Nikons and radio flash (2018 edition)

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Andrew Garrard, Apr 30, 2018.

  1. Hi all.

    This topic has become particularly relevant to me as a (soon-to-be) upgrader from a D810 to the D850, since I traditionally used the integrated flash on the D810 to trigger my SB-600 set. The D850 has no integrated flash and the SB-600 won't act as a CLS master (only a slave), so I need another solution. Nikon's documentation on the subject isn't entirely clear, and while I'm aware of third-party solutions, the documentation I've found on them isn't entirely English, clear or not. A lot of replies on this topic get prefaced with "I never use automated flash control so it doesn't matter", which hasn't helped me much in working out what level of support everything has. Let's assume that I'm an idiot or my subjects move, and I actually do at least want to know whether iTTL works. I shoot flash infrequently enough that I'd like a working solution and it doesn't have to be too exotic, but it could do with being a bit idiot-proof and ideally not "replace all my SB-600s" expensive. I do have a coily off-camera hotshoe, but it's unwieldy and only gets me to one flash.

    So. I'd like to know solutions exist, how they attach to the camera, what level of support they offer, and how well they work, with a side order of how expensive they are.

    Nikon's solutions appears to be:
    1. I continue using optical flash triggers and buy an SU-800, which is big and expensive and not, of itself, a flash, to trigger the SB-600s.
    2. I continue using optical flash triggers and buy a trigger-capable flash (SB-500, SB-700 or above) to put on the hotshoe, mostly ignore its capabilities as a flash, and use it to trigger everything else and exercise my wrist muscles because of the weight on the camera.
    3. I go the official radio trigger route and get an SB-5000, a WR-R10 and a WR-A10, That's expensive but relatively light, though it leaves a mildly precarious dongle on the front of the camera blocking where I'd otherwise put a long-exposure-capable trigger cable. I could then put the SB-5000 off-camera and also use it to trigger the SB600s through optical CLS.
    All these at least support iTTL and allow me to control (two) groups of power from the camera, which can be useful if I've arranged everything precariously. The first two are a lot more bulky than the D810's integrated flash, the third one is a lot more expensive. Ilkka does swear that the third option is reliable, however.

    I realise a wide selection of radio triggers are available if I want to configure the flash power manually on each flash. I don't - that's tedious and occasionally impractical. I believe some solutions now have some intelligence. I assume Nikon's is the only solution that allows you to change the flash weightings from the camera menus - that others have to be adjusted from the transmitter attached (somehow) to the camera? I'm curious whether other solutions can optical CLS trigger more flashes (and whether they're all in the same group, if so) - or am I stuck with the flashes to which the radio receivers are attached? Given that my flashes are already able to work with optical CLS, I don't really want to shell out for a set of redundant radio triggers unless I need to, even if they'd increase reliability if I suddenly decide to use lots of flashes outside in sunlight. (I don't - that's when I use reflectors and rely on the sensor dynamic range.)

    I'm prepared to believe that someone has a protocol that makes the flash work as though it were on the hotshoe. Which is a good start, but won't get my SB-600s talking to each other. If someone else's solution effectively duplicates the SB-5000/WR-R10/WR-A10 set for a lot less money, that would be interesting, although most of the camera-side triggers I've seen are bulky enough that I'd find them obtrusive. On the other hand, I could quite possibly stick third-party radio receivers on all three of my SB-600s for less than the cost of an SB-5000.

    Okay, we're veering into me speculating about answers to my questions. What's out there? What do people use? Aside from my passive-aggressive grumbling about Nikon removing functionality that I was using, am I going to find a solution that makes me happy? Otherwise it looks like I'm going to be budgeting an extra £700 for my D850 purchase to get off-camera flash working again.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. I'm not sure if SB-5000 off camera triggered with radio can send out the optical signals to trigger optical CLS remotes. I suspect when the SB-5000 is a remote, it is just a remote, and then you need something on camera to trigger the optical remotes. But I haven't tried this.

    If you want an SU-800, I have a lightly used one which I no longer use.
    jim_o'sullivan|1 likes this.
  3. I gather that you don't want a flash on the camera, even one that you can tilt and swivel to bounce. My suggestion would be to look into 3rd party iTTL-capable radio triggers. I have and use the Yongnuo 622N-tx transmitter (on the camera) to have full iTTL control over off-camera Nikon SB900 (attached to a 622N transceiver) and another Yongnuo flash. A set of a transmitter and 2 transceivers should run about $120 or less. They are not negligibly small but I don't find them so large that the size becomes an issue. The system works fairly well if not completely consistently (and reliability has been a bit of an issue with the Yongnuo products I own). I cannot guarantee they will work with SB-600 but that shouldn't be hard to check on the world wide web.
  4. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    That kind of description bothers me, a lot. I suppose if you are doing photography casually as a hobby, reliability is not critical. I would like to have a system that works, if not 100% of the time, at least very close to that.
  5. "Let's assume that I'm an idiot or my subjects move, and I actually do at least want to know whether iTTL works. I shoot flash infrequently enough that I'd like a working solution and it doesn't have to be too exotic, but it could do with being a bit idiot-proof and ideally not "replace all my SB-600s" expensive. I do have a coily off-camera hotshoe, but it's unwieldy and only gets me to one flash."
    Before ittl, or ttl, there was thyristor. Not as sophisticated, but a step up from guide numbers (with windage for reflective conditions, etc), and different from studio flash meters. Needs a bit of operator input (especially if your effective f-stop is different), but maybe worth considering.
    Peanut slaves worked on an optical path, could be combined with coily cords, and made to work around corners with a bit of ingenuity.
    They were made and used for a number of years, and a little pawn shop prowling should expose them.
    But it's not ittl, .....
  6. Andrew upgrading to d850 along with the wr-r10 and wr-a10 is the only solution to use the radio capability of sb 5000. Optical CLS is a hazard during fast wedding shoots, specially in tight time. Half of one's concentration is lost making sure of the optical sensor on the flash toward the camera. I use yongnuo transceivers but they have consistency issues. At the end the goal is a good work flow so if you upgrade to D850 then take the full advantage of sb 5000.
  7. Thank you, all.

    Ah. That's a good point, which if I wasn't such an eternal optimist I'd have realised. The manual says "The SB-5000 cannot be used as the master flash unit when using optical control and radio control concurrently." If I correctly understand that the SB-5000 can't be a radio trigger, only a radio slave (with the WR-R10 and WR-A10), that seems to be definitive. Since the UK going rate for an SB-5000 is about £500, replacing my SB-600s with Nikon's radio solution looks like it'd cost me upwards of £1600, and I just don't care enough about flash to do that. It would absolutely be a good investment if I did a lot of outdoor wedding shoots (though the only weddings I've been to, the photographer used a single flash), but since I'm doing that over my dead body Nikon is going to have to take my money for the D850 but not the flash upgrade.

    That's kind of you to say. I'm currently torn between the SU-800 and the (slightly larger) SB-500, which would double as a convenient integrated flash substitute. The SU-800 offers a third channel, the SB-500 lets me use the camera controls to set up flash (which I'd kind of prefer, especially with the D850's touchscreen). I'll think.

    The Yongnuo system does look to have the desired features (I'd need two sets for my three SB-600s, since the triggers come in pairs, but I guess I could wheel out my old Nissin Nikon-compatible flash, which it strikes me might suddenly be more useful with a D850 - or I could use two YN-622N sets and forego the LCD), but if it's unreliable then that's concerning. Not that "It need to using single AF of the camera." inspires a lot of confidence in the manual; I'll never understand why companies (including my own) can't pay some bored students to correct English. I don't need absolutely solid, since I'm rarely doing anything critical, and I'm not all that demanding of the system, so as reliable as Nikon's IR system would do me - but if it's much worse than that then I'm out; I could just optically trigger with as SB-500 for not much more.

    I do have some peanut slaves, and a couple of cheap flashes with direct optical triggers (that Jessops used to sell for £20 - they're not powerful, but they'd be convenient if it weren't for iTTL pre-triggering them).

    The impression I'm getting is that I either need to throw money at Nikon, stick to IR, or go Yongnuo but don't expect things to work perfectly. Is that a valid summary?

    Unless I unexpectedly get a large bonus, I think the SB-5000s are out, so it comes down to whether the Yongnuo's "unreliable" radio system is actually more trouble than Nikon's IR approach (mostly indoors). Any thoughts?
  8. Andrew, I have two SB-800 speedlights that I used to trigger from the built-in flash on my D800E when I could not use my studio lights. Since I got a Godox X1T and two X1R to trigger my speedlights, I have not used the built-in flash. The Godox system is reliable, not a black frame to date. Exposure is up to the camera as it is is fully iTTL/CLS/HSS compatible. The transmitter allows for setting the flash manually (in 1/3 steps from 1/1-1/128), use TTL with exposure compensation dialed in independetly for up to four groups (1/3 steps +/-3 steps for up to a 6 stop difference between the groups). It also has an IR emitter for AF assist light, which works well. While the Godox do not have the same build quality as Nikon, they are still adequately built, especially when you factor in the price.

    My friend fell for the ”Elinchrom inspired” design of the Godox X1Pro, but both the X1T and Pro do the same job. Godox also doubles as a remote camera trigger. He bought it for use with a D810 and SB-800 but now uses it with a D850, SB-800 and a Godox AD600E.
  9. Thanks, Heimbrandt. I'd just ordered the Yongnuo options to try them, but per your recommendation I've cancelled and switched to Godox (X1T-N + 3xX1R) - if only because the UI looks nicer, even if it's slightly more chubby as a device. I'm a little nervous that there are some reports of compatibility problems (either requiring or not working with an SB-800); I'll test them with my 600s and see whether they work.

    I'm currently down about £800 for accessories (third party battery/charger for the grip, 128GB Lexar 2000x UHS-II, 128GB Sony XQD, card reader, radio triggers); I'm due to hurt my finances much more on Friday when I pick up the body, although at least I got a bundle with the grip. I've been told the most I'd get for a D810 trade-in is £1000 (and mine is slightly foxed, so less - plus I'm on about 25K actuations) so I think I'm going to be keeping a backup; I'd wondered about getting something older, but you can barely get a used D800 (from a reputable store) for £1000.

    Something tells me it'll be a while before I upgrade my 70-200...
  10. Whenever I do multiple flashes it would be by wires.
  11. I've used PC to fire secondary lights, but since the cable I have isn't threaded it would tediously fall out of the camera every few minutes. I do have what I think was an original SC-29 (or possibly 28), but even ignoring the fact that it's a single cable with ability to drive or control multiple flashes and the fact that it's impractically short, have you seen how much Nikon charge for it? (Clue: More than I paid for radio triggers, at least for two flashes.) Third party cables are obviously cheap, but I'll still fall over them.

    But I very much do flash by ad-hoc means. (That includes hanging an SB-600 upside down off a gorillapod attached to a decorative wood turning in order to have its IR receiver pointing at my camera.) If I had a studio set up, cables would be way more practical. Years of fighting wifi, which admittedly has got better over time, taught me that if in doubt, a bit of flexible copper gets the job done, so I sympathise with your philosophy.

    (Ilkka: I hope this means your SU-800 is still safe in your hands, but I may be in touch if I have trouble.)
  12. I agree that Nikon quality is usually the best, but since I like to control my flash guns manually and did not want to invest in a sb5000 or two just yet I started using third party radio trigger transceivers . I agree with the concerns regarding Yongnuo electronics but I know a pro who uses them for his hummingbird studio and he swears by them. Some of his individual clients shoot up to 20,000 images in a week firing five flashes with each exposure. Phottix triggers are good quality and the more expensive versions allow for ttl and high speed sync. I have had third party electronics fail in the field so I understand some of the concerns but third party is what I am left with if I want a radio trigger for my current speed lights. Pocket wizzards that are very well made have come down in price but even still their basic manual triggers are 2-3 times more expensive. There are so many companies that make afordable triggers that my advice would be to do some research, pick the features you like and buy two or three. The Nikon CLS and optical slave abilities of the current Nikon speed lights are good but radio triggers are in my opinion very affordable, more consistent out doors and work at much greater distances and around corners. If you need ttl many of the radio triggers will preserve that capability as well as high speed sync. I think the is one of the better sites dedicated to flash photography. Good hunting.
    Andrew Garrard likes this.
  13. Thanks, 2Oceans. I did know about strobist, but forgot to check (and they tend to scare me with their full-manual professionalism). I'll report back when I get the Godoxen.
  14. I must elobrate the inconsistancies of younguo tranciever for the sake of argument. This is how I use younguo transceiver with my d810. One sb 700 ( on the master mode ) and on the camera with the tranciever. The other or others sb 700 (never in remote mode but simply in on position) on the stand with other tranciever. Both flash guns on ttl. If flash is switched on before the tranciever an error come on LCD of flash but they fire in ttl. If they are switched on after the camera and the tranciever then, they act normal showing normal LCD with Master and slave. Then LCD behaves normal. Sb 5000 don't fire in Master mode on camera but fire on slave and don't in ttl. Sb 5000 on tranciever never showed two flashes of the ttl but sb 700 does.
    Yes I had heard better consistency about Godox from friends but I doesn't own the system yet so can't comment.
  15. Thanks, Syed. I'll see how the Godox compares.
  16. I use off camera flash all the time. My goal is to make it cheap, reliable, and fast to set up. I've gone with using about x8 Nikon SB-25 with CyberSync triggers. Yes, all manual, but very easy to do with digital cameras. (I used to have to use a flash meter, not always practical for what i do.) I found the CLS system does not work well in daytime. The new "500" system is WAY too expensive for what it does. For that kind of money I can buy a good monolight! Out of the question. The older Pocket Wizards with iTTL have become cheaper now on ebay. If I thought I needed iTTL (and I don't) that would be something to look into. Radio triggers are the most practical choice.

    Kent in SD

    Below photo used x5 Nikon SB-25. There are in effect two exposures: one on train and one on barn. This was not a difficult shot.

  17. Thanks, Kent - I should have thought to ask you! I'll see whether I can train myself to shoot more manual flash rigs before I invest further.
  18. I agree with Kent; simple is best.

    Simple (dumb) radio triggers have never let me down. Whereas i-TTL and CLS have flaked out on me at inopportune moments.

    The most flash automation I've ever needed was Auto-Aperture mode, using the light sensor built into the flash. As long as you can twist the flash body to point at the subject, this works with almost any type of modifier. Fill-flash on camera is a doddle too; you simply set the flash aperture two stops wider than the actual lens.

    Failing that, there's manual power control and a flashmeter. Even the most expensive meter bought new is cheaper than Nikon's ridiculously priced SB-5000. And the SB-5000 is no more powerful than Kent's and my favourite, the SB-25.

    A used flashmeter like the Shepherd FM-1000 can be got for £25 or so. A Minolta IVF for about double. A set of YongNuo RF-603 triggers are about £12 each if you buy 3. Mine have never let me down, unlike Nikon's AWL optical triggering.

    A typical 3 light portrait setup would run you close to £1800 using SB-5000s, including stands and cheap modifiers. While 3 used SB-25s and a flashmeter bring that budget down to about one-sixth, and nobody could see the slightest difference in the end result. Well, except that the metered SB-25 shot would be properly exposed and balanced, while the I-TTL version could easily be all over the place and not how you envisioned it at all!
  19. :) Thanks, Joe. To be honest, for a static subject I probably could do everything manually - I'm more worried about dynamic situations, but I may be over-thinking it. I'll look into a flash meter at some point.
  20. And the SB-5000 is no more powerful than Kent's and my favourite, the SB-25.

    This isn't quite true, at least in intensive shooting. Power = energy / time. The recycle time of the SB-25 with standard alkalines is 7s, the SB-5000's is 2.6s. The guide number is roughly the same (36 vs. 34.5). So you can pump out a lot more light in a given time window from the SB-5000 on standard batteries than the SB-25 since with the latter a lot of the time is spent waiting for it to charge. More flashes of a given energy per time = more power. Because of faster recycle time and active cooling, you can in practice use the higher flash energy settings in the new unit whereas it was typical that to keep recycle time and temperatures reasonable, M1/4 was about the maximum I would take from older speedlights, otherwise the flashes would vary too much.

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