How do use Nikon CLS to improve your images?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Father Kodak, Jun 14, 2006.

  1. Father Kodak

    Father Kodak Guest

    I currently own one Nikon SB800 and I'm trying to decide whether to
    get a second SB800. On various websites and forums, people post how
    they have 3, 4, and sometimes more of these speedlights.

    What isn't clear to me is exactly HOW Nikon CLS is better. And I've
    given up trying to figure this out from the Nikon sales literature.

    Why is the SB800 better than the same amount of non-CLS speedlights?

    What is the benefit to your images of adding yet another SB800 to
    your equipment bag?

    How do you use wireless control to actually improve your images?

    If you mix CLS and older Nikon speedlights, or non-Nikon speedlights,
    is CLS still as useful? (I've heard that the pre-flashes from the
    SB-800 can trigger off wireless slaves of other speedlights.)

    Is this all marketing hype from Nikon?
    Father Kodak, Jun 14, 2006
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  2. Yes, get at least two more. You can use the SB600s as well is money is an
    issue. You will need at least one for the camera (D2x) or the D200/D70. I
    find it better to use the SB800 on the D200 instead of the built-in flash.
    I wouldn't go as far as saying it is "better." It takes advantage of the
    iTTL system and gives you easier control over lighting. Of course, you can
    use any non-TTL lighting system and remotes, but you have to spend the time
    to set it up manually, which most people do. The great thing about the
    B800s is you can drop them off where you want without worrying about wires,
    remotes, and manual setup. They work exceptionally well for backlight and
    still communicate when placed behind solid objects.
    It's just the lighting system designed for the new digital cameras
    More creative lighting techniques can be exploited with minimal effort.
    Plus, the SB800 is such a small package that you can create a
    battery-operated studio in the field in a moments notice.
    The Nikon system? I just strategically place the SB800s where I feel they
    will give me the best lighting while eliminating harsh shadows. Also, you
    can create shadowing to obtain a certain mood you are after.
    I never tried it, but I think you can control other lights via cable off the
    Yes and no! It's their system and this is what works best with very little
    effort on the users part. Again, you can use any lighting system; you just
    have to know what will work best for you in certain situations. if you move
    around a lot and want to travel light, the SB800s are fantastic.

    Rita Ä Berkowitz, Jun 14, 2006
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  3. Father Kodak

    Jim Guest

    Good Points
    No cables going all over the place. No cab
    les restricting where you can place all of those flash guns.
    Bad Points:
    The high cost of the extra guns.
    I am more likely to use the extra things now that there are no cords to
    tangle my feet.
    No cords, hence I am more likely to be able to put the guns where they are
    Yes, you heard correctly. You can mix them if you are more careful than me.
    No, Canon has much the same equipment. Nikon (or whomever makes the guns)
    has been trying to get this to work ever since the introduction of the late
    unlamented SB26. The current scheme is the best one yet.
    However, no scheme such as this is a substitute for good technique.
    Jim, Jun 14, 2006
  4. Father Kodak

    [BnH] Guest

    CLS is better because you can do things wirelessly [adjust everything from
    the commander flash]
    No need to bend down / up to adjust the flash output level or have cords
    [SC-18] everywhere just to do a TTL flash session.

    For me and my setup, I found manual control is good already for my small
    [I set 2x SB-26 , 2x SB-800 on SU-4 mode and SB-30 as the master]
    hence I have not invested my 3rd SB-800 for other needs as the 2 quite

    [BnH], Jun 14, 2006
  5. Father Kodak

    Father Kodak Guest

    Ah, now we're getting somewhere specific. What is it you adjust and
    why? Presumably you could still do these adjustments with other flash
    systems, but you would have to walk around to each of the units?

    Do CLS flashes do a "better job" than other flashes of "coordinating"
    among themselves to adjust their individual output to get a better
    overall exposure? How? Why?

    FWIW, I don't do any "studio" type photography. It's all "in the
    field" or "on location" mostly in public areas so I like the concept
    of just "dropping" the lights down where they are needed to moderate

    Aside from carrying units in an already overburdened shoulder bag, my
    biggest concern is that someone walking by might just decide to take a
    unit for himself/herself.

    Father Kodak
    Father Kodak, Jun 14, 2006
  6. Father Kodak

    ttdaomd Guest

    It is a good system if you want to do it quick and dirty. Most people
    who use multiple flashes want much finer lighting control than just
    TTL. Certain macro-photography aside, any slaved flash system adjusted
    by manual settings and guided by flashmeters would be better for most
    people who actually use multiple flashes.
    I think, with all due respect, that if you are asking this question,
    you are not really ready for multiple flash photography.

    ttdaomd, Jun 15, 2006
  7. Father Kodak

    Father Kodak Guest

    Maybe, or maybe not. Or maybe I'm willing to learn, because I've seen
    t he results possible with multiple flash. I think I understand why
    people use multiple flashes. I'm asking why CLS is such a claimed

    Father Kodak
    Father Kodak, Jun 16, 2006
  8. Father Kodak

    ttdaomd Guest

    You know, there is nothing magic about flash photography. Flash is just
    another way of controling light. And light is everything. Don`t be
    offended. Regardless of your budget, I just think you need to learn to
    use one flash better before getting more units, just because you will
    benefit more from learning the basics.

    I would get a few books on studio photography. They will teach you the
    way to use the 2 different kinds of flashmeters. Start with one flash,
    play with the various manual settings and different bounce angles. Mix
    it with ambient lighting. Play with the manual white balance controls.
    Then get more flashes -and their studio accessories- and have fun.

    As an aside:

    One pet peeve of mine with digital photography and slr`s in particular
    is that this technology permits people who have had very little
    photography education to access very sophisticated photographic
    techniques which were once only used by advanced amateurs and pros.
    That is great. You can take pictures like a pro. Well, sort of.
    Coming from an age when I used only a Nikon F, 5 studio flashes,
    Minolta and Sekonic spot and incident flash meters, the new digital era
    offers so much more opportunity to get the job done right. The problem
    is that a lot of people just don`t have the knowledge base to take
    advantage of all these functions and end up being uneducated consumers
    without really knowing what to do with all this wonderful stuff. Pity.
    If manufacturers of digital slr's would make their equipment perform
    only on manual settings for the first month to force neophytes to learn
    atleast some basics, I think it would of benefit to them in the long
    run. Yah, pretty radical. Just dreaming.

    ttdaomd, Jun 16, 2006
  9. Father Kodak

    Father Kodak Guest

    Can you recommend any favorites (or unfavorites!)?
    Well, I have been doing photography for yay-many years with only
    ambient light. If I haven't done much with flash, or anything with
    multiple flash, it's because i never do "studio" photography.
    Closest to "studio" work is indoor snapshots of the family with one
    flash, sometimes bounced, and no consideration of ambient light. And
    not posed in any sense.
    I don't disagree.
    I started out with a hand-me down Kodak Signet rangefinder and a
    Weston V (?) lightmeter. Eventually I could afford two Nikon
    F2's(with meter heads) and a bunch of lenses. Also got me a Pentax
    Spotmeter V recently. And of course the one "requisite" flash.

    It's almost by accident that I'm now interested in multiple flash
    possibilities. I still don't do "studio" photography, but I have seen
    some nice examples of "on location" work done with multiple Nikon
    speedlights. And, when I forgot to bring my one flash with me on a
    recent trip, I "had to" pick up an SB-800.
    It is just dreaming. The SLR manufacturer who does this will simply
    help out his competition. Most "neophytes" are actually people who
    "just want a nice picture" and have no further interest in
    photography. Those people are much better served by cameras that do
    all the "thinking" for them. I think HP (?) even has software that
    does automatic red-eye removal in digital images.

    With F2 bodies, I certainly know how to operate a camera's settings.
    Yet there have been times when I have lost shots. So about 12 years
    ago I went out and got an N90s. I use it about 50/50 between manual
    and auto modes. On my AI lenses, it adds electronic rangefinder and
    aperture priority auto-exposure compare with my F2. But until I got
    the SB-800, that was it. The SB-800 "widens the gap".

    Note that I still don't have digital cameras. I'm waiting for that
    elusive Nikon full-frame camera. In the meantime, I'm interested in
    what CLS could do for me. So maybe I'll pick up a F6 (used?) so I can
    use CLS with film, until this FF Nikon D SLR arrives.

    Father Kodak
    Father Kodak, Jun 17, 2006
  10. Father Kodak

    ttdaomd Guest

    You sound like me, minus 3.5 weeks ago when I went out and got a D50
    and SB800 (since my SB25 and SB25 did not do TTL with the D50), still
    waiting on the Nikon full-frame. Instant gratification and not the
    least of which is being able to use my dozen fixed-aperture AF Nikkors
    which had been sitting on the shelf along with the F4s. But the color
    rendition of the D50 wasn`t as satisfying and I needed more control of
    white balance. (Nikon does not do as good a job in autowhite balance as
    Canon, IMHO)

    The D200 purchase was a good decision for me because it represents a
    small percentage of my Nikkor lens investment. (If it weren`t for the
    Nikkors, I would have gone for the FF Canons.) I can have fun and
    still be active in photography while waiting for the full-frame. Once
    THE Full-Frame comes, and I have no doubt that it will since size does
    matter, (in 2 years?), the D200 will instantly become a good backup.

    If you have a pile of good Nikkors, I would recommend thinking about
    the D200 even with its banding and dead pixel issues especially since
    you got yourself an amazing flash unit in that SB800 and some Nikkors
    already. You can experiment a lot more efficiently with CLS on a
    digital camera that is for sure. I took the plunge and don`t regret it
    at all...well only a bit. I only wish that I had started with Canon
    DSLR but alas, there weren`t that many of them back in the mid-70's.

    ttdaomd, Jun 17, 2006
  11. Father Kodak

    Father Kodak Guest

    You kind of lost me here. In this paragraph, you have a D50.
    Suddenly, you have a D200. Is the color rendition of the D200 better?
    Good enough? What is your criterion? Kodachrome? Velvia? Other?
    I have only nine Nikkors, some of which are AI or AIS, so the D50
    isn't even an option. But getting back to my applications for flash,
    I do a lot of "on location" photography. At a minimum I will need to
    "replace" my 50 mm f1.4 with a 35 mm f1.4 (AIS), to still have a
    normal lens with f1.4 aperture. And I'll need to get a 28 mm lens, to
    replace my 35 mm f2.0 as a moderate wide angle. So now I'm need a 28
    mm f1.4 (well over $1000) more than the cost of the D200!

    And a 2X tele lens? Etc., etc. Which is why I'm waiting for the FF
    Nikon DSLR. (not wishing to ignite yet another
    round-and-round-she-goes endless debate about whether or not we need
    FF digital.)

    I've heard that FF is coming sometime in 2007.
    Back to the original discussion. I may have undersold myself by
    saying I don't know anything about multiple flash. I certainly know
    why people use 2 or even 3 lights in a studio setting: reduce
    shadows, provide a "highlight" to the hair, and provide more even
    lighting for the background.

    My question was essentially: How does CLS benefit you in such a
    setup? Now with my subjects, which are never in a studio, the use of
    multiple flash isn't as straightforward. So I'm curious as to exactly
    how CLS improves the studio experience, so I can try to figure out it
    I could benefit from CLS in my non-studio settings.

    I hope I've explained myself better this time.
    No doubt. Or an F6.
    Father Kodak, Jun 18, 2006
  12. Father Kodak

    ttdaomd Guest

    I dumped the D50 and got a D200. The D50 is very good for its price
    though. My criterion (standard of comparison) for color? Usually it
    is reality, why, what is yours? I like soft accurate skin tones and if
    you are talking about film, my favorite is Fuji NPS,
    Why not? So you lose some functions but they will focus manually. You
    will still be able to get great shots.
    I am wondering what kind of photography you do that demands an aperture
    of f1.4 so often that you must have 2 lenses of this speed. If you
    take that many pictures wide open at f1.4, heck, any cheap digital slr
    will do because you just aren`t going to be taking advantage of all the
    resolution that digital can offer you anyway. If you want to be
    prepared for FF and still get AF Nikkors, there are very good
    fixed-aperture fixed-focal length lenses like the 20mmf2.8, 35mmf2.0
    and the handy 50mmf1.8. All can be had for reasonable prices.
    Again, if you wait for the FF, I just wouldn`t expect a heck of a lot
    with any lens wide open, f1.4 or not.
    No debate here.
    I hope (pray) you are right.
    No, you did not say you didn`t know anything about multiple flash, you
    simply implied it by your question! :)))
    Again, I doubt CLS is really used in the real studio. In the real
    studio, you not only have powerful flashes and modeling lights but lots
    of important accessories to help you modify that lighting.

    CSL is simply wireless TTL with multiple tiny flashes that can be
    arranged in multiple groups.

    It is a well-healed amateur`s way to get TTL control and do a quick and
    dirty job. If you are going to take the picture but you don`t have
    time, you can set up groups of flashes and illuminate the subject of
    background evenly à la 18% grey card. If you really need to spot this
    or that to give your picture some depth or character, you will have to
    go to manual flash modes, test it with flashmeters, run test shots and
    play with the lighting until you get what you want. This takes time.
    It takes time to make a great multi-flash shot and TTL just isn`t going
    to give you any fine control. You can do this with any slaved flash
    unit; you don`t need nor would you want TTL flash for this. I think
    this is more a gimmick than something useful in the studio. IF you
    looked at the Nikon brochures on the merits of CSL, you should not be
    impressed with the pictures. If you are, then go ahead and buy lots of
    these little SB800 gems.

    Now, outside the studio, where you just want to see stuff in the
    darkness, then go ahead and buy multiple units. What kind of
    photography do you do? To be honest, I would see this useful at some
    family gatherings where you can set up a few flashes in the corners and
    not worry about someone taking off with them. Even at recent large
    family reunions, I have used my D50 on-camera flash with an SB800,
    SB24, SB25 and Metz CT4 slaved on manual to good effect. Once I got
    the D200, I tried it again in the same room and got better color and
    resolution. No surprise.

    ttdaomd, Jun 18, 2006
  13. Father Kodak

    DoN. Nichols Guest

    [ ... ]
    You *will* need to drop back to a hand-held exposure meter, use
    another lens for metering, or take test shots and "chimp" with the
    assistance of the histogram, but you *can* use the lenses. I still get
    use out of my 20mm f2.8, 16mm f3.5 fisheye, and 500mm mirror lens using
    one or more of these techniques.

    Out of curiosity -- why are you using the backquote "`" instead
    of the forward quote (apostrophe, "'") in your contractions? It is
    causing my spelling checker to spit out fragments of words as improperly
    Well ... he *may* be using them for low light level shots, in
    which case he can bump the ISO up somewhat to make up for the slower

    Or -- he *may* be using the wide apertures to achieve very
    shallow depth of field for creative purposes -- and I can't think of an
    alternative to the wide apertures for that.
    Unless it is the above-mentioned shallow depth of field.

    [ ... ]
    The next question is "What price level will it be introduced
    at"? I would like FF for some purposes, but if it is at or above the
    D2x price level, I don't think that I will be able to play.

    DoN. Nichols, Jun 18, 2006
  14. Father Kodak

    ttdaomd Guest

    Sorry. I never had this complaint before! It looks pretty much the
    same to me at the font sizes I am using. :)
    Yes, I am vaguely with those indications and they certainly crossed my
    mind. :)) But it seems the OP was pretty insistent on having these
    wide apertures IF he were to get a subFF camera, which begged the
    question how often these indications are a MUST in his practice.
    Secondly, the difference in DOF trade-off in resolution/contrast wide
    open between a 1.4 and 2 or 2.8 rarely justifies this type of sacrifice
    IMHO, regardless of price. Of course, you can argue that "it depends".
    True. If your living depends on that 1 in 100 shot, yes. Well, my
    question is again, "it depends on what"? What kind of photography does
    this presumably amateur photographer do that demands this extreme
    aperture? Finally, if the amateur was well healed enough that he
    doesn`t care about using these lenses wide open once in a blue moon,
    then it usually doesn`t matter what the cost of these luxury items are,
    since it is more for the personal satisfaction of having them at this
    Well it has to be (I expect it to be) competitive performance-wise with
    the Canon Eos-1Ds Mark II so it should be a bit more expensive than
    that unit just because of R&D costs.

    ttdaomd, Jun 19, 2006
  15. Father Kodak

    ASAAR Guest

    Wow. I'm using what I assumed was one of the worst monitors still
    running and the difference is between the two is still pretty clear.
    Even if the characters are indistinguishable, they cause different
    spacing, at least with the variable width typeface I'm using. But
    spell checkers don't care about appearance. They see the wrong
    character and don't mind saying so. But Don's news reader / spell
    checker *might* have a configuration setting that will help. Mine
    ignores the alt-apostrophes when they appear in quotes, and only
    complains when they appear in my own newly typed text.
    ASAAR, Jun 19, 2006
  16. Father Kodak

    DoN. Nichols Guest

    While I use a fixed-pitch font by choice -- so when I need to do
    ASCII graphics, it can be viewed the same on *all* systems, (assuming
    that people will switch to a fixed-pitch font for viewing), while even
    if everybody uses a proportional font, the rendering varies from system
    to system (not everybody uses Windows and the same font), so subtle
    distortions can sneak in.
    My spell checker checks *everything*, including the headers, so
    unless I do some shell script writing (and *everybody* uses the same
    quoting convention) it will see lots of strange things. Most of the
    things from headers I am easily able to ignore, but these word fragments
    look like a typo, so I opt to check them out.

    Maybe someday I will write a script for spell checking usenet
    articles and e-mail.

    DoN. Nichols, Jun 19, 2006
  17. Father Kodak

    ttdaomd Guest

    Woww. It`s moch cleerer not tht you have brought this to my
    attenetion. I won`t do it agan, of course, unleas I revert to my old
    habites on this french key-board. :))


    ttdaomd, Jun 19, 2006
  18. Father Kodak

    ASAAR Guest

    Please don't do it. No, no, don't revert. Or I shall have to
    report you to the French Academy, and you well know what
    perfectionists they can be.

    ASAAR, Jun 19, 2006
  19. Father Kodak

    ezpikens Guest

    I've got 4 SB800's that I use with my D2x.

    The system totally rocks. I've demo'd to friends who are now out buying
    them up in batches.

    Let me add a few comments:

    As to why to use them, for inspiration you might want to get your hands
    on "The Power of Light" DVD put out by Nikon. I think they should give
    it away rather than charge $30 for it, because it doesn't explain how to
    use them, just gives examples of what they can do.

    Nikon also has a couple of pamphlets that explain their use.

    They can do a lot -- indoors and out. But, they are not studio lights.
    For example, they have a modeling light function but it does not give
    you modeling lights. To use them in traditional studio type settings,
    you really have to understand studio lighting, how to set up lights, how
    to set ratios, etc. That said, I've been able to get very good results
    with them in studio type settings.

    On the Nikonians web-site, a poster named HBB -- who uses 10 SB800's at
    a time gives examples of how to use them.

    The biggest problem is the learning curve. The Nikon manual sucks. And,
    pushing the buttons to set them up isn't intuitive. I spent an entire
    weekend mastering the system and making myself a crib sheet. However, it
    was worth the effort.

    As to someone else triggering your lights: There are three channels you
    can select to minimize that risk.

    I've got a rather long note I wrote about my experience with the CLS
    that I sent to a photo group I write for. If there were some way for me
    to email it to you, I would.

    ezpikens, Jun 25, 2006
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