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Monday, October 17, 2011

Nikon CLS – An introduction

Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS) gives you the ability to wirelessly control compatible speed lights from your CLS capable camera. The wireless control is done through the hot shoe mounted flash units, the built in flash, or with the Nikon SU800. Compatible flash units (the SB600, SB700, SB800 and the SB900) have a built in infrared receiver on the side of the flash. The Nikon SB700, SB800, and SB900 are all able to be set up as commander units. The Nikon SU800 is a dedicated controller unit. Consult your cameras manual to see if your camera model is CLS capable.

As mentioned above some Nikon cameras have the hardware and software built into them where they use the pop up flash to transmit and receive the IR signals to communicate with compatible flash units. However the top pro line cameras that do not have a pop up flash so you have to use the SU800 or CLS commander capable flash units.

The SU800 is generally my go to method for CLS control. I found that when I used my on camera flash as the controller I would get two sets of catch lights in my clients eyes. It is not that big of a deal to go in and remove one of them in post, but I would rather not have to do it. Also the battery life of the SU800 is much greater than a speedlight in commander mode.

Eventually the IR signal transmits to the flash units the same information it would as if it was still connected to the camera. The signal is line of sight so your camera needs to see the flash units and the flash units need to see the camera in order for the communication to work. If you are shooting in a room the signal can bounce around and will usually find its way to the receivers on the flashes.

One drawback to the Nikon Creative Lighting System is that it does not work the best in bright sunlight. There are photographers out there that have absolutely no problem with the CLS system in daylight and there are those that do. I myself find the CLS system lacking in performance in daylight.

A work around that I have had success with is using the Nikon SB900 as a commander to the other flashes. You can set the SB900 to commander mode so that it is telling the other flashes what to do. To help the signals go back and forth I angle the flash head toward the receiving flashes. The added power of the Nikon SB900 helps the signal punch through the day light. This method of control will also work inside as well. If you are needing to trigger a flash that is not able to pick up the signal from a SU800 then switching to a flash as the controller might just get that signal through.

The Nikon CLS system is quite possibly one of the most versatile flash control systems and it is the reason that I switched from Canon to Nikon. In addition to the control features you also have my personal favorite feature: Auto FP high speed sync. This feature allows you to set your shutter speed all the way to 1/8000 of a second. You are able to do this because the flash will first fire a series of flash pulses that will be recorded by the camera as one image. It is this function that allows me to get such deep shadows around my subjects.

As long as you are able to maintain relative line of sight the Nikon CLS system offers you spectacular versatility with your flash units and opens many more options for your creativity. The Nikon Creative Lighting System is one of the easiest ways to get your flash off camera and maintain complete control.

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