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Nikon Flash Comparison

Tags: nikon flash

Technically, the article is supposed to be called “Nikon Speedlight Comparison”, because Nikon calls their flash units “Speedlights”. This article is written as an introduction to the current and older line of Nikon Speedlights, specifically the Nikon SB-300, SB-400, SB-500, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910 and SB-5000. In addition to some basic information on each Speedlight, I will provide a comparison chart on the bottom of this article as well, to make it simpler for our readers to understand the differences.

1) Nikon SB-300

Nikon SB-300 Speedlight The most basic of all Nikon Speedlights, the Nikon SB-300 is also the lightest and the most compact one. It is designed to be used only on top of the camera and cannot work in master/commander or slave/remote modes. Certainly more powerful than the on-camera pop-up flash, the SB-300 flash head can only be tilted upwards up to 120 degrees for bouncing light. Unlike all other Nikon speedlights, the SB-300 cannot rotate from left to right and vice versa, limiting options for bouncing light off various lighting accessories. While it fully supports Nikon’s i-TTL and various sync modes, it does not support some of the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) features such as High Speed Sync and Autofocus Assist. The SB-300 is a very lightweight flash that takes only two AAA Alkaline or Ni-MH batteries. The Nikon SB-300 costs around $150 USD brand new.


2) Nikon SB-400

Nikon SB-400 The Nikon SB-400 is another very basic flash unit. It is very similar to the SB-300, except it only allows the head to be tilted 90 degrees upwards (which is pretty limiting). It also won’t work in master/commander or slave/remote modes. Just like the SB-300, it cannot rotate side to side either, making it impossible to bounce the light off walls and other vertical surfaces, unless the camera is positioned in a vertical orientation. The SB-400 has a faster recycle time than the SB-300, lasts longer and is slightly larger in size. Nikon’s i-TTL is also fully supported, except for High Speed Sync and AF Assist. The Nikon SB-400 has been discontinued, so your only option is to buy it used.


3) Nikon SB-500

Nikon SB-500 The SB-500 is the first Nikon speedlight to come with built-in LED lights for use as continuous / video light (the LED light can function independently from the main flash). With a guide number of 24m, it might not be as powerful as the higher-end speedlights, but it is still a pretty capable flash that can be used as a commander to trigger other flashes, or as a slave. Its head is quite flexible and can be either tilted up to 90° or rotated from 0° to 180°, just like the higher-end models. Due to its limited power source comprising of 2 AA size batteries, the recycling time is quite poor at 3.5 seconds. Not a bad flash to get into flash photography with and could be fairly useful as a slave in combination with the camera pop-up flash operating as a master. Fully compatible with the Nikon CLS system. Can be purchased new for $246.95.


4) Nikon SB-600

Nikon SB-600 Discontinued in 2011, the Nikon SB-600 is a very capable flash that has a flexible head for both tilting (up and down) and rotating (left and right). It can only be used either on-camera or off-camera as a slave (no master / commander mode). The Nikon SB-600 supports most Nikon CLS features and uses four AA batteries with a good recycle time. Unlike the Nikon SB-300, SB-400 and SB-500, it has an LCD screen on the back of the flash for flash setup options. When compared to the higher-end SB-700, the SB-600 does not come with a diffusion dome (useful for indoors shots) and color gels. It does come with a stand though, which can be put on a flat surface or mounted on a tripod when used as a slave unit (off-camera flash). The Nikon SB-600 will automatically zoom in/out for focal lengths between 24-85mm. It has no sync port, which means that you cannot use it with triggers like PocketWizard Plus II / III (a separate adapter for the sync cord needs to be purchased). New PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units can be used with this flash. Although you cannot buy the SB-600 new, it can be often found used in good condition under $200.


5) Nikon SB-700

Nikon SB-700 The Nikon SB-700 is a major step-up from the Nikon SB-600 with a completely redesigned user interface, which is much more intuitive and easier to use than the one on the Nikon SB-600. It fully supports all Nikon CLS features and in addition, can be used as a master/commander to trigger other slave flashes. Compared to the Nikon SB-800/SB-900, the commander mode is somewhat limited, with support of only up to two groups of flashes (Group A and Group B). Its recycle time is fast and the flash can automatically zoom in and out for focal lengths of 24-120mm. It comes with a bunch of accessories such as a diffusion dome, colors gels and a flash stand. Similar to the Nikon SB-600, the SB-700 also does not come with a sync port, so only the newer PocketWizard triggers like MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 can be used with it without any additional adapters. The Nikon SB-700 sells for approximately $325 new.


6) Nikon SB-800

Nikon SB-800 The Nikon SB-800 was discontinued in 2008 after Nikon SB-900 was introduced to the market. It is a great flash that also fully supports all Nikon CLS features such as i-TTL, High Speed Sync and much more. A heavy duty flash that was designed to be used for demanding professionals. The head is very flexible and can be tilted and rotated for bouncing the light off ceilings, walls and other surfaces. It is a fully-featured master/commander and a slave that supports up to three wireless groups (Group A, Group B and Group C). Thanks to the sync port, the Nikon SB-800 can be used with all radio triggers/transmitters, including the traditional PocketWizard models. The nice thing about the SB-800, is that it comes with an extra battery compartment for the fifth battery, which helps in reducing the recycle time and it can take external battery packs for continuous flash shooting. The SB-800 also comes with plenty of accessories such as a diffuser dome, color gels and a stand for off-camera use. Nikon SB-800 typically goes for around $250-$300 for a used model in good condition.


7) Nikon SB-900

Nikon SB-900 Before the updated SB-910, the high-end Nikon speedlight that replaced the SB-800 was the Nikon SB-900. The Nikon SB-900 is a very flexible device that can be used both as a master and a slave, and fully supports all current Nikon CLS features. The SB-900 has a similar intuitive user interface as the SB-700 and also comes with all accessories for on-camera and off-camera shooting. The flash zoom feature covers 17-200mm, which means that you can cover a very wide area or zoom in and cover a much smaller area for a more defined flash look, similar to a mini-snoot. The PC/sync port is included and just like the SB-800, the SB-900 can also work with external battery packs like SD-9. In terms of recycle time, although the SB-900 can only take 4 batteries maximum, it outperforms the Nikon SB-800 with the extra battery option. Unfortunately, the SB-900 suffered from overheating issues, so its resale value quickly dropped once the SB-910 became available. It can still be purchased for $250-300 in good condition.


8) Nikon SB-910

Nikon SB-910 As pointed out above, when the Nikon SB-900 came out, it had an issue where it would shut down and refuse to work when overheated. While this was not an issue for me, since I never abuse my flashes and try to keep them cool by firing at lower power (prefer to stay at 1/2-1/4 max), many photographers complained about it. There was no way to fix the overheating issue with a firmware update, so Nikon updated the model with the newer SB-910. In addition to this hardware modification, Nikon made a few other changes to the SB-910. It made slight modifications to the body and control layout, brightened up the LCD, replaced the soft plastic gels with hard plastic ones and made some tweaks to the speedlight menu. Everything else remained the same. It sold new for $550, but when Nikon released the top-of-the-line SB-5000 model, it was immediately discontinued. If you don’t need radio capabilities of the new SB-5000, the SB-910 is still an excellent flash unit that can be purchased for around $300-$350 used.


9) Nikon SB-5000

Nikon SB-5000 The Nikon SB-5000 is the most current top-of-the-line speedlight in Nikon’s arsenal of flash units. It is the first Nikon speedlight to utilize radio frequency instead of infrared for flash operation, making the SB-5000 a versatile flash that can be used in daylight conditions without any interference. With a guide number of 34.5 meters at 35mm position and 55 meters at 200mm position, the SB-5000 is the most powerful speedlight Nikon has ever made. It weighs the same as the SB-910, but despite the added features, it is noticeably smaller in size. Its recycling time is very impressive at 1.8 seconds when used with hig-capacity Ni-MH batteries and it also performs noticeably better with AA-size Alkaline batteries. The SB-5000 is compatible with all current generation Nikon DSLRs, but the camera menu-based radio features are only available on the latest DSLR models such as the Nikon D7500, D500 and D5 (WR-R10 or WR-A10 wireless remote adapter is required for radio operation). The SB-5000 can control up to 6 SB-5000 flash groups (up to 3 flash groups in 4 channels when using older speedlights) and has a special heat-reduction design that can handle up to 100 consecutive flash firings without overheating. With its MSRP price of $599, it is the most expensive and the most versatile speedlight offered by Nikon.


Nikon Speedlight Comparison Chart

Speedlight Feature SB-300 SB-400* SB-500 SB-600* SB-700 SB-800* SB-900* SB-910* SB-5000
* Nikon SB-400 was discontinued in 2013
* Nikon SB-600 was discontinued in 2012
* Nikon SB-800 was discontinued in 2008
* Nikon SB-900 was discontinued in 2011
* Nikon SB-910 was discontinued in 2016
Lens Coverage/Zoom 27-200mm 27mm 24mm 24-85mm 24-120mm 24-105mm 17-200mm 17-200mm 24-200mm
Guide Number (ISO 100, 35mm) 18m 21m 24m 30m 28m 38m 34m 34m 34.5m
Guide Number (ISO 100, Max Zoom) N/A N/A N/A 40m 38m 56m 56m 53m 55m
Bounce Head Tilt Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bounce Head Rotate No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Master/Commander Mode No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Slave/Remote Mode No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Total Wireless Channels N/A N/A 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Total Wireless Groups N/A N/A 2 (A/B) N/A 2 (A/B) 3 (A/B/C) 3 (A/B/C) 3 (A/B/C) 6 R, 3 IR
Radio Control No No No No No No No No Yes
Easy Master/Remote Switch N/A N/A Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
i-TTL Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Monitor Pre-Flashes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Modeling Illuminator No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Repeating Flash No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
LED Lights No No Yes No No No No No No
Manual Mode No No Yes, via DSLR Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus Assist No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
PC/Sync Socket No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Power Source 2 AAA 2 AA 2 AA 4 AA 4 AA 4/5 AA 4 AA 4 AA 4 AA
Recycle Time (Ni-MH) 3.5 Sec 2.5 Sec 3.5 Sec 2.5 Sec 2.5 Sec 2.7 Sec 2.3 Sec 2.3 Sec 1.8 Sec
Recycle Time (Alcaline) 4.0 Sec 3.9 Sec 4.0 Sec 3.5 Sec 2.5 Sec 6.0/4.0 Sec 4.0 Sec 4.0 Sec 2.6 Sec
Flash Duration (Full Power) 1/1650 Sec 1/1300 Sec 1/1100 Sec 1/900 Sec 1/1042 Sec 1/1050 Sec 1/880 Sec 1/880 Sec 1/980 Sec
Flash Duration (Half Power) N/A N/A N/A 1/1600 Sec 1/1136 Sec 1/1100 Sec 1/1100 Sec 1/1100 Sec 1/1100 Sec
Minimum Number of Flashes (Alkaline) 70 140 100 200 160 130 110 110 150
Minimum Number of Flashes (Ni-MH) 110 210 140 220 230 150 165 165 190
High Speed Sync No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rear-Curtain Sync Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Slow Sync Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD Screen No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
FV (Flash Value) Lock Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Flash Compensation N/A N/A Camera Only -3.0 to +3.0 -3.0 to +3.0 -3.0 to +3.0 -3.0 to +3.0 -3.0 to +3.0 -3.0 to +3.0
Flash Color Communication Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Firmware Update Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Diffusion Dome Included No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Color Gels Included No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Color Gel Type N/A N/A N/A N/A Hard Plastic Soft Plastic Soft Plastic Hard Plastic Hard Plastic
Flash Stand Included No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Can Use External Battery Packs No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Improved Thermal Cut-Out No No No No No No No Yes Yes
Weight 97g 128g 226g 300g 360g 350g 415g 420g 420g
Dimensions 57.4 x 65.4 x 62.3mm 66 x 56.5 x 80mm 67 x 114.5 x 70.8mm 68 x 123.5 x 90mm 71 x 126 x 104.5mm 70.6 x 127.4 x 91.7mm 78 x 146 x 118.5mm 78.5 x 145 x 113mm 73 x 137 x 103.5mm

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