Bookmark and Share

Flash Units for Nikon

Overview of Flash Units Compatible with Nikon's CLS
by Gisle Hannemyr

1. Introduction

This note gives an overview of dedicated flash units compatible with Nikon's CLS that are made by Nikon and selcted third-party manufacturers.

Disclaimer: I have not tested all the units listed in this note myself. The data have been copied from various sources, such as the manufacturer's web sites, private communications, manuals, discussion forums, and other sources. I've included it here “as is”. The information may not be complete or correct, and corrections are welcome.

For corrections, additional information, to share a review about one of these units, or just would like to comment, please use the comment section below (public) or the feedback form (private).

2. Nikon Flash Equipment

Nikon's flash system has evolved over time. The current system is known as Creative Lighting System (CLS) and requires the camera body to support a particular type of TTL called i-TTL.

This page only lists flash units compatible with the current generation of Nikon digital cameras. If you are looking for a flash for a legacy body, please see our page about TTL-support and older cameras.

However, before we get to the list of compatible flash units, there is a section about the built-in flash you may find on a Nikon DSLR, and a section about the Nikon SU-800 Speedlight Commander. At the end of this note, there is a section comparing the SB-700 to the SB-910.

Nikon's oldest DSLRs (introduced from 2000 to 2002) is not compatble with CLS and i-TTL, but requires a legacy TTL system known as D-TTL. The Nikon digital camera models that only support D-TTL are the D1-series and the D100.

When the Nikon D2H was launched in 2003, a new era of Nikon flash photography began. With the D2H the CLS was introduced. One of innovations of CLS was AWL (Advanced Wireless Lighting) where a flash unit or the SU-800 Speedlight Commander could control remote AWL-compatible Speedlights wirelessly. For good measure, Nikon also added a special mode (commander mode) that let the photographer use the built-in flash as an AWL-master master to many of its DSLRs. The only models excluded were the professional models that did not have a built-in flash, and the entry-level models. Below I list all Nikon DSLRs that is compatible with CLS, and whether they have a built-in flash that can be used in commander mode:

  • CLS w/o. flash: D2-series, D3-series
  • CLS w. flash, no commander mode: D50, D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000 and D5100
  • CLS w. flash, commander mode, 1 grop 1 channel: D70, D70s (group A, channel 3).
  • CLS w. flash, commander mode, 2 groups 4 channels: D80, D90, D7000, D200, D300, D300s, D700.

As far as I know, the built-in flashes on all current Nikon DSLR models with a built-in flash have similar guide number and coverage.

The built-in flash has a guide number of 12 in manual mode (ISO 100, meters) and 11 in any of the CLS modes. The coverage is roughly 24 mm on a DSLR with an FX-sensor, and 18 mm on a DSLR with a DX-sensor.

The x-sync speed on most Nikon DSLRs is either 1/200 (lower end models) or 1/250 second (higher end models). However, the following models: D70, D70s, D50, D40 used a CCD-sensor with an electronic shutter that allowed syncing up to 1/500 second with a CLS-compatible flash. With a generic flash, or if you fooled the camera by taping over the hot-shoe contacts it uses to detect a CLS-compatible flash, these camera models allowed syncing at the cameras maximum shutter speed without invoking the FP mode. Unfortunately, the electronic shutter made the sensor bloom easily, and has not been used by Nikon in recent DSLR designs.

SU-800 Speedlight Commander

The SU-800 Speedlight Commander is not a flash. It is a hot-shoe mounted master unit that uses infrared light to wirelessly control other Speedlights compatible with Nikon's AWL.

The SU-800 can control the following Nikon Speedlights: SB-R200, SB-600, SB-700 SB-800, SB-900 or SB-910, and also works with third party flash units that has built-in support for AWL.

It let the photographer set up and control 3 groups (A-C), and 4 channels (1-4). It has button controls and a LCD screen on the back.

The SU-800 works fine indoors in moderate sized rooms. Outdoors you need direct line-of-sight between the SU-800 and the remote Speedlights, and you may still experience areliability problems in bright sunlight. For reliable operation outdoors, most photographers prefer to use radio triggers instead of a light based flash control system.

Check availability of the SU-800: Adorama, Amazon USA, Amazon UK, B&H, eBay.

The SU-800 measures 68 x 96 x 58 mm, and weighs 160 gram w/o. battery. It uses one 3 volt CR123A (lithium) battery and comes with SS-SU800 soft case.

The price is around USD 250.

CLS Compatible Flash Units

Below are a s set of tables that gives an overview over CLS-compatible flash units manufactured by Nikon and selected third-party manufacturers.

For an ever wider selection of CLS-compatible flash units, use the DPanwsers Flash finder to search our entire database.

You can see a more detailed description by clicking on the name of the flash. Most of the colums should be self-explanatory. The column “WL” summarizes built-in wireless modes: The character “m” means AWL master, “r” means AWL remote, “sf” means plain slave, and “sd” means digital slave (ignoring pre-flash).