The Nikon SB910: Is it really worth $550?

Gear & Apps December 1st 2011 2:46 PM One Comment

(Image shot just after sunset, using a tripod and an SB800 fired via radio trigger)

 

The Nikon SB910….The greatest (and most expensive) hotshoe flash since the SB900!

Quite a few thoughts went through my mind when I read about the Nikon SB910 announcement… First, something along the lines of “$550? What on earth are you thinking, Nikon?” …Then, “well, I guess this is an inevitable price increase, what with inflation, and the Yen-vs-USD exchange rate…” And finally, “okay so, bottom line- is this flash worth $100 more than the already EXPENSIVE $450 sb900?”

 

To spoil the ending:Nope, for what I do (wedding photography, and general “strobist” (low-budget wireless flash) …I just don’t think the SB910 is a good investment.I’ve got a a couple reasons why, plus a handful of random features I’d like to see in a flash before I *DO* get interested…

 

* Thermal cut-off feature: I don’t understand one thing- Why does everyone seem to be so annoyed by the current overheat-protection feature that the SB900 has? Yeah, it kills your flash for a good long while if the bulb gets too hot. But it’s not like the SB900 is going to explode any SOONER than any OTHER 4-battery flash on the market. So, just turn OFF the thermal cut-off feature in the flash’s menu, and you’re good to go!Yeah, if you’re looking for a “for-dummies” level of fool-proof-ness, then it sounds like the SB910 may be your cup of tea. But other than that, any serious professional or hobbyist ought to know how to self-regulate their flash usage, and KNOW the risks of overheating.Personally as I mentioned, I just turn the feature off altogether.I know better than to pop my flash at full power incessantly.My rule of thumb is, if you NEED to pop your flash that much, (wedding receptions) …then maybe it’s time to set up a couple extra off-camera flashes, ehh?

 

Okay so, that’s actually the BIGGEST difference. That one single feature. Or at least, it’s the main feature that people are talking about. They also re-arranged the Zoom button and created a dedicated menu button, but that’s certainly not worth $100 if you ask me.Nor is having “hard” color gel filters.I’ve done just fine for years with whatever flimsy plastic filters are laying around…

 

(To see the full list of differences and similarities between the two flashes, check out the latest Nikon Rumors Post…)

 

So, bottom line? My SB800 still works like a charm, and for $550 I’d rather have two used SB800’s than one SB900.Or heck, I could get an SB800 plus a half-dozen cheap Ebay flashes, with light stands and a set of cheap triggers, for the price of a single SB910! End of discussion.There’s a lot better things you can do with your money.

 

Oh wait a minute, I still have to discuss the functions that WOULD excite me.Would I pay $550 for these features?Maybe, MAYBE…

 

1.) Built-in video light!
Heck yes! This would be such a cool feature, even if it meant I had to double the amount of batteries I carry around. I’m cool with that, if it means I don’t have to lug around two separate tools when I’m actually shooting.

 

2.) Speaking of batteries, when are we going to get the option of rechargeable Lithium battery cells, like we use in our DSLR bodies? People could still use their AA batteries with a tray or something, worst case scenario; camera battery grips have had this technology for years now.I’m just sick and tired of AA’s, but I’m not quite ready to lug around an external battery pack just yet…But, more on batteries @ #4…

 

3.) AF-assist possible during continuous focus, (AF-C) and using ANY focus point.
The wording of the SB910 announcement is a bit hazy, but it sounds like there may have been SOME improvement in the function of the AF-Assist infra-red beam. On My SB800 for example, the dang thing ONLY works when you’re using the center AF point, and in Single-Focus mode ONLY. That automatically kills at least of 50% of the AF-Assist usefulness, to me, since I frequently use continuous focus in low-light wedding reception environment,

 

4.) Bring back the “fifth battery” attachment!
Yeah, I know that Nikon has kept the recycle time down on the SB900 / SB910, even with the 4 AA batteries compared to the five (possible) batteries of the SB800. However electronically speaking it’s still not optimal;I mean I’m no EE whiz but apparently when a flash bulb tries to recycle faster but with less voltage, that creates more heat. …As opposed to having a fifth battery, which adds voltage, which allows the flash bulb to recycle faster without as much strain and heat…

 

5.) Put ISO control on one of those un-used “soft buttons”!!!
For crying out loud, why is ISO still buried in a sub-menu?Even when there is an un-used “soft button” on the SB900 / SB910?I’m continually astonished at how camera manufacturers keep ISO buried 1-2 levels deep, even on camera bodies. In this day and age where ISO 3200 is cleaner than the ISO 200 of 10 years ago, …how come ISO is still buried in menus?Just as a general rule, I’d like to be able to access ISO controls a lot easier on both my camera bodies, and flashes…But that’s a whole other discussion for a whole other article!

 

6.) 360-degre flash swiveling!
I saved one of the best featues for last. I don’t need a complete re-design of the flash head swivel like Sony, although Sony’s is BRILLIANT, but at the very least I’d like a rear-oriented swiveling flash head. but Because honestly, my flash head points directly forward 0.01% of the time, seriously. I ALWAYS bounce. And when I’m going for that last little bit of subtlety in my bounced light, I prefer to bounce just a little bit to the left or right, which currently means that I gotta swivel the flash head alllll the way around the front. Well, I got tired of that, and you know what I did? I took apart my SB800, grabbed a Dremel, and sliced off the metal tab that stops the head from just spinning around all the way. Now, all I gotta do is NOT spin my flash head around and around too many times, …and preto, I can bounce in any rear-facing direction with INCREDIBLE ease! I don’t know if any other photographers have done this, but HIGHLY recommend it if you have a flash that is already out of warranty. ;-)

 

Alright, that’s all for now!I know I promised a Canon-related post next, but dang Nikon had to go and announce a product lol.Anyways until next time, take care!

=Matt=

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge. Connect with him on Google Plus

One Comment

  1. Andy A

    Do you own a SB-900? Did it ever failed on you? I would love to hear from you on that.
    Now, I had an SB-900 and I used it in TTL mode once in a small event and after about 10 quick shots (not rapid firing), the thermal cutoff got activated. I was lucky that there was enough ambient to still cover the function until the unit woke up.

    You made a good point about turning off the feature, but that’s going to defeat the purpose. I want a flash with better thermal protection and one that won’t fail on me, when I need more light. That’s the simple reason, I bought my SB-910.

    SB-900/910 is much more capable than the SB-800 (I own one of that too) in terms of zoom, flash pattern, flash power etc.

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