Comparing Nikon Flash Units
If you want to use creative lighting eventually, on any camera, you could in the first case still look at the SB600.
If you want to control more than one flash now, and you donít have a D80, D90, D200, D700 or D300 then look now at getting one of the SB900 or SB800's, you can supplement it with others or the SB600 or SB200 units. If your main interest is macro or small items, for example product photography, then you may like instead to look at getting a SU800 controller and some SB200 units. These are also sold as two kits explained below.
In all cases where you want more than two groups of flash away from the camera you will need either to have a SB900, SB800 or SU800.
The final column shows the units that can be used on top of the camera and allow commanders. where built in to cameras. to be used. These cameras can also use their inbuilt flash, so donít need to have a unit on top in all cases where a commander function is in use.
The power of the flash units
Flash units are quoted with guide numbers, this is the historical way to compare the power of flash units. To work out how far a flash will reach you divide the guide number by the aperture of the lens being used. This assumes that the lens has a wide-ish coverage, and does not account for zooming heads and the like, which are a fairly recent development.
Flash units have the guide numbers quoted for one or more ISO levels. Usually two figures are shown, one for feet and one for metres.
From this we can calculate the following:-
You can create a guide number for higher ISOís by multiplying the guide number by 1.4 for every doubling of ISO. 1.4 is the square root of 2, and is used as light spreads out in two directions so at twice the distance covers an area 4 times larger. The way this works you can also multiply the range by 1.4 for every doubling in ISO.
Therefore the SB600 has a range at ISO 400 of 12ft and at ISO 800 of 16.9ft.
The SB900 has slightly less power but a greater zoom, and a choice of three light distribution patterns. Although lower power I think its likely, in most cases, to give about the same range as the SB800, possibly further when a long lens and full zoom is in use.
The right hand column stops different
In effect you find that you get about one more stop out of the SB900, SB800 than the SB600, so can run at half the ISO for the same aperture setting. The SB400 is again one stop under the SB600, while the SB200 is 2 stops under the SB400. So we can take the same basic setup with these different units but have a limited range and in order to cope with this may have to either increase the ISO or open up the aperture. Of course in all cases they can give out less light so unless you are extremely close you donít have too much light.
In practical use the range of the SB600 and SB800 are longer than shown above as they have power zooms that concentrate the light into a smaller area when you use a longer lens. The SB800 has a power zoom between 24mm and 105mm and the SB600 between 24mm and 85mm, the other two donít have this capability. The SB800 can also widen its area of coverage to cover the area of wider angled lenses, covering either 17mm or wider again to 14mm, while the SB600 does it in a single step to 14mm.
The SB900 is a later version and replaced the SB800, it has a larger zoom range of 17mm-200mm compared to 24mm-105mm on the SB800, you then pull out a wide angle diffuser to get to 17mm and put on the diffuser dome to get to 14mm on the SB800. As the SB900 knows if it's FX or DX format in use, it can adjust the zoom to use with a wide angle diffuser so as to get a very wide angle, with FX as wide as 12mm and DX to 8mm. You still have a diffuser dome beyond this, although it again zooms to get the best of this. The wider angle zoom will make it quicker to use when wider angle lenses are used.
The SB900 also has a filter holder, and can be upgraded via software by connecting to a D3, D3X, and possibly a D700.
With an FX lens, wider coverage is required for each focal length, and it has been suggested that the SB900 is better at providing this.
Bouncing the Flash Light
In many cases we like to bounce the light from a ceiling to get a softer effect, as well as movement up we need a movement left and right to allow us to use the camera in portrait mode and still be able to bounce the light from the ceiling, and in some locations to bounce off walls or reflectors. We may also like to angle the light in other directions and down for closer items. The movement on the flash units is:-
The SB200 is not directly connected to the camera, it is only fired as a slave and either on a ring on the front of the lens for macro photography or on its own stand.
You can also use all except the SB200 connected to a camera via a remote cord. These work in exactly the same way as if the flash was sitting on top of the camera.
The SB900, SB800 and SB600 use four of the popular AA batteries you will be using widely elsewhere, and the SB800 has an accessory included that allows it to be configured to use five batteries and then recycle ready for use faster. The SB400 uses two AA batteries. The SU800 and SB200 uses one less common CR123a 3v battery, these are available fairly widely but more expensive. You will find it worth seeking out a place to buy these from in volume cheaper, if you expect to use quite a few. They last quite a time so its not really a major problem.
What comes with it:-
The stands allow the units to be free standing, for example on a table top, but can also be used to connect them to a tripod or lighting stand. They can also be used with brollies and other lighting accessories that you get from elsewhere.
Creative lighting can be used outside as well as indoors. Its just that the signals getting from the commander is a little more critical.
Both the SB800 and SB900 has a main plus 3 flash groups when acting as a commander. The SU800 has the 3 flash groups but no main (own flash light).
Other flash modes
All the units will operate in either of the TTL modes generally used today with these cameras. All except the SB400 can have manual levels set. The SB900 and SB800 also has at least 4 other flash modes, that the others do not have including Auto Aperture, Non TTL, Auto, and Range Priority Manual as well as a repeating flash mode, allowing a number of flashes to take place with a single photo.
The SB900 has more control buttons, therefore may be quicker to set, however the SB800 is easy to set once you get familiar with it. The SB600 has fewer controls and is more difficult to set but presents no real problems as you don't have as much to set up on it. The back panel on a SB600 is fairly basic, the SB800 has more and again the SB900 has yet more, including a large number of symbols showing head positions that you are unlikely to remember.
With the SB900, SB800 and SB200 you get some coloured filters. These can be used to create coloured backgrounds, but two of the filters also allow you to change the white balance to work with ordinary room bulbs or fluorescent tubes. For example, taking a photograph down a long room lit by normal light bulbs and using flash would result in the front areas appearing normally lit and the background a yellow'y orange colour. Switching the colour balance to light bulbs and adding the orange filter to the flash allows for normal colour to be shown right down the room. Additional optional filter packs are available. The SB900 and SB200 have filter holders making the use of filters easier.
To get faster recycling and a lower wait time between shots the SB800 has an optional 5th battery, while the SB900 has more ability to reuse power and is a lower powered unit.
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