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HyperSync and the PocketWizard MiniTT1

May 4th, 2011  |  Published in Featured, Shoot  |  6 Comments

Warning, today’s blog post is for flash nerds. If charts and talk of flash gear and sync speeds doesn’t appeal to you, I invite you to read last week’s post about a boudoir shoot ShootStyle hosted.  :-)

I recently purchased a PocketWizard MiniTT1 to experiment with. For folks unfamiliar with PocketWizard’s new MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 triggers, their main selling point is that they allow you to shoot in TTL Flash mode wirelessly.

That’s a super awesome capability, but I’m not ready to wrestle with the vagaries of TTL flash just yet; I like the control and predictability of using my flashes on manual. Smartly, PocketWizard designed their new triggers to be useful to people like me as these new units can control old style Plus, Plus II and MultiMax triggers, and maybe even breath new life into them.

First some background. Here’s what happens when you push your shutter speed above your camera’s native flash sync speed:

In the exciting example above I was shooting a whiteboard with a Nikon D700. That camera’s native sync speed is 1/250th and as you can see that shutter speed the light from the flash falls evenly across the wall and whiteboard. When I bump the shutter speed up to 1/320th, I get a slight black bar at the bottom of the frame, and the bar gets bigger as I continue to increase my shutter speed.

The black bar is essentially caused by the shutter closing before the the frame is fully exposed. Well, it’s really a smidgen more complicated than that. At shutter speeds above the camera’s flash sync, the shutter is actually never fully open, but instead it’s more of a slit that travels across the sensor. The higher the shutter speed, the smaller the opening of the slit is. That’s why as the shutter speed increases the black portion of the fame that’s not exposed by the flash gets bigger.

So why does this even matter? Let’s say your couple wants you to shoot formals outside at 2pm. (I know, that never happens.) My first thought is to find a large area of open shade to pose the groups in so that they’re not squinting into the sun. If there’s no open shade available, my fall back is to position the groups with the sun at their back. That works but now people’s faces are in shadow, so I have to choose between either correctly exposing for the background and doing a lot of photoshop to bring up their faces, or exposing for their faces and blowing out the background.

Or you could use a fill flash to raise the brightness of their faces to the same level as the sunny background. Sounds simple, but it requires a lot of light. How much? Well, you can estimate the correct exposure for scenery in the daytime using the Sunny 16 rule. That rule says that for direct sunlight set your aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the same number as your ISO. So if you are shooting at ISO200, your aperture would be f/16 and your shutter speed would be 1/200th.

The challenge with a using speedlight like the SB-800 is that if I have the flash far enough away to cover a group, especially using a shoot-thru umprella, it can only give me an exposure of somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8 at full power. At full power the flash takes longer to recycle than I’m comfortable with for trying to quickly shoot shoot group formals.

If I could shoot at a higher shutter speed, I could shoot at that larger aperture without overexposing the background. Starting at the ISO 200 Sunny 16 example of  f/16 at 1/200th… if I increase the shutter speed 1 stop to 1/400th I can decrease the aperture 1 stop to f/11. If I could go two stops I’d be at f8 at 1/800th.

Of course I could also bring a more powerful flash, like an Alien Bee 1600, but I often work alone so the less gear I can bring with me the better.

Enter the MiniTT1 and a feature that PocketWizard calls HyperSync. HyperSync holds out the promise of being able to balancing strobe with sunlight by shooting at shutter speeds higher than a camera’s native flash syncs. And as a bonus, HyperSync is advertised to work with old style PocketWizards like the PW Plus’s and Plus II’s that I already own.

The way HyperSync works is by triggering the flash a tiny bit before the camera’s shutter actually opens. When that happens the camera’s shutter is now capturing the decaying light of the flash instead of just it’s initial burst. As the decay lasts longer than the initial burst this lets the camera shoot at higher sync speeds without getting the black band that you usually see that the top or bottom of the frame.

Using the software that comes with the MiniTT1, you can adjust the timing or ‘offset’ of the HyperSync feature to control exactly how long before the shutter opens that the flash will fire. I tested this capability using a D700 and  a Nikon SB-800 strobe. My results looked like this:

Click for bigger image

The columns above show the effect of increasing the HyperSync Offset, i.e: making the flash fire longer before the camera’s shutter opens. The first column shows no HyperSync Offset and is similar to what you get when not using the MiniTT1. Each row shows a 1/3 of a stop increase in shutter speed.  As you can see, with an offset of -800 and a shutter speed of 1/400th I still get pretty even light coverage. That’s a full stop improvement over Sunny 16. If I wanted to push things I could even try using an offset of -1600 to get a maximum shutter speed of 1/640th. Not quite two stops, but better .

So while HyperSync helps, and could even do the job for me in overcast or non-direct sun situations, it looks like I’ll still have to bring a big studio light like my Alien Bee 1600 to shoot groups outdoors on sunny days.

 

About Earl Christie

Earl Christie has written 40 post in this blog.

Earl is a Boston wedding photographer who finds love and magic and wonder in everything he shoots.

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Responses

  1. Holly Haddad says:

    May 4th, 2011 at 12:02 pm (#)

    Wow – the best thing I’ve done for my photography is subscribe to this blog. I LITERALLY have the bandh site up and have the new PW Flex (which is backorder atm fyi) and Mini in my cart and am seconds away from clicking purchase. what a perfect article! thanks again you guys rock!!!

  2. Rogier says:

    May 16th, 2011 at 12:36 am (#)

    Thanks Earl. I have another method to achieve hypersync and thought I’d share: Don’t use an SLR, but a high-quality camera with a leaf shutter instead.

    In my case, I’ve been experimenting with the new Fujifilm X100, a small digital camera that looks like a classic Leica rangefinder but isn’t. With the X100, which has an optical viewfinder and a whisper-quiet leaf shutter, you can photograph at 1/4000th of a second (although you must be at 1/1000th or below if you want to use the largest aperture of f/2.0). Even at 1/1000th, that still four times the flash sync speed the D700 is capable of.

    Here’s a photo I took the other day at ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1000th/sec, with a single Elinchrom Quadra from the left firing through a Lastolite Ezybox, plus a Nikon SB-800 at 1/16th power (I think) from the front for just a bit of fill.

    http://flic.kr/p/9Hbq2G

    I gotta do some more tryouts to see if I can get the same type of result with a single SB800 and no Quadra(s), but I usually have the Quadras with me anyway (they’re really small, easy-to-pack units); so for now it makes me pretty happy that I can increase my flash sync speed so dramatically. And the image quality from the APSC-sized sensor in the X100 appears to be the equal of what my D700′s can do.

    The X100 is no substitute for the D700, in that I’d be hard-pressed to shoot an entire wedding with it. But as a auxiliary camera, it’s a great addition. I imagine you could get similar results with one of the newer Olympus Pen cameras or with the Sony NEX5, though I haven’t tried those in person.

  3. Earl Christie says:

    May 16th, 2011 at 10:30 pm (#)

    That’s great Rogier! And you’re right, camera’s with leaf or electronic shutters can also achieve higher sync speeds than most SLRs. I recently picked up a Canon G11 to play with and I’ve been able to get it to sync at 1/2000 (hard wired with a sync cord.) It doesn’t have the same image quality as your Fuji X100, but I’m interested to see what it looks like at low ISOs.

    BTW, you mentioned the sone NEX5 as another possibility for high speed sync. I have the NEX 3 and it has very nice image quality, but I think it’s out for flash work as it doesn’t have a pc connector or hot shoe to trigger an external flash.

  4. adam chinitz says:

    May 29th, 2011 at 10:56 am (#)

    Great illustrations, thank you for taking the time. At least one question comes to mind. If you have the maximum results when the transmitter has been set to
    -2000 hypersync offset , what is the downside to leaving it at that setting ?

  5. Earl Christie says:

    May 31st, 2011 at 11:24 am (#)

    Thanks Adam,

    One of the effects you can see in the test shots above is that the higher offset numbers show a darkening of the frame on the top. While this is less objectionable than the black stripe at the bottom, it’s not ideal. Of course, whether the darkening is a problem is really an aesthetic call that you’d need to make. Also bear in mind that your results may be different depending on the camera, flash, and triggers you use.

  6. silmasan says:

    October 26th, 2011 at 12:48 pm (#)

    Thanks for the article Earl. Terrific visual chart–you make it all look so obvious in one glance for strobe beginners like me. Convinced now to get a mini with Plus II.

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