I’m a big fan of the Nikon creative lighting system (CLS). I’ve been using it very successfully for several years now. In the past I was using an extra strobe (you know, because everyone has an extra strobe laying around) as the master strobe to command the remote units. That work ok, until I actually needed to use the “extra” strobe for some shots. At first I looked into getting some Pocket Wizards. I’ve used them in the past a couple of times and they are awesome. Along with their awesome functionality comes an awesome price tag. Those were out of the question. So I poked around on e-bay and found an insanely low price on a SU-800. I placed a fairly conservative bid and to my surprise I won the auction! The seller even gave me express shipping so I had it in my hands in three days.
Once I recieved the package I popped in the single CR123 battery that is required and clamped the sucker on my hot shoe. There is a small switch in the battery compartment for toggling between macro flash mode and commander mode. I placed it in commanded mode and powered up the device. Once on, I could see my channel settings and three groups. I turned on a strobe in remote mode and then pressed the test button on the SU-800 and pow! Immediate communication! The unit is super simple to use.
The Nikon CLS communicates via line of sight using light sensitive diodes. This can be problematic in bright sunlight. Knowing this, I went outside and tried to make the system fail. It was a semi-cloudy day. I placed a remote SB-900 on its stand and sat it on the ground pointing toward my house. I then walked about 20 feet away from the unit and tested it. It fired! I then walked further away and kept hitting the test button to trigger the remote. I got about 30 feet away but directly behind the SB-900 unit and and it still fired. Next I tried to make it more complicated. I ran off at an angle, getting me even further away from the unit. It still worked. I had a hard time breaking the system outdoors. It did fail when I turned the SU-800 totally away from the SB-900 unit. Since there was no place to bounce the light outdoors, the SB-900 couldn’t receive the signal.
I then moved indoors. I placed the SB-900 in one room while I hid around the corner with the SU-800. The signal naturally bounced off the walls and the strobe was able to receive the signal and trigger. Indoor shooting with the CLS is almost flawless.
Overall I’m pretty happy with the setup. I’m looking forward to more real-world situations to see how it performs.