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?.

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

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

  • Jury

    Hello !!! .. I would like to ask .. If the built-in flash is covered with an ordinary diffuser ... will this affect the ignition of the remote flash units ???

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Will not affect, or will affect a little.

  • Denis

    Hello everyone. Colleagues, need help. Nikon d610 + sb-910 / through the raylab 163 synchronizer. If someone has a similar kit, help out, tell me. 1. Set the same frequencies on the puff and the camera; 2. Put the same group in the same place; 3. In the puff put master; 4. In the puff menu, I selected su-4 mode. I make a frame. No flash !! Separately, the boot blinks at start-up; separately, the test on a puff triggers. The batteries are new. Just su4 from the built-in works. But I can’t set fire to the flash through the synchronizer. Before that I worked. A month ago, I tried for a long time rushed off but somehow it started to work. The next day, with the same effect on the construction sites, zero. Maybe I'm doing something wrong? Maybe some moisture? Maybe the umbrella fell from the wind? Help out? Arkady, did not encounter something like that?

    • Alexey

      I apologize, maybe I didn’t understand everything correctly, but why do you enable SU-4 mode? SU-4, it seems, only works from a command flash, and with the 163 synchronizer installed, the slave flash (in your case, the 910th) is controlled by radio. In mode M and A, everything should be ignited, only the settings on the flash will have to be adjusted manually.

  • Andrei

    Arkady I have a Nikon D600 and a Sl700 flash, there is still a flash from Sony, is it possible to launch it in any way, I still do not understand much. Tell me please

    • Arkady Shapoval

      I can’t tell you, because you did not specify a flash model from Sony.

  • Sergei

    Can you tell me if the SB-600 in Remote mode will fire from the D800's built-in flash in “-“ mode?

    • Arkady Shapoval


  • Sergei

    Thanks! )

  • Andrei

    On Nikon D3000, native puff supports the master mode.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Do not support.

  • Vyacheslav

    Very useful article, learned a lot of new and useful.

  • Oleg

    Good afternoon!

    Can you tell me if Nikon CLS works in FP mode with burst shooting? One external flash installed on the camera works, but will several flashes work in this mode at the same time?

    Thank you in advance!

  • Natalia

    Good evening!
    Thank you, Arkady, for interesting materials and work. Please tell me, there is a camera d800, flash sb700. I want to purchase additional light. The question is. If I buy another sb700, can these 2 flashes be able to ignite both from the built-in one? I would like to put them on the racks and umbrellas / softboxes. Please advise .... Thanks in advance!

    • Alexander Malyaev

      The question is simple, therefore I will answer for Arkady: yes, they can, at least 2 at least as much as they like. Everything is described in the article, and even in a heap of similar ones.

  • Natalia

    Thank you very much!

  • anonym

    Hello. I can’t figure it out, the d610 camera on the yongnao 603 synchronizer shoe (it is both the receiver and the transmitter in one), on the first flash (SB900) I put the same synchronizer, I put the flash in MASTER mode, the second flash (SB900) in Slave mode (without synchronizer) I take a shot, only the first one puffs, I can’t understand the reason. Two days ago I shot with the SB800, everything was normal, it was lit. Thank you.

    • Michael

      It’s not clear why you need a yangnow synchronizer?
      Or a synchronizer or a creative lighting system.

  • Oksana

    Please tell me, I don’t understand at all (((I have Nikon 7000, Sigma 610 DG ST flash, can I make the flash work separately? I tried everything (it doesn’t work (

  • anonym

    Is the flash fired from a mobile phone?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Only if the phone has a xenon flash, it will not work from the diode SU-4.

  • anonym

    Please tell me which external flash can I put on the D80?

    • Alex

      Anything from Nikon. Or even from other developers; Nissin, Metz, Yongnuo ... (which is even cheaper). The main thing is that they are modeled specifically for Nikon cameras (check with the seller and in the instructions)!

  • David

    Thanks! Very useful site! This time, dealt with the SB-500 (on the Nikon 750). I could not understand how to disable the built-in flash, so that only the external one worked) I figured it out)

  • BB

    Nissin Di622 and Di866 (for Nikon) definitely support CLS, the latter - both master and slave, Di622 can only be a slave (sort of).

  • Yakov

    Hello. Thank you for the article. I am just starting to work with external flashes, because the questions are possibly delitanical.
    Question: Do the channel standards and signal protocols for cameras of different manufacturers coincide or not? I tried to control the SB600 with my new Olimpus OMD E-M5 II camera. There is a command mode and I tried to agree on the channel number and group in the camera and flash, the flash does not light up. I will be glad if you help or clarify. Thanks.

  • Dmitry K

    Yes, TTL on off-camera is a good thing. On radio triggers it would be very expensive. Speaking of visibility requirements, in the presented photo, the flash is located behind a curtain and a light-receiving element facing away from the camera and still worked))

  • anonym

    Tell me, will the D3200 work on AMSP on Nikon or on macro, on landscape, sports, and the portrait will not work on them?

  • Frizzle

    You won’t surprise anyone today with Live view, moreover, its presence has become mandatory in any modern digital SLR. In the Nikon D5000 it is and works quite adequately - it turns on quickly, does not cause any complaints about the work.

  • EvilRacoon

    I don’t understand, is it possible to set fire to any flash, or does it need to have such a function?

    • Valery A.

      Have you tried to re-read the article? I realized that anyone with a light trap (Nikon has SU-4 flash mode), not to mention the camera’s bundle (or puff on it) with a remote flash via CLS.

    • Alexey Polyntsev

      Let's say you turn on the su-4 mode on the remote flash and it will fire from any flash of any camera (except for a telephone flash - tested on the sb-910 flash), only TTL will not work.

  • Dmitriy

    Tell me, if there is a Nikon CLS, then do not need synchronizers? or are they still needed and the CLS system will not replace them?

    • Jury

      Nikon CLS has optical control for a distance of 10-15 meters line of sight. Synchronizers work via radio, at a distance of 30-35 meters, no line of sight is needed (you can work with closed softboxes), 3 groups of flash control, versus two for Nikon CLS. Those. it all depends on the tasks - in some Nikon CLS is completely satisfactory, and for more complex setups you need synchronizers.

  • Andrei

    Hello! please tell me what is the problem? acquired synchronizers Yongnou RF-602 / N can not ignite the Nikon sb500 flash. I put the flash on the receiver, I put the receiver on the camera (d7000) on the flash ttl is on as soon as I turn on the ttl synchronizers On the flash it disappears, the indicator starts to flash often and nothing happens.

    • Zhenya

      Yongnou Chinese junk. Typical glitches for TTL mode, solved by switching on / off, rearranging the synchronizers and God knows what else ...

  • Zhenya

    I tried to use the Nikon KLS system, but for stable operation the flash-camera should be 2-3 meters apart, there should be no obstacles, the infrared port of the flash should look at the camera and be in front of it in the range of 120-140 degrees, otherwise this system just doesn't work. To successfully apply it in "fields" you need to adjust to the system. This is not correct, professional equipment should simplify the solution of the problem, and not vice versa ... In general, IR synchronization is the last century and I am sorry that Nikon is inferior to Canon in this. For commercial filming, I use only radio synchronization, the only working TTL transmitters are PocketWizard, but they sometimes fail ... And all Chinese radio synchronizers, I repeat - all more or less work in TTL only with their own flashes and work disgustingly with flashes Nikon.

    • Yarkiya

      All you just have to scold, you were given the opportunity to work without radio synchronizers, so say thank you, kenon does not have that either. Oh, it doesn't work in the field, well, it was not invented for the “field”, but it works great in my studio, especially on monoblocks, where very sensitive light catchers. The weakest impulse is enough to ignite all the flashes.
      Nikon's creative light is an additional, auxiliary “cookie”, one might say “the cherry on the cake”. Of course, radio synchronizers are preferable for serious work.

      • Zhenya

        1. Canon has its own radio synchronization, probably 5 years already.
        2. Thank you for what? CLS was developed 20 years ago and still cannot be updated ... It is an obsolete system.
        3. Including for the "field".
        4. You won’t believe it, but they take the same pictures outside the studio, yeah! Amazing right?
        5. If Nikon is positioned as a system for the pros, and Nikon is positioning itself that way, then the system is simply obliged to have a radio and the lack of it today is pure marketing.

  • Timur

    Good day, thank you very much for your work. A fundamental site, so to speak. I have Nikon d5200 + sb-910 flash. I really want photos with an external flash, or two. I am wondering if it is better to buy Yongnuo YN-622N-TX + synchronizers YN622N-TX, or a second external flash from an inexpensive Chinese type Meike sb-910. Experience with an external flash, and even more so with two, is completely absent, but my hands are itching to be scary. Please advise me to choose the second flash, I would like to use Nikon sb-910 as a master and second in achestve slave c support I-ttl, if vozmozhno.Na bilingual Nikon's budget is not potyanet.Budu appreciate any advice.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Try SU-4 mode on SB-910 (at the end of the article)

      • Timur

        Thank you so much !!! I did not know about this, I will definitely try it.

    • Pastor

      Arkady has already given you the best advice. But I add that if you need exactly two light sources, and powerful ones, then you can take a second yungnuo puff. I have 560-2 for auxiliary purposes. It costs a little, 3-4 thousand and can also be set on fire from the puff of another flash. Naturally, the control is only manual.
      In general, playing with puffs is interesting. True and difficult, especially with a large number of these. But the result can be extremely exciting.

      • Timur

        Do not recommend an inexpensive flash with support for Nikon CLS, i-TTL and FP?

        • Jury

, inexpensive, new about $ 110, bu - $ 80, but if you want to work with several flashes outside the camera, it is better to immediately collect about $ 400 and buy two Shanny SN910EX-RF and a Shanny SN910TX controller - the radio channel is much more convenient than Nikon CLS

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