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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Nikon SU800 – My go to tool when using Nikon TTL.

My favorite TTL control tool is the Nikon SU800. It is a control unit that is part of the Nikon Creative Lighting System. It acts as a dedicated controller along the lines of the Nikon SB700, 800, and 900, but with out the flash capability.

The SU800 is essentially a wireless Nikon speedlight commander. It uses infrared light to transmit and receive signal to and from compatible Nikon cameras and flashes. With this unit mounted on the hot shoe of your camera it has the ability to control CLS capable flashes as if they were connected to the camera. The SU800 can also be used with the SB-R200 flashes for macro work.

If you open up the battery compartment you will find next to the battery a switch that allows you to choose from close up mode and regular mode. You will use the close up mode when you are using the the SB-R200 flash units mounted to the camera lens. You will use the commander mode for when you are controlling flashes not mounted onto the camera.

Like the Nikon SB700, 800, and 900, in commander mode the SU800 is capable of controlling an unlimited number of CLS compatible speed lights. From the rear LCD you can set groups, channels, and select shooting modes for the flash units. The flash modes that you can choose from are: TTL (Through The Lens), AA (Auto Aperture) M (Manual) and – (No Flash). Here is a breakdown of what these modes do:

TTL – In this mode the SU800 and camera make all of the flash exposure choices. It fires out a very fast pulse of light that bounces off the subject and is then read by the camera to determine correct flash exposure.

AA – With this TTL option the camera and flash takes all sorts of data in consideration for setting the flash exposure. The aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and information from the lens will all be taken and used to come up with the correct flash exposure.

Manual – This mode is just as it sounds. You need to set power levels of your remote flashes via the SU800. You have from 1/1 down to 1/128 of a power range.

– No Flash - I think that this one can speak for itself. However I will add a little note or two. When I am shooting in a single group I will set the other groups to – just so that I can keep the setting straight. When I then add in other groups I go in and change the mode to what I need it to be. Just a good habit to get into for some good housekeeping when shooting.

In all of these modes (with the exception of –) you are able to set flash compensation in 1/3rd increments in a three stop range + or – . You can set the compensation for individual groups as needed. If this range does not accomplish what you need it to you can use the global flash compensation on the camera itself for added range.

If you have any flashes that can be optically triggered the SU800 will be able to fire them as long as they are in line of sight. The SU800 fires an infrared signal that is able to trigger optical triggers along with performing what ever control function it is set for. It is just a simple matter of placing additional flashes into the mix with your Nikon’s. I have shot on many occasions with the SU800 as my Nikon flash controller and also placed my Lumopro LP160 into the mix as a manual flash still triggered along side my Nikon flashes.

There are a lot of Nikon cameras out on the market that have essentially the same capabilities through the on board flash as the SU800. One reason that made me go to the SU800 instead of the on camera flash for control is the fact that when you use the on camera flash to control your flash units there is a second catch light in the eyes of your subject from the on camera flash. The manual will tell you that the on camera flash is not taken into consideration for exposure and is not part of the captured light, but there is still just enough light left during capture to show up in the eyes. All in all not that big of a deal, but by using the SU800 you take that catch light away and also have all of your controls right there on the outside of the unit as opposed to having to go through camera menus.

All obvious line of site issues aside the Nikon SU800 is a fantastic tool for both TTL and manual control of your off camera flash. If you are not a fan of having to go into camera menus, and want a faster flash control interface, you should give the Nikon SU800 a nice long look.

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