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 SB-910 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 SB-900.

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 SB-5000 Modules
  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, SB-500, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910SB-5000

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:

SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910SB-5000

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'/'Remote' mode, usually done with the flash lever.
  • 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 for me when working with flashes, since I mainly work with dynamic scenes, where I don’t have time to manually adjust the flash power. Yes, the commands do not always reach the slave flash receiver and this must be dealt with, but basically, 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 slave flashes in manual mode with the required power, or I combine the option I need. The control of only 2 groups is quite enough, since the zoom position and orientation in space also affect the power of the flashes. In general, using flashes remotely is an incredibly exciting experience, therefore, I recommend cameras that can control flashes remotely to everyone - this will help save a lot of money and use all the delights of Nikon CLS. True, all the beauty of working with creative lighting is revealed only when working with an assistant. And yet, 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 not a head-on flash, but something more interesting. With triggers, the Su-800 module, and a sync cable, such a quick 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?.

Comments on this post do not require registration. Anyone can leave a comment. Many different photographic equipment can be found on AliExpress.

Material prepared Arkady Shapoval. Training/Consultations | Youtube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Telegram

Add a comment:



Comments: 171, on the topic: Command mode with flash. Nikon CLS

  • Denis

    Hello Arkady!
    Thank you very much for your articles, you are doing a noble and necessary work.
    I have one question, or I didn't read carefully or I misunderstood something.
    I have a nikon d7000 and puff sb-600. Everything is clear with the camera settings, but I don’t understand where the slave mode is set on the flash. I press the mode button and the mode changes only from TTL to M and vice versa.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      The flash menu is accessed by pressing the "-" and "Zoom" buttons simultaneously, you will find this mode there.

  • Denis

    I went into the menu, but I can’t find this mode there, is it definitely in sb-600? Here's what I found there: M Zoom (on, off), honey (on, off) AF illuminator, most likely a wavy line with an arrow (on, off), AF-ILL and stby. I did not find a slave there ((

    • Arkady Shapoval

      A wavy line with an arrow is just that.

  • Denis

    All found! Thank you!!! it was just a wavy arrow!!!

  • Denis

    One more question, does this mode work with third-party flashes or only with native flashes? for example, will this mode work with the Yonguo YN-500EX?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      The mode works with flashes that support Nikon CLS, these are not necessarily only native flashes.

  • Denis

    Thanks, Arkady for your answers))
    And how does this system behave outdoors in bright daylight? Does the external flash see the command from the built-in flash or does bright daylight interfere?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Usually everything works pretty well.

  • Asema

    Hello. Please tell me, I wanted to set the settings in P mode (shutter speed and aperture), I turn the wheels, but the shutter speed and aperture value do not change, as it costs P *. I'm Nikon D90. Tell me please

  • Andrei

    Thanks for the article, you saved me $350!!!
    I will continue to use PixelKings + SB900 and I will go and buy another SB 900))))
    TTL transmission on the street is an irreplaceable thing !!!!

  • Ivanovsky Mikhail

    I'll add five drops.
    If you really need to avoid the influence of on-camera flash on the lighting scheme, there is a very intricate solution from Nikon:
    SG-31R IR Panel
    Covers the on-camera flash and allows only IR rays to pass through. So this fun gadget can be considered the simplest part of the CLS lighting system. )
    Got it and it really works. I didn't notice any effect on range. There are also Chinese counterparts, they are unlikely to differ significantly in anything other than the price, but I did not check it.

  • Dmitriy

    Good afternoon, Arkady. Thank you so much for this article, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me! However, it is still not clear to me which camera and metering mode is preferable for shooting portraits on the street during the day in the backlight of the sun with a fill flash located on the stand (the flash of the built-in flash is disabled for me). Can you explain please.
    And one more question: should auto-ISO be turned off when shooting in the same conditions, or can it be left on?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      This question relates to the aspect of creativity. There is no best mode, there is one that can be optimally suited for each individual scene. I recommend turning auto ISO off when shooting with flash.

  • Michael

    the instructions from the d5100 say that the camera has a Nikon CLS, but your article does not have this camera in the list. Where is the mistake?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      There is no error. The instructions say that the D5100 can work using the CLS if one of the flashes or the SU-800 is used (on the camera). An article about this is written in the section “External flash in Commander mode on the camera”

  • Alex

    In January of this year, there was a preliminary announcement of the Yongnuo YN-622N. This is a radio transceiver for Nikon. That is, each device can act as a transmitter when mounted on a camera and a receiver when mounted on a flash.
    Supported cameras:
    D70 / D70S / D80 / D90
    D3000series / D5000series / D7000series
    Supported Flashes:
    YongNuo YN465 NIkon / YN467 Nikon / YN-468N (II) Nikon / YN565EX Nikon / YN568EX Nikon
    Nikon SB-400/SB-600/SB-700/SB-800/SB-900/SB-910
    Of course, not everything is able, but the i-TTL mode is supported with all of the above cameras. It also supports FP high-speed sync mode - except for D3xxx and D5xxx series cameras.
    Just the other day, it has already appeared on sale at a rather attractive price - less than $ 100 for 2 transceivers.

  • Konstantin

    Hello! Such a misfortune :( just this morning I tried to ignite the Sb-910 flash from my D7000 using an on-camera flash, everything was fine ... an hour passed, and during the next test, the flash no longer ignites :( in SU-4 mode it works fine, in advanced mode - dark: ((groups and channels are the same on the camera and on the flash, in general, nothing has changed in the modes since the last successful ignition .. what should I do now? The road to the service center or is it still possible to reanimate? :)

  • R'RёS,R ° F "RёR№

    Can you tell me, Arkady, whether the flash can control the camera if there are two cameras and you need to synchronize the shutters with the flash. I couldn’t synchronize both cameras via the radio remote control (not IR). One camera in most cases was late and the frame on it was dark.

  • Andrei

    Please tell me What is the range of action of the i.k. SU-800 module and XNUMXrd party radio synchronizers?
    Thank you!

  • Alla

    Good afternoon Help me figure it out please!!!
    Please explain to me why the shots are different in terms of illumination when I put the flash in the shoe and if I hold it with my hand just above the camera (just above the shoe), setting fire to the built-in external flash. Camera D7000 and SB700. I don't change the settings. On TTL flash. Zero correction.
    Thank you in advance!

  • Vlad

    I correctly understood that the SB-5000 flash installed next to the D700 in TTL mode will not work, only in the SU-4? You have to manually set the exposure.

  • Igor

    My Metz 44 AF-1, when switching to Slave mode, uses built-in light sensors (something like “TTL”) and when ignited from the on-board flash of the D90 in the “–” mode, it calculates the power and duration of the pulse. You just need to direct its sensors to the desired point. To aim, the flash flashes the AF-assist-assist illuminator LED.
    ps if interested, I can provide a flash for review

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Send :)

      • Dima

        Good day! Please tell me, do I have a Nikon d7000 can not decide on a flash or 700 or 910? in 910 scares its size, which is better to choose? I rent for myself.

        • Arkady Shapoval

          For myself, 700tka is better. Good price / quality, the best option.

  • Dima

    Arkady thanks for the answer. I read that you use a 910 flash .. Is there something that is not in 700 other than power? .I'm afraid to take 700, and then bite my elbows looking at 910 .. it's hard to decide because I haven't used flashes before. Maybe it makes sense to take power with a margin? (there is money for 910)

  • Dmitriy

    Arkady, tell me this question - I have an old Nikon D50, I want to take subject photography at home, I made a lightbox for this, but there is very little light. There is an idea to highlight the lightbox with external flashes. I myself use a Nissin Di622 Mark II flash. Will I be able to control this flash through the SU-800? How to look for suitable slave flashes for the SU-800 in general (what should be written in the characteristics of the flash to understand that it will be controlled from this module)?

    Thanks in advance for your reply. I just found your site today and I love it.
    Can you tell me where else you can buy some normal video course that describes subject photography?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      External flashes must support remote control mode, usually they write Nikon Slave TTL mode, Nikon CLS.

      • Dmitriy

        Thank you for your prompt response.
        Can you recommend a video course on subject photography?

  • Albert

    Good afternoon!
    I have a NIKON d80, Nikon 18-105 f / 3.5-5.6G IF-ED DX VR Nikkor lens, SB700 flash.
    From the very moment I bought the flash, I was dissatisfied that in large enclosed spaces, flash pictures turn out dark. I thought that maybe it should be so, maybe I’m doing something wrong in the settings of the device or the flash ... I tried to change different parameters on both. The differences are insignificant. I bought the flash mainly to shoot indoor tennis games. In general, he endured all this until one day on the courts he took off the flash and put it on the Nikon D3100 that turned up under his arm. Before that, I took a couple of pictures of the hall with my own, then this one ... and I saw the light!!! The pictures turned out like in the daytime ... moreover, for the entire depth of the hall, about 25m. Who will tell you: where to press, what to twist :(
    Better email...

    • Lynx

      Maybe in the D80 menu you need to specify “TTL mode” in the settings of the external flash?

  • Olga

    Arkady, many thanks for the article.
    I have a problem with the settings, I can’t set fire to the Sb800 through the radio trigger. In a studio with a monoblock, synchronization works, also with a light trap. But the camera + trigger + puff do not want to work. Alas, now I have a camera in which there is no built-in flash. Help me understand the problem. Please.
    Thank you

  • Katherine

    Thanks for the review! But I have such a problem! Camera Nikon d90 built-in flash in the command mode “-” did not turn on before, but only set fire to the external one! Now everyone is bang together what to do!

  • Dmitriy

    Thank you! Great article!
    Could you tell me, can I use two TTL cables attached to each other and to the camera shoe to control two remote flash units in TTL mode without a built-in flash?

  • Bogdan

    Is it worth it, and if so, what kind of flash can I use for Nikon D3100?
    Thank you)

  • Andrei

    Hello! I have a question. How to turn off the stock flash on Nikon d3000? I shoot with an external flash. And staff constantly opens. I was already tormented every time I turned on the camera by manually pressing the button and turning off the standard flash in each mode. Tell me, where is it in the settings that you can turn it off once and for all?

Add a comment

Copyright © Blog author - Photographer in Kiev Arkady Shapoval. 2009-2023

English-version of this article

Versión en español de este artículo