Monday, June 6, 2011

Nikon Auto FP High Speed Sync!

Jenn Lee 2
f/3.8 at 1/8000 sec at ISO 100, 4:40 PM EST, SB-800 camera left, hand held in a Lumiquest SBIII, triggered with the pop-up flash, via Nikon's CLS system

Sounds like a mouth-full doesn't it?  Sound like a really technical term?  Well don't let the terminology fool you because its really a simple function to utilize.

...btw, the FP stands for "Focal Plane"

Shooting above your camera's native sync speed with off camera flash can be a really useful technique.  Mostly this technique becomes really valuable when shooting outdoors, on bright sunny days and when you want to use a shallow depth of field.

Normally, when shooting outdoors in very sunny conditions, your settings are going to be around 1/250 sec shutter speed, f/16 aperture at ISO 200 to get a "properly" exposed image - when using strobes.  Why?  Well, because when using strobes/flashes synced to your camera, your camera is controlled by its flash sync speed.  That sync speed is the fastest your shutter curtains can travel across your sensor while still picking up the burst of light from your flash.  If you go over your sync speed, the shutter curtains travel faster than the light hitting the sensor and you will see dark bands starting to appear on the photos.  That's a really simple way of stating a more technical reason, but hopefully you get the idea.

LexiThere are many other ways to "cheat the sync speed" but since I shoot Nikon, I thought I would discuss briefly, Nikon's Auto FP High Speed Sync mode.  This method is really easy to use, provided that you have two required items.  The first is obvious, you will need a camera with this feature built in.  The second thing you will need is a Nikon flash that supports this feature.  Fortunately, all of Nikon's latest flashes (SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 and SB-900) will support this.

In camera, you simply go to your "Custom Setting Menu", then down to "e Bracketing/flash", then to "e1 Flash sync speed" and choose the fastest sync speed option you have available, which on my camera is 1/320 s (Auto FP).  I use a D300 but the location and settings should be similar on most Nikon cameras that have this ability, but check your user manual if you're not certain.

Once you have this enabled in your camera, you can just leave it on all the time.  It will not effect your camera in any adverse way by leaving it set there, and what's more important, you won't get frustrated when you think you have it turned on (and its actually not), but it doesn't seem to be working, so ...just tune it in and "rip the knob off".

If you're using your pop-up flash as the triggering method for your off camera flash, then its important to make sure that you have the pop-up flash's output mode set to "--" because the pop-up flash cannot contribute any more light than is necessary to trigger the off camera flash when acting as the "commander" in this sync mode.  So if you're running in to problems with this method, that's always one of the first things to check.

Now the downside to this method is, loss of power.  In order to get your flash to fire above your normal sync speed, the flash has to pulse shots of light as opposed to one burst.  These pulses of light are more under powered than a comparative burst of power.  Also, using the Nikon CLS system, you have to make sure that the eye on the flash can see the signal from your pop-up flash, or on camera flash.  This can give you fits, but with a little planning and forethought, you can make this work.

MikeyNow back to why would you want to use Auto FP High Speed Sync.  For one (and probably most important to me) it allows you to shoot with much larger apertures giving you a very shallow depth of field which gives you that ooey-gooey out of focus background that really makes your subjects stand out.  The images of my kids show a good example of this.  Both of these images were taken at roughly 3pm EST with an off camera SB-800 in a shoot thru umbrella, triggered with another on camera SB-800 acting as the master.

Another reason to use AFPHSS may be to freeze action.  Granted that flashes and strobes can freeze some action, however its not perfect for really fast movements.  You get that "ghosting" effect where the subject in motion seems to have a trail or blur around them.  That's because the flash freezes the subject for only a very short duration, maybe around 1/10,000 of a second, so shooting at faster shutter speeds, helps to eliminate that "ghosting" effect by effectively capturing the image faster than the action is occurring.

The last reason (that I can think of) to use AFPHSS is to give the illusion that a scene is darker than it really is like in the portrait at the top of this post.  Its entirely possible to make a shot taken at noon, look like it was taken at dusk.  By stopping down your aperture to say f/11 or smaller and using a faster shutter speed, like 1/4000 sec, you can literally turn day to night, and by throwing a little flash in there, you can have a really cool, and dramatic image.  Don't believe me?  Go try it, but be warned, you WILL be addicted. :)

I've had a few folks recently ask me questions about Auto FP High Speed Sync so I thought I would do my best to sum it up in a blog post.  If I left anything out, or if anyone has any questions, please sound off in the comments and I'll do my best to field them... but most likely after I get the yard mowed. ;)


David H said...

I am still curious, though. I have a D7000 and SB-900. But I have 3 settings that baffle me. I have 1/250, 1/250FP and 1/320FP. Now if I can have full power at 1/250, why would I want FP at 250? What's the difference between 250FP and 320FP with a shutter speed of, say 1/2000? Why do they have all 3 of these settings there? The 1/250FP seems redundant to me.

David H said...

I am still a bit confused. I have a D7000 and an SB-900.
My D7000 has 3 settings I can't figure out, though. I can sync at 1/250, 1/250FP and 1/320FP. If I can have full power at 1/250, why would I want a 250FP? And what's the difference between 250FP and 320FP at a shutter speed of 1/2000? The 250FP really seems redundant. Why the overlap setting?

John said...


Honestly, I'm not sure where there are the options of 1/250 FP & 1/320 FP. I just have mine set to 1/320 FP and leave it there, always.

It doesn't effect non high speed sync shooting, and its convenient to have it already turned on.

As far as having your shutter speed set to 1/250 or one of the FP modes in the high speed sync option, its not really a matter of how much power you get, but moreso enabling you to shoot at *any* shutter speed and still trigger your flashes.

When Auto FP isn't enabled, you can't sync a flash faster than 1/250, when it is enabled (setting your AFPHSS option to either 1/250 FP or 1/320 FP, you can then shoot at any shutter speed up to your camera's fastest, and still sync your flashes.

Hope this helps, it does seem a bit confusing, but just having Auto FP High Speed Sync enabled, should give you limitless shutter speeds to shoot with. Get out and play with it, and the concept will seem less confusing.

David H said...

And I do as well.

I think the question I'm really getting at is what's the difference between 250FP and 320FP? Is it just about WHEN FP starts? I can't figure out why, if you can get full power pops at 1/250 anyway, why would you want to turn on FP at 1/250? If the flash syncs at full power to 1/250, then switches to AutoFP at 1/320, that makes sense. But why the AutoFP 1/250 option?
Above and below this point is fine, and I get it. It's just this grey area of 2 shutter speeds with 3 options I don't get.

Dave said...

Thanks for the post. It was very informative, but I'm still not clear on the subject as it pertains to my camera.

I have a D5100 and want to buy a SB-700 for on camera use. From what I understand the SB-700 has sync speeds of 1/1000 or higher at ISO 100. I know that the D5100 doesn't have Top FP High Speed Sync. If I want to shoot at Aperture Priority and use the SB-700 in the hot shoe as a fill flash will I be able to use the high sync speeds of the flash or am I stuck with the sync speed of the camera(1/200)? Thanks!

John said...


I did a little research on your camera and you are correct, it does not have Auto FP High Speed Sync as an option, which surprises me honestly because that seems to be a simple thing for Nikon to add to all of their dSLRs.

I think you might be confusing flash duration, and camera sync speed. The flash's duration (how fast it fires for a giving power setting) has pretty much nothing to do with how it will sync with your camera. Your camera determines how fast its shutter can operate based on whether or not you are syncing it with a flash or strobe. The sync speed for your camera (according to the manual is 1/200 sec).

So, in order to hit those higher shutter speeds, you have to do one of several things. You can invest in a set of radio triggers that will allow you to shoot above the sync speed of your camera, which will take some research. I would look in a Flickr group for the D5100 and ask around in there. Certainly someone in that group would know, or you could try asking in the Flickr Strobist group.

Another option is to use a non TTL sync chord attached to your camera's hot shoe, and the other end attached to the flash. If the flash is physically attached to your camera, its going to automatically limit you to the normal flash sync speed in your camera 1/200, so you have to trick the camera in to thinking a non-TTL flash is attached to it. So you can look on the internet for non-TTL cables, or you can check out this post on the Strobist blog that tells you how to buy a used SC-17 chord and modify it to be a non-TTL chord.

Here's that link:

So in a nutshell, with that particular camera and any Nikon flash, you are going to have to buy something else to put between your flash and the camera to get those higher shutter speeds.

Hope this helps!

Dion said...

Hi John,

We have a D7000 with 2 speedlights (an SB910 and an SB700), and we've been looking for a wireless flash trigger to take our portrait photography to the next level. Now if I get a TTL trigger without high speed-sync capability (meaning just 1/250secs), will it also mean by using that trigger to fire my 2 flashes I won't be able to shoot at shutter speeds faster than 1/250secs? Because of this I'm not sure whether to get this ( with only 1/250secs max sync-speed or this ( capable of up to 1/8000secs?

John said...

Hi Dion, yep, I think that's correct. The Phottix triggers are what's called TTL pass through type triggers meaning that they allow you to use a flash on the hot shoe of your camera with the trigger and still retain TTL capabilities for that flash only. Also, those triggers limit you to your hard sync speed which is probably 1/250 sec so no high speed sync capability with those triggers.

It appears that the Pixel King triggers will allow you to use wireless TTL capabilities AND sync above your native sync speed, which means you get the high speed syncing capability with TTL control.

I haven't personally used either of these trigger sets, but have heard good things about the Phottix line of triggers.

If money isn't a limiting factor for you, I would also check out the Pocket Wizard flex series with the Zone controller. They are the industry standard, are top quality and support TTL and high speed sync.

Also, for what its worth, before you make your purchase, try to decide how often you would use high speed sync. If you haven't ever used that feature then it may be a tough call, but if you have, and find that you don't use it that often, then it may make your purchasing decision a little easier (and save you some money).

Hope this helps!

Craig Dandridge said...

..btw, the FP stands for "Focal Plane" : I read elsewhere that FP stands for Flash Power, which seems more relevant than Focal Plane, as this function adjusts the flash output and can do nothing with regard to the focal plane... Please comment. Thanks!

John said...

Well, the way I understand it, is its called Focal Plane because using this feature in the Nikon CLS system, is utilizing how the focal plane shutter reacts to this setting.

Most of the Nikon dSLRs have a focal plane type shutter, as well as many other dSLRs meaning that the shutter curtains are immediately in front of the film or in digital, the sensor.

During normal flash sync operation at your "normal" flash sync speed, the shutter curtains (there are two) open and close the fastest it can to reveal a completely exposed sensor (generally around 1/250 of a second). However, when using Auto FP High Speed Sync, what happens is, the first curtain moves across the sensor followed immediately by the second curtain, so instead of a completely exposed sensor, only a sliver of the sensor is being exposed as both curtains race across.

That is why, when you have that feature enabled, instead of one burst from your flashes when syncing above your normal sync speed, you get a rapid fire succession of flash bursts, to get light to each tiny sliver of the sensor that is exposed.

So its actually a combination of how the focal plane shutter curtains and the flash react simultaneously. That's also why, when using that feature, that you lose a little power from your flash and it takes a tad longer to recycle.

Maria said...

Hi David,

I am using a Nikon D700 and SB600speed light. I have my camera set to 1/320FP, and a Pocket Wizard
mounted in the hot shoe of my camera. I have the SB600 off camera on a light stand, also with a PW attached. I have tried the SB600 in TTL mode and M mode.
When I shoot anything over 1/250 sec, I get black bars.
I want to use a wide aperture to blur the background, but the sync speed isn't working.
Is it the Pocket Wizard II'S causing my problem?
Please help! I have read numerous blogs, my camera and flash manuals and I cannot find the answer.

John said...

Hi Maria,

I believe what the problem is, is that the Pocket Wizards won't allow you to shoot beyond your camera's native flash sync speed which is 1/250 of a second. Some cameras and flash combinations can shoot faster than 1/250 with Pocket Wizards, but it seems the D700/SB600 can't.

So when using the Pocket Wizards, you will have to shoot at no faster than 1/250 to get rid of those black bands.

Also, when using Pocket Wizard II's, you want to have your flash set to manual, not TTL which also means you'll need to dial the flash power in manually on the flash.

However, you can use your pop-up flash on your D700 to trigger the SB-600 wirelessly without using the Pocket Wizards. You will need to check your camera manual on how to turn on Commander Mode on your pop-up flash, then you can also control the power output for your off camera flash from the camera.

Then you need to set your SB-600 as a remote flash so that it will read the signal from your pop-up flash. (Check your flash's manual for that as well). You'll be using what's called Nikon's CLS (Creative Lighting System).

Now, to enable flash sync speeds higher than your normal 1/250 of a second, you need to go in to your camera settings and enable Auto FP High Speed Sync. This will allow you to shoot at any shutter speed and still trigger your flash, but this does not work with Pocket Wizards, so again, if you're using those, you need to set your shutter speed no faster than 1/250 of a second.

Also, when using CLS, always try to make sure that the little "eye" on your flash can see the signal from your pop-up flash. Indoors this is usually not a problem, but outdoors it can be tricky sometimes to achieve but is definitely doable.

Hope this helps but if not, leave another comment and I'll try to talk you through it.

Oh, btw, my name's John not David. ;)

susan payne said...

hi John i have a Nikon d300 and love it thank you for the tip on high speed sync.Susan Payne

John said...

Hi Susan, you're welcome! Hope you enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Thanks for very useful Tip, much appreciated.

Thanks Ankit

Anonymous said...

My Nikon D5200 is not capable of high speed sync. What's the best trigger should I use to cheat the camera and have the off-camera flash fire at high speed sync?

John said...

Hey Anonymous-

Sorry for the late response, but in case you haven't found a set of triggers yet (which you probably already have), you should check out the Flickr Strobist group and search for triggers high speed sync.

Here's link to get you started!

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I have read you reviews and it seems you're the right person to go to. I am wanting to buy a wireless trigger and was keen on pocketwizard initially but because of the cost I have set my eye on the Phottix odin. I am using a D7000 and a SB 700. I've been trying to find an answer to my confusion but haven't had any success. I do understand high speed sync and Hypersync but at what situation will you use the hypersync? And is it possible with the Phottix odin with d7000 and SB 700 flash?



John said...

Hey Bobby,

The main difference between High Speed Sync and Hypersync is that with HSS the flash pulses which does result in lower output from the flash.

With Hypersync, its one burst of flash, which yields more output from the flash.

You can use Hypersync also with bigger flashes like pack-and-head systems and monoblocs, but it also works reasonably well with many camera and small flash combinations.

As far as the Odin triggers go, I think they are pretty good, but haven't used them myself, and from what I understand, they will do High Speed Syncing but I don't think they do Hypersync, that may be a feature used only by the Pocket Wizard system.

In any case, if you are wanting a radio trigger that allows you to go beyond your flash sync speed, I think the Odin's will do that for you and allow you to use TTL if you wish.

Hope this helps!

Jeff Stamer said...

Hi John,
You sir, are a LIFESAVER! Your hint about setting the built-in flash to "--" while leaving Group A as "TTL" solved a problem I've been struggling with for two days. I was almost ready to send my camera back to Nikon.
Thanks again!

John said...

You're welcome Jeff! When I first started fiddling with Nikon's Auto FP High Speed Sync, that one stumped me for a bit as well. :)

Agri said...

Dear John

Greetings. I've never use a speedlight before and planning to purchase a sb-700 for my D7100. In off-camera flash, can my D7100's pop-up flash (as commander mode) fire the speedlight in 1)Manual, 2)TTL & 3)AutoFP (respectively). If this is doable as above, I would be saving some money and don't need to purchase triggers. Care to provide me with some feedbacks. Thanking U in advance.

John said...

Hi Agri - Yes, the D7100 is CLS capable and will work great with the Nikon SB-700. You can control the off camera flash from the camera in Manual and TTL mode with incremental adjusting of the outputs. The D7100 also uses Auto FP High Speed Sync so you would be good to go!

Check out this link for more info on the D7100:

Md Anisul Hoque said...

Dear John,

First of all I really appreciate your hard work behind this blog. It is really helpful. Well, I have a question/problem, I did set up my Nikon D7100 DSLR for HSS. I have a speedlight which is not Nikon brand, but its a cheap speedlight bought from ebay. but it has a optical receiver so i can trigger it with other flash too.

Anyway, what happening is, i tried to trigger it with camera's pop up flash. the speedlight went off too, but pic came dark. my shutter speed was 1/400. Do not understand whats going on. Could you please help me with that? I am feeling so much frustrated, its been a month that i have bought this camera. I am scared that if there is any problem with the camera, I cant even return it. Please help me.



John said...

Hey Md Anisul Hoque,

Thanks for the kind words! I think I discussed this with you via email but in case I didn't, the problem is, a most non-Nikon brand flashes with not work with Nikon CLS. The only brand I know of that will is the Phottix TTL flash for Nikons.

There is no problem with your camera or your flash actually. What's happening is your camera will only sync with that flash at 1/250 sec so when you go faster than that, you will start to see black bands on your images and an underlit shot.

Again this is because that flash will not work with Nikon's CLS system. Hope this helps!