Command flash mode. Nikon CLS

One of the most important features of Nikon cameras is the Nikon CLS (Nikon Creative Lighting System). This system allows you to remotely control flashes.

Nikon CLS - article from Radozhiva

Nikon CLS - article from Radozhiva

Important: Nikon CLS can control flash units in TTL auto mode. For example, the cheapest trigger for remote TTL control costs around $ 200. The easiest method to get the remote flash to fire when you release the shutter remotely is to use the built-in flash in Master mode.

The Nikon SpeedLight SB-910 was fired remotely using the built-in flash on the Nikon D700

Nikon SpeedLight Flash S was launched remotely using the built-in flash on the camera Nikon D700. The flash was to the right of the model.

Cameras that support Nikon CLS automatic flash command mode with the built-in flash

Nikon D70, Nikon D70s, D80, D90, D200, D300, D300s, D7000, D7100, D7200, D7500, D700, D600, D610, D750, D800, D800E, D810, D810a + Fujifilm FinePix S5 ProIS PRO (this is an accurate list)

Note that Nikon D70, Nikon D70s they can control only one group of flashes and only one channel (group A, channel 3), while the others from the list I can control two groups of 4 channels.

Nikon CLS Operation Example

Nikon CLS Operation Example

What is a flash group

By groups is meant the separation of the flashes used. The groups have names in Latin letters: “A”, “B”, “C”. Nikon supports automatic flash control in a maximum of 3 flash groups. For example, you have 2 flashes, you divide them into two groups, each with one flash. The camera will calculate the power for each of them separately. Also, for each of them separately it will be possible to set its own operating mode and power correction. For example, one flash in group A can work in manual M mode with a power of 1/4 to fill the background, and the second can work in automatic TTL mode to create the desired lighting. Dividing into groups is very convenient. The group can have an unlimited number of flashes. However, in fact, the camera will send the same commands for each flash in a group, and all flash units in one group will work the same way.

An external flash was fired using the built-in flash on the camera. Shot with an umbrella

External flash was launched using the built-in flash on the camera. Shot with an umbrella

What is a flash channel?

Channels are understood as the possibility of crossing controlled pulses from a command flash. This is very important if several photographers are working at the same time. For example, I shoot with my colleague, I work on the first channel with my own settings for the flashes and their number, and my colleague on the second channel. At the same time, “his” and “my” flashes do not work from someone else's channel.

External flash illumination using Nikon CLS

External flash illumination using Nikon CLS

To set up flash control, you need to select the group and channel for the control flash and the same group and channel for the controlled flash.

The control flash is called the Master (master, commander, commander flash) and the controlled flash is called the Slave (slave). It is often said that the Master sets fire to the slave flash, this is due to the fact that the slave flash fires only after the Master's command impulses, it seems that the Master actually lights up the “light” in the second flash.

An example of the Nikon CLS. The flash was used in the daytime to highlight the model.

An example of the Nikon CLS. The flash was used in the daytime to highlight the model.

Setting the on-camera flash to remote control the remote flash

Find the flash setting in the camera menu. Select mode C (Commander mode). In this mode, select group (A or B), operating mode (TTL, AA, M, -), channel (1, 2, 3, 4) and power correction. On external flash activate the Slave mode, set there the same group and channel as in the camera.

Important: for each camera, the menus and settings are slightly different, therefore, find the instructions specifically for your camera and read what's what.

Attention 1: When using the built-in flash as a Master (control mode “C”), you can turn off the built-in flash itself to illuminate the subject (the built-in flash mode must be “-“). Thus, the built-in flash will only give command signals and will not participate in the overall light circuit.

Example photo taken using the remote control for the flash

An example of a photo taken using the flash remote control. Flash S.

Attention 2: even when using the built-in flash command mode and the pulse function is turned off, the flash still gives extra light, which can interfere with the light pattern of the overall composition. In short, all the same, the built-in flash highlights a little when shooting.

A very important addition, obtained experimentally. If you really want to completely get rid of the excess illumination created by the built-in flash (even if it is in the built-in flash “-“ mode), use the short excerpts (shorter excerpts camera sync). At the same time, shooting will occur in high-speed synchronization mode, which will get rid of the light created by the built-in flash. For example, when using a camera Nikon D700 at shutter speeds of 1/400 s or shorter, or when using the camera Nikon D80 at shutter speeds of 1/250 s or shorter, there will be no glare or highlights from the built-in flash in the pictures :)

Also, a special nozzle can help completely get rid of interference in the exposure of the built-in flash. Nikon SG-31R. It converts the visible light of the flash into infrared, which is not visible in the photograph. With it, you can easily use the Nikon CLS system and not worry about the light from the built-in flash.

Attention 3: unless you turn off the built-in flash when firing a flash (the built-in flash mode must be “-“), you will not be able to shoot with fast shutter speeds in FP (high-speed sync) mode. The built-in flash on any camera cannot work with shutter speeds shorter than 1 \ 500 s.

Example photo taken using the remote control for the flash

An example of a photo taken using the flash remote control. The location of the flash for shooting and the picture itself.

Attention 4: it is necessary to place the remote flash units only in the field of view of their flash by the Master. To increase the angle of the Wizard's flash, various reflective surfaces can be used. It's just a field for experimentation. Remote automatic flash control is performed by means of light pulses that create flashes. This is not radio control. Therefore, the master and slave flashes must visually 'see' each other.

Interesting feature: external flashes can be remotely controlled not only in the automatic TTL mode, but also in auto flash without TTL with aperture priority... To do this, select the 'AA' (Auto Aperture) mode.

CLS in its purest form

CLS in its purest form

What should I do if the built-in flash on my camera cannot remotely control external flash units?

There are three simple solutions:

  1. Use an external flash that will be mounted on the camera and will control other, remotely mounted external flashes.
  2. Use the SU-800 module.
  3. Use the WR-R10 / WR-T10 / WR-A10 and S
  4. Use the SU-4 mode.
Illuminated by umbrella; flash for on umbrella triggered by CLS

Illuminated by umbrella; flash for on umbrella triggered by CLS

An external flash mounted on a camera that works in Commander Mode:

For example, if you have an amateur camera that does not have a command flash mode, then in order to control other flash units remotely using Nikon CLS, it is enough to install a flash with the ability to work in Master mode on the camera. In this way, the on-camera flash will “command” other flash units that can be remotely positioned.

The exact list of cameras for which the built-in flash does not support the Wizard mode (Commander Mode):

D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D3400, D5000, D5100, D5200, D5300, D5500, D5600, D100 + Nikon z50 + cameras D500, D850, D1, D1h, D1x, D2x, D2h, D2xs, D2hs, D3, D3s, D3x, D4, D4s, D5, D6, Z6, Z7, Df which do not have a built-in flash.

The exact list of external Nikon flashes that can work in the Wizard mode (Commander Mode):

Nikon SB-700, S, S, S, S, S

In the same way as with the built-in flash, an external flash attached to the camera and used to control other flash units can only be set to send “control” signals. Of course, it can control and work at the same time like a regular flash on the camera. A serious advantage of the on-camera flash in control mode is the fact that the flash head can be turned to any side and control flashes that are even behind the photographer's back (behind the camera). This focus will not work with the built-in flash in command mode.

An external flash was located on a stand to the right of the model. The flash was fired using the Nikon D700's built-in flash. FP mode was used during shooting

External flash located on the rack to the right of the model. The flash was fired using the camera’s built-in flash. Nikon D300s. FP mode was used during shooting

SU-800 module

The SU-800 is a dedicated remote control for external flash units. This is one of the best panacea for remote flash control. Its advantages are:

  1. The module can control three groups of flashes, in contrast to the on-camera flash of a number of cameras that can control only two or one group of flashes.
  2. The infrared spectrum is used for control. When applying command pulses, the module does not produce visible flashes for the human eye. Thus, the picture does not receive any light from the module, unlike the command control of the built-in flash.
  3. Compared to an external flash used as a Master, the module is smaller and lighter. In fact, the SU-800 Unit is the bottom flash unit.
  4. The module has infrared illumination for autofocus.
  5. The module does not overheat when controlling the flashes. The built-in flash often overheats with frequent use or does not have time to recharge, while the shutter release is locked.
  6. Support for I-TTL and a convenient menu for adjusting the power and operating modes of flashes in groups.
  7. This is a “native” solution from Nikon.

Disadvantages of the Su-800

  1. All the same, the slave flashes should be in the field of view of the module.
  2. The module head does not rotate unlike external flash on camera. An external flash in command mode can be directed in any direction and command remote flash units, which are even behind the photographer.
  3. Price. The control module costs approximately as usual external flash... The question constantly arises “should I buy another flash with command mode”.
Illumination through a conventional diffuser. Flash on the trine in FP mode

Illumination through a conventional diffuser. Tripod flash in FP mode

Light trap in SU-4 mode.

Pay attention to this mode, almost all external Nikon flash units have it. In this mode, the “ignition” of the slave flash can be performed with any flash, including the built-in flash of any camera. The mode does not support TTL, but simply fires with another flash.

An exact list of modern Nikon external flash units that support the SU-4 mode:

S, S, S, S, S

SU-4 mode does not support high-speed FP synchronization and works like a normal light trap. To configure SU-4:

  • On the camera, go to the flash control menu. Select control mode 'M' (Manual flash control mode). Set the power to 1/128 or 1/64 or any other to your liking, or as needed. The built-in flash will simply ignite the external flash. Save settings.
  • Go to the menu external flashFind SU-4 mode there and turn it on.
  • Set the flash to 'Slave' mode, usually using the flash trigger.
  • On the external flash select control mode 'M' (manual, usually done with the 'Mode' button). Set the required power for shooting. With this power external flash will work with remote control.
  • Set an external flash in the camera's field of view.
  • During shooting, the built-in flash will give one light pulse, which will ignite the external flash.

In any case, you will have to get used to some of the features in this work. In detail, about how to configure SU-4 I already wrote in tricks.

Command flash mode. Nikon CLS

Command flash mode. Nikon CLS

Personal experience

I use the usual command flash mode with the built-in on-camera flash (on my cameras Nikon D90, D200, D80, D700). TTL mode is very important to me when working with flashes, since I mainly work with dynamic scenes, where there is no time to manually adjust the flash output. Yes, the commands do not always reach the receiver of the slave flash and this needs to be dealt with, but in general, in practice, I set the “light” in such a way that I have no control problems. If there is a little time, then I "command" the remote flash units in manual mode with the required power, or I combine the option I need. Control of only 2 groups is quite enough, since the zoom position and orientation in space also affect the flash power. In general, using flashes remotely is an incredibly exciting experience, therefore, I recommend to everyone cameras that can control flashes remotely - this will save a lot of money and use all the charms of the Nikon CLS. True, all the charm of working with creative lighting is revealed only when working with an assistant. And also, it is very convenient to remove a large external flash from the camera, switch it to Slave mode, raise the built-in flash on the camera in control mode and get something more interesting rather than a “head-on” flash. With triggers, the Su-800 module, and a sync cable, such fast focus will not work.

Photo taken using the Nikon CLS. An external flash is set remotely to illuminate the model in backlight.

Photo taken using the Nikon CLS. External flash set remotely to illuminate the model in backlight. The camera used manual control mode exposure, and for an external flash - automatic TTL mode with power compensation.


Nikon CLS is an indispensable tool for remote flash operation. It is very easy to use the creative lighting system with your camera's built-in flash.

You can look into the related topic - Which external flash to choose for Nikon cameras?.

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Material prepared Arkady Shapoval... Look for me on Youtube | Facebook | VK | Instagram | Twitter.

Add a comment: Arkady Shapoval



Comments: 165, on the topic: Command mode with flash. Nikon CLS

  • Timur

    Thank you very much for the tips. I tried the su-4 mode, it’s very interesting, now I am eager to work with it with two light sources. Is it possible to burn 4 external flashes simultaneously in the su-2 mode? For example, nikon sb-910 and Viltrox JY680N (read reviews of it I tend to buy it as the second one) set in slave mode? I understand correctly that in the case of the Nikon d5200 camera for correct automatic i-ttl operation of both flashes I will need synchronizers like Yongnuo YN-622N-TX + 2 pieces YN622N, or it's better to try to change the camera to d7100 for full support for Nikon CL S and FP. Help, please completely confused.

  • R'RёS,R ° F "RёR№

    For me, command mode is really a discovery.
    It is surprising that this is not described in the official manual for the D90

    • Jeka

      Page 188. Control Mode

  • there is

    Good day to you. I ask for advice and help. Tell me how to set up external SB 910 and sb 5000 flash units so that they respond to an sb 910 flash on a Nikon d 700 and d 610 camera. External flashes are on Remote in manual mode and respond to any light. Accordingly, they prevent other photographers from working at events. How to set up channels, how to do it. Scream of the soul. You can detailed information from a to z. It's about nikon. Thanks
    I tried the options that are written above in the text. Anyway, there is a problem. Tell me please

  • Ruslan

    Hello Arkady. please tell me, we have a Nikon 5200 bought a Nissin MG8000 flash with a camera, it works, but not separately, put a Fujimi FJRTJ-03 Radio Synchronizer on the flash and a transmitter from the same company on the camera
    doesn’t want to fire in the flash settings; set the camera to manual; it doesn’t work; on the transmitter, press the button; the signal goes to the synchronizer and the flash does not fire
    thank you

  • Anatoly

    I look at the photos with the flash and it seems as if the author specially set the flash too strong on all the photos, perhaps people would like to shoot more without the flash?

  • Lara

    Hello! I was completely disappointed in everything - the D5300 does not know how to remotely control external flashes at all and the other three options are also not suitable, except for purchasing a master flash, judging by the article?
    Flash SB-700. It works perfectly on a shoe, but doesn’t want to remotely.
    Roy will turn up - your article is the only adequate one, thanks!
    And more - help me figure it out - will using the Nikon SG-3IR infrared shutter for the built-in flash solve my problem or is it just to cut off the light from the built-in flash? Yes, I'm a teapot, but inquisitive))) I'll learn because I want to!
    Thank you in advance for any advice!

    • soks13

      Yes, the D5300 does not know how to remotely control external flashes at all. using the Nikon SG-3IR infrared shutter for the built-in flash will NOT solve your problem. What is better to do? ... I would advise to sell the D5300 and buy the D300, D300s or D7000 - they can control the flashes and they accept the optics with a screwdriver, which is more affordable than the one with the motor inside. The D5300 cannot do this :(. Besides, money will be left for some cool lens or puff :) Good luck!

    • Novel

      Repeat from another author.
      Yes, the D5300 does not know how to remotely control external flashes. Using the Nikon SG-3IR infrared curtain for the built-in flash will NOT solve your problem. What is better to do? ... I could advise you to sell the D5300 and buy the D300, D300s or D7000 - they can control the flashes and they accept optics with a screwdriver, which is more affordable than the one with the engine inside. The D5300 can’t do this :(. Yes, and even money for some cool bu lens or I’ll stay puffed :) Good luck!

  • soks13

    Super! Thank you for the article!

  • Michael

    Please tell me, as I understand it, the SB-600 flash can’t work as a master?

  • Alexander

    Good day! Tell me please, will the built-in Nikon D50 flash work as the leading one with the cheap Chinese Viltrox JY610 II flash?

    • Valery A.

      No. Read about it here:

      • Alexander

        I read the review, but it's not her (probably the previous version). Viltrox JY610 II here: It has a slave mode in it, but will the d50 flash set it on fire?

        • Valery A.

          Sorry, I was inattentive. Does it have a slave mode - d50 will not be able to control it (and any other) remotely, since it itself does not have a command flash control function (read: If there is a camera trap on the vitrox, it will be able to puff with a given power even from the phone flash.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, it will, there are S1, S2 modes similar to the original SU-4.

  • Sergei

    Hello Arkady! Thanks so much for the article. Everything is clear and intelligible. I have a D5100 and SB-910. I tried SU-4, everything worked out. An earlier comment on this article mentions the Nikon SG-3IR infrared curtain for the built-in flash. Is this a SU-4 device? Will the flash set on fire?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      This is a device to get rid of the impulse of the built-in flash. SU-4 should work with it.

  • Alexander

    Good afternoon. Tell me, I ran into a problem when using CLS on Nikon d90 - the slave flash from the built-in does not fire and at least set any settings. From another apparatus, it was set on fire the first time. I ask for help in which direction to dig.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      What kind of flash?

      • anonym

        Meike mk910. The slave mode from another device is triggered. It doesn’t work from mine. I have already tried all sorts of settings. And Falcon Ice 910 also does not work from my device. The flash in my Nikon controls the power, the pulse in command mode is also there, and the followers are not set on fire. Help advice.

        • Valentine

          When the camera's flash settings are set to normal TTL or M, not CLS, does the flash fire?

          • Alexander

            Yes. When the flash is built-in in any mode except command mode, then the power and everything else changes. And when there is momentum in the team, there is no result.

            • Nadezhda

              Hello, tell me if you found a solution to the problem. Since I have the same problem

  • Daniel

    Hello! Such a question, can the flash from canon be used on the nikon system as a slave on the rack, as I understand it, it will only work in manual mode?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, you can. If everything is configured correctly, it will work, but only in manual mode.

  • Daniel

    Arkady, and another question, he is very important) in the rooms the command mode works out very well, but soon there will be a photo session on the street at sunset near the sea, there will be two softboxes, here I am afraid that there will be a misfire and flashes will not work, they say you need to take a radio synchronizer, and that's I'm racking my brains to order YONGNUO yn622n-tx TTL

  • Alexey de Paris

    What a wonderful article! Everything is painted clearly and clearly! Many thanks !

  • Lyudmila

    Hello! Tell me, please, how to synchronize the sb910 flash and the D3100 camera? I plan to use the flash separately with the softbox for food photography, I am interested in its ability to work momentum to freeze movement. can it be used for such purposes?

  • R'RёS,R ° F "RёR№

    hi i have Nikon d750, d610 and SB5000 flash
    I can not configure the flash to work remotely due to a channel problem
    the cameras have channels 1, 2, 3, 4, but on the flash channels 5, 10, 15.
    How can I connect the flash remotely? help me please

  • Alexander

    Thank you for the article! I reread more than one year)
    In the list of cameras for which the built-in flash does not support the Commander Mode, move DF to the list of cameras with no flash.

    • Arkady Shapoval


  • Denis

    Nikon D5600 camera, SB700 and SB900 puffs. Command mode is not subject to control. SU-4 is certainly good, but I would like to try the command mode. Where and what to press, explain how to a teapot

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