Pixel King i-TTL trigger for Nikon review

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.

Pixel King i-TTL Flash Trigger

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.

MeiKe MK-951

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.

Autofocus assist lamp on the Pixel King for Nikon

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.

Pixel King i-TTL trigger on a Nikon D90

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).

Nikon D700, Nikkor 70-300mm, Pixel King, Meike MK-951, GamiLight Event Pro

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.

Pixel King for Nikon with Speedlight SB-800

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.

High speed sync with the Pixel King for Nikon

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.

Sample images

Wireless TTL triggers provide a range of options that simply aren’t possible with other systems. Here are a few examples of different setups.

Candid shot of people networking

Remote TTL flash bouncing off wall to the left

Computer programming team working in an office

Remote TTL flash outside the window to the right

Computer programmer working in an office

Remote TTL flash inside the room, bounced off left wall

Speaker giving presentation

Remote TTL flash providing rim light; TTL bounce flash on camera

Setup shot for speaker photo

Setup shot showing the rim light from the previous photo

Computer programmer with MacBook

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.

Any questions? Ask in the comments below.

  • Chris Henderson

    Great review as always! I found the Pixel Kings fell a little short of my expectations, I posted my own observations on the Strobist flickr group. They touch on a couple of other shortcomings not already mentioned above.

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157629464420866/

    • David A. Selby

      Thanks. I couldn’t get flash exposure compensation to work, but now I can see it’s because I exclusively used manual mode on my camera.

  • zubpho

    Is it possible to control flash power from camera position?

    • David A. Selby

      No, except for exposure compensation in TTL mode.

      • zubpho

        Thanks

      • BJ Smith

        I have the Canon versions and I CAN control the power output of my flash from the camera. I am not sure if the is what zubpho is asking? and I am not sure if the Nikon version don’t allow this. But, I can certainly change the power output of my flash in my camera when having the flash in Manual mode.

        http://www.pixelhk.com/proshow.aspx?id=101

        • David A. Selby

          Nikon cameras don’t have the same menus that Canon cameras do, so it’s not possible to do the same with Nikon DSLRs.

  • Dale

    So if the Pixel King is “like having a TTL cord, but without the cord,” then can you use an su800 or a speedlight in AWL Commander mode (ie SB800/900) with the Pixel King Receiver to trigger other flashes via CLS?

    • David A. Selby

      In theory, yes, but we have yet to test this function to make sure it works. I’ll try to steal my colleague’s SB-700 when I get the chance.

  • http://bodyreflection.com Silverpearl

    I bought a transmitter and two recievers for just over $200. U.S. While it is dissapointing that I cannot control individual power output of my SB900′s from the camera, I did just discover something that amazed me. When I read that the units would allow HHS with studio strobes in the documentation that came with it, I did not believe it. Well I just tried it with a phoshot 300WS unit and my Nikon D300 on shutter priority and it worked all the way to 1/8000. While the power seems to diminish at faster shutter speeds, there is no annoying black bar at the bottom of the photo. Horray for no more stacking ND filters to get a shallow DOF. I do now feel better about the $200 investment.

    • Dan Law

      That’s incredible to hear that the King can support HHS with studio strobes! You try it in a studio or outdoor? If that is true, I will going to grab one! ;-)

  • omisan

    good review!

    i’m a Newbie and i’ve not found an answer to my question…

    what’s the difference between kinght and king model??
    ok
    is bigger, i can use a flash on the transmitter …. and???

    sorry for the OT question but i didn’t find informations about this

    • http://www.fotografie-accessoires.nl Jelle

      The main difference is the digital screen on the Knight series, the King doesn’t have that. Pixel’s focus is completely on the King series now, since that’s the latest trigger in their assortment. Besides that, the digital screen makes the Knight much more expensive than the King.

      So, if you value the digital screen to read the settings, go for the Knight. Otherwise, I would suggest the King series.

  • Daniel

    I can’t wait to get started with flash photography but I can’t spend a lot on equipment. Would you recommend getting a couple of MK-951 flashes?
    Thanks for the post btw! :)

    • David A. Selby

      They are pretty decent budget flashes. If you want to save even more money then you could get some cheaper manual flashes without automatic/TTL modes.

  • Bob Elam

    I’d love to know if a commander flash mounted on the King transmitter would send info to remote flashes for mode and power settings. This would be a real killer for PW, although the CLS info is IR and I’m doubtful the Kings could translate the IR to radio.

    • David A. Selby

      That would be nice but they can’t do that, unfortunately.

  • Bob Elam

    Is it possible with the Kings to dial in exposure compensation on the camera to affect the ttl power on the remote flash and counteract that with exposure compensation on the local flash mounted on the transmitter?

  • Ram

    I have 5 sb flashes, i want to use CLS whenever possible, and use king to trigger hidden flashes. If I mount a sb900 on top of king transmitter on my camera, can I use sb900 to control my non-king optical flashes (hss, ittl, on off, ev), and king to fire just the king rx flash?

    • David A. Selby

      This is something I haven’t tested. I’ll need to try it out when I get my hands on a flash with Commander mode.

      • Ram

        Looks like Pixel King (Nikon) does not even support TTL passthrough. So its a moot point.

        From PixelKing (Nikon) on a ebay posting:
        “However, the TX hot-shoe is not a TTL pass-through shoe, and can not be used to mount an additional Speedlite. Instead Pixel has hinted that they may later introduce a separate control unit (dubbed “N-ETTL”) that can be mounted in the TX hot-shoe and used like the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller.”

        • David A. Selby

          If you’d actually taken the time to read the review on this page, you’d know that the Pixel King for Canon does not have TTL pass-through, but the Nikon and Sony versions do. It works fine and it’s how sample image #4 above was taken.

          • Ram

            Sorry – I mixed up TTL plain Passthough with TTL Commander Passthough.
            I just got the Pixel Kings yesterday (1Tx, 2Rx), and found out first hand. Bad News – SB900 on top of King *cannot* commander the CLS setup. But as a simple TTL flash it works fine.

            I had 2 SB800s in Remote, 2 SB800 as TTL with King Receivers. SB900 on camera above a King Transmitter.
            SB900 cannot send IR signals.
            Test 1 – Fire – King Rx fires, Remotes stay dark
            Test 2 – Remove just King Tx, and attach SB900 directly. Remotes fire (and King Rx dark – obviously).

            If you need me to do any tests let me know.

          • Frederick Jones

            sorry for being unlearned but, what is TTL pass-through ?

          • David A. Selby

            See the explanation of TTL pass-through here.

  • Jokyno

    The king pixel on a Nikon can be used to get better range of CLS built in camera?
    For what I understood the king pixel can also transmit the ittl info wireless between camera and flash, it’s that right?
    In case of having a Su 800 mount on the top of the camera do you think it’s possible to control the Sb r200 by Ir from the Su800 and control the rest of the group flash with ttl funcion also by the Su 800 but using the king pixel to get more range between Su and flash?

    • Ram

      see above ^^

      Unfortunately SB900/Sb800 cannot sit on top of King Transmitter and send CLS commands – it can only be used as a plain TTL flash.

  • Norbert

    Well, the Pixel seems interesting, but does anyone know, if it also works together with a SU800?
    The background of this questions is that I often work with 4 and more SB-800 on my NIKON system. 2 of the flashes shall be fired with the SU800, the other 2 shall be fired by the Kings, as these 2 are not “seen” by the SU800 (they are outside the room or out of reach).
    Any settings of the system, Group, Channel and Power, shall be done form the SU800 as standard in NIKON CLS.
    Anyone tested that yet or has expierence with it?

  • DJ Bose

    Just to check – what’s the main difference between the pocket wizzard tt5 and mini tt1 with the king version? Pricewise the King is way cheaper than pocket wizzard – has to be something else? I am still tossing which one to buy?

    • Bob Elam

      @ DJ-my understanding is that the King will not take Nikon CLS info (set either through the camera menu or from a commander unit on top of transmitter), convert it to radio and send it to a receiver with a remote unit on top. To do what it sounds like you want to do, you need either the PW mini or flex, or a Radio Popper. Hope this helps.

  • http://www.tombarleyphotography.com Tom Barley

    I purchased a set of the Pixel King triggers and didnt really expect too much. I was right to, they are aweful. Massive over exposure and absolutely the least accurate TTL measurement of anything I have ever seen. I emailed the manufacturer, waited a week for a reply and was sent a firmware upgrade. Completed the firmware upgrade and guess what ? They are worse than they were before. These may be budget priced triggers but you may as well flush £150 down the toilet. Seriously, leave these well alone, they promise much but dont deliver in the least.

  • Patrick

    Thanks for another great review!
    I see you’ve covered Nikon TTL flashes well and looks like the sb800 should sync well beyond 1/250. I have 3 sb24′s which I use in studio and outdoors with some ebay triggers at a max of 1/250 with my D700. With the Pixel King (or any other trigger), would it be possible to sync my ancient flashes faster than 1/250? 1/500 or 800 would be great! Thanks in advance!

    • http://www.jpdiez.com Juan Pedro Diez

      Patrick: the flashes don’t sync, the sync “problem” is with the shutter of our Nikon cameras. It’s related to the speed in which the rear curtain starts to clos the first curtain to make the exposure. In our DSLRs it’s limited to 1/250. In medium format cameras (which use a leaf shutter rather than a focal plane shutter) it’s limited to 1/1600 to 1/6000, depending on the body and the lens (the shutter is on the lens).
      The newer flashes from Nikon “fool” the camera with some special technology and they fire multiple (strobo) times when above 1/250 and that’s the reason to get such sync speed.

  • Trent

    Does anyone know how to test fire the Pixel KIng I-TTL triggers so that I can use my light meter to check flash output? Thanks in advance!

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