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D200 Commander vs. SU800 Commander

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by thetintypeman, Jun 30, 2007.

  1. Dear Café Friends,

    I am trying to decide if I need to purchase the Nikon SU800 Speedlight Commander which I think can command up to three different flash units via groups "A, B, & C" versus the built-in commander in the D200. I know the D200's commander can control up to two different flash units via groups "A & B". If this is so, I will most likely only use two flashes at any one time, is the SU800 necessary (or another NAS Luxury :biggrin:) !

    Looking for some good advice from my teammates here. Especially if Uncle Frank or Greyflash answer as they really appear to be huge flash knowledge banks.

    Thanks in advance to all for the valuable information.

  2. Hi Jim:

    For me the addition of the extra channel is not the (big) selling point for the SU800. It is the additional range you get and the ability to shoot without the normal pre-flash.

    These things for me are very much worth the price of the SU-800


  3. I_media


    May 16, 2007
    Firstly you don't eliminate the pre flash, it fires as normal so the camera can see the light through the lens and calculate the proper light required for the exposure (if you are not using manual or FV-lock).

    What you probably mean is that you eliminate the signal/communication flashes between the body and the remote flash. That is only half true, as the communication is still there, but with the SU-800 its done with IR-light and not with visible light as with the pop-up flash.

    I've seen before that there has been some confusion between the pre-flash and signal/communication flash.
  4. Techinically you are correct I Media; however, you do lose the pre-flash from "on camera." This is a bigee in that you no longer have the reflection in the glasses that is the bane of on camera flash. Doug is also right that you do get addtional range and not only that you can bounce the IR signal from the SU800 and set off flashes that are not in the line of sight. As an example I have set off flashes in other rooms, in softboxes, behind couches, etc., etc. I also believe that once you start using two flashes the third one is a natural progression as you get into lighting the BG and/or hair light. I love being able to set the flash level on three seperate flashes from the SU800. You can have several more flashes on the same three channels and they will fire as well. I use two flashes inside my softbox that are on the same channel as an example.

    By the way, I have successfully set off an SB800 that was 92 feet from my SU800 and it fired every time. This was in bright sunlight too. I have taken pictures of a young lady who has sensitive eyes and it was literally impossible to catch her with her eyes open when using on camera flash. Once I got my SU800 I had her come back for another shoot and every shot turned out. Her mother was thrilled in that she did not have any shots of her without her eyes closed.
  5. Hi, Jim. I'm flattered, but I just a pilgrim, not a guru. Frankly, I was skeptical a few months back when I read Greyflash's rave about his su800. I actually called him and gave him the 3rd degree. His opinion carries a lot of weight with me, and he had some convincing arguments in favor of the su800, so I bought one, and am now one of its biggest champions. Here's why...

    It triggers my flashes more reliably than the internal flash
    It has more range than the internal flash
    It commands the remotes with invisible infra red signals
    It's much lighter and less expensive than using an sb800 as the Commander
    It gives the capability of controlling 3 groups, should I ever want to
    The easy-to-grasp user interface makes adjusting multiple remotes a breeze

    I've been shooting CLS enabled cameras for over 3 years, but I found the process intimidating, and didn't use my flashes in remote mode very often until I bought an su800. I do all the time now, and wouldn't be without an su800. Jmho.
  6. Muonic


    Jun 14, 2006
    All I can say is, if you ever try an SU-800, you will never go back to using the on-camera flash for a controller. It's that easy.
  7. Dear Friends,

    Thanks so much for the fast response. To Doug, I_Media, and Muonic, thanks for your insight. To Uncle Frank and Greyflash, you guys are incredible and I thank you for making the sell! I am going to order the SU800 next week as I believe as I progress in my craft and (right now) small side business, I will expand into more advanced lighting scenarios.

    Thanks again to all...I love the Nikon Café!

  8. This is a very interesting read and although I was not thinking about getting an SU800 before, now.........

    But one thing I read here may need to clarified, just in case.

    Jim, you mentioned 3 units by using 3 groups. You can have any number of units in a group. I think the most I've seen in video demos is 7-8 flash units in one lighting setup.
  9. Ray C.

    Ray C.

    Nov 7, 2005
    It really depends on what you're shooting. In very small setups the SU-800 is okay and will give you a little more range than the D200's built-in flash... But if you'll be doing anything in larger, more elaborate settings, you definitely want to get Pocket Wizards...MUCH longer range and much more reliable.

    The cons on the PW's are the flashes must be used in manual and be controlled at the flash location. Not a big deal...at all.

    The cons and limitations on the SU-800 are many...They are line of sight infrared vs. radio signal (huge difference) 60 ft. vs. 1600 ft...Ouch! If you need to fire a flash(es) behind you in other than a small room, i.e. a gym, church, hall etc, sorry, out of luck. Try triggering a remote camera with an SU-800...nope.

    Yes, you'll spend a bit more on PW's if you're firing lots of SB's...but at $250 the SU-800 ain't exactly cheap either.

    So, like I said, if all you're shooting now and in the future, is simple, basic lighting setups, the SU-800 will work most of the time. If you want/need more range, reliability, versatility...Pocket Wizards are the industry standard.
  10. Have you used an su800, Ray? Your ratings are inconsistent with my experiences. I've found the su800 offers significantly more range than the d200's internal flash, and that I don't need line of sight for indoors work, as the powerful IR signals bounce nicely off walls and ceilings. Just yesterday, on this very thread, Greyflash reported "I have successfully set off an SB800 that was 92 feet from my SU800 and it fired every time. This was in bright sunlight too."

    So you can fire a flash that's 1600 feet away, but if you need to dial down the power, you have to walk a quarter of a mile to make the adjustments on the flash unit, and trudge a quarter of a mile back so you can see if you got it right. No big deal at all :rolleyes: .
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 1, 2007
  11. Ray, I know you mean well and that you love your PW's. They are great and I am not taking anything away from them. What is interesting is that I don't know too many photographers that shoot people pictures at 1600 ft. I have shot inside churches on numerous occasions and with the bounce of the IR my flashes fire every time. I have also shot with the flash behind me and it has gone off as well. I have posted pictures on this site where I used flashes in other rooms and they also fired fine. I even have an example where the flash was two rooms away and it also fired every time. I do house photography for a builder and use my SU800 and have been successful in doing that.

    My SU800 (one unit) fires off 4 flashes and lets me adjust each of them from the camera position. Two of these flashes are literally inside of my large softbox and not easily accessible and they fire off as well. I would like to see one PW do that. I have tested my SU800 at 100 ft. and it worked every time. I took a bunch of picture a few months ago in a gym. One of my flashes was across the gym and the other was right beside me. I never had a problem triggering either unit nor in adjusting the flash level.

    I don't think I have ever made a post about the SU800 in the last couple of months that you haven't followed it up with why the PW is better. PW's are expensive and to fire off 4 (or more flashes) would cost much more than my one SU800. Perhaps you might like to price it out and tell us what that would cost?

    Would I like to have some PW's for those instances when I am doing something very creative outside, you bet. Would I trade my SU800 for a PW, no way. I would recommend PW's to anyone that did not have Nikon CLS and the SB800/600 units and feel good about doing it. As I have said before, I like what I hear about PW's and feel that they are reliable, and exceptional units. They have a great place in the photographers bag of tricks and so does the SU800. I really believe that for sports photography outdoors, PW's are definitely the way to go.

    I have no interest in selling SU800's for Nikon. My only purpose for posting in this thread was that the OP asked for information on the SU800 and I tried my best to give him the facts as I know them. I use the SU800 on over half of my photography and I can only state what I know to be true. If the OP wants to ask questions about the PW's I will be sure to refer him to you. :smile:
  12. For ttl Su800 cant be beaten. So if your a ttl fan, then the su800 will be a match made in heaven.

    the pw is far more reliable but cant transmitt any exposure data.

    Personally i use pw's, cause i simply dont use ttl off camera. I meter wireless thru pw and have my sb800's in manual mode.

    /Paul L.
  13. Welcome Paul. Nice to see you over here. Have long admired your work.
  14. Welcome Paul, happy to have you aboard.
  15. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    Another vote for the SU800 from me because of the ease of control without moving away from the camera.

    Gordon, something that I experimented recently with because of the lack of 'bounce' of signals outdoors might be of interest. You probably already know this one, but just in case others would like to try it out.......

    At a naming ceremony a few months ago I needed to place the flashes well behind the camera position on a large expanse of lawn for some of the shoot. The SU800, forward facing, was not going to do the job.

    Just as I was wishing I had rented/bought pw's, I looked down and saw my old SC29 cable.

    Upshot was that I could attach the SC29 to the camera, put the SU800 onto the hotshoe at the other end of the cable, and hey presto I can point it in any direction.

    If you make that attachment, and put the SU800 into the pouch that it comes with (it still fits with the SC29), you can clip the pouch to your waistbelt/shoulder strap pointing in the right direction and not worry about it falling around the place.

    Saved my bacon that day and on other occasions since. And it gave my SC29 a whole new lease of life!

    PS another welcome to Paul....great to see you here.
  16. husawis

    husawis Guest

    Gordon, most of my work during the spring and summer is wildflower photography and ad shots for florists. In the green houses where I can get around to flash setups the PW's are my tools of choice. Outside, in the woods where sometimes the footing is good enough for one approach the PW's can not handle the exposure mods I may need, particularly when light patterns are changing. In that case the SU800 is the answer.

    I agree with you and other posters here that both PW and SU800 are good and work well depending upon what we are shooting. I have been doing this long enough that I can say I do not find the SU800 unreliable in the least. Sometimes, unreliable means trying to use a piece of equipment in ways that it can not work well.

    I still have a note from a photgrapher I worked with saying his lens cap was unreliable on his RF camera because sometimes it stayed on the lens when he shot something. That never happened with his SLR.
  17. Ray C.

    Ray C.

    Nov 7, 2005
    I don't know many photographers that need to fire a flash at 1600 ft. either, but IF you find yourself in a situation that you need to, it's nice to know that you can. (And if I did, this is one instance where I'd probably use my flash meter, so I wouldn't have to walk back and forth.:wink:)  While working at the paper, I did however need to fire strobes that were often 200ft+ away, in hockey rinks, large gyms, etc. Most times I would use a four Alien Bee 800 setup, which is compatible with PW's...but not SU-800.

    As I said, in a small environment such as housing interiors, where there's ample stuff for the IR to bounce off, the SU-800 may very well work in most situations. PW's don't rely on the hope that the IR will bounce just right. They simply fire when triggered. And yes, the SU-800 may work in a gym, or church, IF you stay within it's very limited range and place the flashes where the SU-800 needs them, but not necessarily where YOU, the photographer, needs them. Again, with PW's, set 'em, test 'em, forget 'em...Focus on your images and not whether or not your flashes are going to fire

    As for firing four flashes and cost... By my calculations, four SB-800's and one SU-800 will cost $1509.75. Four PW's and four of either SB-24's, SB-26's, Vivitar 283/285, etc. will run around $1100-1200.

    I do recall one instance here where I was singing the praises of PW's...when bep207 was debating on PW's vs. SU-800 for an upcoming wedding. He went with the SU-800. The end result?

    I'm really not trying to be argumentative or say that "my toys are better than your toys," or "my Dad can beat up your Dad," or anything like that. I'm just stating the facts. There really must be a reason that PW's are the professional photography industry standard. Honestly, other than TTL, I personally can't think of a single situation of where the PW's aren't better, much more versatile or much more reliable.

  18. The OP, wants to use either the d200 in commander mode or the su800.

    So pw isnt really a viable option. He most likely dont use a lightmeter, so he is relying on ttl. So for his needs the pw would be quite a stupid option. Not only will he lose ttl, but he will have to guess the exposure, by chimping and do test shots all the time.

    Sure pw's are more realiable, its more or less a standard. But for many shooters they arent really needed. (read for all ttl shooters)

    This coming from someone who dont even own the su800 anymore :) 

    I love my pw's, but no to a degree that i would say its the only way and best way for everyone .-) But for me it certainly is.

    /Paul L.
  19. Ray C.

    Ray C.

    Nov 7, 2005
    Actually, based on the information supplied, we don't know what he'll be shooting, hence why I first stated, "It really depends on what you're shooting..."

    So, perhaps it is wiser not to jump to the conclusion that PW's are a "stupid" option until we know what his needs truly are...
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