I believe Ernesto was kidding (and perhaps a little bitter about his purchase of a LightSphere causing Gary to release an updated version ). Personally, until I see it on the Nikon site it's not real enough for me to make a decision on - my SB-800 will still work just as well the day after it's replaced in the lineup as it did the day before. Besides, with my luck I'd postpone an SB-800 purchase only to find out that the SB-850 only supports iTTL-2 and won't work with the current generation's CLS.
After reading through this, I started searching through Nikon's patent filings. Back in 2002, they filed this one, which specifies a wireless flash communications mechanism that seems to function similarly to CLS, but uses radio transmissions to control the strobe units.
It'd be nice to have a flash unit that would operate both as an optical master or remote as well as a radio master or remote and would work with the current generation of CLS compatible flashes and cameras but would supplement their capabilities with radio transmission, ala pocketwizards.
One can dream. An optical/radio transceiver/strobe. What a wonderful world it would be.
I could see an 850 for a nominally SB-800 with the addition of an RF commander mode (preferably a mixed-mode RF/IR commander...). If the previous generation was an SB-80DX then maybe we'd be looking at an SB-8000 for the next full generation. Either way we're probably getting ahead of ourselves based on one rumor by a store owner as to why he doesn't have any in stock (and why it's not worth looking elsewhere for them)
While Nikon hasn't had a stellar reputation in the past for flash compatibility across generations, my understanding is that the current CLS/iTTL may be the first time the technology is actually worth preserving.
I used to use Nikon's CLS all the time, aside from the misfires due to the optical ttl, TTL itself wirelessly will often yield inconsistent exposures. If you want the right exposure every time, get a set of pocketwizards (or other radio transmitters), I'm in love with them now. You don't need a flash meter, set your flash on manual and take a few test shots then check the display. After you get the hang of it's very easy to predict the power...and you get the same exposure, every single time.
I have 2 Pocket Wizard receivers and 2 transmitters that I use with my Sunpak 120Js. When I'm shooting large groups all day long under varying lighting conditions, I don't want to muck with exposure checks per se.
I'm doing what you suggest more or less now, and I want to eliminate that.
Scott Chapin Powder Springs, GA, USA Nikonians Team Member
Heck, I don't even care all that much about Radio iTTL. Just give me the current manual commander mode via RF. I think just having the ability to do manual output adjustments from a single commander and have those instructions transmitted to the strobes via RF is the cat's meow.
Someone keep me honest here...this is not possible with PW's, right?