Regular readers of this blog and visitors to our Facebook Pages will know that we are big fans of the Quantum flash system. We love the Quantum T5D-r flashes off-camera for their power and versatility, and the Trios on-camera for their quick recycling and ability to fire all day without over-heating.
Quantum has their own wireless triggering system known as FreeXwire. While we often use PocketWizard Plus II and Plus III radios with our T5D-r flashes in manual mode, Quantum has an excellent TTL flash system, which is arguably better than that of Nikon's own flashes. Of course, triggering with standard PocketWizards does not support TTL (through the lens) flash exposure control or High Speed Sync (HSS).
It is possible to control remote Quantum flashes using either the Trio flash or the Pilot Controller since both units have the FreeXwire radio built in. However, there are occasions when an on-camera flash is undesirable or uneccessary, and the Pilot Controller, while highly functional, is almost as bulky as the Trio flash.
Recently, Quantum released the CoPilot, a smaller (albeit a little less fiunctional) wireless controller. The unit is about the same width and length as a PocketWizard Flex 5 transceiver but is a little thicker.
The CoPilot can control up to three groups of remote flashes (R1-R3) in either TTL or Manual modes. TTL functionality requires that the remote flashes be Quantums (Trio or T5D-r) but the CoPilot can also trigger Nikon or Canon flashes in manual mode if they are connected to a Quantum FreeXwire receiver. The dials on the top of the CoPilot control the output of the three groups in one-third stop increments in either TTL or Manual.
The switches on the rear of the unit determine whether the flashes will be in Manual or TTL mode. The right side of the CoPilot (not shown) allows selection of the FreeXwire Channel (0-8) and houses a mini-USB port for future firmware updates.
For my first test, I placed our long-suffering mannequin head on our driveway in open shade with a relatively bright background. The camera was in manual exposure mode (1/250 second, f/5.6, ISO 100). The left image is without flash while the right image employed a Quantum Trio with the standard reflector approximately 8 feet from the subject. The Qflash gave a perfect exposure in TTL mode.
The Quantum Trio supports the High Speed Sync (HSS) mode so I was anxious to try this out with the CoPilot as controller. To tell you the truth, I'm not a big fan of HSS. While the prospect of using high shutter speeds to permit wide apertures with flash sounds exciting, the power loss associated with HSS flash mode usually renders it less valuable in practice.
Using my 70-200 lens at f/2.8, a shutter speed of 1/1600 second gave an ambient light exposure about two thirds of a stop under the previous shots. My camera (a Nikon D4) was set to its HSS flash mode. The Trio responded with a good exposure despite the relatively high shutter speed (left image). However, increasing the shutter speed to 1/4000 second (right image) resulted in significant underexposure, indicating that the Trio was no longer capable of delivering enough power at its current distance from the subject.
These tests were conducted with the standard Quantum reflector. However, Quantum also makes a telephoto reflector which is much larger, and has a significanrtly longer throw than the standard model.
With this reflector in place on the Trio, I repeated the HSS tests as shown below at 1/4000 and 1/8000 second. The telephoto reflector provides an interesting spotlight effect, but it also increased the effective flash power by concentrating the Trio's output in a smaller area. This permitted an almost correct exposure at 1/4000 second (left image). By 1/8000 second (right image) the light output had significantly decreased. Nevertheless, these tests clearly showed that the CoPilot happliy supported HSS mode with the Trio. Unfortunately, the more powerful T5D-r flash does not support HSS. However, the use of the telephoto reflector increased the effective flash power of the Trio in the same way that zooming the head on a Nikon or Canon flash will do. This could provide some interesting opportunities for dramatic flash images in the future!
For the next test of the CoPilot, I moved inside and set up a T5D-r in a Lastolite EZbox as the main light, and a Trio with shoot-through umbrella as the fill. The CoPilot was set to fire the flashes in TTL mode. The left image is without the fill light (Trio set to OFF on the CoPilot). The center image has the fill set to -2 stops relative to the main, while the right image has both fill and main set to the same power (0 EV). This shows how quick and easy controlling the light ratios from the camera position is using the CoPilot controller.
Of course, there are now multiple ways to control small flashes directly from the camera. Both Canon and Nikon flashes have their own optical control systems, and Canon recently introduced their own radio system with their 600RT series flashes. Other radio control systems that support TTL and HSS include PocketWizard (Mini/Flex) and Radiopopper but these have more limited functionality with the Quantum units.
In conclusion, the Quantum CoPilot is a relatively inexpensive and compact solution to the problem of controlling one or more remote Quantum flashes, and appears to be an excellent addition to the Qflash family.