Thanks for visiting the Art of the Image blog. We've moved over to so this blog is no longer updated, but please feel free to peruse the articles and content here.

When you're finished, please visit us at for all the current blog posts and information. Thanks!!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander

There are a lot of options for working with off-camera lighting, but I'd have to say my favourite is the Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander. This little gem just gets it right.

The biggest advantage of using the SU-800 over a Pocketwizard or similar type remote, is the full control of the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) that the SU-800 provides. The SU-800 functions as a wireless commander for the SB-R200, SB-900, SB-800 and SB-600 Speedlight units, allowing you to fully control them off camera. You can use them in full TTL, Joe McNally style, or you can control them manually.

But what's that you say... you can do that with an SB-800 or SB-900...

The Nikon SU-800 is small and light. You hardly notice it sitting on top of your camera. Two big advantages over using an SB-800 or SB-900 as a controller.

The SU-800 controls are intuitive and easy to work with. You can make adjustments very quickly while working, without disrupting the shoot by having to walk around adjusting remote lights. I find the the SU-800 to be faster to adjust and work with than an SB-800 or SB-900 as a controller.

Those are the big ones advantages of the SU-800. If small and light, more intuitive and easier to work with, don't do it for you, then you're probably better off sticking with an SB-800 or SB-900 as a controller. I have to emphasize how big these advantages are though. Small and light alone is enough for me. Add the more intuitive and easier controls, and it's a done deal.

Granted, there are times when I will use an SB-800 as a controller instead of the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander. Outdoors in full sunlight, the directional head of the SB-800 can offer an advantage over the SU-800 when it comes to range and positioning. Since you can aim the head directly at the remote speedlights, you can get a little boost in range. If you zoom the head out as well, you get a fairly substantial boost in range.

Indoors, I always use the SU-800. It's a dream for studio work and works great for weddings and other events. You can control all your light outputs quickly and easily without leaving your shooting position. Sometimes I just feel spoiled using the little SU-800.

With the SU-800, you can control an unlimited number of Speedlights in up to three different groups. It has 4 independent channels so you don't get stuck having someone else triggering your remotes in competitive shooting environments. As an added bonus, the SU-800 has a built-in AF assist illuminator for critical focus in low-light situations... great when you want to shoot fast primes using available light in darker situations.

Since the Nikon Creative Lighting System operates via light bursts, radio triggers like the Pocketwizard system will give you more range, especially out of doors. As I mentioned above, an SB-800 or an SB-900 Speedlight will give you added range outdoors by zooming the head and pointing it at your remote speedlights, but the Pocketwizards will give you even greater range. Sometimes range is the deciding factor, but most of the time I'd rather have the advanced controls that the SU-800 and Nikon CLS offers.

Here's a little tip I use that saves money on CLS speedlights. When I want or need to use extra lights, I'll often add one or two of my Nikon SB-26 Speedlights into the mix. By setting them to slave, they'll fire when the rest of the Nikon CLS controlled speedlights fire. Usually I'll use them in position where I know I probably won't have to adjust them much, like if I'm just adding a bit of light into a background. That way I can set 'em and forget 'em, and I don't need them to be controllable via the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander.

If you haven't tried the Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander, DON'T BOTHER... unless you feel like spending a little extra money as you're probably going to want one. :)

No comments: