July 17, 2008

modifying the Nikon SB-800 speedlight

One of my major frustrations with the Nikon SB-800 flashgun (other than the clumsy controls to get into the master/slave settings), is that it doesn’t twist 180′ in either direction like the Canon 580EX speedlites do.  The SB-800 rotates 180′ to the left, but only 90′ to the right.  This difference is huge!

If for example you wanted to photograph a vertical portrait and bounce the light from your SB-800 over your left shoulder, you wouldn’t be able to. Instead you’d have to accept that the flashgun only rotates 90′ and you’d have to accept the paltry compromise that you’d have to bounce the light from your flashgun upwards into the ceiling from where you are.

Here’s an example of where it is essential to throw the light from the flash in a direction which is limited by the SB-800 ..

On the left, just the ambient light. On the right, light from a Canon 580EXII that was gelled for tungsten with a 1/2 CTS filter. In getting the correct angle that I needed the light from the flash to bounce back from, I had to bounce over my left shoulder .. NOT into the ceiling.

As I said, this limitation of the SB-800 has been a real frustration .. until now.

A while back Peter Gregg (of the ‘A Better Bounce Card‘ fame), sent me this You Tube link ..

… to show how he had forced the flashhead of the Nikon SB-800 past the natural stop point.  Yes, he had managed to twist the SB-800 an additional 45′ which is perfect for what I had always wanted from this flashgun.

Well, when Peter told me about this on the phone originally, and later on showed me the clip, I was skeptical. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t so much skeptical as that I just didn’t have the balls to do it. Until now. I tried it …. and well … seriously, as Peter advises, don’t do this!  He can’t, and I certainly can’t take responsibility for this.  But here it is …. my Nikon SB-800 now rotates 135′ to the right.  Just enough for what I have always wanted it to achieve .. it’s now an SB-850.

Now here’s the irony – I finally managed to pull together the guts to do this … on the eve of the release of the Nikon SB-900 which will rotate a cool 180′ to either side. That alone would make the SB-900 an automatic upgrade over the SB-800.


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{ 23 comments. } Add a Comment

1 ronnie July 17, 2008 at 4:30 am

how i got rid of the stopping point.
opened it up. @ the pivoting point theres a metal c ring with a tab on the outside. i shaved that tab off so that is perfectly rounded. put it back together. now it turns in any direction freely.

the only thing is that i have to remember what direction i turned the flash because if i dont i can end up twisting the wires off


2 Nina July 17, 2008 at 5:37 am

I just watched that clip the other day and told my husband about it. Right. I got the “you want to do WHAT to my $300…?!!?” I just have to find the right opportunity, preferably when he’s not looking. :)


3 Eli July 17, 2008 at 11:02 pm

I saw this video about two nights ago from abetterbouncecard.com and I was really skeptical. However, when you said you did it I got the guts to try it.

I did it! With not just one one, but with two SB-800. Thank you.


4 Richard Selby July 18, 2008 at 2:10 am

Hi Neil,

I saw this about a month ago and I like you didn’t have the stones to do it. I may take mine apart like Ronnie did and see if I can set it up to stop at 180*. The new SB900 looks nice, but wow it’s pretty steep for the new features it offers, however price has not stopped me yet:)




5 Bennet July 18, 2008 at 11:39 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you……..


6 Michael July 18, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Any idea if a similar (or dissimilar) trick would work with my old Canon 550? I’d love to have that extra 45° without shelling out for a 580.


7 Mike S July 20, 2008 at 8:14 pm

Cool. I always hated not being able to use that range of the flash. I have 5 SB-800s and just did this to all of them with no ill effect. Thanks Neil


8 Neil July 20, 2008 at 10:22 pm

I guess the modified speedlight should be called the SB-850. ;)

Neil vN


9 Harry Simpson July 21, 2008 at 10:35 am

I didn’t even realize or I’d forgotten that my 430EX Canon flash has the same restrictions. Anyone tried this operation on a 430EX yet?



10 Damian Brown July 22, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Excellent.. now to develop the gall to do it! Any idea if this “should” work with the sb600 too? Might try it on that first :D


11 FJG July 24, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Well I worked up the nerve to try it on my sb600…and it goes 180 degrees to the right now!

I’ll probably stop at 135 degrees since I have no idea what the inside wiring looks like. I don’t want to twist any wires off after repeatedly going 180 degrees…if that would even happen.

But great tip! I hated the fact the sb600 stopped at 90 degrees to the right. It would drive me nuts at times. Now…180 both ways (if I want)!



12 Harry Simpson July 25, 2008 at 2:49 pm

So who’s buying me a 430EX when I strangle it? ;-)


13 Michael July 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm

To answer my own question, yes indeedy, the same trick, which you shouldn’t try of course, works on a Canon 550EX with the added benefit that you no longer have to push that damn button to rotate the head to the right. There’s still a good detente at 0°, so no worries, I think. I also found this which could be useful if someone wants to take it apart and do the job right:


14 DooDoo August 11, 2008 at 11:17 am

Anyone tried that on a SB-80dx?


15 Robert Woudenberg August 15, 2008 at 8:03 am

Tried this with a SB600 and you won’t get the stop at 135 degrees. So you will have to be super careful not to twist the wires of!!! However that said you get nice smooth 180 both ways. Works great with my SB800’s I am only doing it to the ones that are out of warranty.
Thanks Niel ..


16 Anita Chapman October 5, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Help! I’ve tried this to no avail. Am I just a big chicken and “strangling” it too lightly? I put a lot of elbow grease into it and it doesn’t budge.


17 Ryan D. October 6, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Just did it to my sb-800, works like a dream. Go ahead…just do it!


18 Joe Upfield November 22, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Well, I am a poor student who saved up for an sb800 for months and I was really nervous to try this. But after reading all of your comments I grew a pair and did it. No complaints as of yet. The rotation of the flash is a little stiff for that last 45 degrees but as far as I can tell it works perfectly.

Thanks Neil, for the tip and the great website!


19 Damian Brown March 5, 2009 at 10:32 am

Still haven’t done it! I did give a sb600 a going.. but like anita.. not quite enough. Back to the gym for me! That or i’m off to search for a parts catalog like the one posted above, but for sb800 and 600!


20 Jan January 26, 2010 at 8:23 am

I just strangled my two SB600’s yesterday. Didn’t want to be fried chicken so I strangled the chickens neck. I got two very beautiful SB650’s now! Thanks


21 Manny Felarca January 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I just strangled my 420EX and 430EX. It works!


22 Jason Smith January 28, 2010 at 5:05 am

I opened mine up and used a dremel to grind down the lug on one side so it turns 180 degrees both ways. Works well


23 Deanna February 16, 2010 at 8:15 am

Woo hoo! One strangled sb-600 = one lovely sb-650 = one very happy photographer! Yay! Thanks so much, Neil, for passing it on, and thanks Peter, for having the balls to do it in the first place.


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