The Nikon Creative Lighting System

Author: Mike Hagan

Publisher: Rocky Nook/Nikonians Press

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Amidst all the hype about megapixels and flicker, a new technology seemed to slip in under the radar. The Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) arrived and gave users of the brand an unprecedented way to control large numbers of lights with an ease that would help to make better images (whatever better means). Lots of Nikon flash guns, or speedlights as they are now called, could be spread around a subject and fired again and again, while the photographer looked at resulting images on the camera monitor and adjusted the speedlights without ever leaving the shooting place until the photograper got just the lighting desired. Unfortunately, with this increase in versatility came an increase in complexity. It’s this complexity that Mike Hagen is attempting to deal with.

The book includes chapters on the CLS system and flash theory in general; the buttons, modes and operations of each of the speedlights in the system, including the SB600, SB800, SB900, the SU800, the SB200, and the R1C1; the capabilities of the Nikon cameras that are integrated into the CLS system; batteries; and technique, including some examples of the use of the system.

The author aims primarily at the functions of the equipment rather than applications about which there is little discussion. For example, multiple flashes are quite useful in lighting interiors but there is no mention of this in the book. Nikon actually provides a pamphlet with their speedlights that does a better job of showing applications.

Unfortunately, the author often shows a lack of precision in discussing topics. For example, he indicates that the flash will tell you that it was not powerful enough to illuminate a scene by placing a minus sign in the upper right hand corner of the speedlight screen when a scene is underexposed. One might assume that this is some form of pre-metering but actually one must first take a picture, using the flash, to get this indicator. He also doesn’t mention that the flash indicator on the flash will blink and that on some Nikon cameras, an indicator will blink in the viewfinder. For another example, Hagen tells you that you can press the zoom button to change the dispersion pattern of the SB800, but doesn’t show you an image of the zoom button. That’s because there is no separate button for zoom on the SB800; you have to use the multifunction dial for this purpose.

Some important subjects are omitted completely, like the integration of the speedlight with the camera. For example, there is no mention of the difference in shooting in aperture mode, shutter mode or manual mode. Similarly Hagen fails to provide important information that would allow one to figure out how to handle unique situations, like the fact that the flash tube only lights with one brightness and that it varies its illumination effects by the length of time it is on, or that in high speed mode the flash fires more than once, meaning that it will put out less illumination for each burst.

Users are hungry for information about the CLS system, and this book is the best available on CLS. Let’s hope a better one comes along.

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