest ones carry on their legacy of reliability and range with a more robust construction and controls that are less prone to accidental adjustment.



alohadave
Registered: Jul 26, 2005
Total Posts: 843
Country: United States

I'd go with the Plus III's.

Since you are a novice at flash, go to www.strobist.com and read through (and do) the exercises in Lighting 101 and Lighting 102.

You don't really need remote control of your flashes when you are starting out using flash. You aren't going to be putting your single flash in an inaccessible place, especially if you are doing portraits. It'll be 5-10 feet from you in most cases. You are going to want to be shooting in manual anyway until you get comfortable with using flash.



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8552
Country: United States

alohadave wrote: You aren't going to be putting your single flash in an inaccessible place, especially if you are doing portraits. It'll be 5-10 feet from you in most cases.

Although if it's inside a soft box and/or up on a light stand, remote control is handy.

alohadave wrote: ...You are going to want to be shooting in manual anyway until you get comfortable with using flash.

Yes, but again -- in the interest of clarity -- you can have manual control with all the above systems, not only with the Pluses.



alohadave
Registered: Jul 26, 2005
Total Posts: 843
Country: United States

BrianO wrote:
alohadave wrote: You aren't going to be putting your single flash in an inaccessible place, especially if you are doing portraits. It'll be 5-10 feet from you in most cases.

Although if it's inside a soft box and/or up on a light stand, remote control is handy.

alohadave wrote: ...You are going to want to be shooting in manual anyway until you get comfortable with using flash.

Yes, but again -- in the interest of clarity -- you can have manual control with all the above systems, not only with the Pluses.


True on both counts.



UnknownSouljer
Registered: Oct 18, 2011
Total Posts: 69
Country: United States

Thanks for the replies thus far.

Yeah I do realize the Mini's can do manual control with zones, but then they require another component... which then (in my opinion) defeats the purpose of having a small transmitter that's easy to use/minimalist in the first place.

It does seem like the general consensus is on the Plus IIIs. They do seem to make the most sense from a variety of standpoints.



alohadave
Registered: Jul 26, 2005
Total Posts: 843
Country: United States

UnknownSouljer wrote:
. which then (in my opinion) defeats the purpose of having a small transmitter that's easy to use/minimalist in the first place.


Well, the Plus III's are tranceivers, so what you put on the hotshoe of your camera is about 4-5 inches tall, and it's the same model that you connect to your flash. It's not really small. Not like the chinese trigger transmitters are, but you can swap them around if needed, and there's no dedicated transmitter.



UnknownSouljer
Registered: Oct 18, 2011
Total Posts: 69
Country: United States

alohadave wrote:
UnknownSouljer wrote:
. which then (in my opinion) defeats the purpose of having a small transmitter that's easy to use/minimalist in the first place.


Well, the Plus III's are tranceivers, so what you put on the hotshoe of your camera is about 4-5 inches tall, and it's the same model that you connect to your flash. It's not really small. Not like the chinese trigger transmitters are, but you can swap them around if needed, and there's no dedicated transmitter.


I think you missed the context I was saying. To reiterate: having to purchase an AC3 with a MiniTT1 defeats the purpose of having a MiniTT1 (to me). It makes it significantly more expensive than simply purchasing a Plus III, and stacking the two units they are arguably the same size. The Plus III being tall and the MiniTT1 with the AC3 on it being wide.



alohadave
Registered: Jul 26, 2005
Total Posts: 843
Country: United States

Gotcha.



UnknownSouljer
Registered: Oct 18, 2011
Total Posts: 69
Country: United States

alohadave wrote:
I'd go with the Plus III's.

Since you are a novice at flash, go to www.strobist.com and read through (and do) the exercises in Lighting 101 and Lighting 102.

You don't really need remote control of your flashes when you are starting out using flash. You aren't going to be putting your single flash in an inaccessible place, especially if you are doing portraits. It'll be 5-10 feet from you in most cases. You are going to want to be shooting in manual anyway until you get comfortable with using flash.


Thanks for the Strobist link. I think I stumbled on it once before, but I didn't actually get around to reading it. Good info. I can't wait to buy the new gear... so I can turn into the obnoxious guy asking everyone he knows if he can photograph them.



cordellwillis
Registered: Aug 24, 2004
Total Posts: 5080
Country: United States

The Mini with an AC3 is not very wide at all. The setup is rather small; you can place them stacked in your pocket with ease.

I never had interest in the Plus III so I have no real comparison, but I will say that the Mini with an AC3 controller is pretty good....though I would suggest the Flex instead of the Mini because it's a transmits and receives unlike the Mini.

I currently have 3 Mini's, 5 Flex's, and 3 AC3's and love the entire setup. It was a pain to learn but now that I understand what I can do with them I love it!!!

I wouldn't call the Mini w/AC3 significantly expensive when compared to the features you receive. Think of what you might do in the future.....Manual flash along with TTL and full control over both at the same time is possible with the Mini/Flex/AC3 setup. If you don't think you will ever use these features you really haven't spent much more money than what you are considering.....especially if you go with used.

I have an extra Mini for sale....PM if interested

Keep in mind that either way go you MUST have a transmitter on the camera and a receiver on the flash.



UnknownSouljer
Registered: Oct 18, 2011
Total Posts: 69
Country: United States

cordellwillis wrote:
The Mini with an AC3 is not very wide at all. The setup is rather small; you can place them stacked in your pocket with ease.

I never had interest in the Plus III so I have no real comparison, but I will say that the Mini with an AC3 controller is pretty good....though I would suggest the Flex instead of the Mini because it's a transmits and receives unlike the Mini.

I currently have 3 Mini's, 5 Flex's, and 3 AC3's and love the entire setup. It was a pain to learn but now that I understand what I can do with them I love it!!!

I wouldn't call the Mini w/AC3 significantly expensive when compared to the features you receive. Think of what you might do in the future.....Manual flash along with TTL and full control over both at the same time is possible with the Mini/Flex/AC3 setup. If you don't think you will ever use these features you really haven't spent much more money than what you are considering.....especially if you go with used.

I have an extra Mini for sale....PM if interested

Keep in mind that either way go you MUST have a transmitter on the camera and a receiver on the flash.




Right. Well the debate really comes down to manual vs E-TTL. The mini does E-TTL, but doesn't really do manual outside of some zone control. Then you have to buy an AC3 to get some control, and a maximum of 3 zones.

The Plus III has full manual. It works as a Transceiver. A single Plus III is less money than a Mini and an AC3. They can be used interchangeably. They are non platform specific, and they have more features. If I never use E-TTL then there is no real advantages to have a mini/flex setup.

Really like this topic stated when it started, was a conversation on whether E-TTL as "the feature" was worth it. It seems like the answer is no. I do realize that looking at "pro's gear" may not be the best way to select what is best for you, but:

Chase Jarvis
Zack Arias
Vincent Laforet
Joe McNally

All either use Plus II+ or Plus IIIs (or MultiMaxs). Zack Arias in particular has a fleet of Plus'. That seems like scary consistency (although he did relatively recently buy a mini, but not a flex).



kenyee
Registered: Jul 08, 2008
Total Posts: 1528
Country: United States

also look at the Radiopopper JrX Studios if you want manual remote control of AB/WL strobes as well as your 580.

Really depends on whether you want e-TTL.



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8552
Country: United States

UnknownSouljer wrote: ...The mini does E-TTL, but doesn't really do manual outside of some zone control. Then you have to buy an AC3 to get some control, and a maximum of 3 zones. ...The Plus III has full manual.

What "full manual" control does the Plus III have that the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 doesn't? How many zones does the Plus III have?



cordellwillis
Registered: Aug 24, 2004
Total Posts: 5080
Country: United States

UnknownSouljer wrote:

Right. Well the debate really comes down to manual vs E-TTL. The mini does E-TTL, but doesn't really do manual outside of some zone control. Then you have to buy an AC3 to get some control, and a maximum of 3 zones.


How much Manual can one get? I see that the Plus III has "Quade Zone control; is that something YOU will use on a regular basis? I ask because I'm not aware of any "full manual of the Plus III that isn't in the ControlTL system. If you want a transceiver you can choose the Flex (TT5) instead of the Mini. I suggested this because it doesn't cost that much more.


UnknownSouljer wrote:

The Plus III has full manual. It works as a Transceiver. A single Plus III is less money than a Mini and an AC3. They can be used interchangeably. They are non platform specific, and they have more features. If I never use E-TTL then there is no real advantages to have a mini/flex setup.



Actually, the TT5 and Mini can indeed go beyond platform specific. Though you do have to use the ControlTL software to change this, having 2 Channels gives you options. You can easily use the ControlTL system with any camera and flash....just like the PlusIII. You simply set it to "Basic Mode". The Flex is interchangeable as well. The Mini is not.


UnknownSouljer wrote:

Really like this topic stated when it started, was a conversation on whether E-TTL as "the feature" was worth it. It seems like the answer is no


I personally do look at ETTL/ITTL as features. Not everyone will agree with that. I shoot events with lights changing often. Is ETTL useful to me at times? MOST DEFINITELY YES!! However, I do use Manual flash 90% of the time. A feature to one is useless to another. Some folks demand for higher pixels. Well, I'm still fine with a Canon 20D and it's pixels Yes, I also have a 7D, 5D, and soon a 5DII or III.....only out of curiosity.


UnknownSouljer wrote:I do realize that looking at "pro's gear" may not be the best way to select what is best for you, but:

Chase Jarvis
Zack Arias
Vincent Laforet
Joe McNally

All either use Plus II+ or Plus IIIs (or MultiMaxs). Zack Arias in particular has a fleet of Plus'. That seems like scary consistency (although he did relatively recently buy a mini, but not a flex).


All of these shooters are very well versed in any kind of manual shooting situations. All of them would be perfectly fine with optical triggers if that was all that was available. Why?! Because they've been there and done that for a while. Many other shooters today are far too lazy and think everything is supposed to be done while sitting stationary.

It's great to have options. There's a LOT out there to choose from....thank goodness



ScooberJake
Registered: Mar 17, 2008
Total Posts: 991
Country: United States

UnknownSouljer wrote:
Right. Well the debate really comes down to manual vs E-TTL...

If I never use E-TTL then there is no real advantages to have a mini/flex setup...

I do realize that looking at "pro's gear" may not be the best way to select what is best for you, but:

Chase Jarvis
Zack Arias
Vincent Laforet
Joe McNally

All either use Plus II+ or Plus IIIs (or MultiMaxs). Zack Arias in particular has a fleet of Plus'. That seems like scary consistency (although he did relatively recently buy a mini, but not a flex).


A couple of thoughts. Is E-TTL worth the extra cost? No, not in my opinion.

However, I would say that remote manual control is worth the cost. Great options for modifiers, placement, etc. Plus, remember that those pros a) often shoot with assistants to adjust power levels and b) are so good that they can often get the power levels pretty close on the first try, perfect on the second. As a beginner, it will not be that easy for you. You may need to make a bunch of adjustments for each setup to get the lighting correct. All that time you are fiddling with the equipment, walking back and forth between the light and shooting position, that is lost time. Lost shooting time, subject-interaction killers.

I love my mini/AC3/flex setup, and I never shoot E-TTL.



Roland W
Registered: Apr 23, 2004
Total Posts: 1959
Country: United States

There is plenty to be said for remote manual control of power. Remember that your flash may end up inside a soft box of some sort, or pointing the wrong way for you to easily adjust the power, or be up too high to adjust power without lowering the stand. It is not just running around to 3 or 4 flash units, but actually getting the adjustments made at each location.

I am happy with the PW Mini TT1 as a nice small device that can trigger plain PocketWizard devices on classic channels, along with triggering Flex TT5 units, and then if I want remote power control of 580EX's I get it by adding the AC3 on top. Even with the AC3 on top the combination is still smaller than the PocketWizard III but not by much.



sic0048
Registered: Oct 19, 2011
Total Posts: 247
Country: United States

UnknownSouljer wrote:

Really like this topic stated when it started, was a conversation on whether E-TTL as "the feature" was worth it. It seems like the answer is no. I do realize that looking at "pro's gear" may not be the best way to select what is best for you, but:

Chase Jarvis
Zack Arias
Vincent Laforet
Joe McNally

All either use Plus II+ or Plus IIIs (or MultiMaxs). Zack Arias in particular has a fleet of Plus'. That seems like scary consistency (although he did relatively recently buy a mini, but not a flex).


Keep in mind that all of those photographers also have a support staff on site with them that can run around and change flash power settings for them.

Having eTTL control, even if just for the manual power control, is really nice - especially when you are shooting alone. Changing the manual power output of a flash takes the same amount of button presses on the flash vs on the remote transmitter. But you don't have to walk over, access the flash, change the power, and then reset the light position correctly.

Personally I use the Phottix Odin system and it is really nice to have manual power control over my off camera flashes (up to three different zones) all from the back of my transmitter (located in the flash hot shoe).



Michael White
Registered: Jan 21, 2007
Total Posts: 1343
Country: United States

Here is my answer in a nut shell

If your subject to flash distance varies during a shot the you'll need Ettl and that means the Pocket Wizard Flex for each Speedlite and either a PW Flex or Mini for the camera. But if the distance never changes the you can use manual flash and the PW Pluses or MultiMax or older PWs transmitter and receivers.

I hope this helps



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