Nikon Speedlight Tutorial

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Nikon has always had strong offerings of portable on and off camera strobe lighting systems. Nikon calls its flashes "Speedlights." Nikon Speedlights range from small, low-powered units to one of the most powerful on-camera strobes available. Modern Nikon speed lights are able to communicate with each other to ensure proper exposure.

On-Camera Use

  • Many modern film and digital single lens reflex cameras have built-in flashes. Although they are useful for close shots, most on-camera flashes have very short range and don't support lighting modifiers, like diffusers. Nikon offers three Speedlights designed for on-camera use. The first is the SB-400. The SB-400 is intended for use at distances of under 100 feet. Like all Nikon Speedlights, it supports through the lens (TTL) metering on all modern SLRs. It is the smallest and lightest of the Nikon Speedlights. The SB-600 offers the same power as the SB-400, but allows for tilt and swivel of the flash. It supports a number of after-market flash modifiers, like diffusers and bounce units. The SB-900 is Nikon's flagship Speedlight. Supporting lighting up to 110 feet away, it also can act as a central control center for other lights used in the Nikon Creative Lighting System.

    Nikon also produced an SB-800, which was a slightly lower powered SB-900. Although these lights are no longer in production, many are available second hand.

Off-Camera Use

  • Many modern digital SLRs are able to act as a control center in the Nikon Creative Lighting System. By using this system, the SB-400, SB-600 and SB-800 can be used off-camera on stands, in umbrellas, or in soft boxes. In addition, smaller and less expensive lights, like the SB-R200 work well as accent lights. For cameras that don't natively support the Creative Lighting System, an SB-800 or SB-900 on-camera offers this functionality. In addition, a dedicated controller, such as the SU-800, turns slightly older SLRs into Creative Lighting System controllers without actually placing a strobe on the camera.

Nikon Creative Lighting System

  • Nikon's Creative Lighting System provides wireless communication for Nikon speed lights. It allows a number of strobes to be used at the same time. By linking the strobes into four separate channels, light balance between the channels can be precisely set. In addition, if one light on a particular channel is not providing enough light, more strobes can be added to provide more light. By placing lights in precisely the right place, creative lighting is much easier and intuitive.

Older Speedlights

  • Older Nikon Speedlights, although excellent flashes, are not compatible with the Creative Lighting System. Although they can't be automatically controlled via TTL metering in the camera, many of these lights offer optical slaves that cause them to be triggered by other flashes. With some experimentation and planning, these lights can sometimes be used to augment a more modern Creative Lighting System.

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