The new model replaces the old SB-600 from 2004. Priced at $329 it’s an expensive flash but it comes with a rich feature set.
The SB-700 flash even changes the rules of the game as it introduces the top-grade feature of a wireless master mode to the middle class. Yes, you can control other speedlights with this new flash, that’s something the precursor was not capable of.
There’s also more goodies such as a high res dot matrix display and greatly improved ergonomics. But on the other hand, it still lacks both a PC socket and a power pack jack.
The SB-700 can be used with any camera model using the i-TTL protocol (CLS compatible cameras). At this point these are D40, D40x, D50, D60, D70, D70x, D80, D90, D200, D300, D300s, D700, D3000, D3100, D5000, D7000, D2 series, D3 series camera bodies. On top of that, there are also CLS compatible COOLPIX cameras such as Nikon P6000 or P7000.
It’s not compatible with the 1st generation of digital cameras such as the D1 or D100 (D-TTL), and due to a lack of an analog TTL mode it can’t be used with film-based camera bodies either – except the CLS-compatible Nikon F6.
Operation & Ease of Use
Flash Head Features
Guide Number Testing
Speedlights.net Power Index
Flash Recycle Times
Tech Specs Table
Remote Slave Mode
Wireless Master Mode
Radio Triggering & Optical Slave Mode
AF Assist Beam
i-TTL Performance & Exposure Quality
Flash Sync Modes
SB-700 Review Conclusion
Where To Buy
Flash Modes Intro: Digital TTL or Manual Mode “M”
Here’s how the SB700 compares with the SB-600 when it comes to supported flash modes, and as you can see the list is now a lot shorter:
|SB 700||SB 600|
The flash modes of the SB-700 are presented in the next sections.
Nikon has made a big change with the introduction of the SB-700: TTL-BL is the standard flash mode now, and it’s even the only available TTL mode.
The user has no choice anymore between standard (digital) TTL and TTL-BL: i-TTL-BL is automatically – and without override – used for matrix or center-weighted metering on the camera. The normal i-TTL is automatically selected for and limited to spot metering.
There is no option available – not even as a custom-setting – where the user could switch between the 2 modes himself without changing the camera’s metering mode.
This is especially remarkable since TTL-BL was previously more labeled as a special flash mode for tricky back-lit situations than called the default mode.
Manual Flash Mode
The second of the 3 available flash modes is manual mode, with a range of 1/1 down to 1/128 power.
Manual flash mode can be seen on the LCD screen from the “M” displayed in the upper left corner, but it’s even easier to see from the setting of the physical switch on the left.
Available Flash Modes: GN
The third flash mode is called “GN” or distance priority manual flash.
This is a special manual flash mode to use in the camera hot shoe. In that case, the range computer takes f-stop and ISO into account to determine the correct light output at a user-selected distance in meter or feet.
No film-TTL, D-TTL, Auto Mode
Since the SB-900, Nikon has dropped all support for previous TTL generations. What’s more, the SB-700 is also missing an auto mode (another relic from the past, and not needed today for the average photographer).
Shooters with analog camera bodies and owners of 1st generation digital cameras need to rely on the pre-owned market from now on, e.g. on eBay. The SB-600 (second from left in the picture below) was the last Nikon flash with film based TTL and D-TTL support.
Wireless Flash Intro: AWL Master, TTL Slave or SU-4
What you certainly also find on the new model is the wireless i-TTL remote mode, and now even a master mode, which was not present at all on the precursor model. It’s the first non-professional flash to feature a (slightly simplified) master mode. These two control modes (master / slave) can be combined with the flash modes above.
Other options for wireless control include the simple optical slave mode (called “SU-4″ in the Nikon system) and compatibility with radio triggers mounted on the flash foot. Wireless flash is discussed in detail further below.
|Supported Nikon flash modes||i-TTL-BL, (i-TTL with spot metering), M|
|Nikon wireless TTL slave / master||yes / yes|
|Manual power settings (on the flash)||1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128|
Together with the flash you now receive a snap-on diffuser and 2 coded color filters, plus the other accessories that came with the Nikon SB-600 as well – in modernized versions.
Here’s the complete list with all items you find in the box:
- the AF speedlight
- semi hard case SS-700
- flash stand AS-22
- snap-on diffuser
- CTO hard plastic color filter
- green hard plastic color filter
- instruction manual
- warranty card
- product registration card
- booklet with example photos
Soft Case SS-700
Apart from being unfamiliar and the fact you can’t carry the case on your belt anymore, this layout has some advantages too: one of them is an easier access to the diffuser and the other accessories such as the color filters; another plus is that you don’t have to adjust the flash head every time before and after storage; just take it out of the case and attach it to the camera hot shoe.
The fabric of the new SS-700 flash case does not feel as thick as that of the SS-600 (picture bottom), and definitely not as nice in terms of material and manufacturing quality as the huge SS-900 – visible on the right in the picture – that belongs to the SB-900 Nikon flash.
It’s still a good quality product, but don’t expect the same level of protection for your flash that the well padded and stiff SS-900 provides.
SB-700 Flash Stand AS-22
The flash stand AS-22 is another new design. The sleek looks are nice but there is really no excuse for going back to a tripod thread made from plastic.
The SB-600′s flash stand AS-19 (picture left) is a sturdier construction (available from amazon as a replacement). The SB-900 mini stand called AS-21 can be seen in the picture right.
SB-700 Flash Diffuser
Since the flash head is larger than the SB-600 but smaller than the SB-900, there is also a new and dedicated snap-on diffuser (SW-14H) for the SB700 flash. In the picture left you can see a third party (Yongnuo) diffuser that fits the SB-600 flash head, on the right is the snap-on diffuser for the mighty SB-900.
The SB-700 diffuser is made from thick plastic and locks into special dents on the side of the flash head, but the handling is a bit rough: you have to slide it on from one of the sides first, otherwise it won’t snap into place.
The SB700 diffuser actuates a small mechanical switch at the center bottom of the flash head which tells the SB-700 that it’s attached. This enables the flash, for example, to change the angle of coverage displayed on the LCD panel (a system that was first introduced with the SB-900 speedlight).
SB-700 Color Filters
Color filters are not gimmicks but critical tools that can dramatically improve the quality of your lighting.That’s why it’s great from Nikon to include two of them with the new flash – the SB-600 had no color filters as standard accessory.
These color correction filters are made from hard plastic, it’s the 2 pieces on the right side in the photo below. In the middle and left you can see the soft gel filters that come with the SB-900 flash.
Two things to note here, apart from the different material. First, it’s worth mentioning that Nikon has changed their approach to color filter detection.
The filters have notches of different length to allow the speedlite distinguish between them as they actuate the left or the right mini switch at the flash head bottom.
The second thing to note is that you have only 1 version green and one CTO, while you got at least 2 strengths with the SB-900. A CTO, and especially one that automatically adjusts the camera (D90 or above) white balance is certainly great.
To be really in control however, you want to use and combine 3 versions, the full plus a 1/2 and 1/4 CTO.
Build Quality and Controls
The SB-700 is one of the average to smaller sized middle class flashes on the market. Clearly a lot bigger than the simplistic SB-400, but as can be seen from the photo below it is much closer in dimensions to the precursor SB600 than to the massive SB-900.
Unlike the SB-900 which is made in Japan, the SB-700 is manufactured in China. It’s on a good quality level but you can feel a class difference to the flagship model: the SB-900 is tighter, heavier, with less play in the flash head, smoother operation of the flash head release.
But the new flash is a consumer product and not a professional tool, and the casing is upgraded from the SB-600 which was really on a decent level. Time will tell how durable the 700 series speedlight really is; for now, it feels good – apart from the reflector card which seems a bit loose.
It appears that the foot including the whole bottom part is 100% identical to the bigger SB-900 flash, and even interchangeable between the 2 models (the flash foot is the same as the new SB-900 flash foot, not the same as the initial “fat” flash foot; that’s why it fits into the AS-19 stand).
Therefore, you find the same big quick release lever for hot shoe attachment on the 700 series flashgun as well.
The new middle class flash from Nikon uses also the same optional water guard accessories as the SB-900, available in 3 different models for D3 / D300 / D700 class camera bodies.
When it comes to external connectors, all similarities end. A look at the left and front side reveals the same picture as for the SB-600: plain plastic, no sockets.
If you need a PC sync socket, or a battery pack connector, then this is not the flash for you (get the SB-900, or have a look at Nissin’s Di622 Mark II for example, or the Nissin Di866).
The only external connectors on the speedlight body are 2 gold color contacts at the front of the flash foot, which are used for AF assist with a flash cable like the SC-29.
The flash features nine buttons and switches, 3 more than the SB-600. The controls are grouped around the display in a different pattern than on previous speedlights from Nikon.
On/Off uses a rotary switch now with a built-in lock for remote and master mode. Protection against unwanted adjustments makes sense, but the safety requires using two hands to set one of these modes. Still, it is a great improvement over the terrible way to set remote mode on the SB-600!
Next to the power switch is the “SEL” button, which is – together with the command dial – used for adjustments and fine-tuning within the flash modes, for example flash exposure compensation. This was a bit faster to set on the SB-600 since you only needed to push on “plus” or “minus” without a second button involved.
The center is dominated by the command dial with an embedded “OK” key. It seems to be the same good quality part as used on the SB-900. The dial serves different functions, for example to navigate the menu system.
On the left, underneath the LCD is the dedicated “ZOOM” knob, pretty much in the same position as it was on the precursor. On the new flash however it is possible to zoom up and down, depending on the rotation of the command wheel.
The “Menu” button is located on the bottom left – push it to enter the menu system where you can set the (simple) optical slave mode, adjust the acoustic signals, fine tune the LCD screen and so on. This makes navigating the menu faster, much more logical and a lot easier than it is on any other speedlight from Nikon I own.
The last button underneath the screen is “FLASH“, the button for test firing. The test flash button is the only one with illumination, all other buttons don’t lighten up in darkness. Like on other Canon and Nikon speedlites, “red” means ready and “green” means recycle.
On the left side of the screen is the flash mode switch - this is a great design choice since switching mode is one of the more regular adjustments to make. This switch reminds of the old professional Nikon speedlights using similar controls, like the SB-26 for example.
The last of the 9 controls can be found on the right of the screen: it’s the illumination pattern slider for setting “standard”, “center-weighted” (narrower beam) or “even” flash beam coverage.
Improved LCD Screen
The LCD screen has been upgraded for the new flash – it’s now a dot matrix design, not the segment type screen anymore. The good news is that it is sharper and with higher contrast than the screen on the flagship model SB900.
It’s clearly not as huge but still shows what’s needed, while omitting some of the irrelevant details that the SB-900 has to share with its user.
Other settings can be accessed via the menu system, which is much improved over the SB-600, while offering more customization.
Custom features comprise settings for optional color filters, SU-4 slave mode, sound signals, LCD contrast, standby adjustment (can be deactivated altogether), sensor size detection, manual power level steps, meter/feet adjustment, AF assist light, display of firmware version and finally the option to reset the flash settings.
Power Supply & Battery Handling
The speedlight is powered by 4 AA batteries, either alkaline, lithium or NiMH can be used. There is a battery warning indicator on the flash, but it sounds like irony that the icon shows up only when the batteries are depleted and any further shooting is blocked. Not very helpful.
There is no connector for an external power source, so you need to rely on the internal batteries, which last for 160 to 330 full power flashes according to the official specs.
The Nikon SB-700 features a new battery compartment layout – the cells are not in a row anymore. It’s an improved design with better access to the battery bay, as well as a wider opening door. Both facilitates the battery exchange.
To open the battery compartment door, push on the small release button and then slide down the whole door. Once this is done you can fold it up where it is locked in place by a slight resistance. Nice.
The head of the SB700 is smaller than the huge SB-900 head. It’s average in dimensions among today’s speedlites, but clearly bigger than the very small flash head of Nikon’s SB-600. The front screen is very rounded and more narrow at the bottom than at the top.
Flash Head Adjustment
There are 2 upgrades when it comes to flash head adjustment. First, you find now a -7 degree negative tilt on the new middle class speedlight, helpful for close-up photography and use with light modifiers like shoot-through umbrellas. There is certainly also 90 degree upwards tilt possible. Press the flash head release button on the right side for all adjustments.
Second, the flash head allows full 360 degree swivel now, an unusual flexibility for accessory flash guns (SB-600 had 270 degrees). And it’s a useful upgrade, since bouncing off walls and ceilings is now unlimited, independent from camera holding.
Wide angle coverage
Integrated in the flash head is a reflector card and a flip-down wide panel which must be used for coverage below 24mm FX or 16mm on DX cameras. Pulling them out is easy, but the pushing back into resting position is a bit fiddly.
Light falloff is tested with a 12mm DX lens at f11. The SB-700 has a pretty even coverage across the frame with below-average light falloff. What can be seen from the photo below, and especially from comparing to the Nikon SB600 (scroll down on the page), is that the square pattern from the precursor is gone.
The center of the frame is brightest with a smooth and gradual decrease towards the edges (there is a very slightly bracket-shaped darker area right and left of the center, though). For this test, the “standard” illumination setting was used. With reflector at “even” there should be less vignetting still.
SB-700 Auto Zoom Range
By default, the speedlite reads the focal length of the lens and adjusts the zoom reflector accordingly, within a range of 24mm to 120mm (24mm to 85mm was the range on the SB-600). With wide panel, coverage extends down to 14mm with the standard illumination pattern (12mm with center-weighted illumination).
On a DX camera like the D90 or new D7000, zoom range is 16mm (DX) to 85mm, and 10mm with the wide-panel. The old SB600 did not know the concept of sensor size, so it always used 24mm with a 24mm lens, no matter if combined with a ‘full frame’ or APS-C sized image sensor.
In manual zoom mode (and only then!), you can switch the LCD display from FX to DX (APS-C) or set to automatic detection. What’s not possible as it seems, however, is to use FX zoom with a DX camera in auto zoom mode. The “even” illumination pattern might be the alternative solution for helping with very even coverage into the corners, or taking the photo with bounced flash. Or use a wider setting with manual zoom.
To set a certain zoom reflector position by hand, simply press the ZOOM button. The screen below shows the SB-700 in manual mode at the 24mm position. Manual zoom works in the other flash modes as well, and also when the speedlight is not attached to a camera body but used in wireless mode, be it TTL or manual flash.
You can press “ZOOM” repeatedly to toggle through all the 8 steps 24mm – 28mm – 35mm – 50mm – 70mm – 85mm – 105mm – 120mm – back to 24mm, or you can zoom up and down with the command dial. To cancel the manual zoom mode, push the “SEL” button on the right side.
SB-700 Review: Flash Output and Guide Number Testing
The guide number (GN) of an electronic flash is a measure of the maximum light output – visit the test details page to learn more.
Official Specification: (only) GN 28
It was a rule that new generations of speedlites had at least the same, if not a higher guide number than their ancestors That’s how things still are at Canon and Metz. That’s also how Nikon used to design their model generations. But only until the SB-800.
When the current SB-900 was introduced in 2008, it was a big surprise to see its guide number had been reduced, for the fist time in a professional speedlight for Nikon, from 38 to only 34. With the announcement of the SB-700, which will replace the SB-600, it was less of a surprise to read GN 28, 2 points less than the precursor SB-600.
With this guide number the SB-700 is less powerful than most other mid-range flashes, for example the Nissin Di622-II, the Metz 48 / 50 line, or a Sunpak PZ42X. Canon’s equivalent 430EX II features GN 31.
There are some ways to get more juice out of that flash. The first is dialing up the ISO: for every 2 sensitivity steps, the guide number doubles. If GN is 28 for ISO 100, then for ISO 400 it’s at 56 – which means there is a pretty easy cure to the power shortage if you’re not forcing the ISO to 100 on your cam.
The other way, with the added benefit of giving some control of the shape of the light beam, is to use the zoom reflector in the flash head. With this you come from GN 28 at 35mm to GN 38 at the 120mm setting for the SB-700, according to Nikon.
But let’s see how true their specs are to reality, since there is quite some abuse of the guide number metric by the manufacturers’ marketing departments.
Flash Meter Results
All flashes are tested using the same standardized method using a Sekonic flash meter in a controlled environment. Speedlites are never tested alone, but always together with re-tests of other models to guarantee consistent results between sessions.
For the SB-700 from Nikon, the light meter reads f16 plus 7/10 of a stop – no surprise, this is where you expect it to be. It’s 2/10 stops below the SB-600, and well below the top-grade models like SB-900, or the big guns from Canon and Nissin.
|Model||Light meter reading|
|Nissin Di866||f22 +7/10|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||f22 +4/10|
|Nikon SB-900||f22 +3/10|
|Sunpak PZ42X||f22 +3/10|
|Metz 48 AF-1||f22 +1/10|
|Nikon SB-600||f16 +9/10|
|Nikon SB-700||f16 +7/10|
|Yongnuo YN-465||f16 +5/10|
|Nikon SB-400||f16 +0/10|
|Yongnuo YN-467||f11 +7/10|
On the other side, the new 700 series is positioned well above the tiny SB-400 flash (reached f16 +0/0) and is also more powerful than the TTL models from Yongnuo (which claim GN 33 on paper, but were tested lower as can be seen above).
Real World Guide Number: 28.8
The calculated guide number is obtained by adding exactly 1 f-stop to the flash meter test results. Learn more about this method on the test details page.
During the testing the SB-700 came very close to its official specs. As always for a Nikon speedlight the result of the measurements was even a little bit higher. Calculated guide number is 28.8, compared to Nikon’s 28. As a refresher, the Nikon SB-600 was metered as GN 30.9 vs an official GN of 30.
At the wide angle end GN is always lowest. Nikon’s engineers have done some successful redesign here, since there is still GN 16.6 available at the 14mm setting, compared to the lower 15.5 of the SB-600. Plus, as shown on the SB-700 features and operation page, there is also less pronounced vignetting with the new wide panel.
Towards the longest zoom steps, the flash gains less additional power. The difference between 85, 105 and 120mm is very small in the real world. Not much benefit here through the longer zoom range.
6.6 Stop Output Range
Between maximum power and 1/128, the SB-700 offers a 7 stop range, which is one stop more than what you get on the SB-600. You can set third stops between all full stops, now for the first time on a Nikon also between the ‘full’ and ‘half’ levels.
|Nikon SB-700 output range spec||Output range from tests|
|7 stops||6.6 stops|
Between 1/1 and 1/2, the difference is only 0.8 stop rather than exactly 1 stop – this was the same for the precursor flash SB-600. In the case of the SB 700, a light meter reading of f11 +9/10 follows after the f16 +7/10 for full power. For all the other settings there is always 0.9 or 1.0 stop decrement down to f2 +1/10.
The overall range is 6.6 stops instead of the official 7 stop range; it’s a rather typical result that speedlite flashes have a somewhat smaller output level range than specified.
Speedlights Power Index
With a tested guide number of 29, the SB-700 is in the lower middle ranks of the power index. The predecessor SB-600 (discontinued now) was tested at GN 31. In real life you won’t notice that difference really, and if you’re using a DX camera it’s even less of a point since the DX zoom mode makes up for that disadvantage for certain zoom settings.
Continuous Shooting Output
When flashes get fired in a rapid sequence, the maximum output from a speedlight suffers to some extent. This is unavoidable and natural, but the effect should not exceed a certain amount as it makes manual mode exposure less reliable.
|Model||Calc. guide number at 60 sec wait||Calc. guide number at continuous fire||Difference in f-stops|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||36.8||32.0||-4/10|
|Metz 48 AF-1||33.1||29.9||-3/10|
Compared to the SB-600 and other popular camera flash models, the new SB-700 shows a consistent performance in the stress test. A loss of 2/10 of a stop is smaller than average.
SB-700 Flash Recycling Times
Flash recycling time is the duration between firing a full power flash and the moment when the ‘flash ready’ light comes back on. Older generations of camera flash had recycle times of up to 10 seconds, but nowadays flash recycle is a lot faster, typically in the range of 2 to 5 seconds.
Alkaline and NiMH Results
SB-700 flash recycle time was measured with alkaline batteries and NiMH cells. With alkaline batteries, the times are a bit disappointing. On average, almost 4 seconds pass between full power shots after the first couple flashes. This is slower than the SB-600 result for the same battery type.
With NiMH batteries, the results look a lot better and the new SB-700 is faster than its ancestor that had scored 2.2 seconds.
Nikon’s new mid-range flash achieves a fast 1.8 seconds recycle time with NiMH, less than half the time required with alkaline batteries where flash recycle is a bit slow with a 3.9 seconds average.
A thermal cut-off switch in the flash head prevents excessive heat build-up during heavy use, which otherwise can lead to damage. This kind of overheating protection has been transferred from the SB-900 to the new SB-700, which also features the temperature indicator on the back panel.
The approach is somewhat smarter than on the SB-900, however. In case of critical temperature levels, the flash does not lock down but it only slows down its recycle, so that it can still be used, just with longer wait between the shots. As can be seen in the video, it’s also harder to reach critical levels on the SB-700 – lower guide number helps here:
What can’t be seen in the video but felt when taking out the batteries is that the batteries of the SB-900 are only lukewarm. The eneloops in the SB-700 are really getting much hotter, in comparison!
SB700 Flash Duration
Flash duration is the time between beginning and end of the flash. When it comes to ISO flash duration definitions, things are a bit more complicated. The t0.1 time taken and published here is the time duration between the moment where the light energy curve exceeds 10% of its peak value and the moment when the curve falls back below 10% of this peak value again.
Typical flash durations for compact speedlights are between 1/200 seconds at full power and 1/20,000 at the lowest output levels. Nikon uses a different flash duration than t0.1. The so called t0.5 time is shorter by definition – that’s why their full power flash duration specs are in the 1/800 to 1/1000 seconds region.
Flash Duration Times Compared
The table below lists measurement results from speedlights.net flash duration tests. As can be seen there is something like a correlation between guide number and t0.1 times – with lower GN comes often a shorter flash duration.
|Model||t0.1 flash duration metering at 1/1|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||1/375|
|Metz 48 AF-1||1/230|
SB-700 Flash Duration Times
The next table shows specs versus test result for all full stops down to 1/128, as far as the measurement device could capture the durations (the metering range ends at 1/8000 seconds).
|Output level||Manufacturer spec||t0.1 metering|
While the results are similar to the SB-600, they differ a lot from the data in the official Nikon table in section H-17 of the instruction manual. Overall, what’s probably most relevant to note here is that the speedlight’s 1/1 flash duration is in line with other model of accessory flash.
Following is the table with more complete specifications and test results from the Nikon SB-700 review. More information on wireless flash, TTL and hot shoe performance can be found in the next parts of the SB-700 review.
|Guide number spec
(35mm, ISO 100, in meters)
|Guide number test result||29|
|Manual power settings||1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128|
|Flash duration (full power)||1/1042|
|Recycle time spec
(at full power)
|2.5 sec alkaline, 2.5 sec NiMH|
|Recycle time test result||3.9 sec alkaline, 1.8 sec NiMH|
|Flash foot material, type||metal, standard ISO (Nikon)|
|PC Sync Port||no|
|Optical Slave||yes (Nikon SU-4)|
|Other Trigger||wireless TTL slave mode|
|Trigger Voltage||3.63 V (measured)|
|Flash Head Features|
|Swivel||-180 to +180 degrees|
|Tilt||-7 to +90 degrees|
|Manual Zoom Head||(14) 24 – 120|
|Auto Zoom||(14) 24 – 120|
|Bounce card / 2nd reflector||yes / no|
|LCD Display||yes (dot matrix)|
|Batteries Used||4 x AA|
|External Power Source||no|
|CLS Wireless Slave||yes|
|CLS Wireless Master||yes|
|E-TTL(II) wireless slave||na|
|E-TTL(II) wireless master||na|
|Other Flash Modes|
|AF Assist Light||yes (dual beam)|
|Exposure Compensation in TTL Mode on the Flash unit||-3 to +3 EV|
|Rear Curtain Synchronization||yes|
|High Speed Synchronization||yes|
|Sensor Size Detection (DX, FX, etc)||yes|
Wireless Flash Review: remote TTL, radio triggering, optical slave mode
For off camera use the SB700 can be controlled (1) via Nikon’s wireless AWL mode using TTL or manual mode, (2) using radio receivers on the flash foot (there is no PC sync port), or (3) with the simple optical “SU-4″ slave mode.
The SB700 is the first mid-range flash to include even the “AWL” master mode, a feature found only on professional speedlights to date.
Nikon Remote Slave Mode AWL
Nikon’s AWL = advanced wireless lighting as a part of the CLS = creative lighting system uses almost unnoticeable light pulses right before the main flash to talk with remote speedlights.
Slave flashguns with an AWL enabled light sensor can read the command signals and fire in sync with the master flash, typically a buit-in pop-up flash on a DSLR or a dedicated master speedlight in the camera accessory shoe.
Like on the precursor SB-600 there is wireless slave mode available on the SB700. In addition, it can act itself as a master now too and control other speedlights, a new feature not present on the SB-600 yet (read further below about the AWL master mode).
Setting Up Dedicated Wireless Slave Mode
The SB-600 is pretty easy to use, but switching to wireless slave is the one big exception – it couldn’t be more complicated than how it was implemented – requiring pushing two buttons together first, and then a trip through the menu system.
“Remote” is now set with an extra twist of the power switch. To unlock the “Remote” and “Master” positions, push on the recessed safety button in the power switch center.
When the SB700 is set to “Remote” you see the setup screen for the remote flash channel and group. With the “SEL” button, the control dial and the “OK” button you can adjust the channel and group as required. Make sure the same channel and group is also used on the master.
In wireless mode, the flash indicates firing readiness through 2 blinking LEDs on the front (these are not the AF assist lamps, but dedicated lights; nice detail is that they can also be seen from the side).
Plus, there is an optional acoustic signal like on the SB-600. I find sound signals a very useful feature since they give you 2 pieces of information: (1) a confirmation that the flash has fired and (2) that it’s fully recycled and ready for the next shot.
Wireless TTL Slave Mode
For wireless TTL photography the mode must be set on the master, but it does not matter what’s set on the slave. So you can leave the flash mode switch on the left of the LCD screen in any position – no need to select “TTL”. Exposure compensation is also set on the master.
You can use the illumination patterns switch on the right of the screen to further control the beam.
The SB700 does certainly support wireless FP high speed sync so it can be used at any shutter speed (as long as the master is in mode “–” or also FP-enabled), as well as other flash sync modes like 2nd curtain, or slow sync – apart from anti red-eye (which doesn’t make sense in wireless mode).
Modeling light is supported in wireless slave flash operation.
Wireless Manual Mode “M”
Nikon’s new mid-range flash can also be used in manual flash mode within the AWL. Again, nothing is set on the speedlight itself, the complete setup is done on the master: set the group with your slave SB-700 to mode “M”, and then select a desired output level between full power “1/1″ and “1/128″.
Example: if the master is the built-in pop-up flash of a Nikon D80, you set in menu “22″ the Commander mode, and then for example “–” for the built-in and “M” plus “1/128″ for group A. With these settings, you will get the optical trigger signal from the mini flash in the D80 to control the SB-700 at 1/128th of its maximum power.
Light Sensor Position
The light sensor to receive optical trigger signals sits on the right side of the SB700′s flash body.
Benefit of the new location is that the chance of covering = blocking the sensor window with a hand is reduced.
A little downside might be that the flash head can block the direct line of sight in some situations where the slave sits lower than the master flash, but the flash has proven to exceed the maximum triggering range as its precursor so it’s not a problem in real life.
On the SB-600, SB-800 and the SB900 it was sitting lower on the flash body.
Pop-up Flash As Master – Compatibility List
If you are shooting with a Nikon D80, D90, D200, D300, D300S, D700 or D7000 there is good news: you don’t need any extra accessories for wireless flash – all of these camera bodies can simply use the built-in pop-up flash as a trigger.
You can also use a D70 or D70S when setting the SB700 flash to channel “3″ and group “A” (this is where the Nissin Di622-II is incompatible).
The photo above shows the Nikon D80 set up as wireless master with SB700 in manual slave mode “M” but controlled through Nikon’s advanced wireless lighting AWL.
Official Nikon Wireless Remote Range: 10m
The maximum range of the optical flash control with AWL depends on the shooting conditions, mainly the ambient light level and reflection. The range is lowest on a bright and sunny day on the beach but much higher inside a dark studio setting with reflective walls nearby.
This is what Nikon is publishing as official working range:
- up to 10 meters – remote flash max 30 degrees off axis from pop-up flash
- up to 5 meter – remote flash max 60 degrees off axis from pop-up flash
In reality, the usable range is much bigger as we’ll see in the next section. This holds true for most flashes by the way, the Nissin Di622-II achieved 22m meters maximum range in the test.
SB700 Wireless Remote Range: 38m
For the wireless slave range test a Nikon D90 was used as the master, with its pop-up flash set to “–”. “P” was used as camera mode, the remote flash was used in mode “TTL”. The maximum range for reliable triggering of the SB700 was 38 meters, which is 3.8x the official range!
Under the same conditions (EV 13.1, early afternoon), the SB-600 reached 33 meters, while the SB-900 had an even higher working range of up to 46 meters.
In another test, the slave sensor was still pointed direct at the camera, but the D90 was gradually rotated to the side = out of axis, until the slave missed the signal. The results for 5 meters, 10, 20 and 30 meters can be seen from the table.
|Master distance||Master in axis (0 degrees)||Master rotated 45 degrees to the side||Master at 90 degrees rotation|
|5 meters||SB700 fires||SB700 fires||no|
|10 meters||SB700 fires||SB700 fires||no|
|20 meters||SB700 fires||SB700 fires||no|
|30 meters||SB700 fires||no||no|
At 5 meters, the angle between pop-up flash and SB700 could be up to 80 degrees, and even at 30 meters the master flash could still be pointing 35 to 40 degrees to the side. This means the light sensor is doing a very good job at picking up the trigger signal off axis, not only when it’s facing the light source direct.
In terms of effectiveness, the SB700 slave sensor is a step up from the SB-600, both in terms of maximum range (38 meters versus 33m) as well as the maximum angle between master and slave.
However, it can’t compete with the SB-900 in this respect. With a range of 46 meters and a maximum angle of almost 180 degrees (!) at 5 meters distance, the top-grade model plays in another league still.
Remote Triggering With Other Speedlights
Another master flash option is the SB-900, visible in the picture below on the right. As expected this works like a charm, e.g. with SB-900 in TTL and the SB700 in manual mode at 1/32.
The SB700 was also tested with a Nissin Di866 as master in the camera hot shoe. While the triggering itself works fine, the exposure is not as consistent as when the SB-900 is used as a master, or the pop-up flash of the D90. The combination SB700 in slave mode with Di866 as master on the Nikon D90 tends to produce some hefty underexposure (more testing needs to be done).
Other Wireless Masters
If you don’t want to use the pop-up flash as a master, or if you own a Nikon camera where the pop-up flash is not master-enabled (everything below D7000 – D90 – D80 – D70), there are alternatives to Nikon’s SB-900 and the Nissin Di866.
From Nikon, you can also use the older SB-800 (precursor of the SB-900), the Nikon SU-800 wireless speedlight controller, or another SB700 in master mode.
Third-party solutions include Metz 58 AF-1 and Metz 58 AF-2, and also some Sigma flashes, e.g. EF-610 DG Super.
Nikon SB700 With Wireless Master Mode
Nikon’s SB700 is the first mid-range speedlite on the market with a master mode. That means it can’t only be controlled, but it can control other flashes itself!
Compared to the other current master speedlight from Nikon, the SB900, this cool feature is limited in two ways.
First, you can only work with 2 groups of remote flashes, and not with 3 like on the professional 900 series (see further above for an image with SB900 setup screen and 3 groups of slave flashes).
This is like when you’re using the pop-up flash as master, there are also only 2 groups supported. In my opinion, this is not a huge deal for the average photographer, since this still allows plenty of lighting options.
The second limitation compared to the SB900 is that the master and both the slave flash groups must be in the same mode. So if SB700 is set to manual mode, that’s what you must use for the slave flash units too. If the SB700 master is set to TTL, then both groups of slave flashes can only work in TTL mode.
This is a downgrade not only from SB900, but also from the built-in flashes in Nikon cameras. On my D90, I can select different flash modes for the mini flash itself and for both groups individually. Again, for the average photographers among us it should be OK to work completely in TTL, or completely in manual mode.
In both master modes on the SB700 (“M” and “TTL”), you have the option to set the SB700 to “—”, which means it only triggers but does not contribute to the exposure and has no impact on the lighting.
New for Nikon is the “A:B” mode or “Quick Wireless Control Mode”, where the master is always inactive = “—” itself, but triggering 2 groups using output level ratios. The special thing here is that you set a ratio between group 1 and 2, and not an exposure compensation for each speedlight.
This mode allows a more intuitive light setup. “1:1″ means both remote flashguns fire with the same intensity. “2:1″ means that group A fires with 2x the power (see screen above). The maximum ratio is “1:8″ on the SB-700 – the only Nikon flash to date with this feature.
Radio Triggering For Wireless Flash
Radio triggering is an alternative to the Nikon AWL. It does work in manual mode only with the type of low cost trigger most “strobists” use (visit lighting 101 on David Hobby’s website). And it requires an additional investment for a trigger to put on the camera, and a receiver to attach to the flashgun.
So why bother with it? There are 2 very good reasons: first, radio triggering is near 100% reliable, which is not the case for optical flash control. And second, it allows you to integrate low-cost speedlites or older, used Nikon flashguns, into your lighting setup.
A simple radio trigger like the Cactus V4 or Yongnuo RF-602 costs only a few bucks (get them from eBay or amazon) – it’s worth the investment. Some models can even be used as a remote for your camera shutter!
SB700 With X Sync Radio Triggers
The SB700 works fine with radio triggers, the voltage on the flash foot is way below critical levels with 3.63 Volts (metering result on the test unit). The Nikon engineers have built in an ‘easter egg’ even: when you attach a non-TTL radio trigger and power the flash on, it shows this screen:
Thank you Nikon for the reminder!
To use the SB700 with radio receivers, don’t set it to mode “Remote”, but always to the normal “On” position on the power switch. Then, move the flash mode switch to the “M” setting.
No Sync Terminal
The only way to attach radio receivers is the flash foot. There is no PC port on the SB700, and also no other jack where triggers could be connected. For an i-TTL speedlight with a PC sync socket you need to look at the SB-900 or a used SB-800, or get a Nissin Di622 or Di866.
Sync Speeds with Radio Triggers
In theory, a flashgun can be used with radio triggers up to its maximum sync speed. On the D90, this is 1/200 seconds. With faster shutter speeds than that a black band will be visible in the frame.
1/200 consistently works with the SB700 together with the Cactus V4 and the Yongnuo RF-602, so there is no limitation. You’d actually expect that the maximum sync speed can be achieved with any given flash-and-trigger combo, but that’s not the case in real life (see Di622-II wireless flash review page).
7 Stop Range in Manual Mode
Adjustment of the flash power output is possible within a 7 stop range (6.6 stops according to the test results). You can select from 8 different settings between 1/1 and 1/128 plus the 1/3 and 2/3 stops in between, for the first time on a Nikon speedlight also with third steps between full and 1/2 power.
The SB700 has a memory for the last settings. So, when you power it off and back on, it will remember your last zoom position, the flash mode and last output level used.
No Standby Problem With SB700
Some models of camera flash fall into standby when they’re powered on but not used over a certain time. If they don’t wake up with a press of the radio transmitter you have to walk up to your flash to awaken them.
The SB600 is such a flash. With RF-602 triggers, it does not awaken from power saving mode (see SB600 wireless flash review). Luckily, you can deactivate the standby mode so the SB600 is still a fine strobist speedlite.
The SB700 has also an adjustable power-saving mode, so it can be set to “always on” if you want. But there is actually no need for that, since it does always fire with Cactus V4 triggers and also the RF-602. With the latter, it doesn’t even fall into standby.
Optical Slave Mode (non-TTL)
The optical slave mode is a third wireless flash control option, in addition to the wireless iTTL mode with AWL and (radio) triggers on the flash foot.
The optical slave mode, known as “S1″ on Yongnuo speedlites, or “SF” on the Nissin Di622 Mark II, uses the same optical sensor as the AWL mode. The difference is that you can use any flash as a master, and not only the compatible controllers listed above.
So, with SU-4, you can even use the SB-600 as a controller for the SB700 flash. Or you can use another brand speedlite, like a Metz or a Canon. When using SU-4 mode, there are 2 things to keep in mind:
- SU-4 is a simple, non-intelligent remote flash mode. The master flash must not fire in digital TTL since the pre-flashes set the SB700 off early. At the lowest power setting the SB700 will still be in sync with an iTTL master flash, but at full power it’s firing too early and not visible in the frame (you see it in the viewfinder, but on the photo it’s dark).
- In SU-4, you need to set the flash output level by hand if used in mode “M” as sub mode of SU-4. In mode “Auto” within SU-4, the remote flash starts and stops firing together with the master flash unit. I need to do some more testing before making a statement about it.
The SU-4 mode has a pretty big range, but the maximum working distance is less than in wireless TTL. While the latter worked up to 38 meters distance during tests for this review (your result might vary depending on local conditions), the maximum range for SU-4 in mode “M” was 30 meters, so a bit less.
Light Stand Mounting
Thanks to a standard ISO flash foot attaching the flash on a light stand is easy. It is actually the same flash foot that’s used on the newer SB-900, since Nikon has changed their design and walked away from the oversized version of early SB-900 models. The foot fits into all normal flash stands, radio triggers or swivel adapters.
Because there is no sync terminal on the SB-700, you have to mount it on a trigger hot shoe which then gets mounted on the stand. Thanks to the negative tilt option on the flash head you’re still able to aim at the center of an umbrella or soft box at least.
Off-Camera Flash Must-Haves
The SB700 is a great tool for wireless flash. It combines a very capable wireless i-TTL mode with simple radio trigger compatibility and even an optical slave mode.
- manual mode
- has manual mode: yes
- minimum manual power: 1/128
- all full stops from 1/1 to 1/128: yes
- X contact firing: yes
- flash standby mode: adjustable
In addition, you get even a master mode which is limited in some respect but still fully usable, at least once you own a second speedlight that can be controlled.
SB 700 Review: TTL Exposure Quality and On-Camera Use
Nikon’s SB 700 is certainly mainly designed as a hot-shoe flash, despite its refined wireless features. As such, it features the newest technology like automatic color filter detection, sensor size zoom, advanced AF assist and adjustable illumination patterns. This part of the review focuses on the qualities as an on-camera flash.
Hot Shoe Operation
The SB 700 has the same flash base as the (newer) SB-900 with the large quick release lever and connected locking pin design. Attaching the speedlight to the camera takes only a second.
It sits in the hot shoe with a slight play that can be felt when moving the flash gun around with the hand. It’s not much and not really annoying, but speedlights with a traditional locking wheel have a tighter hot shoe fit.
Since the SB 700 is very similar in size to the SB-600, it gives you the same nicely balanced package together with a mid-range body like the D90. The SB-900 is in a different league size-wise; in my opinion it’s too big and too bulky.
Nikon camera bodies are not able to detect a turned off speedlight in the accessory shoe – the SB-700 is no exception here; they always will try to pop up the built-in mini flash. The external flash is not recognized either when powered on but set to “Remote” – for the camera, it’s like no speedlight attached.
To save battery power when mounted, standby is entered as soon as the camera display goes dark. When the shutter is half pressed it wakes up instantly and is ready to fire so this behavior should not cause any issues.
Nikon does not recommend to leave the SB 700 powered on when attaching or removing from the accessory shoe. While some speeedlites fire off when mounting or removing from the accessory shoe (you’ll probably see a pair of white rectangles for some minutes if that happens to you for the first time), this is not a problem with the Nikon SB 700 – no random firing.
AF Assist Beam
Nikon has an advanced AF assist concept, better than what you find on 3rd party flashes typically with their one-light designs. In case of the SB 700 it’s a dual beam assist – similar to the SB-600 but a bit simplified vs the SB 900 with even 3 LEDs. One of the LEDs projects a horizontal pattern, while the other generates the vertical grid intended to help the AF sensors above and below the center field.
With this design you cover most of the AF sensor fields on the D90, but not the ones in the extreme corners of the frame. AF assist is not supporting AF-C, so use AF-S or AF-A mode – this is the same for all Nikon speedlights, including the SB-900.
According to the Nikon specs, the effective range is about 10 meters for both SB 600 and 700. The AF assist can be deactivated in case you don’t want to use it (for whatever reason), but it’s not possible on either of the 2 flashes to have AF assist without the flash firing – only the SB 900 can do that trick.
In practical shooting the focusing assist has proven very effective – just what you’d expect from Nikon. When it comes to focusing assist technology, the third party competition still has some home work to do.
The SB 700 supports two zoom modes. The default is auto zoom or ‘power zoom’ as Nikon calls it, where the flash reflector automatically adjusts to the lens; a range from 24mm to 120mm (for FX) is available here. With wide panel or the diffuser attached, the range can be extended down to 14mm minimum – or even 12mm when using center weighted illumination pattern, but that’s just marketing speak for “you can use the speedlight at 12mm, but significant vignetting will occur”.
When attached to an FX body like the D700 with 50mm lens, the display will show “50mm” and that’s also where the flash head gets set to. But in conjunction with a DX body like the D90 or D7000, the flash head moves to 70mm, while it still shows “50mm” on the display.
That’s why the guide number at 50mm is higher with a DX camera – it’s GN 34 DX = the 70mm guide number, versus GN 31 for FX (Nikon specs). Since the SB 600 can’t do the DX zoom trick it’s losing the advantage that it normally has with the higher default guide number.
The graph below shows how much output you really get from the 2 units with a DX camera body in auto zoom.
For the 14mm setting, the wide panel is used. Interestingly, the SB 700 is a bit more efficient in wide angle. For 16mm and 18mm lens position, where both flashes can be used without wide panel, the SB 600 is leading.
However, at 20mm DX the SB 700 switches already to the 28mm zoom step while the SB 600 reflector stays at 24mm, and with this zoom trick it takes the leading position. From 70mm on the SB 600 has the higher max output again, despite the longer zoom range on the 700.
If you don’t want automatic zoom, for example when bouncing the flash off a ceiling, simply press the dedicated “zoom” button for manual zoom mode. With the command dial it’s possible to zoom up or down.
Confusing FX/DX Format Selection
It’s only for this manual zoom mode where the custom feature “FX/DX format selection” plays a role.
This feature let’s you select if you want to see “50mm” with a DX body and flash head set to 50mm (“FX” or “FX<-->DX”), or if you want to see the effective DX focal length equivalent. It’s actually pretty confusing:
- DX zoom: range displayed on the LCD is between 16mm and 85mm
- FX zoom: range displayed on the panel is 24mm to 120mm (same for auto detect)
In both cases the reflector is doing the exact same thing – it just moves from its widest setting to the longest tele position. The only difference is how this gets displayed.
Illumination Pattern ‘Even’
Metz has a feature they call “extended zoom” which lets the flash use a wider zoom setting than normally. So at 50mm FX it zooms to 35mm. This helps with a more even illumination of the subject and less vignetting in the corners (which is a common problem with speedlites at wide angle settings).
When the SB 600 is used with a DX camera body, a similar effect occurs – it also has a wider spread than necessary (it uses 50mm where the 70mm position would be sufficient, see discussion and charts above). On the SB 700 this option does not exist, but what you can do is use illumination pattern “even”.
The SB 700 is a very good performer when used in full auto with good and consistent output. For all TTL tests, the cameras were set to ISO 200, auto white balance, camera mode “P”. On the SB 700 and the other speedlights used for comparison, TTL-BL mode was selected with auto zoom.
Auto White balance
The Nikon SB 700 produced very neutral colors which can be seen from this shot below. The wall has an RGB value of 152-152-152 in the frame center. Nissin’s Di622 mk2 in comparison produces very slightly warmer color, as can be seen from the insert in the photo; click to enlarge.
While neutral color is the correct approach to white balance, it’s not always the most flattering light for skin tones. Skin tends to come out a bit on the blue/cyan side, it’s the same phenomenon with the older SB 600 and Nikon speedlights in general.
This slight blue/cyan tint is more pronounced with the D90, and weaker with the older D80 camera. It’s not a big deal and can be fixed in post production. Below is an edited version that shows how I’d prefer the skin tones to look like – I corrected the whole frame with a global curve, not only the skin tones. The resulting warmer background is certainly a trade-off here.
While AWB has been producing consistent results overall, I typically set my camera to the ‘flash’ white balance setting when shooting with a Nikon speedlight attached; this tends to help with better skin tones for my personal taste.
Using color filters for balancing flash with ambient light had always been a good practice among photographers, but it was something you have to deal with yourself traditionally. And since color is a complex topic this is not an easy task.
To simplify the photographer’s life Nikon has started to encode their color gel films with the SB-900 to transmit color temperature to the camera body. The SB 700 now is the world’s first speedlight with encoded hard plastic color gel filters. This is another good step since they last longer and are not as flimsy as traditional gels, so there is a higher chance people will use them.
The automatic transmission (WB settings “auto” or “flash”) does not work with the D80 camera shown in the photo above; it must be a D90, D300, D3, D5000, D3000 or newer. With an older camera you certainly can use the filters, you just have to set the white balance by hand.
The photo below shows the outcome for the SB 700 with Tungsten filter SZ-3TN and different white balance settings. According to the instruction manual automatic filter detection works in both white balance modes ‘auto’ and ‘flash’.
Here’s how the different versions compare:
- upper left: filter attached, camera set to auto white balance; the color of the lamp and the color of the flash are very close, but the color overall is not corrected towards neutral; there is a strong warm color cast in the frame and the camera does not seem to recognize the color filter really
- upper right: the flash is fired without filter, its neutral light can be seen in point “A”. the tungsten lamp has a warm tint as can be seen in point “B”. The resulting picture has 2 different color temperatures – that’s what you usually don’t want, since it makes the picture look unnatural
- lower left: same setup as before, just with camera in white balance ‘flash’. Again, 2 different color temperatures in the frame, only a bit warmer overall due to the camera’s WB setting
- lower right: SB 700 with color filter and camera in WB setting “flash” plus fine-tune setting “A6″ as demanded by the instruction manual of the SB 700. This is the scenario with the most pleasing white balance. The picture is a bit dark, but the overall tone is the same now on the left and the right side of the frame – which was not the case in the 2 previous versions.
Nikon tweaked TTL exposure, compared to the SB 600 first introduced in 2004. While the 600 series was a very good performer, it had a tendency to overexpose in TTL mode, and sometimes slightly under-expose in TTL-BL with D80 and D90. The new SB 700 is similar to the SB 600 in TTL-BL, but a little bit brighter overall.
The following picture shows a typical result using the 3 different TTL modes on the 2 speedlights. SB 600 in TTL is clearly too hot, for TTL-BL it’s more a matter of taste for this picture. Overall, I’m quite indifferent between the output from SB 700 versus the newer SB-700.
To find any flash-specific differences between SB 600, SB 700, SB 900 and the Nissin Di622 Mark II, over 600 direct comparison photos were taken.
- Overall, the biggest differences come from the camera body - the D80 is more conservative in flash exposure overall, while the D90 produces brighter photos.
- There are also differences between the lenses used (24-70 2.8 vs. 12-24 4.0, both at 24mm and f4) – that’s why each speedlight was shot with every camera-lens combination.
- Finally, images look different on different LCD screens. To minimize any of this, RGB histograms were used for evaluation.
The only real difference after the extensive test series is that the new SB 700 produces slightly brighter output than the SB 600. In rare cases, white gets a bit washed out as can be seen from this photo; look at the bottom left corner (differences in color reproduction originate from the two camera bodies):
This also causes the red or blue channel to overflow at times, while both SB 600 as well as SB 900 keep all three color channels within the histogram border at almost all times.
Balancing light = Fill Flash
There are some photos where bright parts in the scene lose some of their detail, but there was no case where a significant over- or underexposure would have occurred.
Bouncing flash off a ceiling or wall is maybe the simplest trick to achieve better flash photos. For this purpose, the SB 700 has full flexibility to swivel and tilt in almost any direction.
The photo here shows how much more natural fill flash looks when bounced off the ceiling. And it also shows a back lit scene – this is what the TTL-BL mode was originally made for:
The lighting quality in the photo above would have further improved if the reflector card had been used with the bounced flash to reflect a small part direct to the subject’s face; it would have helped especially against the dark eye shadows.
Other Flash Modes (Nikon D90)
TTL-BL may be the only TTL mode, but that does not mean you have no other flash mode to choose from. The first and most important is the manual flash mode. There are two versions of manual mode:
- M mode: this is the normal manual mode that’s available on every good speedlight. You set an output level between full power (1/1) and the minimum setting of 1/128 using the “SEL” button plus command wheel. Since the SB 700 receives the f-stop, focal length and ISO from the camera body, it can provide information on the usable range on the screen – in the photo above it’s 0.6 meters. Distance information was not shown on the previous model SB 600, only on the top-grade units SB 800 and SB 900.
- GN mode – “distance priority manual flash”: this is also a full-manual flash mode; the difference here is that you don’t have to bother with power levels like “1/2″ or “1/8″, but you enter the subject distance in meters or feet, and the speedlight translates this into the correct power level in the background (also taking reflector position, f-stop and ISO into account, obviously).
In my opinion it’s better to get a feel for the output level “thinking” in M mode than using “GN” – working with output levels and ratios is the standard in professional lighting. But you have the choice.
For available light photography it would be cool if the flash doesn’t fire but you still had its bright and effective AF assist light. To achieve this you can cancel the flash firing in the SB 800 and SB 900 custom settings – the SB 800 display shows “AF-ILL ONLY” in that case for example. On the SB 600 and SB 700, this feature is missing.
There is a “no-flash” setting on the D90 mode dial: in that camera mode, the flash won’t fire but the AF assist is still used – so might this be a workaround? Unfortunately, the “no-flash” setting is a point-and-shoot mode so you can’t set f-stop or shutter speed yourself and lose the creative control – not very useful for available light.
The real workaround is to assign “flash off” to the FUNC button on the camera body (on the D90, use custom setting f3). Then press the button when taking the photo – flash won’t fire, but AF assist is there (thanks a lot to reader Sebastian for that trick – it works!). This works in “P”, but also in “A” and “M”.
Flash Sync Modes
In normal ‘first curtain sync’ the speedlight fires as soon as you press the shutter release – this is the default setting on the camera. On top of that, you have 3 more sync modes available when using the SB 700 with a compatible body.
Within the Nikon system, all sync modes are set on the camera and not on the flash itself. In the case of the D90, this is done using the flash mode button plus command wheel.
Rear Sync and Slow Sync
Slow sync is very useful: instead of the 1/60 seconds default shutter speed for flash photos the camera selects longer times like 1/15 seconds or even longer. On the positive side, this leads to a more natural balance between ambient light and flash exposure. However, it also increases the risk of camera shake and motion blur affecting your pictures, so use it – but wisely.
Rear sync is less critical and can be used as a default flash setting. As the name suggests, the flash waits until the end of the exposure and only fires the moment before the shutter closes again. You’ll only notice a difference at slow shutter speeds – try 1 or 2 seconds while panning your camera. This photo below (not taken with SB 700) shows the effect – the light trails show up behind the car only with rear sync mode.
High Speed Sync – FP Sync
High speed sync, also called “FP sync”, is something like the opposite of slow sync. The purpose here is not to enable slow shutter speeds, but higher shutter speeds than normally possible. FP sync is also set on the camera, not on the speedlight.
With normal speedlites you can only take photos at shutter speeds of 1/200 – 1/320 depending on your camera model. This can become an issue on a sunny day, since the sheer amount of ambient light forces you to choose aperture values of f11 for example. At these settings there’s no shallow depth of field effect anymore.
With FP sync you can go back to f2.8, but this means the shutter speed has to increase – around 1/4000 sec in our example.
The SB 700 automatically switches over from firing one big flash to firing a very rapid sequence of smaller flashes. Otherwise, a big part of your frame would remain black.
The picture above, taken with the SB 600, is such an example of fill flash in HSS mode at 1/640 seconds, a shutter speed unavailable in normal sync mode (the D90 allows max 1/200 seconds).
Normally there would be a picture here with the FP icon on the LCD panel, but the SB 700 is the first Nikon speedlight that does not show HSS / FP sync on its screen anymore. I guess it was intentional to keep things easy – the SB 700 screen is definitely less cluttered than the info panel on the SB 900.
High speed sync works with TTL and manual mode, and can certainly also be used in wireless TTL mode (the Nissin Di866 is the only current speedlite I know which supports HSS on camera, but not in wireless mode).
Other Flash Features
The red-eye problem is not a concern with an external flash in the accessory shoe – the larger distance between flash head and lens prevents the issue.
However, if you really want to use the anti-red eye feature, you can set it on the camera with the flash mode button, and the SB 700 will fire three small pre-flashes before the main exposure – which makes the taking of photos annoyingly slow.
Modeling light fires a high frequency series of small but visible flashes to simulate continuous light, so that you can check the illumination and shadow cast on the subject before taking a photo. In the digital world where test shots don’t cost a thing and the light can immediately be checked on the LCD screen it’s a somewhat useless feature, especially since the modeling light is quite weak.
Modeling light is available on all i-TTL speedlights from Nikon, with the exception of the small SB 400 flash. On the first generation models SB 600 and SB 800 it’s a bit more noisy, while the SB 700 and SB 900 come with a more silent operation.
On all four flashes the modeling light is fired with the depth-of field preview button on the camera. Only the professional models SB 800 and SB 900 have a dedicated modeling light button on the flash itself as an additional way to use it (SB 900 via custom feature and test-flash button, SB 800 has a dedicated hard button).
Modeling light works in the camera’s accessory shoe, but also in wireless TTL mode. With the built-in flash in “—” and the 4 models in “remote”, all flashes (SB600/700/800/900) fire their modeling light together when the depth-of-field preview button is pressed on the camera body.
The modeling light duration was 1.1 seconds in testing for SB 600 and SB 700, the SB 800 burns about 5/100 sec longer. Only the SB 900 has a noticeably longer duration with approx. 1.5 seconds.
Flash Exposure Compensation
Digital TTL flash exposure control in the Nikon system is very good (especially in TTL-BL mode), but there are always some situations where you want a bit more or a bit less flash.
There are 2 ways how to override the automatic exposure.
- The first option is to set flash exposure compensation on the camera body, using the flash mode button and command wheel on the D90, where a range of “+1″ to “-3″ EV can be set.
- Second option is to set flash exposure compensation on the SB 700. Press the “SEL” button and use the command dial for adjustments with a range of “-3″ to “+3″ EV. On the SB 600 speedlight flash only one button was needed (either “plus” or “minus”), so in this respect the older model was even easier to use.
Both adjustments on flash and camera add up, so in case “+1″ is selected on the flash and “-2″ on the camera, the effective total flash exposure compensation is “-1″. Whether set on the flash or set on the camera, there is a viewfinder icon to remind you of the flash output level compensation.
Flash Exposure Lock (FV Lock)
Flash exposure lock performs a metering of the necessary flash exposure and then keeps the illumination the same over a series of flashes, until the lock is canceled again or the camera is switched off.
FV lock is a camera feature: press the “AE-L” button to start the pre-flash and lock the resulting flash exposure value on the SB 700. Press again, and normal i-TTL-BL metering gets restored. Like for flash exposure compensation there is also a viewfinder icon for FV lock.
Flash Bracketing (FEB)
Custom setting e4 “auto bracketing set” on the D90 controls different types of bracketing when the auto bracketing mode of the camera is used, and setting e6 lets you select the bracketing order.
With FEB you can take 3 photos with different flash exposure automatically, but it’s usually easier to to use the flash exposure compensation described above.
SB 700 Review: Conclusion
The Nikon SB700 is a great partner for all current cameras from Nikon, especially the DX body lineup. It’s well built, comes with good accessories like the hard plastic color filters, and it’s easier to use than any similar Nikon speedlight before.
On top of that you have all options for wireless flash – both in master and slave mode, with radio triggers, and even as simple optical slave.
The SB700 is not the work horse that professionals demand. It lacks a PC sync port, the external battery pack connector, and has the simplified master mode only. GN28 is not too much for professional use either.
But this new mid-range flash from Nikon is an excellent choice for the amateur who’s willing to pay the rather high price. You get what you pay for – the SB700 is great.
Only major critique is the slightly lower guide number compared to the precursor flash SB600. At least, when you’re shooting with a DX camera like the D3000, D5000 or D7000 series, the flash makes up for most of it with the sensor size DX zoom mode.
With the price difference to the pro-grade SB900 being just a bit over 100$, you might wanna go for the top of the line model right away. But here are 2 alternatives in the same price range as the SB-700:
- First, there is the last generation professional flash from Nikon, the Nikon SB-800. It’s not in production anymore, but can be found on eBay for around $320 to $380 – I paid $325 plus $15 shipping fee for mine.
- Another serious alternative is the Nissin Di866. It features similar specs to the SB-900 with master and slave modes, full integration into the Nikon exposure control system, and plenty of power (GN41 in the speedlights.net test).
If you don’t need the best but you’re just looking for an upgrade over the built-in pop-up flash, there are simpler alternatives at a lower cost.
- The cheapest speedlite with automatic exposure (i-TTL support) is the Yongnuo YN-465 (or YN-467), and I’d prefer it anytime over the SB400, which is Nikon’s own entry-level flash.
- A step up is be the Nissin Di622 Mark II – it not only works in the camera hot shoe, but it can also be used as a wireless slave in Nikon’s wireless flash system “AWL”. At a much lower price (around $170 – $220 on eBay or amazon), it has the most needed features in a simpler but good quality package.
- Finally, Nikon’s own SB600 flash is an alternative to its successor. Since the production has stopped / will stop soon – you should get one now (e.g. from amazon) if you don’t like buying used gear. There are also 2 Metz flashes you might consider, the 48 AF-1 and the new 50 AF-1, and some comparable flashes from Sigma.
But if you like the SB-700 and you’re willing to pay for quality, the SB700 is a great investment!
Where to Buy the SB-700
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