Until about 2016, the PocketWizard MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 transceivers for Nikon put the “Wizard” in PocketWizard, giving you the power to control unlimited Speedlights from practically any distance with little more than your imagination.
However, a few years after getting these units in 2012, I began to experience too many FTFs (failure to fires). I went over the settings several times, upgraded firmware, used manual Plus III slaves and still had inconsistencies to the point where I would lose important shots at weddings.
I can’t explain how the units worked so well the first couple of years after I got them and then inexplicably stopped working, but around 2016 I started seeing many reports of the same stories and frustrations with these units. Perhaps PocketWizard didn’t make them for heavy use, or the frequencies became too flooded with other technologies at wedding venues.
When they came out, the PW Flex and Mini were, I think, the only TTL flash radio system with remote power control (with AC-3 Zone Controller), which was their main appeal to me. As a wedding photographer, I loved having the ability to adjust flash power remotely on all of my lights without an assistant having to manually do it for each light. I also loved having the remote TTL capability for shots I needed to light quickly.
The command dial of the AC-3 was simple, fast and easy. With the physical dials, I could quickly adjust up to three groups on the fly without going into a single menu. However, the dial system wasn’t perfect. Since I wear two cameras at a wedding at all times, I noticed as I let the one with the dial hang by my hip, occasionally the dials would rub against something and get moved during the action, changing my flash settings. You couldn’t lock in a setting with the dials.
Another thing I didn’t like about the PW Flex/Mini system was that you needed to plug them into a computer any time you wanted to change any settings, and the settings were kind of complicated. I liked the depth of control you could gain over certain functions, like high speed sync, but it also meant you couldn’t change channels on the fly. You were stuck with whatever settings you had programmed at the computer.
On PW, you could reassign groups on the fly, and you could select from two pre-programmed “configurations” of settings, but not channels.
Phottix Odin II
Since the Mini/Flex release, other brands have come out with their own TTL and remote power control systems, and one notable brand who seems to be taking a lot of market share on the high end is Phottix.
I’ve since upgraded (as of 2017) to the Phottix Odin II system, which has TTL and remote power control, and the transmitter/power control is a single unit on the camera, not two like PW.
Initially, I was hesitant to switch to Phottix because, you know, most of the Chinese knock-offs don’t work. But the fact was PW also wasn’t working, so I needed to try something. I had looked at other systems, including Radio Poppers, but what compelled me to try Phottix was that Jerry Ghionis was also using the Odin system. If there’s anyone who needs a flash to work correctly the first time at a wedding, it’s Jerry.
What I loved from the first time I used the Odin II system was that it worked. I turned them on, set my channels, and they worked correctly. It “helps” to turn the flash on before the receiver, but other than that, and turning everything off before connecting/disconnecting, there’s no complicated precise order of turning things on and off. With PW, I had to attach a label with the correct fire-up sequence to my AlienBee, and it still didn’t work.
Advantages over PW are numerous. You can change groups and channels on the fly directly on the units via the LCD menu and buttons. There are one or two more steps to adjusting power with the Odin II, but it’s still fast and the benefit is the settings are locked in until you push a couple of buttons vs. subjected to the random bumps of a physical dial.
You get more groups with the Odin II, up to 5 with compatible receivers. Switching modes is still easy, and the Odin II has a wheel for breezing through the menus and power scales. The wheel was mandatory for me because I need to change settings quickly at weddings.
One thing I don’t like about the Odin units is they require replaceable batteries. This isn’t bad, and regular AA batteries will work fine for a few weddings, but PW had a nice power cable accessory that used the camera’s power (on cameras with 10-pin terminals) for the transmitter so you didn’t have to use any batteries for the transmitter, which was great especially because they were harder-to-find button cells.
I tested the Odin II’s power adjustments against a Sekonic meter and found them to be correct. In other words, 1/3 stop was really 1/3 stop of light, and 1 stop was really one stop of light, so the power output and settings are reliable.