It’s a lot cheaper (by more than $150) but still fully loaded with professional features like wireless master mode, PC sync port and an external power connector.
The flash was introduced in 2008 as Nissin’s top speedlite model. Mid-range offerings include the Di622 / Di622 Mark II, as well as the Di466 (which is positioned between entry-level and mid-range, technically).
Other alternatives to 580EX II / SB-900 include the discontinued flashes 580EX from Canon and Nikon SB-800, as well as Metz 58 AF-2 or AF-1, and the “Super” variants of the EF-610 or EF-530 speedlites from Sigma.
The Di866 under review here is the world’s first flash with a color LCD, and it’s fully controlled through the menu system with minimized hard buttons. This works surprisingly well – see the “Operation” section and video demo further below.
Nissin Di866 Highlights
The Nissin Di866 is being phased out and replaced with the improved model Di866-II. The new flash comes with a number of improvement such as a metal flash foot or more sensitive wireless sensor: check out the Nissin Di866-II info page.
Compatible Camera Bodies
The following table displays the compatibility info from Nissin. For the speedlights.net testing, it was used together with Nikon D80 and D90 camera bodies.
|Canon cameras||Nikon cameras|
|fully functional with
See the Nissin compatibility page for updates and infos on the latest camera bodies, e.g. 600D / T3i, or 1100D.
The Di866 offers the full range of flash modes also available on 580EX II / SB-900, from TTL and “auto” to manual and multi (stroboscopic) mode. Simply press the “Set” button to access the home screen with 6 icons representing the flash modes described here.
A – Full auto mode
Use this mode if you don’t want to think about any settings on the flash: the “A” mode on the Di866 corresponds to the green auto mode on a Canon or Nikon camera body.
Everything is automatic, there are no options to change and nothing to adjust by the user. Stay away from this flash mode if you want to learn lighting and become a better photographer. But it might be useful when handing the camera to another person as it helps prevent accidental changes of flash settings.
This mode should be your default for flash photography in the camera hot shoe (unless you prefer manual mode). It’s the same as “A” in a way that the camera controls all settings.
The difference is that you have the option to override the computer.
You can set a flash exposure compensation if necessary, switch to manual zoom and activate the small secondary flash reflector on the front side.
M / Av
“M” and “Av” are 2 different flash modes, but grouped together under one icon.
“M” is the full manual mode where you decide on the amount of light thrown at the subject. From mode “M”, you can also select one part of the wireless slave options, which is the optical i.e. non-TTL slave modes “SF” and “SD”.
“Av” is what’s normally called an auto mode in the speedlighting world. In auto mode, the flash receives the firing signal from the camera body, but it regulates its own flash output independently, using a small measurement sensor at the front side. “Av” is nothing you’d ever use under normal circumstances but more a relic from the past.
Multi flash mode is also known as “repeating flash” or “stroboscopic flash” and another flash mode nobody really needs.
But if you want you can set a power level between 1/8 and 1/128, choose a frequency of up to 90Hz and decide on a setting for the number of flashes to be fired between 1 and 90.
With these settings and an appropriate (slow) shutter speed you can illustrate the motion sequence of a moving object, e.g. a gymnast or skateboarder.
The Di866 offers a variety of options for wireless flash – more than what Canon or Nikon flashes have built in.
First there is the dedicated wireless slave and wireless master mode, both accessed through the wireless flash menu displayed on the screen shot.
In wireless master mode “M“, the Di866 controls other remote speedlites in a multi-flash setup so that they fire together. “R” stands for the remote slave mode within the camera manufacturers’ wireless systems, called “AWL” in the case of Nikon, and simply “wireless flash” in the Canon camp.
Another option is triggering the flash through the flash foot’s x-sync contact with radio triggers. You can also plug a cable into the PC sync socket and trigger the flash that way (see further below).
Finally, you have 2 optical slaves modes at your disposal: a simple slave mode (“SF”) and a digital slave mode “SD” that’s capable of ignoring the pre-flashes used for digital TTL metering systems.
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Let’s start the actual review with a look at the accessories that come shipped with the flash.
Nissin’s professional line speedlight comes in the usual cardboard packaging. Inside the box you find:
- the flash unit with official GN 40 (35mm)
- soft pouch
- flash stand
- 1-page quick reference guide
- user manual on mini CD
- warranty card from Minox USA
The soft pouch looks like the soft cases coming with Canon (e.g. 430EX II) or Nikon (SB-600) flashes at first sight. It’s made of robust black fabric, with a belt loop on the back and a velcro closure.
What’s missing is any padding between the outer layers, so the Nissin pouch is rather thin in comparison. There’s also no inner pocket for the flash stand or other accessories, so these need to be stored separately.
It’s not a given that flashes always come with a stand so it’s good to see it included. The flash stand bundled with the Di866 is very nicely made, with pin hole in the shoe mount and a metal tripod thread on the bottom.
The quick reference guide explains powering on, setting flash mode and access to the custom settings. It’s easy to carry around since this is only 1 page and not a whole booklet, but you’ll probably find that even unnecessary since the big Nissin is pretty easy to use.
More detailed information can be found in the complete 38-page instruction manual on the CD. No problem if you don’t have a CD drive, the Di-866 manual can also be obtained from the Nissin website.
The last item shipped in the box is a 1-year US warranty card. Nissin partners with Minox USA (located in Meriden NH) for warranty fulfillment, that’s why you’ll see there both the Nissin as well as the Minox name.
Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of the box contents.
The Di866 model from Nissin is the top-grade flash in the lineup and marketed as “professional”. Incumbents in this segment like the Canon 580EX II or Nikon SB-900 are on a high quality level, so the “professional” label creates expectations not only regarding the feature set, but also in terms of the quality of the build and the materials used.
The Di866 is a big flash, comparable in size to SB-900 (picture left) and 580EX II (right). The design is very clean and timeless, you could even call it elegant. The plastic has a thick and high quality feel, the finishing is very good. Everything feels right and well made without compromise.
The solid weight of 380 grams without batteries, also comparable to the Canon (405 g) and Nikon (415 g) high-end units, adds to the feeling of solidity.
Nissin still uses a plastic flash foot today while Canon, Nikon, and also Yongnuo (as of 2011) have switched over to metal base plates over the years.
But there is nothing wrong with plastic, it even has some advantage: would you rather see your camera accessory shoe break in case of an accident or the foot of the flash? Good detail of the construction is that the whole base section can be replaced.
What’s special about the flash foot on the Di866 is that it seems a bit thicker than average for speedlites. On the one hand, this leads to tighter hot she fit which is a good thing.
On the other hand more force is required to install and remove from Cactus V4 receivers for example, and the same will hold true for certain other shoe mounts.
With the additional lock from the wheel the flash sits more firmly in the camera accessory shoe than what the lever based designs can provide – it feels that Nikon flashes have even slightly more play in the accessory shoe than Canon’s speedlites.
In the case of the Nissin, the tighter hot shoe fit of the wheel based design makes up for the slightly slower operation. The wheel used on the Di866 has a good size and allows smooth operation.
On the left side of the flash body is a rubber flap protecting the 3 connection ports. Top right is the mini USB connector for firmware updates by the user (other Nissin speedlites need to be sent in for updates).
Top left is the non-threaded PC sync jack for connecting flash trigger cables.
To qualify as “professional” an external power connector is needed, and and that’s what the port at the bottom is for. The photo shows the version with the Nikon connector, the Canon version uses a different plug layout.
The control interface of the Di866 is unique – and that’s meant in a positive sense.
Apart from the cursor buttons and “Set” key there are only 2 other control elements.
The first is the “On/Off” switch that doubles down as button lock, and the other one is the color coded “Pilot” test flash button. Green LED means fully recycled and ready to fire, red LED signals the recharge. Apart from the “Pilot” key there is no illumination for the controls of the Nissin Di866.
The dominant element on the back is the 4-way controller with the “Set” key in the center. All flash modes, zoom steps, and custom features are selected through the menu system, and this works very well after getting used to. The experience is similar to navigating through a camera’s menu system.
The controller squeaks a bit when pressing on the bottom right corner, but the keys have well defined pressure points and a very large size so they are easy to use even with the biggest hands.
The biggest concern about the control system is that the flash has a noticeable response time. There is a small delay between pressing a button and the setting taking effect. This delay is not long, only a fraction of a second. But the flash is definitely not as snappy as a new generation iphone, it feels more like the original iphone model from today’s perspective.
Access to the sub-menus from the flash mode screens requires a 2-second long press of the “Set” button, which is another factor limiting the speed of operation.
Color LCD Display
The square shaped color LCD panel is small, but don’t let that fool you. The color coding, clear iconography and the design principle of only showing what’s contextually relevant lead to a great ease of use, without the information overload the SB-900 suffers from.
The video shows navigating the menu system to set flash exposure compensation in TTL, switch to manual mode with power setting and manual zoom, and activating modeling light in the custom features menu.
Custom Settings Menu
The 6th icon on the home screen with the wrench symbol is the general custom feature menu for mode-independent adjustments like flash calibration for an adjustment of the default output, modeling light activation through the test-flash button, changing the display units from feet to meter, activate or prevent auto-rotation of the screen.
It also lets you change the power-off time for the flash, but the standby can’t be completely deactivated (luckily the flash still works fine with the RF-602 and Cactus V4 radio triggers). Lastly, you find a “reset” feature in the custom settings menu.
In the case of the Nissin Di866, two kinds of power sources can be used: internal batteries, and external battery or power packs.
There is no conventional battery compartment on the Di866, but instead you get a removable battery magazine. The battery holder is unlocked by sliding the cover down, and then you simply pull out the tray holding 4 AA size cells.
You can use alkaline batteries but rechargeable NiMH cells like Sanyo eneloop are the preferred solution to maximize the number of flashes per charge, reduce recycle time and last but not least for environmental concerns.
Compared to other battery magazine solution like the Metz 45 series or the Vivitar 285HV the Nissin design is better in a way that it’s easier to load the cells and easier to insert the magazine in the flash body.
A little weakness is that the metal contacts on the negative pole appear to bend easily, and they also leave some scratch marks on the coating of my eneloop AA’s.
Spare battery magazines (Nissin NDBM01 Battery Compartment) are available from amazon for a rather hefty price of $20.
The Nikon version of the Di866 can be used with the Nissin Power Pack PS-300 (available on eBay) with Nikon cable or with the Nikon battery pack SD-8a. It’s not clear whether Nikon’s SD-9 is compatible – the instruction manual and the Nissin website are contradicting each other in that point – please drop me a line of you have the answer!
For the Canon version, the Nissin PS-300 pack with Canon cable or a Canon battery pack CP-E4 can be used. Another option is the Yongnuo SF-18 in the respective Canon or Nikon version.
All these external power sources shorten the charge time and increase your capacity compared to internal batteries, but they’re not needed for hobbyist use.
The Di866 has a large flash head with basically the same dimensions as Canon 580 and Nikon SB-900.
The front screen is a bit smaller than the SB-900. It’s almost the same size as the Canon (and Yongnuo 560) screen but less rounded, that’s why the diffuser for these flashes doesn’t fit. It appears however that a Sony HVL-F58AM diffuser can be used.
The flash head is not secured with a safety lock and can be moved around without pressing on a release button. There is enough resistance to prevent any inadvertent adjustment, and the head nicely snaps into the predefined steps (45 deg, 60 deg etc).
The head can be swiveled from -90 to +180 degrees (usually, flash heads go from -180 to +90). In the vertical axis a position between zero and +90 degrees can be set.
What’s missing is a close-up position (typically minus 7 degrees tilt) for the flash head, and it should also be noted that other professional speedlights including the latest Canon and Nikon units allow a full 360 degrees swivel instead of the 270 degrees on the Di866.
Integrated in the flash head, just above the wide panel, is a bounce card. These business card sized plastic cards are useful with indirect flash shooting, since they reflect a part of the light back at the subject to prevent deep & ugly eye shadows.
For the same purpose, to help with more even light for bounced flash, there is a small secondary flash tube built into the Nissin. This feature is not available from Canon or Nikon, only Metz offers auxiliary flash reflectors in their professional line, e.g. the 58 AF-2.
This sub-flash with GN 12 (Nissin specs) can be switched off in the custom menu, or set to levels between 1/1 and 1/8 power for the Nikon version of the flash (with current firmware version “4″). At short distance and with the 1/8 setting there’s still a lot of light thrown at the subject.
A more useful range down to 1/32 is only available on the Canon version of the Di866, strangely enough.
Wide angle coverage
Integrated in the flash head is also a wide flash panel. The construction seems pretty solid, this is also true for the reflector card mentioned above.
When it’s pulled out the coverage extends from 24mm to 18mm for full frame cameras which equals around 12mm for APS-C sensors (Nikon DX e.g. D3000 or D7000 / Canon EF-S camera bodies like the Rebel series).
In the test with a 12mm DX lens on the Nikon D90, the light falloff towards the corners is definitely not stronger than on the Nikon SB-600 (official coverage 14mm) for example, and better than on Nissin’s own Di622 Mark II (official coverage 16mm).
The auto zoom is fast and not too loud (but not too silent either). There is no sensor size detection available on the Nissin, which means it always maintains proper coverage for a full frame sensor. This, in theory, wastes a bit of light with EF-S / DX camera bodies.
Given the super strong guide number of the Nissin it’s not a problem in real life shooting at all. At the same time, the slightly wider coverage for these camera types leads to a more even coverage and less vignetting in the frame.
Auto zoom is available in all flash modes except the 3 wireless slave modes where it wouldn’t make sense.
The flash zooms with the lens even when tilted or swiveled – this is the “Nikon approach”. Other manufacturers including Canon and Metz move the reflector to a fixed 50mm position in that case. If you don’t like the zooming on the Di866 you can always switch over to manual zoom.
From “TTL”, “M” or “Av” mode with auto zoom simply press the “Set” button for 2 seconds, and set “auto zoom” to “off” in the custom feature menu.
Then, back on the main flash menu screen, a manual zoom step can be easily set simply by pressing the “up” or “down” cursor key (there is no “OK” or “Set” button needed to confirm which makes this super fast).
In wireless master or slave and multi flash mode the zoom reflector adjustment setting is always displayed on the main screen.
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.
The picture below shows some of the test candidates for speedlights.net guide number tests: Nissin Di622 Mark II on the left, Nissin Di866 in the middle, and Nikon SB-800 on the right side.
The Di866 with official GN of 40 (meters, 35mm zoom) is the strongest shoe-mount flash you can buy today for a Canon or Nikon DSLR. But official specifications are not always the truth as guide number specs are often inflated.
Official Specification GN 40 / 60
Nissin’s advertising uses a guide number of 60 which is the value for the 105mm maximum zoom setting of the flash head. The 580 series from Canon (image center) has a max GN of 58 at 105mm whereas the Nikon’s SB-900 (image left) reaches only GN 56 despite the 200m zoom head.
What’s more important for real life shooting is the wide angle zone. Therefore, 35mm is the reference setting on Speedlights.net. According to the official data, the SB-900 has GN 34 at 35mm, the 580EX II has GN 36 and the Nissin has 40 GN as mentioned above. The tests will show how things look like in reality.
Flash Meter Results
For the Di866, the light meter in the standard test reads f22 + 7 tenths when fired at full power. This is the highest 35mm value achieved to date for a digital TTL flash, together with the result for the discontinued SB-800 from Nikon. The Canon 580EX Mark 2 is closely behind with a reading of f22 +6/10 while Nikon’s current professional speedlight SB-900 has almost 1/2 stop less with f22 and 3 tenths.
|Model||Light meter reading|
|Nissin Di866||f22 +7/10|
|Nikon SB-800||f22 +7/10|
|Canon 580EX II||f22 +6/10|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||f22 +4/10|
|Nikon SB-900||f22 +3/10|
|Canon 430EX II||f22 +2/10|
|Nikon SB-600||f16 +9/10|
|Nikon SB-700||f16 +7/10|
Within the mid-range flashes there’s another Nissin model at the top of the crowd, the Di622 Mark II, closely followed by the 430EX II from Canon and the old and new mid-size Nikon flashes SB-600 and SB-700.
Guide Number Table for Nissin Di866
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.
The f22 plus 7/10th from testing translates into a calculated guide number of 40.8, so the official specs are not inflated. Even with wide panel the Di866 still reaches GN 23.4, and at the 105mm tele end the guide number goes up to 59.7 – so it’s true to the specs!
The high guide number not only allows a long range with direct flash, but also means plenty of power for bounced flash, even when reflective surfaces are not plain white or at a distance.
And remember that guide number doubles with every 2 ISO steps. At ISO 400 you can work with an effective guide number of 80 (meters) at the 35mm position or GN 120 with a 105mm lens.
Speedlights Power Index
The light blue bar in the Speedlights.net Power Index shows the official 35mm-GN, and the dark blue bar indicates the test results. Go to the test details page for more information on the Speedlights.net Power Index.
Nissin’s Di866 shares the top position in the current version of the Power Index for digital TTL flashes with the discontinued SB-800 from Nikon, closely followed by the Canon 580EX II. It is the most powerful dedicated Canon / Nikon speedlite available on the market today with digital TTL support.
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On paper there is a wide 7 stop range between full power and the 1/128 minimum setting. In the test this range can’t be completely achieved, the effective range is lower with 6.6 stops. It’s a common pattern that official range and tested range don’t quite match up, the Nikon SB-700 for example has exactly the same 6.6 stop result with an official 7 stop range.
|Nissin Di866 output range spec||Output range from tests|
|7 stops||6.6 stops|
What’s less consistent in the metering are the individual power steps in between. In theory there’s always one full stop between 1/1 and 1/2, between 1/2 and 1/4, and so on.
In reality, there’s only 4/10th of a stop between 1/1 and 1/2 on the test unit. And then, between 1/2 and 1/4 there is 1 stop plus 2/10th. The biggest gap however is between 1/8 and 1/16. Again, this is 1 stop in theory, but on the Nissin you get almost 2 full stops decrement.
Continuous Shooting Output
The procedure for guide number tests requires a 60 seconds waiting time between the flashes. That’s to make sure the capacitor is really 100% recharged. In reality you don’t always have a minute. There are moments where one flash after the other needs to be fired off – just think of a wedding shoot.
To test the rapid fire output consecutive flash shots get fired immediately after the “ready light” comes back on after the previous full power pop. For this minimum recycle time scenario the guide number is then determined.
|Model||Calc. guide number at 60 sec wait||Calc. guide number at continuous fire||Difference in f-stops|
|Canon 580EX II||39.4||34.3||-4/10|
As can be seen from the data, there is always a difference, no matter what model is used. It simply makes sense to allow the next shot a bit faster, even if the capacitor is not at 100% yet. The alternative would be a longer waiting time, and that’s not desired either.
With half of a stop loss the Di866 is in the typical range for this test which means the Nissin engineers have adopted the industry standard.
Modern flashes have full-power recycle times between 2 and 6 seconds, depending on their maximum power and battery type. Speedlights.net recycle times are tested according to ISO 2827; see details.
The high guide number comes at a price: in the highest power setting recycle time is very long, especially with alkaline cells. It’s definitely recommended to use NiMH batteries for this flash. With Sanyo eneloops the average recycle time goes down to an acceptable value of 5.8 seconds.
At lower power settings, and these are the ones you’ll be typically using, recycle is faster so this is probably more of a theoretical problem. The recycle time test with NiMH batteries can be seen in the video clip (which also shows the battery loading).
A thermal cut-off function is not mentioned in the instruction manual, but Nissin has confirmed the feature is present. Depending on the heat generated by a fast series of high power flashes the Di866 locks down to prevent any damage to the unit.
The sensitivity of thermal cut-off seems to be better solved than on the Nikon SB-900 which received a lot of criticism for locking down too fast (it also happened in test series for the site). The Di866 didn’t cause any problems in the testing and shooting, and there are also not many problem reports to be found on the web.
Flash duration is the time between the beginning of the flash and the end of the light emission. Go to the speedlite test methodology page for information on t0.5 versus t0.1 flash durations and the method used here on the site.
Di866 Flash Duration Compared
The table displays measurement results for the Nissin Di866 and other shoe mount flashes. There is not much difference between the models below (they all use the same IGBT technology), but stronger flashes tend to have a longer flash duration. The 1/200 sec for the model under review is at the longer end, less powerful flashes like the Yongnuo YN-465 have a shorter duration.
|Model||t0.1 flash duration metering at 1/1|
|Canon 580EX II||1/285|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||1/375|
|Canon 430EX II||1/350|
|Metz 48 AF-1||1/230|
t0.1 Flash Duration Times
In the next table you can see test results for the partial output levels down to the minimum setting of 1/128. Nissin’s official specs are listed in the 2nd column, the metering results are listed in column 3.
|Output level||Manufacturer spec||t0.1 metering|
What’s striking here is the long duration for the half power setting, both in the official specs and the test results. But this fits together with the output range anomaly mentioned above, where the difference between the 1/1 setting and the 1/2 step is not a full stop, but only 4/10th of a stop.
Following is the table with more specifications versus test results from the Nissin Di866 review. More information on wireless flash, TTL and hot shoe performance can be found in upcoming parts of the Di866 review.
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Where to buy the Di866
Nissin’s flagship model speedlite is available at prices starting at $280 – much less than what you pay for a Canon 580EX II or the Nikon SB-900. It’s even cheaper than a used SB-800 or 580EX (Mark I).