Feet under the table
Registered: January 2011
Location: Westmalle, Belgium
Review Date: Mon June 11, 2012
||Would you recommend the product? Yes |
Price you paid?: £350.00
| Rating: 9
See Pros below
See Cons below
This review is aimed at what the SB910 will do as a system flashgun, using as many automatic/system features as I have tried. I will not discuss using the flash manually because if you know what you are doing, manual use will not be an obstacle to you.
So with that lets get manual use out of the way. It has a FX zoom capability compatible with 17 - 200mm lenses (DX 12mm-200), a built in wide angle diffuser that takes it to FX 14mm, and a small pull-out diffuse reflector. The output is 54 at ISO-200. The head is rotatable 180 degrees left and right, 90 degrees up and 7 degrees down. Manual settings can be full power to 1/128 power.
What's in the box:
Soft case - has a belt loop on one edge that I find pretty useless, as I cannot imagine how this bag fits in with the normal photographers kit. More a soft presentation case then.
SB910 - object of the review
plastic stofen, amber and green filters - nice touch to immediately get you going in different (incandescent or fluorescent respectively) lighting conditions.
plastic foot - for surface mounting the gun for remote use. Also has a screw thread to take a 1/4" tripod screw
What's not in the box:
Weather shield(s). Canon come out on top here for the simple design that their cameras take one weather shield. Nikon make a different weather shield depending upon camera design, so it is purchasable separately.
This is my first venture into a system flash, having had a number of "pro" units in the past that all needed 'thinking' to operate manually. In the past I have avoided system flashes on their price for performance. Since owning a DSLR I was intrigued by Nikon's Creative Lighting System, and although the D300s will drive the flash heads that I have, I thought I would give a system flash a try. In choosing the SB910 I was looking for the maximum power output for a system flash. First I looked at the SB900 and was thinking to buy one when the SB910 was rumoured. Around 6 months later the unit became available and then I waited for the initial price to drop to something reasonable. At the initial asking price of nearly £500 I found it too much to pay for a whim. I could have chosen either Nissin or Metz models that are cheaper and provide most of the facilities of the Nikon, and both give slightly more output.
After 4 months use and some teething problems (understanding the quirks), the SB910 has proved more than a whimsical purchase. It is highly flexible within the range it is designed for, never overheats (I have not experienced any extended recycling delay either) and is a treat to use once the menu system is understood (without reading the book the menu system is obtuse to anyone who has not used a Nikon system flash before). It even works on my Nikon FE and has a PC-sync socket that will allow it to work with any of my film cameras. Nikon say it is not compatible with some of the older cameras - not compatible does not mean unusable. If you know what you're doing you will accept such limitations as no TTL capability if the camera simply does not offer it. Not to be mounted on an all metal hot-shoe though.
There are 6 modes of operation:
- TTL (Through The Lens metered), the subject is metered for the flash output using the camera's meter sensors.
- TTL BL (Back Lit = fill in flash), TTL is used for the scene and then the flash is added for back light. Typically 1 stop less than the scene.
- AA (Auto Aperture), various methods of getting an automatic flash exposure based on the aperture setting, with and without using a preflash to determine the exposure
- GN (Guide Number), adjust a distance window for a particular f/number and ISO setting
- M (Manual), full to 1/128 power
- RPT (Repeat = strobe light), using a chart you can get a variety of strobe effects, allowing multiple flash emphasised images in one frame
The main switch is moved from off to on in a guarded area to prevent accidental movement. Using a lock button the switch can be further moved to remote or master setting - when used in the CLS (Creative Lighting System).
If you record your photographs normally as JPEG images and have been used to using the in-built camera flash, the auto white balance will compensate for the flash colour. Using any external flash, even if it is a system flash that the camera is aware of, will need setting the White Balance = Flash because the Auto setting will leave you with a blue result. Even if you are using RAW it can help to set the WB for later reference when looking at the RAW's embedded jpeg.
For many the SB910 may be a little large for carrying around, and the SB700 may be more useful. It has a similar operating character, is smaller and lighter. However the SB700 lacks the PC connector if that is important.
The flash has its own built in auto-focus (AF) assist that is better than the camera's in so much as it projects a series of bars onto the subject, which makes focussing on flat or unclear shaped objects accurate. Being part of the flash it illuminates the subject better with larger/broader lenses, that otherwise obscure the light emitted from the on-camera AF assist lamp.
It has a PC connector for connecting older cameras.
Exposure balance for things like fill-in flash is very easy to manage automatically. Using the flash setting 'out of the box' and setting the camera to 'centre weighted' or 'matrix' metering you will be given fill in flash, based on the camera setting for the background scene. Set spot metering and you will be given TTL metering directly on your subject. A great set-up to get you started without knowing about flash-guns.
CLS is brilliant. This is "armchair studio work". Just dial in locally the way you want remote flashes to operate using a master unit on camera or the in camera flash as commander. Up to 3 groups of flashguns can be controlled remotely. The remote groups can be set to work Manually (you control the flash output), TTL (the camera controls the flash output) or Auto Aperture (AA - the flashgun control the output based on a pre-dialled aperture setting). All of these remote modes can be further finely adjusted by varying their output from a central command position. To a studio photographer that is prepared to invest in several flashguns I am sure this is far simpler than going to each flash/ strobe to adjust it.
Understanding Nikon terminology is important when reading the manual. If you have never owned a Nikon flash before you will not know what SU-4 mode is. At the beginning on the book there is a rather weak explanation, but I recommend downloading the PDF version from Nikon's website and using the computer to search for terminology.
If you have been used to using the 'red eye reduction' with a built in flash you will be disappointed in the facility offered by the SB910 (it could be the same for all external Nikon flashes - I have no experience). Whereas the on-camera flash flash fires one pre-flash to force a subject's pupil to close, the SB910 fires 3 pre-flashes. These flashes take about 0.5 seconds, which can un-nerve a subject and looses you all spontaneity.
GN setting is a little clumsy because of first having to set the aperture in the aperture mode, rather than having its own setting facility.
AA batteries must be in good (new) condition, not just fully charged. I would recommend at least 2000mAh.
Manual lenses can be entered into the D300s in-camera database. When the in-camera flash control (menu e3) is set to command mode and the SB910 is mounted on the hot shoe and set to TTL mode the picture is typically 1 stop under-exposed. Set the camera e3 setting to TTL mode and the exposure is OK. This is not the case with CPU lenses. (This could be a firmware fault).
Once the menu, buttons and terminology is understood, this becomes a great quick and easy flash-gun to use.