Advanced Wireless Lighting

Nikon Speedlight

Nikon calls their flashes “speedlights” and Nikon’s lighting technology, aka CLS or “Creative Lighting System” offers industry-leading performance, but you pay for the privilege, with the top-of-the-line speedlights costing approximately 500 dollars. Here are several key technologies used in Nikon Speedlights:

i-TTL Balanced Fill Flash


The speedlight will emit monitor pre-flashes, reflecting them off every object in the frame, and catching them with the five-segment TTL flash sensor, or an RGB sensor. The resulting information is analyzed with data from the camera’s Matrix Metering System, to adjust the flash output for the most balanced background-to-foreground exposure.

Advanced Wireless Lighting


Nikon CLS supports what Nikon calls Advanced Wireless Lighting. Note, this is not Wireless as in Pocket Wizard or CyberSync wireless radio, but rather wireless via infrared technology. The range is a little shorter than what you would find with a Pocket Wizard or CyberSync unit. With AWL, you can combine Speedlights flexibly, with up to four i-TTL Speedlight groups controlled by a master unit (the SB-900, SB-800 or SU-800, or, the Nikon camera’s built in flash), and communicating over any of four channels. You’d want channels if you had four Nikon CLS photogs on a catwalk together - they could all choose a different channel to stay out of one another’s hair. Finally, you can have as many Speedlights in a group as your wallet will allow.

Auto FP High-speed Sync


Nikon CLS supports Auto FP High-speed Sync, which is available in some Nikon DSLR cameras including the D-90. Auto FP High-Speed Sync (what a mouthful THAT is) is good for stopping action in outdoor photography (meaning, you can use Flash with a high shutter speed) or, for better portraiture in that it allows you to use a larger aperture. Nikon says that supporting cameras will automatically turn this on, if the shutter speed is above the camera’s top flash sync speed (e.g. 1/250 etc).

Flash Value Lock


With Flash Value Lock, you can lock the exposure and flash settings after you set them or the camera calculates them, and then re-compose as needed without re-metering.

Multi-Area AF-Assist


This Multi-Area AF-Assist Illuminator function allows you to change auto-focus areas in cameras that support CLS, allowing better exposures in dim lighting. If you read the fine print on many third-party flashes that work with Nikon cameras, this capability is not present, and they cite their flash as “only working in centered auto-focus mode” and so on. This feature allows you to get the most out of the auto-focus function of your camera.

Flash Color Information


One area of difficulty if you are using manual flashes of various makes, is that you have to adjust white balance information because each flash is a bit different (this would occur if you used a Nikon SB with a manual Vivitar 285HV, for example). With Nikon CLS if you set the camera to Auto White Balance mode, the master flash unit on the camera (or in the camera) will transmit color information to the camera, including voltage, duration and other color information, and the camera will use these data to get the optimum white balance.

Special SB-900 Features


The SB-900 has some special features unique to it alone. First, you can switch illumination patterns between standard, center-weighted and even, to spread your light as needed in a given shooting situation. Standard has a “normal” pattern of light falloff at the edges, center-weighted gives larger guide-numbers at the center, making it more suitable for portraiture, and even has less falloff at the edges making it more suitable for a group portrait, for instance. Second, the SB-900 will automatically choose a light distribution angle suitable for FX-format (36 x 24) or DX-format (24 x 16), on a camera that can select between the two (D700 or D3). Third, SB-900 firmware can be updated via certain Nikon cameras (D700 or D3). Fourth, the SB-900 has some special accessories such as a waterguard to protect the shoe contact (WG-AS1 for D3, WG-AS2 for D300, and WG-AS3 for D700), and a special external power source, the “High-Performance Battery Pack SD-9”, which holds up to two sets of four AA batteries for extended capacity and reduced flash recycle time.

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References


Nikon Main Site
Nikon Speedlight and CLS Site

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