Aperture-priority auto for Nikon flashes

Some Nikon flash units can be set to auto non TTL (Non TTL) mode, at the same time, you can get good correctly exposed photographs. In non-TTL mode, reflected light is not measured with a sensor exposure cameras, and using the light sensor of the flash itself.

Aperture-priority auto for Nikon flashes

Aperture-priority auto for Nikon flashes

Non-TTL auto flash is a very useful feature for difficult shooting situations. Non-TTL auto aperture priority and non-TTL auto flash available only in professional flash units Nikon SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, SB-5000 in amateur flashes SB-400,SB-300, SB-600, SB-700 there is no such regime.

There are several sub-modes of flash operation in automatic mode A (auto, non-ttl):

Aperture-priority flash modes

Aperture-priority flash modes

Icon lightning says that when working in this mode, a testing pre-flash will be performed, in the instruction it is called modeling backlight.  Aperture icon (a circle with an asterisk inside) indicates that the flash takes into account the current aperture value set in the menu of the camera itself.

The first and third methods work as follows: the flash before shooting takes test preflash (simulating backlight), the light reflected from objects falls on flash light sensor and the processor of the flash itself calculates the desired power of the main pulse. It turns out that the flash itself measures exposure using your own light meter.

Menu view for setting non-TTL mode to Nikon flash

Menu view for setting non-TTL mode to Nikon flash

The second and fourth methods simply measure the intensity of reflected light from objects and do not make trial preflashes. The second method obtains the aperture value directly from the camera itself, and the fourth method requires manual control of the aperture.

Light sensor on sb-910

Flash light sensor on sb-910

Automatic mode without modeling backlighting is very useful:

Light sensor on sb-900

Light sensor on sb-900

However, in the mode without test flashes you can not use high speed FP sync, it is available in 'A' mode only when using the simulation backlight.

When using flash remote control with Nikon CLS one of 3 remote flash options is available: TTL, M,AA... AA mode is the same mode Auto aperture - automatic mode with aperture priority, but instead of the aperture icon in the camera menu there is the letter A, so the mode is called 'AA'. By the way, some cameras have a separate AA mode in their menu for external flashbut I never shot it with his help.

Important Note

When working with older Nikon AI class lenses, AI-S, PRE AI and any other non-autofocus optics without processor contacts, you can get automatic flash operation in 'A' mode. Even on simple amateur cameras Nikon D40, D40x, D50, D60, D70, D70s, D80, D90, D3000, D3100, D3200, D5000, D5100, D5200o and advanced D100who do not know how to work with manual optics, flashes SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, the SB-5000 will operate in aperture-priority auto mode. This is very convenient when working with manual lenses in poor lighting, where almost all Exposition depends on flash operation. For example, in poor lighting conditions, you can manually set the desired focal length and aperture of the manual lens on the flash, and set the minimum ISO and shutter speed on the camera to 1/60 s, the flash will calculate the required exposure and the picture will be correctly exposed without a long selection of the required excerpts. You can also use this mode in any other lighting conditions. If on amateur cameras with a manual lens use the built-in flash, or flash SB-700, SB-600, SB-400, SB-300, the flash output must be set manually.

Personal experience

Flash mode 'A' is very convenient, the lack of FP mode when shooting in low light is a mere trifle, since shutter speeds up to 1/250 second are enough for me. Sometimes TTL, TTL + BL, TTL + BL + FP mode can be very wrong due to the complex specifics of the exposure meter, which strongly depends on the algorithms of the camera itself. 'A' auto flash can often handle difficult conditions much better than TTL modes, such as when shooting against a mirror, where TTL metering 'sees' the flash in the frame and takes an underexposed shot, 'A' auto is just gives an impulse calculated on the direct current illumination of objects in front of the mirror. Lately, I have been using A mode quite often on my flash units when shooting in very low light rooms such as nightclubs, cafes, etc.

Instead of flash level compensation + - in 'A' auto mode without aperture priority, it is very convenient to use apertures other than the current value. For example, when the aperture on the camera is F / 3.5, I set the flash to F / 4.0, which allows you to get a well-lit scene, you need to experiment with this. It's a pity that not all flashes have such a useful function, and the instructions for flashes are written in a language that most people cannot understand.


Can make flash Nikon SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, SB-5000 can work in auto mode without TTL support, and you can achieve lack of preflashes and all the negative points associated with testing flashes in TTL modes. Sometimes auto 'A' mode on Nikon flash units can perform much better than TTL mode. I recommend that you test this mode in your personal practice.

Нpress the buttons social networks ↓ - it is important for me. Thank you for your attention. Arkady Shapoval.

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Comments: 66 on: Aperture-priority auto for Nikon flashes

  • Vladimir

    Hello Arkady! Tell me please, will the flash in A mode work on Nikon D40 with Soviet lenses? (Helios 81n and Jupiter 37-a).

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, it will.

  • Oleg

    Good day Arkady. A question. I purchased the D7100. There is a UNOMAT BC 32T (theristor Computer - AUTO-OFF) flash from film cameras. I worked with her since Kiev-19. It has one central contact. Can I somehow use it on this camera? And then they warned me that I could burn electronics. I want to use it together with lenses from Kiev and my own 18-105.

    • Mark

      Do not hesitate, burn at a time!

  • Alexander

    Hello. Now I dug into the settings of my SB-800. In automatic non-TTL mode, there are no sub-modes (as described in your article), or I simply could not master the instructions on my own (I always shot in TTL mode).

  • Dubeshko Andrey

    Hello, Arkady and all the visitors of Radozhiva. There is a question: will the sb-800 (sb-900) flash work in non-TTL auto mode with aperture priority and auto flash mode without TTL with non-d lenses. For example, with nikkor 24mm f / 2.8 without d.
    Thank you)

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Yes, it will.

  • Dubeshko Andrey

    Thank you!

  • Maksim

    Good afternoon, Arkady. Please tell me, but is it possible to use old flash units, such as sb-22 on digital SLRs, in particular with the D50. It has a mode without TTL, and will TTL work with a chip lens. Thanks.

  • Nick

    Hello Arkady! I read your article and immediately decided to experiment with my recently acquired SB910 and noticed that when using auto mode without TTL with aperture priority without pre-flashes, the pictures are not much darker than in TTL mode with the same aperture and shutter speed. Why is this happening or is it in the flickers that the TTL mode produces or in the difference in the sensors for measuring illumination on the camera and on the flash

    • BB

      In principle, the TTL mode should be more accurate, because will measure the light directly entering the field of view of the lens. The flash measures the illumination with its own sensor, it “does not know” how much light will hit the matrix. In different situations, there may be a different error in one direction or another.

  • Nick

    Thank you, I basically thought so too.

  • Leonid

    Arkady, please tell me why I can’t turn on the TTL BL mode, but only TTL or TTL BL FP on the new SB 910 flash? Thank you in advance.

    • Dmitry

      TTL BL only works with relatively new lenses that can transmit the distance to the target (D and G series). Plus, metering should be set to matrix.

  • anonym

    Good day! Tell me how to disable pre-pulses on the speedlight sb-700?

  • Nicholas

    I will assume that this is a struggle with the red-eye effect in the camera, turn it off.

  • Alexey

    Thank you for the article.
    With its help, I "made friends" with a non-native Olympus FL36 flash in Nikon D90
    If you do not raise it to the ceiling, then the exposure is quite correct.
    And with the aperture value on the flash, you can make power correction - super!

  • NE

    A question to colleagues who use radio synchronizers and sb-910: does anyone have the aperture value set in the camera in modes 1 and 2 transmitted to the flash when using synchronizers? If so, what synchronizers do you use? Unfortunately, in modes 1 and 2, when using synchronizers, the aperture value is not transmitted to the flash, I have to use modes 3 (most often) or 4 and set the aperture on the flash manually. When the flash is installed in the camera shoe, everything works as per the documentation. So that is not particularly critical for me, tk. I shoot portraits open and do not constantly pull the aperture, as a rule ....

    • NE

      I will add that of course I mean advanced ttl triggers

  • Dima

    Thank you very much for such detailed descriptions of working with the flash!
    Almost found the answers to all questions !!!

  • John

    Hello everyone. Can someone advise please? This flash can start whistling not only when recharging, but also in standby mode? Plus the whistle is not always smooth. Sometimes louder, sometimes quieter. Or is this the end of it?

    • John

      Sorry, I thought I was writing in the section about the SB800.

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English-version of this article https://radojuva.com/en/2013/01/non-ttl-auto-aperture-modes-nikon-speedlight/

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