Monday, June 16, 2008

Nikon CLS play time!

Thursday June 12th/08 I ordered a pair of Nikon SB-600 strobes to supplement my D200 with SB-800 setup. I did my usual attempts at thorough research and pricing and then ordered them from BEACH CAMERA. The price was A few dollars under the best price I could find locally and on the internet and the delivery was free. What is very pleasant was that on June 14/08, I had FedEx confirmation that they were delivered... an amazingly quick 2 days! Kudos to Beach Camera, THANKS for delivering so fast, guys!!

One of the first things I wanted to try is seeing if the D200's built-in flash could trigger one, two or all three strobes. Well that went simple enough... it did and at distances of 28 feet (the maximum space my room permitted at the time). The thing is, I had them in manual mode and not iTTL. I wanted to take advantage of Nikon's iTTL and see the results.

Next test was all three strobes off camera and in iTTL mode triggered by the D200... and that went well too, but my results were underexposed somewhat based on what I had the camera set at versus what the light meter told me (more on that later).

Lastly, I wanted to test using it in total iTTL mode with the SB-800 as the commander. Because it uses IR to communicate with the SB-600s, the range to trigger them is greater (not that I need more, to be honest). This setup gave me fits for an hour or so, as the manual is vague as heck, there is no info on the Nikon, Nikonian and ThePhotoforum sites. A quick peek into my own library was in order to see if it held the answers to me in a clearer understandable format.

It was a combination of the "Digital Field Guides" for both the D200 and CLS books together that each held part of the answer, and after referencing back and forth a few minutes, it is now clear as a bell for me to understand and control. This opened the final test of the evening for me and the final results were VERY interesting. Again there was some underexposure, based on my Honeywell light meter.

I had set the strobes about twelve feet apart, about eight feet up and pointed them straight ahead and downwards a little, then stood about two feet behind the light stands. I hung the light meter on a chair about four feet off the ground and fifteen feet away from me (in the middle) and pressed the shutter. The camera and meter were exactly 1 full stop off... so I upped the exposure compensation (EV values in the D200), up by 1 full stop and tried again. The results? PERFECT F/8 results as per the light meter and that is what the camera was set at. The picture was tack sharp and very evenly lit area between the twelve foot wide area (light meter, when moved and tested, supported this). I set the camera to different F-stop levels and time and again, the light meter matched either perfectly or near perfectly to whatever aperture I set the camera to anywhere between F/4 to F/11 and the photo was properly exposed each time. Awesome!

My final test of the evening was to play with the FV lock, so I set the camera to an aperture of F/8 and hit the FUNCTION button. This set off the calibration mode to a consistant F/8 across the scene and I took fifteen quick shots within about thirty seconds at different positions in between the light stands and at zoom settings between 18mm to 200mm. The results?
- No misfires
- No visible variances in exposures from picture to picture
- No visible variances in exposure ANYWHERE in the frame, even when I zoomed in, out and recomposed.

In the end, I was surprised at how well CLS works and how easy in the end it turned out to be to configure the many different ways to take advantage of this setup, though I am far from having completed all the tests I would like to do. So far, I was only in manual and I still would like to test out the high-speed sync mode (AutoFP mode for you Nikonians) in aperture mode outside in some bright sunlight (no chance of that anytime soon... several days of rain are in our forcast).

Now, on top of this, I do have the Gadget Infinity trigger and *five* receivers ordered/on delivery, and they should be here sometime within the next two weeks. I then plan to go full manual and also then include an extra two 110V studio strobes into the game giving me a total of five light sources should I desire it (or add one peanut triggered Metz 45, and that would give me a total of six light sources... lol).

Now, I am not going to show any pictures or results just yet, because all the pictures I took so far were all merely test shots, but I will likely post several pictures in the near future. This coming Friday is my niece's 10th grade graduation (Secondary IV for us Canadians), and she has made The Honor Roll once again... what a perfect time and a place to put Nikon's CLS to the test! I'll update this blog once I have something from that event and post a few pictures here along with a few paragraphs discussing the conditions and setup.

Next: Nikon D200, SB-800 and SB600 settings for various CLS setups