Nikon SB-900 v Nikon SB-800

Feb 8, 2009 | Flash | 31 comments

Let’s put the record straight. The foot on the Nikon SB-900 is identical thickness to the foot on the Nikon SB-800. There are some forums and blogs that claim the SB-900 is not compatible with certain accessories. I am pleased to say that I have 2 SB-800’s and the feet are of identical thickness to the SB-900 that Nikon lent me for testing purposes. My full review of the Nikon SB-900 will be on the Warehouse Express website in a couple of days, but in the mean time I thought I’d share my finding regarding the beam patterns…

The picture above shows the light pattern from the SB-800 when zoomed in to 105mm.

The picture above shows the identical shot but with the SB-900 zoomed into 105mm. I used a Nikon D90 on a tripod with the pop up flash in commander mode for these shots.

And finally the SB-900 is zoomed into 200mm. Note the highlights at either end of the lozenge shape beam pattern.

As you can see from the pictures above there is a distinct pattern from the SB-900 when zoomed into above 105mm that would make it less attractive for those slashes of light pictures like the one below. At 105mm though the SB-900 light output is far more even.

This picture was shot in Melbourne using a Nikon D3, an SB-800 flash zoomed into 105mm

I shot this picture in Melbourne using a Nikon D3, an SB-800 flash mounted on a stand and zoomed into 105mm. I triggered the flash with my SU-800 commander. Note the smooth transitions of lit to unlit parts of the flash beam. The SB-800 light pattern is spot on.

I suggest using either a snoot with the Nikon SB-900 when zoomed in to 200mm or stick to 105mm for slashes of light shots.

Please feel free to comment on these findings or discuss findings of your own.

31 Comments

  1. Terrence Bibb

    Damien,
    What are your thoughts on the Nikon SB700 flash? Have you worked with it yet? If so what do you think of a SB900 & SB700 combo?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Terrence,

      I’ve not used a SB700 yet. I expect it will be a perfect partner for the SB900.

      Cheers, Damien.

      Reply
  2. Matthew Rycraft

    I’m having problems with the SB900 overheating which seems to be a well known issue, which is a nightmare when it then decides to beep whilst your mid ceremony on a wedding or christening.

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Matthew,

      Switch off the beep and switch off the thermal cut out. Problem solved :))

      Cheers, Damien.

      Reply
  3. damien

    Hi John,

    Julie and I have retired (by design) from weddings after 10 years and over 350 top weddings. It was a fabulous career and now I pass on my wisdom to others so that they can reap the benefits of our experience at the upper end of the market. And they certainly do. When we started shooting weddings back in 1999 £400 – £600 for a wedding was ‘good money’. We bucked the trend early on and delivered a completely new product. One we charged top money for. Ten years on and there are still photographers peddling the kind of product we offered back then. Like laminate flooring, it’s had it’s day. It’s time for some fresh products and talent. Many photographers I know regularly get £5k from each wedding they shoot. Once parents albums, pre-wedding shoots and Cherish type shoots are taken into account. They are fabulous people foremost and creative photographers too.

    My income over the years has always been multi-faceted with Stock Library, Portraits, Weddings and a bit of commercial work in the mix for good measure. It is certainly still possible for some photographers to make serious money in this industry and my new role is to show them how. It’s always good to have an exit strategy so that we know our working parameters rather than drift season to season with no route off the treadmill. I wrote my wedding book as part of my exit strategy and backed it up with 5 DVD productions. I’m still shooting portraits, I write for magazines, I am launching my first art book, I teach, I have a retail online store and a few other projects in the pipeline. It takes all of these activities to replace my income from shooting 30 weddings each year. The fees for those weddings aren’t dropping and the weddings are still as lavish. The great news for the UK wedding industry is I’m seeing some fabulous new talent coming in with great ideas, creative products, and fresh eyes. High end, high quality wedding photography is here to stay and like other luxury spends including Jimmy Choos & Mercedes, the public want it as much now as ever before.

    Kindest regards,

    Damien.

    Reply
  4. damien

    Hi John,

    Indeed, I remember I used 2 heads. Sorry for the confusion. I remember the pack being a bit of a tower with it all connected together.

    Cheers, Damien.

    Reply
  5. damien

    Hi John,

    Indeed the Q flash like the Bron Mobil has no focusable lens on the flash head. This along with TTL and high speed sync are the Speedlight advantages. (Quantum does have TTL but I couldn’t get it to work properly (3 years ago) with Freewire. This Speedlight lens makes a massive difference when used outside.

    Cheers,

    Damien.

    Reply
  6. damien

    Hi John,

    Here is the Quantum unit I had that works at 800Ws: http://qtm.com/?page=3191&qmode=c I know very many pro photographers shooting weddings and portraits who are doing fabulously well at the moment. Certain sectors of pro photography are struggling a bit but many retail photographers are doing fine.

    Cheers, Damien.

    Reply
  7. damien

    Hi John,

    Of my three SB-800s I have just one left and it only works on manual mode. (It always dumps full power in TTL mode). Both my SB-900s are fine even after 20 workshops with 4 delegates and me blasting them within inches of their lives.

    Cheers, Damien.

    Reply
  8. damien

    Hi John,

    The SB-900 is far superior to the SB-800. I’ve disabled the thermal cut out and the flash doesn’t seem to get any hotter than the SB-800 anyway. Zoom the SB-900 in and it is way more punchy than the Quantum direct. (I had the X4D). The Quantum maxed out with 800ws is more expensive than the Bron Mobil with 1200ws and not as well made in my opinion. The Bron is perfect for me and I do use the full 1200ws nearly all the time when out on location.

    Cheers, Damien.

    Reply
  9. Richard King

    Thanks for showing the image at 200mm. it does show a flaw to avoid

    I cant realy see the point of the SB900, and it certainly doesnt look like an ugrade to the 800

    Reply
  10. Richard King

    Re-overheating

    You can pretty much hammer both the SB800 and the batteries will get warm, but never to the point they are overheating. If you are taking a shot every few seconds, the first thing you will worry about is the speed you get through a set of batteries. I run my sb800’s with the 5th battery in place, and TBH, apart from eating batteries, the units are faultlless

    Reply
  11. Chris

    Hi Neal,
    I use the SB-900 on the cherish the dress workshops and my own work and haven’t had any issue with overheating.
    The batteries can get quite warm with constant use, but so do the batteries in the SB800

    http://www.lovegroveconsulting.com/cherish.aspx

    Reply
  12. neal laver

    Hi Damien,

    Now that you have been using the SB900 for some length of time, can you please comment on the much reported overheating issue that keeps appearing on various forums?

    I’d like to invest in a second speedlight but the continued threads bemoaning the 900 unit are really bothering me. Some users are reporting unbelievable horror stories, even with the “thermal cut-off” turned off. Can you share your experiences so far please?

    Thanks for your help.

    Neal.

    Reply
  13. damien

    Hi Lord Beau and John,

    You can use off camera flash with the D60 in conjunction with the SU-800 commander or for close proximity work you can always use the SC29 lead.

    The pop up flash system for remote triggering has a couple of slight disadvantages: 1. It causes blinks when the pre-flash goes off. 2. In some shots I have seen a feint amount of light coming from the built in flash even when it is set to non firing.

    It is still a good value add on though and I will be using it from time to time on my Nikon D700.

    Damien.

    Reply
  14. Lord Beau

    Attention, John: You can’t use the SB900 off-camera with the D60, as the D60’s inbuilt flash does not have wireless capability. However, you can use the SB900 (or SB800) on the D60 to trigger another flash (such as the SB600 or another SB900) wirelessly.

    Reply
  15. Joseph

    Hello,

    I had the same problem with my lastolite eazybox. I sent an email to lastolite complaining about the problem and they sent me a new hotshow adapter free of charges which fits Nikon flashguns with no problems.

    Reply
  16. John Pitman

    Hi Damien

    I have a Nikon D60 and have just purchased the SB 900 flash. I don’t appear to be able to use the 900 off the camera and using the in built flash as the command unit. Am I doing something wrong or is it not possible?

    Regards

    John

    Reply
  17. damien

    There’s a factory somewhere in the world that is flooding the market with round plastic cold shoes. Avoid these and any accessories that use them because they only fit some flash guns. All Nikon, Canon and Hama ones work fine with all the flash guns I’ve used.

    I used Hama cold shoes for the set up in the pictures above and the fit of the 2 flash guns was identical. Certainly not a firm push needed with either the SB-800 or SB-900.

    Damien.

    Reply
  18. Ben

    I have measured the thickness of the plates on the SB-800 and SB-900. I have both. They are the same.

    HOWEVER, the width of the mounting channel is smaller on the SB-900. I have mounts that work fine with the SB-800 that will NOT work with the SB-900.

    Regards,

    Ben

    Reply
  19. Rob

    Hi Damien

    Ah! That makes more sense. I got a Manfrotto Lite Tite Swivel and Umbrella adaptor which basically screws into the bottom of the plastic foot/base plate that comes with the SB900 for remote use. Seems to work fine so now to get my money back on the lastolite attachment!

    Thanks for the tips.

    Regards

    Rob

    Reply
  20. damien

    Hi Rob,

    The SB900 foot of the unit I had is identical thickness to my SB800s. Both Nikon the flash guns have a far thicker foot than my Canon flash guns. The problem you are experiencing is due to the plastic accessory shoe attachment on the Lastolite tilt bracket. They work with Metz and Canon no problem but not with Nikon. The Hama cold shoe is the one I use because it works with all flash guns. The Quantum one is good too. Any of the round design plastic cold shoes are no good for Nikon SB 800 or 900 either. The SB900 fits easily on all the Nikon accessories old and new as you would expect. I hope this helps.

    Damien.

    Reply
  21. Rob

    Hi Damien

    I beg to differ on the SB-900 foot thickness debate. Although I don’t have an SB 800 to compare it to, I have just tried to put my new SB900 into a Lastolite tilt head with hot shoe (which I just got at the Focus on Imaging show) and I couldn’t get it more than 1-2mm on and then it was wedged so tight I thought I would damage the flash taking it off. The flash fits fine on my camera (D700) but I simply can’t get it into what looks like a standard hot shoe accessory. I suspect the difference in thickness is so slight you can’t see it in a visual comparsion with the SB800 but its enough to stop it fitting my accessory. I’m now trying a bodge by taking the hot shoe off and using the plastic hot shoe stand that came with the flash and attaching that to the tilt-head instead.

    Regards

    Rob

    Reply
    • Mark

      I have both an SB900 and an SB800 and just tried to put the SB800 foot on the SB900, it does not fit

      Reply
      • Damien

        Hi Mark,

        It’s Damien here. I am not sure what you are trying to achieve. I wrote this article nearly 9 years ago and I’ve not touched Nikon since so I’m not able to help.

        Kindest regards,

        Damien.

        Reply
  22. Dave Clements

    Paul,

    Most of the time I use spot focus, the IR did illuminate but it would not focus all the time and spent most of the time hunting. Not the best time for the equipment to “not play ball”…..

    The answer I got from Nikon was it was more hit and miss and does not always work, which is what I was getting.

    Solved with the SB-900

    Also I think Nikon have stopped shipping the SB-800 now.

    Reply
  23. Paul Hurst

    Gareth / Damien – the issue you are talking about with the D300 and SB-800 – I have also noticed that the IR was not illuminating on the SB-800 on a D300 during low light, but eventually found (stumbled across) that if the focus point is centered then the SB-800 IR illuminator will work. I thought that this was an undocumented feature. Will the SB-900 IR illuminater work no matter which focus point is set ?

    Reply
  24. damien

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your valuable contribution to this thread. Wise words indeed.

    Damien.

    Reply
  25. damien

    Hi Gareth,

    Well as I can see, Nikon are recommending the SB-800 flash for use with the D60. The situation you are in is that the flash and the SB-800 will cost far more than your camera. Now this isn’t a problem because the Nikon D60 is a very capable bit of kit. My hunch would be to try the SB-900 with your camera by visiting Calumet or another decent trader and give it a go. It may be that Nikon’s page here was written before the SB-900 was released. I think Dave’s comments are very valid too about compatibility. If you do decide to upgrade your camera at some time in the future it would be wise to purchase the SB-900 flash.

    Kindest regards, Damien.

    PS: The SU-800 is way better than the CLS system in camera because the controls for flash power are one touch away rather than buried in menus.

    Reply
  26. Dave Clements

    Hi Damien,

    I had two SB-800 and both worked very well, that was until I got myself a D300 (I had two D200 before, now I have one of each). All was well until I tried to use the D300 with the SB-800 at a wedding on the dance floor. It was quite dark and relying on the IR on the SB-800 for the auto focus…. To cut a long story short and after speaking to Nikon, the SB-800 IR pattern for the D300 (D800, D3 and D3x) is not compatible, ie does not work. Bottom line I sold one of the SB-800 and got a SB-900, now all is well. Must admit I am loving the SB-900 and the new menu and all the new features.

    It was just something to remember if anyone is having the same problem. Oh, and I did check with Nikon and the SB-900 is fine on the D200

    Dave

    Reply
  27. Gareth

    This has been the perfect article and has come at the right time for me. I have been in two minds on what flash to get as a first flash for my D60. I am wanting wireless functionality so the SU-800 is needed. I understand the type of photography will determine my flash model to get but could you advise the best Flash without loosing to much functionality due to Camera Model limitations.

    Thanks
    Gareth

    Reply

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