In Search of the Perfect Trigger (Part 2)

The next triggering device or triggering method that I am going to discuss is the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System). This system triggers the flashes optically but it is a lot of more sophisticated than the optical trigger I talked about in the previous post.

CLS is built in to the sb900, sb800 and SB600 flashes. With SB900 and SB800, you can use them as either a master or slave. With SB600, you can only use is as slave. It is also built in to some of the newer Nikon DSLR, e.g. D300 and D700. You can use the camera's built-in flash to trigger the off camera flashes. Or you can use the SU800 as the master trigger.

There are many articles on CLS already and there is even a DVD from Nikon that teaches you how to use it. Therefore, I am not going to spend time on it. I will go
directly to the pros and cons on using Nikon CLS as the triggering method.

  • Pros:

    • Much more sophisticated than the regular optical triggers. It supports iTTL and it even allows you to adjust the settings of the remote flashes from the camera
    • Built-in to the flashes. No extra component to buy. No extra battery is needed.
    • Very Scalable. It can trigger many flashes with different settings.

  • Cons:

    • Nikon only. Not compatible with other vendors. So it does not work with my Vivitar, Canon and Alien Bees.
    • Still an optical trigger. Still need to make sure the master and slaves are in the line-of-sight.
    • It allows you to use the on-camera flash as the master but with the line-of-sight requirement, you may need to use a separate master to trigger. You can get another SB900, SB800 or SU800 to do that but they are very expensive.
    • It cannot be mixed with other optical triggering slaves because the pre-flashes will trigger them.

I have written a few other posts on using it on location and with my softbox. You can find those articles here and here. In general, I like Nikon CLS very much because I don't need to carry extra components and I can set everything from my camera. I use it whenever I can. However, I still need a way to trigger my flashes from other vendors.

By the way, with SB800 and SB900, you can put them into something called the SU-4 mode. Basically, it put them into the simple optical trigger mode. Now you can mix them with other optical triggering slaves. I use this a lot in the studio setting. I use the Alien Bees as the master flash and the SB800 as the slave in SU-4 mode. I can add my Vivitar using the Sonia optical trigger. Now I can use 3 flashes in the same. I just need to use manual mode for all of them.

There is no SU-4 mode in SB600 and there is no sync port. It cannot be a CLS master. However, it is at least $100 cheaper than a SB800 (used). So if I want to use the SB600, then I put the Sonia on it or a hot-shoe adapter to give it a sync port. I only use the SB600 if I have to as it is not as flexible as the SB800.

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