through the F-Mount -  photography by Jürgen Becker
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Nikon SG-3IR - an inexpensive but very helpful accessory

April 21, 2013

The SG-3IR is an infrared filter for a built-in flash. On the left you see it mounted on a D700.

Nikon's current flash system (CLS - Creative Lighting System) has great capabilities. One of those is the "Advanced Wireless Lighting", that enables you to shoot simultaneously with several flashes. The number of remote flashes is not limited, but each remote flash must be assigned to one of two or three groups. At the so called commander, you can set an individual exposure mode and compensation for each group. But what is a "commander"?

In the setup of the camera - shown here: the D700 - you can configure the Advanced Wireless Lighting. If you want to suppress the internal flash, you can just switch it off ...

... but that does not really mean "off". Because the built-in flash works as the master here, it must send control flashes to the remote units.

With the SG-3IR the Advanced Wireless Lighting works fine and the built-in flash is now nearly invisible.

Nikon provides three options to run a commander for the Advanced Wireless Lighting:

Of course, if you own a suitable camera, option B is the easiest and cheapest way to use Advanced Wireless Lighting. But sometimes you don't want to have the light coming from the internal flash, for example because it creates unwanted light reflexes on your subject or because your lens causes shadows (typical in macro setups). According to the menu it is not a problem, you can just switch off the internal flash. But because the internal flash is the commander, it still flashes for controlling the remote units (Nikon calls these flashes "timing flashes"). Especially if you work with small aperture numbers or with high ISO values, the "switched off" built-in flash can actually impact the exposure.

You can switch to option C or buy an additional Speedlight - e.g. a SB-700 - for using option A with directing the flash backwards or upwards. But for both solutions you have to spend a lot of money (as of April 2013 in Germany both an SU-800 and an SB-700 costs around 270.- euros).

This is where the SG-3IR comes in. It is an infrared filter for built-in flashes. The flash becomes invisible but can still control the remote units, just like the SU-800 does. By chance I found the name SG-3IR in the manual of Nikon's Remote Kit R1, because the SG-3IR belongs to this kit. But it is also sold separately, currently for around 15.- euros. It is mostly a piece of plastic, but the build quality is very good. Whenever you don't need it temporarily, you can just fold the filter upwards.

After knowing the name of it I searched my D700 manual for "SG-3IR" - with success: in a remark on the commander mode Nikon recommends the usage of the SG-3IR also for working with rear-curtain sync while the built-in flash is set to master mode.

The Speedlights SB-700, SB-800, SB-900 and SB-910 can work as remote flashes in SU-4 wireless mode. But don't forget to switch off special functions of the commander flash like red-eye reduction!

Bounced from the sloped ceiling. Using the SB-700 as a remote flash for the D5100 while the internal flash is suppressed by the SG-3IR.

More opportunities...

The Nikon D5100 - we own one as our family camera - is small and lightweight, it offers great video capabilities and the image quality delivered by the 16MP DX sensor is really good. Sometimes I use it for macro work. Due to the foldable display and its live view capabilities it is a great camera for that job! But - as mentioned above - the internal flash of the D5100 cannot work as a commander of the Advanced Wireless Lighting.

Nevertheless, it is possible to wirelessly use a SB-700 as a second flash in conjunction with the internal flash. That is possible by setting the SB-700 to the "SU-4" wireless mode. SU-4 is the name of a small accessory I sometimes used about ten years ago in conjunction with my F4 equipment: one flash is connected to the camera, a second is mounted on the SU-4. The SU-4 synchronises the second flash: it starts to light just after the first one has started and it stops just after the first one has done so. An SB-700 in SU-4 mode behaves like an older Speedlight mounted on an SU-4. The number of such remote flashes is not limited. BTW: the SU-4 is still available, it costs around 120.- euros.

The SU-4 type wireless lighting is more simple than the advanced type, but is still usable. That is especially true in the digital world, where you can (and should) instantly check the result. The wireless firing of a flash is an alternative to the usage of an expensive sync cable like the SC-17, SC-28 or SC-29. If you want to suppress the internal flash: just use the SG-3IR! I'm not sure whether the original SU-4 is sensitive for an infrared flash, but my SB-700 definitively is!

The resulting image - the blossom appears more three-dimensional than it does in the light of the internal flash.

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