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 line of Nikon Speedlights, specifically the Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 (discontinued), SB-900 (discontinued) and SB-910. 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-400
The most basic of all Nikon Speedlights, the Nikon SB-400 is also the cheapest 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-400 flash head can only be tilted upwards for very simple bounce light. Unlike all other Nikon speedlights, the SB-400 cannot rotate from left to right and vice versa, making it impossible to bounce the light off walls and other vertical surfaces, unless the camera is positioned in a vertical orientation. 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-400 is a very lightweight flash that takes only two AA batteries. The Nikon SB-400 costs around $120 USD brand new.
2) Nikon SB-600
A big step-up from the Nikon SB-400, 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 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-400, 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 the older generation PocketWizard triggers like PocketWizard Plus II (a separate adapter for the sync cord would have to be purchased). New PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units can be used with this flash. Given the cost (approx $230), the Nikon SB-600 is a great value.
3) Nikon SB-700
The new 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 diffusion dome, colors gels and 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 is approximately $100 more than the Nikon SB-600.
4) Nikon SB-800
The Nikon SB-800 was discontinued in 2008 after Nikon SB-900 was introduced to the market. I decided to include it in the comparison, because it is a great flash that also fully supports all Nikon CLS features such as i-TTL, High Speed Sync and much more. It is 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 older PocketWizard models. The nice thing about the SB-800, is that it comes with an extra battery compartment for the fifth battery that significantly helps 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 the diffuser dome, color gels and a stand for off-camera use. Nikon SB-800 sells for approximately $250-350 for a used model.
5) Nikon SB-900
Before the updated SB-910, the best and the most expensive Nikon speedlight was the Nikon SB-900 – a high-end flash unit that outdated the Nikon SB-800. The 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 has been extended to cover 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 5 batteries. Another nice feature of the SB-900 (and the SB-700), is the fact that you can update the flash firmware when Nikon releases a fix. Nikon SB-900 already had a firmware update (the current version available for download is 5.02). One thing worth mentioning, is that the SB-900 has a different foot design than SB-600 and SB-800, which might not fit some flash mount adapters. I had to replace mine with a unit from Stroboframe, which works great with all Nikon flashes (as pointed out in my Indoors Flash Photography article. Nikon SB-900 used to sell for approximately $460 before it was discontinued (see why it was discontinued below).
6) Nikon SB-910
When the Nikon SB-900 came out, it had an issue where it would shut down and refuse to work when it 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 started to complain 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. Nikon SB-910 is currently selling for approximately $550.
7) Nikon Speedlight Comparison Chart
|* Nikon SB-800 was discontinued in 2008|
* Nikon SB-900 was discontinued in 2011
|Bounce Head Tilt||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bounce Head Rotate||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Total Wireless Channels||N/A||4||4||4||4||4|
|Total Wireless Groups||N/A||N/A||2 (A/B)||3 (A/B/C)||3 (A/B/C)||3 (A/B/C)|
|Easy Master/Remote Switch||N/A||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Power Source||2 AA||4 AA||4 AA||4/5 AA||4 AA||4 AA|
|Recycle Time (Ni-MH)||2.5 Sec||2.5 Sec||2.5 Sec||2.7 Sec||2.3 Sec||2.3 Sec|
|Recycle Time (Alcaline)||3.9 Sec||3.5 Sec||2.5 Sec||6.0/4.0 Sec||4.0 Sec||4.0 Sec|
|Flash Duration (Full Power)||1/300 Sec||1/900 Sec||1/1042 Sec||1/1050 Sec||1/880 Sec||1/880 Sec|
|Flash Duration (Half Power)||N/A||1/1600 Sec||1/1136 Sec||1/1100 Sec||1/1100 Sec||1/1100 Sec|
|Minimum Number of Flashes (Alkaline)||140||200||160||130||110||110|
|Minimum Number of Flashes (Ni-MH)||210||220||230||150||165||165|
|High Speed Sync||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|FV (Flash Value) Lock||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Flash Compensation||N/A||-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|
|Diffusion Dome Included||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Color Gels Included||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Color Gel Type||N/A||N/A||Soft Plastic||Soft Plastic||Soft Plastic||Hard Plastic|
|Flash Stand Included||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can use External Battery Packs||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Dimensions||66 x 56.5 x 80mm||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|