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Accessories Reviews

Which Nikon Speedlight Flash Unit Should You Select?

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)


Keywords: flash, speedlights, lighting

Show pages (9 Pages)

The Nikon speedlight series

Nikon makes several Speedlight units that work very well with your Nikon DSLR. The SB-300, SB-400, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910 and now since 2016, the SB-5000. These units are all compatible with your new Nikon DSLR camera. There are also the R1C1 flash units (SB-R200), which are designed to be used in small groups, such as for a ring-light arrangement.

We discuss and learn more about these Nikon accessories in our Speedlights forum.

Let’s consider each of the available Nikon Speedlights, along with basic information on the unit’s guide number, lens coverage, and other relevant data.

Nikon SB-910 Speedlight

The SB-910 is Nikon’s flagship Speedlight (now in the year 2016 replaced by the SB-5000). It has adjustable beam width that goes wider and farther than most other flash units. It has a big, detachable diffuser that really helps control hotspots and contrast. Plus, it has an included filter system that communicates with the flash unit.

I really enjoy using the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight unit. It is a very powerful and easy to use in the CLS arrangement because it has external controls for setting remote mode. It can also be used as a CLS commander when needed.

20140107_100652_image-1_sb-910.jpg

Nikon SB-910 Speedlight

 

The SB-910 was released as a minor upgrade to the previous flagship SB-900. The SB-900 had a perceived flaw—it shut down when too hot—which was actually a protection circuit for preventing flash overheating. However, the SB-910 works differently. Instead of shutting down the flash unit when its internal temperature gets too high from rapid firing, the SB-910 simply slows down the flash recycle rate to allow the unit to cool down between flashes. Note: A firmware upgrade for the SB-900 pretty much solves the overheating problem.

Otherwise the SB-910 and SB-900 are similar flash units, with matching power and capability. The controls and menus on the SB-910 are very easy to use; much easier than the older flagship flash, the SB-800. The unit is somewhat larger than the SB-800 while being almost identical in size to the SB-900. If you want maximum power in a Nikon Speedlight flash unit, you can’t go wrong with the powerful and flexible SB-910.

The SB-910 comes with color filters to modify the color of the flash output, a built-in diffuser, a built-in bounce card, and a large white detachable diffuser, as seen in the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight picture above, on the left.

This flash unit works very well with any Nikon DSLR and supports all the advanced Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) features.

Official SB-910 Guide Number Information

34m/111.5ft. (at ISO 100, 35mm zoom head position, in FX format, standard illumination pattern, 20°C/68°F) to 48m/157.5ft. (at ISO 200, 35mm zoom head position, in FX format, standard illumination pattern, 20°C/68°F)

Official SB-910 Lens Coverage

17 to 200mm (FX-format, Automatic mode)
12 to 200mm (DX-format, Automatic mode)
12 to 17mm (FX-format, Automatic mode with built-in wide-angle panel deployed)
8 to 11mm (DX-format, Automatic mode with built-in wide-angle panel deployed)

Bounce Flash

Flash head tilts down to -7° or up to 90° with click-stops at -7°, 0°, 45°, 60°, 75°, 90°

Dimensions / Weight

3.1 x 5.7 x 4.4 in. (Approx. 78.5 x 145 x 113 mm) / 14.8 oz. (420 g)

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

Wireless Commander Mode offers wireless control at the master Speedlight position, controlling up to 3 remote Speedlight groups and an unlimited number of compatible Speedlights. Four wireless channel options help manage wireless conflicts in multi-photographer environments.

 

 


Nikon SB-900 Speedlight

The SB-900 is Nikon’s former flagship Speedlight. Like the newer Nikon SB-910, it has adjustable beam width that goes wider and farther than most of the other Nikon flash units.

The SB-900 is not longer available as a new production unit, but is easily available in the preowned market and sometimes as “new old stock.” If you cannot afford the new Nikon SB-910, the SB-900 provides a similar level of power and capability, at a lower cost. 

20140107_100652_image-2_sb-900.jpg

Nikon SB-900 Speedlight

Like its newer sister flash, the controls and menus on the SB-900 are very easy to use; much easier than the previous flagship flash, the SB-800. One perceived drawback: The SB-900 unit is such a powerhouse that it can overheat if fired rapidly, caused by allowing the batteries to get hot from heavy current drain. For that reason it has a built-in temperature sensor that will prevent the flash from being fired when it gets too hot. That could be a problem in events like a wedding.

This overheat sensor can be enabled/disabled in the camera’s menu. Many photographers leave it disabled so that the flash will not shut off when hot. So far, my use of the flash has not caused it to get too hot, and I’ve shot all sorts of events, so this may not be a real problem for most. There is a firmware upgrade that addresses this issue to some degree. However, some have chosen to seek out the older flagship SB-800, which does not suffer from this percieved issue, or they will buy the more expensive SB-910 upgraded unit.

I have both SB-900 and SB-800 flash units and like them both very well. I use the SB-900 now more than the SB-800 because I love the extra reach the narrow beam width gives me, and I shoot a lot of wide angle group shots. The extra-wide zoom position the SB-900 provides really makes a difference. Plus, I love that big white diffuser!


 

 

Official SB-900 Guide Number Information

34m/111.5ft. (at ISO 100, 35mm zoom head position, in FX format, standard illumination pattern, 20°C/68°F) to 48m/157.5ft. (at ISO 200, 35mm zoom head position, in FX format, standard illumination pattern, 20°C/68°F)

Official SB-900 Lens Coverage

17 to 200mm (FX-format, Automatic mode)
12 to 200mm (DX-format, Automatic mode)
12 to 17mm (FX-format, Automatic mode with built-in wide-angle panel deployed)
8 to 11mm (DX-format, Automatic mode with built-in wide-angle panel deployed)

Bounce Flash

Flash head tilts down to -7° or up to 90° with click-stops at -7°, 0°, 45°, 60°, 75°, 90°

Dimensions / Weight

3.0 x 5.7 x 4.7 in. (Approx. 78.0 x 146.0 x 118.5 mm) / 14.6 oz. (415 g)

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

Wireless Commander Mode offers wireless control at the master Speedlight position, controlling up to 3 remote Speedlight groups and an unlimited number of compatible Speedlights. Four wireless channel options help manage wireless conflicts in multi-photographer environments.


Nikon SB-800 Speedlight

The SB-800 Speedlight unit is similar in power to the SB-900 and has the ability to be a CLS commander too. The SB-800’s controls are more difficult to adjust than the SB-900’s controls because the settings are buried in menus. I’ve used these successfully for several years. 

20140107_100652_image-3_sb-800.jpg

Nikon SB-800 Speedlight

The SB-800 is out of production but still in very high demand. You can sometimes buy them as new old stock on Amazon.com or eBay. The powerful flash unit is smaller than the SB-900 and SB-910; therefore it may fit in a camera bag more efficiently when there is little room to spare. However, the zoom ratio on the flash unit is shorter than the newer flagship units at 125mm versus 200mm on the SB-900 and SB-910.

Official SB-800 Guide Number Information

38m/125ft. (at ISO 100, 35mm zoom-head position, 20°C/68°F) 

53m/174ft. (at ISO 100 and 105mm zoom-head position, 20°C/68°F)

Official SB-800 Lens Coverage

24 to 105mm (Automatic mode)
14 to 17mm (Automatic mode, with built-in wide flash adapter (14mm with SW-10H Diffusion Dome ))

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

Control as many as 3 remote groups (A, B and C) of an unlimited number of compatible Speedlights with the SB-800's wireless Commander mode.

 

 


Nikon SB-700 Speedlight

The SB-700 is one of Nikon’s latest Speedlight units, having been released after the SB-900. It seems destined to replace the lower-cost SB-600. It has a built-in wireless commander mode, allowing it to be a controller in the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS).

20140107_100652_image-4_sb-700.jpg

Nikon SB-700 Speedlight

The unit has a nice zoom range on its flash head, reaching out to the coverage of a 120mm lens. It also covers the wide end well, with the equivalent coverage of a 14mm in DX format, and a 24mm in FX. It’s quite a desirable flash unit for its power level and lower cost over the SB-900. The external controls on the flash make it significantly easier to use than its cousin the SB-600, which has many functions buried in menus.  Consider this flash if you are on a budget, yet need excellent power and coverage.


 

 

Official SB-700 Guide Number Information

28 m/92 ft. (at ISO 100, 35mm zoom head position, in FX format, standard illumination pattern, 20°C/68°F)
39 m/128 ft. (at ISO 200, 35mm zoom head position, in FX format, standard illumination pattern, 20°C/68°F)

Official SB-700 Lens Coverage

24 to 120mm (FX-Format)
14-120mm (DX-format)

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

Wireless Commander Mode controls up to 2 remote Speedlight groups and an unlimited number of compatible Speedlights. When used as a remote speedlight up to 3 Groups can be selected. Four wireless channel options help manage wireless conflicts in multi-photographer environments.


Nikon SB-600 Speedlight

The Nikon SB-600 Speedlight unit is the low-cost flash for users on a budget. It is only about one stop less powerful than the SB-900 or SB-800 unit and costs considerably less. 

20140107_100652_image-5_sb-600.jpg

Nikon SB-600 Speedlight

 Buying several of these won’t set you back much and will allow you to set up a great CLS system with your camera. If you are just getting started in CLS, these might be your best investment. The SB-600 does not have a built-in Commander mode itself, like the SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, and SB-910. However, many Nikons do provide a Commander Mode under Custom Setting Menu > e Bracketing/flash > Flash cntrl for built-in flash (e3 or e4). If your Nikon does not have a Commander mode, please investigate the SU-800 Wireless Commander Unit discussed at the end of this chapter. You can use either your camera’s or the SU-800’s Commander mode to control multiple banks of inexpensive, yet powerful, SB-600 flash units.

Hurry though, if you plan to buy one or more SB-600 units; the SB-600 has been phased out now that the SB-700 is on the market.

Official SB-600 Guide Number Information

30 m/98 ft. (at ISO 100, 35mm zoom-head position, 20°C/68°F) to 42m/138ft. (at ISO 200, 35mm zoom-head position, at 20°C/68°F)

 Official SB-600 Lens Coverage

24 to 85mm (Automatic mode)
14mm to 85mm (Manual Mode, with built-in wide-flash adapter)
24mm to 85mm (Manual Mode)

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

None – but does have a remote (slave) mode for use in groups under Nikon CLS control.


 


Nikon SB-400 Speedlight

 The SB-400 is Nikon’s answer to those who need an economical—yet quite powerful—stand-alone flash unit.  Its small size belies its impressive reach and power. I often use one of my Nikons as a backup camera during event shooting. I find that this little SB-400 and the camera’s AUTO exposure mode will give me excellent images without thinking about exposure. What else can one ask from a camera/flash combo in fast shooting conditions?

20140107_100652_image-6_sb-400.jpg

Nikon SB-400 Speedlight

I’ve shot several weddings using the SB-400 for my backup camera and flash combo, and this little baby is a firecracker. Why buy some aftermarket flash unit, when you can own a genuine Nikon for about US$120. While not a contender for using within the Nikon CLS system, due to its lack of CLS compatibility, the SB-400 is a great standalone flash with plenty of power for a reasonable price!

Official SB-400 Guide Number Information

21 m/69 ft. (at ISO 100, 18mm zoom-head position, 20°C/68°F) to 30m/98.4ft. (at ISO 200, 18mm zoom-head position, 20°C/68°F)

Official SB-400 Lens Coverage

As wide as 18mm on Nikon DX-format digital SLR cameras and 27mm on FX format.

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

None (no remote mode either). This is a stand-alone flash unit not to be used in groups.


 


Nikon SB-300 Speedlight

The SB-300 is the smallest and least powerful flash unit currently made by Nikon, having slightly less power than the SB-400, yet enjoying some nice features the SB-400 does not fully have, such as a more advance flash-head tilt (bounced-flash) system. The flash head will tilt up to 120 degrees with tilt stops at 0°, 60°, 90° and 120°. 

20140107_100652_image-7_sb-300.jpg

Nikon SB-300 Speedlight

If you need to own a flash unit for your Nikon that will provide some fill flash, yet not take up much space in your small camera bag, the SB-300 is ready to fill the bill. It provides fill light that, according to Nikon, is “…soft and balanced for excellent color, skin tones and lighting throughout your entire composition—not just on your main subject.

I like the SB-300 and often use it for those times I just need a tiny flash unit when hiking or for some well-lit event that only requires fill flash.  From my experience the flash will light a small group well out to about 10 feet away at low ISO settings and even better when the camera is set to a higher ISO sensitivity. This little unit is tiny and works well with smaller Nikon DSLR and compact cameras.

Official SB-300 Guide Number Information

18 m/59 ft. (at ISO 100)

 Official SB-300 Lens Coverage

As wide as 18mm on Nikon DX-format digital SLR cameras and 27mm on FX format in Automatic mode.

 Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

None (no remote mode either). This is a stand-alone flash unit not to be used in groups.

 

 


Nikon SB-R200 Speedlight

 Then there are the SB-R200 Speedlight units. These are primarily designed to use in special arrangements on brackets that Nikon created for them. These flash units are not really designed for use in a camera’s Accessory shoe. Instead, they have a special foot made to mount to special brackets, as shown in the picture of the Nikon with the SX-1 circular bracket mounted to the lens’s front with two SB-R200 flashes.

20140107_100652_image-8_sb-r200.jpg

Nikon SB-200 Speedlight

You’ll see these Speedlights in use if you watch many crime dramas on TV because the investigators often use them for close-up flashes of crime scene evidence. They are normally used in a group arrangement, including special mounting brackets, with a Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander Unit. The SU-800 is discussed next.

Official SB-R200 Guide Number Information

10m/33ft. (at ISO 100) to 14m/46ft. (at ISO 200)

Official SB-R200 Lens Coverage

24mm; 60° (vertical) and 78° (horizontal)

Built-in Wireless Commander Mode for Nikon CLS

None – but does have a remote (slave) mode for use in groups under Nikon CLS control.

 

 


Nikon SU-800 Wireless Commander Unit

While not a Speedlight flash, I wanted to show you the Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander Unit (see figure 4E). This unit can be used when you need extra range or need to control more than two banks of flash units—it can control three.  The SU-800 can control slave flash units up to 66 feet away, where most Speedlights with a Commander mode can only control out to 33 feet.

20140107_100652_image-9_su-800.jpg

Nikon SU-800 Wireless Commander Unit

 It uses wireless infrared signals to control the flash banks. It is mounted onto the Accessory shoe of your camera, thereby precluding the use of the built-in flash.

 

 

 

Official Nikon Key Features

  • Functions as a wireless commander for the SB-R200, SB-910, SB-900, SB-800, SB-700 and SB-600 Speedlight units.
  • Controls an unlimited number of Speedlights for up to three groups.
  • Provides wireless control up to 66 feet.
  • Offers 4 independent channels for competitive shooting environments.
  • Built-in AF assist illuminator for critical focus in low-light situations.

 

Comparative summary of the Nikon Speedlights

SB-910

SB-900

SB-800

SB-700

SB-600

SB-400

SB-300

 Guide  Number  m/ft

34/111.5

34/111.5

38/125

28/92

30/98

21/69

18/59

 

 

(12 Votes )
Show pages (9 Pages)

Originally written on January 7, 2014

Last updated on December 18, 2017

11 comments

Robert E. Handley (REH45) on May 17, 2016

Buyer Beware. This should have been better addressed. I invested in these two SB-5000 flash units because they had the ability to use radio control. After getting them I found that I needed to purchase the additional remote kit to get them to work with my D800 and D810 cameras. So I had that unit overnight aired to me, only to find out as just about everyone else has since, that it needed a 3.0 firmware upgrade. When I contacted Nikon about this and told you then which cameras I was using it with. I was told I had to send the unit in for the firmware upgrade. NEVER AT ANY TIME DID NIKON TELL ME THAT EVEN AFTER THE UPGRADE IT WOULD NOT WORK WITH MY TWO CAMERAS. Now I have a perfect reason to be pissed off and mad as hell. And trying to figure out my next step here. I for the life of me can't see why this should not work with these cameras. Other then the 3.0 firmware does not have the D800 and D810 hooks in it. And this is BS. I am a forty year member of NPS a life long user of Nikon even when every one around me is switching to Canon. For two cents I would repack everything and return it to the dealers because of miss information and incompatatability. This is not the NIKON I used to know. I received an apology from them for giving me the wrong info. However they said they would work fine in the CLS mode. Well just great I just spent $1500 to upgrade for what I already had with my SB-900's. Nikon could have put up a compatibility sheet which would have helped. I know I am not the only one that is mad as hell over this.

Robert Kusztos (PhotoRoberto) on April 28, 2016

Thank you Darrell for this excellent summary of the various Nikon flashes. It helps me a lot on to decide which one to buy as my first unit.

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on December 28, 2014

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Thanks Darrell. Very informative and thorough - much appreciated.

Hans Kuwert (nikonus) on January 12, 2014

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The 900 series are much more user friendly with on the fly adjustments than 600s 800s .The 900s zoom feature seems to work out to 30ft for me as Fill flash on birds / telephoto nature ,without any wild ISO setting . 900s are oversized in a bag of 600 - 800s . It takes a while to stay sharp with wireless multi flash set ups .

Gary Pate (MongoG) on January 11, 2014

Thanks Darrel, Great article that cleared up a few questions I had about flash units. Clear and easy to follow.

George Chapman (Icemann) on January 9, 2014

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Thank You for a very good article,it was very helpful to me.

Paul Freedman (paulfree17) on January 8, 2014

As an amateur who does not get to write off any of my equipment I was wondering if the Yongnuo flash 560 or 560Ex at under $100 a pop would be worthwhile. I shoot a D800 which has built in commander and I have a SB900 for my primary light. I am looking to add two or three slaves to use for fill or rim lights. These seem to get good reviews and are less than half the price of a SB700 or SB600. Anyone of any experience with these?

Michael Sherwin (msohio) on January 8, 2014

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Love the 600 and have been an eBay buyer to build my inventory. I probably have to live to be 110 years old at this point but one can't be to safe. Right dear??

Gary Worrall (glxman) on January 8, 2014

Awarded for his high level skills, specially in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

Great Darrell Tks for the info

Peter Stokes (PAStime) on January 8, 2014

Great article, thanks Darrel. Minor correction needed on page two in the following sentence. Cheers, Peter The SB-910 is Nikon’s former flagship Speedlight.

Egbert M. Reinhold (Ineluki) on January 7, 2014

Great help for those who need it.

G