Nikon TTL flash anomaly

Aug 16, 2008 | Flash | 4 comments

Back in April 2008 at the start of my Australia tour, I was greeted at Sydney airport by Mr Nikon Australia. He stripped me of my Canon 5d kit and lent me a Nikon D3 camera with a 12-24mm lens, a 24-70mm lens, a 70-200mm lens, an SU800 flash and an SU800 commander. I spent the next month touring Australia teaching and shooting with Nikon’s extraordinary new system.

Taken in Melbourne using a Nikon D3, 24 - 70mm lens, SU800 and SB800 Speedlight.

Taken in Melbourne using a Nikon D3, 24 - 70mm lens, SU800 and SB800. For this picture the Speedlight was mounted high on a stand and just out of shot to the right. Minus 2 stops was needed for this dramatic look. The SB800 was zoomed into 105mm to create the pool of light.

The kit was supplied without manuals and it was up to me to work out the various opportunities the Nikon flash system has to offer. One of the most useful of my findings is If you operate the D3 in manual exposure mode, and use TTL flash on or off the camera, the exposure compensation control adjusts the flash output. The ambient exposure stays the same as the ISO, shutter speed and aperture are fixed at the settings you choose. But rather than leave the exposure compensation control without a function some clever technician at Nikon decided to put it to good use and control the one setting that the camera still controls in manual exposure, the output power of the flash.

This set up was perfect for me as I used the aperture to control the ambient exposure and the exposure compensation to control the flash power. Fully independent control without button fumbling.

I’m not sure what other cameras offer this in the Nikon line up. I’m not even sure if this feature is mentioned in the user manual but I do know it is very useful and brilliantly simple.

Taken in Brisbane using a Nikon D3, 12 - 24mm lens, SU800 and SB800 speedlight.

Taken in Brisbane using a Nikon D3, 12 - 24mm lens, SU800 and SB800 speedlight. The wide angle lens has made this girls legs go on forever but it has also made her feet look big. I found this lens the least valuable of the 3 Nikon f2.8 pro zooms for portraiture.

Have your say

Have you used a Nikon DSLR in manual with TTL flash? if so, what have been your experiencies? Email me here with your findings and a few of your pictures. The best of these will be published here for other photographers to enjoy. All contributions will be fully credited together with links to the authors website or blog.


  1. damien

    Paul Hurst emailed me and wrote:

    …I have had a couple of issues where the SB-800 has refused to fire either because of high ambient light or incorrect line of sight positioning to the camera (I only use the onboard pop up speedlight on the D300 for triggering the SB-800 remotely). I wonder whether the pricey SU-800 would be any better in these instances. The other issue I have is getting the speedlight positioned correctly when mounted on a stand. I have just purchased a Manfrotto ball head for the stand to see if that helps with positioning…

    My reply (edited for brevity):

    …The SU 800 is a bit better and more reliable than the pop up unit on my D200. It may be that the Radio Popper system will work with the pop up flash on Nikons CLS. It is not available in the UK yet but will be soon.

    The ball head will certainly help. I’ll post an item on my flash mounting procedure in a week or so when I’m back in the UK…

    Thank you Paul for your email.

  2. damien

    Top tip for Nikon shooters using off camera flash for the fist time in overcast daylight or shade: On your D3,200,300,or 700 set the ISO to 100, the camera to P and at minus 2 stops exposure comp. Set the flash to +2 stops comp and the shots will look great. You can play with the settings to adjust the look but go the same + on the flash as you use – on the camera as a starting point. For sunlight use the lowest ISO available and for dusk you can use 400 ISO an up as required.

  3. damien

    Hi Tom, I have a D200 that uses the Nikon CLS (creative lighting system) and I have found that it uses a pre flash from the on camera unit. I assume it is to asses exposure and this causes an annoying delay before the picture is taken. Not a problem for a holiday snap but a real pain at a wedding. This pre flash still happens if you set the pop up as a non firing master.That is why I use the SU800 and I am pleased to say there is no delay plus the flash power is easy to control without diving into menus. Am I getting the set up wrong and if so is there a way around the delay?

  4. Tom

    Not only does that work across the Nikon range – but… if you skimp on the pop-up flash on the D3 (and go for say the D700/D80 etc) you can use the camera as the SU-800 master unit saving a couple of hundred quid for those on a budget.


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