The Pixel King is a 2.4GHz wireless flash trigger that transmits TTL information between a Nikon camera and a remote speedlight. As well as TTL, the triggers are also designed to support high speed sync (HSS) and hyper sync. Pixel Enterprise have kindly sent us a set of Kings to try out. Most of the following review was done using a Nikon D700 DSLR camera.
Thanks to the efforts of the Royal Mail, my Nikon SB-600 has been lost forever, and so as a stop-gap measure I tested the Kings out with some third-party i-TTL flashguns. The MeiKe MK-950 and MK-951 are pitted as low-cost alternatives to Nikon speedlights, though they lack some high-end features such as high speed sync and compatibility with the Advanced Wireless Lighting system (AWL). They have TTL, manual, slave modes, sync ports and an external power input. At around US$100 each, they give you a decent bang for your buck.
A unique feature of the Pixel Kings is that the transmitter has an integrated autofocus-assist lamp. Thus, in low light environments you should be less likely to miss the red beam that you’d otherwise have while using an SU-800, SB-700 or SB-910 as an AWL Commander.
Sadly, the King’s autofocus-assist lamp has a problem. It’s just a little bit rubbish. While it’s nice and bright, the parallax error between the beam and the lens axis is so great that it misses its target if you’re using your DSLR’s central autofocus points at close range. Over distances of around five metres or so it becomes useful, however.
The MK-950 and MK-951 have their own autofocus-assist lamps which are precise laser-like configurations of pin pricks of light. Using TTL pass-through to mount one of them on top of the transmitter, it appears that this function is disabled and the King’s beam is used preferentially. Not that this is a bad thing – the extra inch higher off the hotshoe would push the MeiKe flashes’ lamp off target anyway.
TTL pass-through is a benefit for Nikon and Sony users. Sorry, Canon users, you don’t get this! Blame what Pixel described as “technical problems” with the development of the E-TTL King system. In our experience, settings synchronised perfectly between the D700 below the transmitter and the MeiKe flash above it. The MK-950 doesn’t have auto-zoom as a feature, so you have to set the focal length manually. The MK-951 (both Canon and Nikon versions) makes an unnerving rattly noise as it zooms between focal lengths, but it hasn’t caused any problems yet.
For some reason, TTL pass-through doesn’t work when the transmitter is switched off. In fact, switching the transmitter off is a mistake you don’t make twice – don’t do it, or it’ll be the bane of your photoshoot! With the King transmitter mounted but not switched on, the camera locks up whenever the meter goes to sleep. You have to turn the camera off and on again (or remove the transmitter). This is really alarming at first, as I thought there was something wrong with my camera or lens. You’ll encounter no such issue with the King switched on (even with no receivers or on-board flashes switched on).
Stacking transmitters, flashes and modifiers can become unwieldy
Off-camera, the King receiver behaves almost identically to the transmitter. All information, including aperture, focal length, Iso sensitivity and even rear-curtain-sync setting is passed through when the radios are on the same channel and the camera shutter button is pressed halfway. So it’s like having a TTL cord, but without the cord.
If you find yourself short of AA batteries then you can power the King from the Mini-USB port in the same way you might charge your mobile phone. Nifty. This is also the way you get firmware updates.
Nikon D90, SB-800 + Pixel King at 1/4000 sec
Though my MeiKe flashes don’t have high speed sync, the SB-800 does, and the Kings have no trouble syncing it with a D90 all the way up to a shutter speed of 1/4000 second. If you have high speed sync switched off then the camera thinks there’s a flash on top and simply won’t let you above 1/250 second. If you have high speed sync switched on but your remote flash doesn’t support it then it won’t fire at 1/320 second or faster speeds.
Some things we haven’t been able to test yet are multiple off-camera TTL flashes – since we only have one receiver – flash exposure compensation and hyper sync.
Wireless TTL triggers provide a range of options that simply aren’t possible with other systems. Here are a few examples of different setups.
Remote TTL flash bouncing off wall to the left
Remote TTL flash outside the window to the right
Remote TTL flash inside the room, bounced off left wall
Remote TTL flash providing rim light; TTL bounce flash on camera
Setup shot showing the rim light from the previous photo
Remote TTL flash to the left; remote manual slave flash to the right
Where to buy
The Pixel King for Nikon costs just under US$150 for a transmitter-receiver pair, available online. Extra receivers are around $100 each. It is also available for Sony and for Canon cameras. Features will vary between models — for example, the Canon version does not have TTL pass-through. In Europe, the French distributor is Lovinpix.