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I recently upgraded from D300 to D800 and I was very excited about the new auto ISO feature that automatically sets the maximum shutter speed based on focal length (including an adjustable multiplier). This is really convenient, especially for zoom lenses where focal length can vary rapidly.

However, it seems like when I attach a flash (SB600) that clever logic goes out the window. The flash shutter speed (option e2), which determines the maximum shutter speed while using flash, is a fixed setting buried in the menus and the smallest possible value is 1/60, which is not fast enough for a long lens. I can switch to Manual and set shutter speed myself, and auto FP (which can be enabled in setting e1) definitely helps since it only switches to high speed sync if I go under the flash sync time. But ideally it'd be nice if flash shutter speed were automatically set based on focal length using the same mechanism as auto ISO.

My main question here is: what is Nikon's motivation for this limitation? And why can't option e2 be set faster than 1/60? Are there other vendors who do something more clever? The final question ended up being more like: what's an efficient way to shoot with flash on Nikon in situations where 1/60 isn't fast enough to freeze motion, e.g. when shooting a closeup with a long lens?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The maximum sync speed is the speed where the whole sensor is exposed. At higher speeds, the two shutters form a slit as they cross the sensor. But most modern cameras have a max sync speed of 1/250 or so. 1/60 is really slow, I think my 40 year old Nikon F could do that.

When you use a flash, its the light of the flash that stops action/motion. Most flashes are lit only for 1/1000 or shorter. Look at the T.1 time of your flash's specs.

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1  
The flash sync speed is 1/250 out of the box and appears to go down to 1/320, and it supports high speed sync too at any shutter time, but the flash shutter speed (which determines the maximum shutter time during flash shots in aperture-priority or program modes, rather than the minimum) is what the 1/60 is. This does partly answer my question though - in a dim environment camera shake isn't going to be an issue because most of the light is collected during the flash burst. But it might still be an issue when using fill flash. –  D Coetzee Jul 14 '12 at 0:17
    
Note: according to SB600 manual, flash duration is 1/900th sec at full M1/1 output, dropping to 1/25000 at M1/64 output. In a dim environment even 1/900 should be good enough to freeze almost anything. –  D Coetzee Jul 14 '12 at 16:45
    
Fill flash is still a flash, and will be very quick. True, if the ambient is fairly bright, then you need the shutter to be fast enough to freeze motion. Most flashes simply cut off the electricity/light more quickly when doing lower power, so they will freeze better at lower power. –  Pat Farrell Jul 16 '12 at 2:12
    
Yeah my concern in a nutshell is: it seems like the only way I can shoot with flash with a long lens in bright ambient light is in manual or shutter priority mode, since in aperture priority and program mode the camera will simply refuse to go faster than 1/60 (unless the light is so bright that it needs to go faster for exposure). I'd understand though if Nikon considered this scenario exceptional. –  D Coetzee Jul 16 '12 at 2:18
1  
Using manual is not hard, and its a skill we all need. For fill, just use the camera's auto exposure, find out what it will set, and then set the camera to that manually. Take a few sample shots and make the fill work, adjust to suit. –  Pat Farrell Jul 16 '12 at 2:21

Briefly summarizing solutions by cases following discussion with @PatFarrell in other answer (embellished with my own understanding):

  • In dim environments flash will always freeze motion because the flash itself is around 1/1000th sec and most of the light collected during the exposure is from the flash.
  • For fill flash in a brighter environment, if 1/60 is fast enough to freeze motion, e.g. a still subject at 50mm, program and aperture priority mode should work fine with flash on out of the box.
  • If 1/60 is not fast enough to freeze motion, compose (or shoot) with flash off and auto ISO on, then copy aperture/shutter/ISO settings to Manual mode and shoot with flash on and auto ISO off, adjusting slightly as needed. I did a test shot of a lamp at 200mm below (see on Flickr) with that technique and got reasonable results.

Test shot of a lamp with fill flash at 200mm taken using the last-mentioned technique.

200mm on full frame, 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 100, flash bounced at compensation -2, distance 2.7m

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In the Custom Settings Menu look for section "e. bracketing/flash" and the option "e1. flash sync speed" -- I'm guessing this is set to 1/60. I leave it set to 1/250, FWIW.

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Flash sync speed (e1) is set to 1/250 (it can also be set to 1/320 auto FP, which allows an arbitrarily fast shutter speed). Changing this option doesn't affect the available options for e2 though. –  D Coetzee Jul 14 '12 at 1:41

Here's something straight from Nikon. If the stock flip down diffuser is used on the SB800 (probably the 600 as well) then the camera is programmed to only sync at 1/60. There is a sensor in the flash that limits the camera. I flipped mine back up took a shot on a sunny day and the flash sync'd at 1/250

Hope this helps

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In my case the diffuser was not down (and believe it or not, I never even realised I had a flip down diffuser - I feel dumb now). I appreciate the info though. –  D Coetzee Aug 22 '13 at 23:53

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