I’ve received lots of questions over this last week from readers regarding details on the Nikon wireless flash system. As most of you know, RockyNook and I recently released the 2nd Edition of our best-selling book The Nikon Creative Lighting System.
As people work their way through the book, they are generating many questions. Below are questions from three photographers about using the Nikon CLS (creative lighting system).
Q: Mike, I just finished your book except for the section on the sb-700 and sb-800 since I bought the sb-910 along with the sc-29 cable.
Is there any reason if I don’t have those two flashes that I would benefit from reading those sections?
A: There’s no reason to read the sections on the SB-700 and SB-800 since the info in those chapters only pertains to those flashes.
Q: I went to the web site you mentioned in your book for chargeable batteries and chargers at Thomas distributors and I spoke to Eugene the owner who was very helpful. I would like your opinion on the batteries and charger I am considering buying, the bible states there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors and even though experience is a good teacher it is a hard and expensive one.
Since I am not sure how much I will be using the speedlight I was considering the Sanyo XX 2500 mAh enloope low discharging vs the Maha PowerEX 2700 mAh (which is not slow discharging).
a. Do you see any negatives in using the sanyo batteries, is 200 mAh that much of a difference in power?
b. Do you recommend any other battery or power rating than mentioned above?
A: a. Both the Eneloops and the Imedion batteries are good choices. I’ve used them both and remain happy with both. Don’t buy the PoweEX 2700 mAh batteries as you’ll be disappointed with them over time due to the steady discharge.
b. Nope. Buy either of these.
Q: I was also considering the Maha PowerEx MH C9000 charger; it charges 4 batteries at a time and what I like about it compared to its 8 battery MH- C801D you reference in your book is that it actually shows what each batteries mAh number is. I thought this would be helpful after buying new batteries and charging them that I could pair them up with as close as possible Mah numbers to be more balanced in power, plus you can see if a particular battery is losing it’s maximum mAh more rapidly than the other batteries in the set.
a. What do you think about my reasoning above is it valid?
b. If a battery in a set goes from 2500 mAh to say 2000 mAh ( the other 3 batteries are all around 2500 mAh) does it make sense if I have an extra battery with a 2500 mAh rating to swap them out even if the extra battery is newer or older?
c. What difference in mAh would you recommend changing out a battery?
A. a. Your reasoning is perfect. My wish is that Maha would make the MH C9000 in an 8-cell charger. I’m a tech nerd and would love to have the power rating in the 8-cell pack. The reason why I went with the MC-C801D is that I’m often charging lots of batteries at once and I needed the extra capacity.
b. Yes, this technically this is the right choice. Keep the batteries matched for best performance. If a battery has low capacity after a while, then discard that battery and replace it with a new one so the entire group is consistent in power and performance.
c. 500mAh is probably about the right difference.
Q: I am reading Joe McNally’s book – The Hot Shoe Diaries and he refers to the speedlights pre-flash as – Monitor Pre-Flash, I don’t recall you referring to it that way. Is that terminology correct and if it is please explain what the word Monitor refers to?
A: Love Joe McNally‘s book and have it myself. He’s a great inspiration for us all. Yes, when using the flashes in TTL mode, the camera and flash work together to determine correct exposure of the scene. The way this is accomplished is by sending out a monitor pre-flash from the strobe a few milliseconds before the exposure. This monitor pre-flash reflects off the surface of the subject and back through the lens to the camera’s light meter. At this point, the camera determines how much light to send out in the “real” flash when the camera takes the photo. This all happens faster than the blink of an eye and is pretty ingenious.
Q: When I compare the Canon 580EXII speedlight with a GN rating of 190 at ISO-100 at 105mm and when I translate the Nikon SB-910 which is rated with a GN of 146 at ISO -100 at 105mm it appears Canon is a much more powerful flash do you agree?
If two photographers both with similar cameras but one has a Canon with a 580EX11 speedlight and the other a Nikon with the SB-910, with a difference of 44 in guide number, what advantage does the Canon photographer have over the Nikon photographer?
A: Yes, the GN on the Canon is more than the Nikon. However, it isn’t something to really worry about. For example, even in the Nikon flash lineup, there is a wide variation in power between the SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900 and SB-910 strobes. However, I use these flashes together in my system all the time without even a second thought. All have approximately the same power and reach. The Canon flash’s advantage would be that it can shoot at a lower ISO or higher F-stop or further distance.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Mike.
Maybe in the future I can take one of your photo tours.
Q: Hi Mike,
I’ve been reading heavily in your CLS book, the Ken Rockwell website and other places about the danger of letting my Nikon D7000 set shutter speed and Auto Iso when using the pop-up flash or a shoe flash on the camera.
The notion of the pop-up as a fill flash is really growing on me. In the days of film I often used this little acorn flash bulbs in outdoor photography and drew “oohs & ahhs” for my work. Here’s my question in a nutshell:
When using the pop up, is it faster or easier to use flash compensation by holding the flash button and turning the front wheel. Or to use the menu system of Custom>flash/bracketing controls?
A: The best way to use the pop-up flash is to tape it shut. Seriously. You can do better with off-camera flash, or even by using your camera-mounted SB-800 with a diffusion dome. However, if you are going to use the pop-up (gasp), then adjust the power on the flash by pressing the flash button and rotating the front command dial.
Q: With a shoe-mount strobe such as the SB-800 is it quicker to use the flash menu system to adjust flash intensity, or the camera controls? I like the way a strobe brightens faces shot outdoors. And I want to develop habits that are quick and repeatable with my hands and fingers.
A: Use the buttons on your SB-800 to adjust flash power rather than the camera’s buttons. The reason for this is that the camera’s adjustments are additive (or subtractive) to whatever you have set on the flash. If you have the flash set to +1 and the camera flash compensation set to -1, then the net result is 0. You’ll forget the camera’s settings, but you can always see what the SB-800 is set to by looking at the back LCD panel on the flash.
Q: Mike, I have a follow up to my previous question, and my neophyte flash user status….
Is i-TTL Flash really reliable? 90% of time I’m either having to quickly adjust and manually punch +/- exposure compensation on D7000 or flash unit… so not even sure if my flash settings are correct.
Like I said, maybe need to take a class. User-error seems to prevail.
A: Every photo I’ve ever taken with iTTL flash requires +/- flash compensation of some sort. Just like every photo I’ve taken in matrix meter requires exposure compensation. The reason why is that all scenes and subjects have different brightnesses. Someone with a white shirt requires additional compensation. Someone with a black shirt requires negative compensation. That’s just the nature of TTL.
A pastor friend of mine says that we should always be ready to “preach, pray or die.” These are wise words and I think about them often. The statement implies that no matter where you are, you should always be ready to perform. He tells a story of a young American couple working for an NGO in India. They went to a church service there and the congregation asked them to lead the church in singing songs. Neither of the two Americans had ever led music before, but they just smiled and said yes. They were ready and willing!
Us photographers should also always be ready to give our 100% and produce excellent results at a moment’s notice. Here’s an example that happened to me a couple days ago where someone needed a photo job done ASAP.
On Monday of this week, I received a phone call at 12:30 pm from a friend, calling to see if I could take some head shots for her daughter. They were working with a talent agent to get a modeling job for a new product advertising campaign, and needed some images for her file.
The conversation went like this:
Mother, “Hi Mike, do you have time to take some head shots of my daughter?”
Me, “Of course. When?”
Mother, “Today about 2:45 pm.”
Me, “Umm … ok. I have a little bit of time this afternoon. What are they for?”
Mother, “They are for an advertising job that my daughter is trying out for. We need to create an 8×10 and send it to her agent.”
Me, “How quickly do you need the final images?”
Mother, “The agent needs the head shots by 3:30 pm.”
Me, “Ok. See you at 2:45!”
So, I quickly set up a studio in an open space of my home where we would shoot the images. I decided to use a Lightbox, umbrella, reflector, small diffusion box and a combination of black and white backgrounds. You can see the studio setup below. I used the Nikon Creative Lighting System, so simply set up Nikon SB flashes in each of the light modifiers. The Commander flash was a SB-900 and the remotes were SB-600, SB-700 and SB-800 flashes. I decided to use a Nikon D7000 with Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 for the portraits.
The mother and daughter arrived right at 2:45 pm and we talked quickly about what they needed for the photos. They said they were after simple backgrounds and just needed head shots, not full-body shots. We shot the first group of images with a white background and kept the daughter’s hair down.
A few minutes later, we changed the backdrop to black and had the daughter put her hair up for a different, more youthful look. In all, we took about 40 shots with the white background and 40 shots with the black background.
After shooting 80 pictures, we ran to my computer system to download the RAW files and make quick selections. I used Photo Mechanic for rating/selecting images and we all agreed on one image to send to the agent (we chose the image with her long hair and white background). Next, I brought the picture into Photoshop to quickly retouch her skin and face, then I cropped it as an 8×10 and sent it off via email at exactly 3:30 pm.
Whew! 45 minutes from start to finish. We made it just in time.
Have you ever needed more power in your wireless flash setups? I do all the time. In fact, just the other day I was photographing a soccer team’s photos on a sunny day and found myself under-powered with only one SB-900 flash in my umbrella. I was shooting at 1/500 second (i.e. high speed sync) and I needed more power! Scotty?
So, to remedy the situation, I hooked up my new Photoflex Dual Shoe flash mount to my light stand and plunked down an additional SB-800 and viola! More power.
The new Photoflex Dual Flash mount is designed to be used with two flashes mounted side by side on the front of the t-bracket. If you use it with Pocket Wizards (or some other type of flash trigger), then then extra two cold shoes are for mounting the triggers while the front two are for mounting the strobes. If you are using your flashes in a wireless flash mode like the Nikon CLS or Canon wireless system, then the assembly will actually hold up to three flashes in an umbrella setup.
The kit includes a heavy duty metal swivel stand mount, an upper and lower umbrella mount and a tough T-shape adapter for the flashes. This T-adapter ships with a total of four cold shoes for mounting the strobes, Pocket Wizards, etc. The swivel mount will attach to any existing light stand out there, so you don’t necessarily have to have a Photoflex light stand to make it work. I mounted it on my Bogen stands and it worked just fine.
I found using the setup in the field was pretty simple and straight forward. I mounted my Nikon wireless flashes on the cold shoes, pointed them into the umbrella and started taking pictures in less than 5 minutes. That’s what I like. Simple design. Fast execution.
All the knobs and control levers are sized for easy access. The knobs are knurled and easy to turn. They also cinch down nice and tight, so you don’t have to worry about things randomly falling off of the rig.
Photoflex has also created an easy way for the Dual Flash Mount to fit into a soft box using a speed ring. This allows much more flexibility with your existing Photoflex products such as their Octodomes, soft boxes and light strips. I’ll be testing this piece of equipment out in the next week.
You can buy the Dual Show Flash Mounting Hardware at http://www.photoflex.com. They have a sale price on right now for a super blowout deal of $59.95 during October. Their regular MSRP is $159, so this is a steal.