Chris Garrison on HyperSync
HyperSync(TM) is the single largest game changer for photographers using studio-type flashes. As photographers, we are once again taking part in another evolution of our industry. I consider the introduction of HyperSync technology by PocketWizard to be as large as the digital format transition. We are no longer just freezing motion with shutter speed or light, we are actually painting light onto the frozen motion.
I am an action sports photographer and need high shutter speeds to freeze motion. Usually you have to shoot around 1/1200th a sec to freeze any type of action. When using any kind of flash, most cameras only allow 1/250th a sec. sync speed to catch the flash. If you are shooting daytime or pre‐sunset action at this speed, you will end up with a blurry image of the rider. As for me, I like to have my shots as sharp as possible. Since the introduction of High-Speed Flash, many shooters have been using speed lights for flash at higher sync speeds. High-Speed Flash fires hundreds of small bursts during the travel of the camera’s shutter to get the shot. Using speed lights is great for portability, and weight restriction. But when you are shooting sports like snowboarding or wake boarding, the flashes must be placed too far away for the speed lights to light the action. You need the higher power of studio strobes and battery powered strobes for this kind of shooting. Many top-end flash systems offer super short flash duration to help stop action, but even this is limited.
When the PocketWizard FlexTT5® was released for Nikon, PocketWizard engineers managed to perform some kind of voodoo in radio triggering and shooters were getting up to 1/1000th sec. sync speeds. This is a huge step forward in the technology. I was one of the blessed individuals to get some of the first releases of the Nikon FlexTT5. With them, I was getting sync speeds up to 1/1200th a second with a Nikon D2x and D300.
This year PocketWizard introduced the PowerST4 receiver for Elichrom RX flashes and just recently introduced new firmware 3.003 for the Nikon FlexTT5. This is the biggest, baddest firmware update to come out. It basically totally automates the sync process and scales down the set up time for optimal sync operation. With the new setup between the ST4 for Elinchrome RX units and the FlexTT5 it is now possible to get amazing sync speeds. Sometimes as fast as 1/8000th of a second.
My choice of cameras for an optimal setup with sync speeds up to 1/8000th are the Nikon D2x, D300, or D300s. I use the Elinchrom Ranger Speed AS packs because of their portability and ability to survive anything thrown at them. With the Ranger, it’s best to use the Ranger S heads for the longer flash duration, although I do get decent syncs with the Ranger A heads. You will also need use a FlexTT5 with the latest firmware as a transmitter, the ST4 with the latest firmware, and Elinchrom’s EL 19374 adapter for the ST4. I prefer to use Elinchrom’s EL 11106 extension cables to get the ST4 off of the ground for better reception.
What Can HyperSync be Used For
Because HyperSync allows using larger flashes, it has really changed the game for action sports or any high speed action photography. We can now shoot at safer distances and at speeds with flash that allow zero motion blur from the athlete or object. We can also shoot a person directly into the sun and make them pop out of the sunlight. We can add a dramatic lighting style to the action in midday light and still have a crisp image!
Many people are overlooking the portrait and commercial aspects of HyperSync. You are now able to go out in direct sunlight and overpower the sun with studio quality lighting in midday sun. Pictures can be taken with super low F‐stops in midday light or directly into the sun with flash! Shooting a low F‐stop midday has been my favorite for lifestyle and portrait shots!
When you first get your PocketWizard FlexTT5 and PowerST4, make sure you go to the PocketWizard site and download the PocketWizard Utility Software.The PocketWizard Utility is a program that runs on your computer to help dial in and program your FlexTT5 and ST4. Also, make sure you hookup the FlexTT5 and the ST4 and install the latest firmware for each.
Starting with the ST4, you want to choose a receiving channel. There are two types of channels, Standard channels and ControlTL channels. Currently, I am setting the ST4 to receive Standard channels because I like to make flash settings manually on the back of the flash units. I prefer to use a standard channel, 1‐4 (I have had better sync speeds this way). You can go all the way up to channel 32 if you would like.
Next, move over to the MISC section. This is where you will chose either the S‐head or the A‐head. Remember using the S heads gives you a higher sync speed with less light fall off.
When you plug in the FlexTT5, you will notice there are a few more options. First there is Configuration 1 and Configuration 2. These are the C1 and C2 settings on the left side of the Flex TT5. You can have two different configurations and channels. I usually have C1 optimized for HyperSync above 1/800th a sec, and C2 for below 1/800th a second. Remember every camera, flash, and shooting style varies, your settings could be different than mine.
Next, you will chose what channel you would like the Flex to fire or receive on. I usually keep the channels the same for the sake of memory. I also turn off the “Control TL Transmit priority at X‐sync” option because I am using the Standard trigger signal for HyperSync.
Moving to the HyperSync/HSS option, I click the “HyperSync only (disable HSS/FP)” option. I only use HyperSync when I am using a FlexTT5 so set manual flash speeds above 1/250 with Standard triggering for the large flashes I use.
Now for the really fun part. This is where you need to crack open a RedBull and get ready. The HyperSync Flash Duration for Standard Channels setting is the main controller for everything. It is the automated version of the Manual HyperSync offset slider that can be seen below it. If you are using Elinchrome RX and Nikon, using the automated system is the way to go. The best way to start is to set the level to 5‐MEDIUM. This will give you a good base if you need to go up or down when you do testing to set up your PocketWizard-Camera system. After you make these settings, click Apply Changes and disconnect the FlexTT5 from your computer.
Before testing the settings make sure you have gone into your camera settings and turned on the 1/250th FP setting under flash and bracketing. Then attach the FlexTT5 to your camera and plug the ST4 into the Elinchrom Ranger and aim your camera and the flash head at a blank white (preferably) wall. The Ranger should be set to full power for the test.
With the HyperSync duration set to 5-MEDIUM, I usually shoot from 1/250th a sec all the way up to 1/800th a sec. You will start to see either clipping from the flash or a fade from the top or bottom. You will probably notice that your sync speed is at least 1/800th a sec on the first try.
Now try other settings. Reattach the FlexTT5 to your computer and click on the HyperSync/HSS tab again. Then change the HyperSync Duration up to 6 or down to 4. Make sure you click on Apply Changes to load settings before disconnecting it the FlexTT5 from you computer. Re‐attach the FlexTT5 to the camera and shoot through the speed spectrum again. You will most likely repeat this a few of times until you get the optimal settings you are looking for. Once finished, you should be able to get sync with minimal fall off at much faster shutter speeds. Many times up to 1/8000 of a second!
Above you see the different settings and how HyperSync records the flash differently. You will usually have to make several adjustments until you find the best settings for you. When setting up, remember the type of subject you will be shooting and the shutter speeds you will need to stop the action. There is always a little fall off or clipping at super highspeed syncs. I usually keep notes of my different settings for when I am on shoots.
PocketWizards run on radio signals and need to be positioned right to make sure the signal gets through. Shooting in snow and water, like I do, I need an almost perfect line between transceiver and receiver. I always recommend getting the receivers up as high as possible for best reception. Remember working around water, trees, rocks, snow, people, metal, or other electronics will effect the signal.
There are nearly endless possibilities with large studio lighting once you get your gear dialed in! You can add lighting to almost any possible scenario. You will need a good tool kit and some imagination to place the lights and radios, but it is possible. I have shot HyperSync from the water, through trees and snow, in the rain, from helicopters and through abounded buildings. I have made them work in conditions not thought possible. I have even HyperSycned together flashes and remote cameras on different boats. Just remember there are all kinds of good accessories out there to help make anything happen. Now it is time to crack that 4th or 5th RedBull and get out there and see what you can do with them, have fun!