review: Nikon SB-900 speedlight
With the SB-900 Speedlight (B&H), Nikon’s flagship flashgun, it is clear that they did their homework. The SB-800 was a great flashgun, but there were certain things about it that were very frustrating, but the Nikon SB-900 gets all of this right.
- A huge improvement is that the SB-900 rotates 180′ to either side!
Right there in this image is the main reason to get the SB-900 … it now rotates 180′ to the right, instead of stopping short at the 90′ mark like the SB-800. This is a huge benefit in bouncing flash with specific effect in mind.
That the SB-800 stopped short at the 90′ mark when you rotated the flash-head to the right, was a huge downside for me in comparing the SB-800 to the Canon 580EX. (Although there is the compromise of turning your SB-800 into an SB-850 and forcing it to rotate further to the right than just 90′)
But there are more reasons to love the SB-900 …
- Accessing the CLS functions are now just a flip of a switch away.
For anyone familiar with the slooooow method of getting to the Nikon’s CLS system of the SB-800 by pressing buttons for several seconds to call up various menus to get into the Master / Remote settings, will love the ease with which the Wireless TTL control menu can now be accessed.
- The entire menu system is now easier to access and to navigate.
- The LCD display itself is larger and the menu system is self-apparent. The menu really is obvious now, and easily accessed. You can even set “My Menu” on this flashgun.
For me, these differences are profound enough to make the SB-900 an automatic upgrade over the SB-800.
The build quality of the SB-900 also appears to be a step up from the SB-800. Not only is the SB-900 much larger than the SB-800, it also feels more solid. While some may argue that the SB-900 is too bulky, the extra size of the SB-900 may have been a side-effect of several improvements by the SB-900, such as:
- building the flash-head to rotate like it does,
- and the fact that the SB-900 offers a little more power than the SB-800,
- the larger LCD display.
There are other smaller touches as well:
- The filter set now comes with a clip-on holder.
- There is now a thermal cut-off for the flash to stop it from over-heating. Fortunately this can be disabled. (Quite often I need to get the shots, without much concern for my flashgun.) I do have a quibble with the way it is implemented though.
- You can set the illumination pattern. ie, how much light fall-off there are to the edges of the image taken with the SB-900. But this is a trivial point for anyone who favours bounce flash over direct flash.
There is very little to quibble about with the Nikon SB-900 (B&H), and I would definitely recommend it as the best flashgun out there.
As an aside, we can look at the Canon 580EX II as to how a designer can completely miss the mark in updating a piece of equipment:
- The 580EX II made the controls to access Master / Slave far more clumsy over the original 580EX.
– Even in offering an Auto Mode now on the 580EX II, Canon fudged it by not having the Auto mode immediately accessible. Instead you need to go in to the menu to change it … and then disable TTL. Seriously!?
- The menu of the 580EX II (and the original) is so obscure you need to carry the manual with you, or some kind of note.
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