Nikon Speedlight SB-910 to Replace the SB-900 Flash

New Nikon SB-910 FlashNovember 28, 2011: Nikon just announced the new SB-910 as an upgrade of their current professional hot shoe flash SB-900. The new SB-910 is expected to be available in mid December for around $550, and it will replace the current model, which is being phased out.

The SB-910 is a professional tool for photographers who don’t mind spending $550 on a new speedlight or for people who need rugged professional gear because that’s what they make their living with. For the normal user, the smaller and lighter Nikon SB-700 model is fully sufficient, and it can do everything that the SB-910 can.

Back to the new top-of-the line model: The SB-910 can be used in full automatic mode with every modern Nikon DSLR (but not with analog Nikons).

It combines a relatively high maximum output of GN 34 (meters) at the 35mm reflector setting, a very wide 17-200mm auto zoom reflector range, a rugged casing, large LCD monitor, and tons of customization features with a fast recycling time of only 2.3 seconds with NiMH batteries.

But that’s not all: for creative use the new SB-910 comes with manual mode “M” with settings down to 1/128, the simple optical slave mode “SU-4″, Nikon’s wireless i-TTL master and slave mode, multi-flash, manual zoom, and even the old “auto mode” “A” where the flash does its own light metering and exposure control. There’s a PC sync port, an external power socket, and you get also 2 hard plastic color filters, in addition to a mini-stand, a diffuser, and a padded soft case (SS-910).

The question many will be asking themselves now is: “should I upgrade from my SB-900?”

The model designation of the new flash gives you a good hint. SB-910 sounds like an upgrade of the SB-900 that was introduced in 2008 (more SB-900 information). And that’s exactly what it is. It even looks 99% the same!

Don’t Upgrade if you have the SB-900

Do not upgrade to the new SB-910 if you are using the SB-900 today. The new features are so minor it won’t make a difference – see below for the list. The one noticeable difference, however, is being felt in your wallet: Nikon wants $550 from you for the SB-910, that’s at least $50 more than what the SB-900 costs. Check amazon and adorama for SB-910 prices.

OK. There’s one group of people who might have a real reason to upgrade: wedding photographers and other professionals who suffered from the screwed-up thermal cut-off in the current SB-900 have an excuse. The new solution is really better, where Nikon is now following the approach of the SB-700 flash where the flash is slowed down in case of heat build-up. The Speedlights.net Youtube channel has a video showing the problem of the SB-900 locking up.

SB-910 versus SB-900

enhanced user interface on the Nikon SB-910The improved thermal protection mode is the main upgrade. Other, minor ones include the move away from color gels to hard plastic filters, and more illuminated buttons (although still not all control elements are lit). In terms of the “hard facts”, nothing has changed: GN is still at 34 meters with 35mm reflector setting, recycling time is at an unchanged 2.3 secs for NiMH, i-TTL and other flash modes are the same.

Unchanged is also the light sensor location on the right side of the flash (some photographers had hoped for a second sensor eye on the back side, or left side). I don’t think there is need for improvement from the SB-900, which sports an excellent light sensor with a range up to 40 meters, and a much wider angle than you would expect. Outdoors, at 5 meters distance, I could get the SB-900 to fire in sync even when its sensor was facing the opposite direction of a Nikon D80 used as a master flash.

The new, dedicated “menu” button is one improvement in the user interface. Another one is the addition of more back-lighting to the buttons. It’s a missed opportunity, however, that Nikon did not go further and left the rest unchanged, rather than adopting the more advanced SB-700 usage concept with even more dedicated buttons (e.g. for flash mode, and illumination pattern) and a cleant-up LCD display; the SB-910 still shows too much info on its screen.

A word about the flash foot: early SB-900 units featured a “fat” flash foot which didn’t fit into some shoe mounts as the metal base plate was too thick. Nikon had fixed the problem already in 2010, and switched over to a flash foot with normal thickness. The SB-900 in the Speedlights.net arsenal for example does have the exact same standard-thickness flash foot as the SB-700, they’re the exact same part.

SB-910 New Features Side by Side

Here’s how the new $550 SB-910 compares versus the current top flash SB-900 using the list of “key features” found on the Nikon website. You will see that most of the “key features” Nikon mentions are existing features, found on the SB-900 already.
 

Feature Nikon SB-910 Nikon SB-900
Compatiblity with the “Creative lighting system” fully compatible fully compatible
Adjustable illumination patterns 3 patterns: standard/even/center-weighted 3 patterns: standard/even/center-weighted
Format detection (DX / FX) automatic automatic
Zoom range 17-200mm (FX format) or 12-200mm (DX format) 17-200mm (FX format) or 12-200mm (DX format)
AF-assist Triple beam, covers 17-135mm Triple beam, covers 17-135mm
User interface: “menu” button dedicated button (but gives up dedicated “Zoom” button of the SB-900) no direct button (long press on “OK” for menu access)
Color filter type 2 hard plastic filters (but comes without color filter gel holder SZ-2 that was included with SB-900) 4 encoded color gels plus SZ-2 filter holder
Color filter detection automatic detection (mechanical) automatic detection (optical)
Guide number 34 (m) at 35mm, and 53 (m) at 200mm 34 (m) at 35mm, and 56 (m) at 200mm
Minimum recycling time 2.3 sec with Ni-MH 2.3 sec with Ni-MH
Overheating protection mode slows down the flash frequency locks up the unit completely for minutes
Firmware update via Nikon digital SLR cameras by the user via Nikon digital SLR cameras by the user
External power options SD-9 Battery Pack and Power Bracket Unit SK-6/6A (SD-7 and SD-8 unknown) SD-7, SD-8/a, SK-6/a, SD-9
Water protection optional water guards WG-AS1 (D3 series), WG-AS2 (D300 series) and WG-AS3 (D700) optional water guards WG-AS1 (D3 series), WG-AS2 (D300 series) and WG-AS3 (D700)
Button illumination 5 illuminated buttons plus “ready” light 2 illuminated buttons plus “ready” light

 
It even looks like they decreasedthe guide number again – following a bad trends introduced with the SB-900 already. This time it affects the guide number at the tele end, where the specs went from 56 (m) (SB-900) to 53 (m).

Might be a typo only. And if it’s real then it’s not a huge difference, but still: why again, Nikon, do you take power away from us?

Speedlights.net In-Depth Review of the SB-910

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Where to buy the Nikon Speedlight SB-910

Check amazon and adorama for supplies and pricing info for the Nikon SB-910.

You will find the Nikon SB-910 also on eBay, together with other Nikon speedlights that were phased out and discontinued – e.g. the SB-900, and its precursor SB-800 flash.

You help running and expanding the website if you buy through these links. Thank you very much for your support.

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7 Responses to Nikon Speedlight SB-910 to Replace the SB-900 Flash

  1. John says:

    Hello,

    What do you mean by adjustable illumination patterns? As far as I know the old one has the three illumination profiles (standard/even/center-weighted), too.

    NR reported that the SB-910 has only 1 ready lights instead of 2 like the old one. Is that true?

    • Speedlights says:

      Hi John

      You’re right about the illumination pattern, the SB-900 has all three of them too. It’s just that it doesn’t have the physical switch that’s found on the SB-700 so I had forgotten about it even though I’m using my SB-900 quite regularly – post is updated now. Thanks a lot for the correction!

      When it comes to the “ready light”, I assume that NR means the light on the back plus the LED on the front that signals readiness in slave mode. Both SB-900 as well as SB-910 have the same features there so I think it’s a misunderstanding on the NR side. What do you think?

  2. frank says:

    I will say this…Nikon built the worst flash in history with that sb900. they deserve the big LOSER award for that flash. Spending all that money and the flashes heat up and lock up. The sb800 for me will be the king of flashes especially with the fifth battery and the high voltage it lasted a lot longer and had the built in modeling flash. I hope this replacement is better

  3. Liviu says:

    I am using my sb 900 hard, but never had that overheat error, you must be stupid to overhead him, when you have enought light don’t use it, when you have low light, increase ISO, don’t use iso 200 or 100, is clearly that needs more power+plus low light at iso 200 means no background!!

    • Dismayed says:

      Al lot of complaints about SB900 overheating came from wedding photographers. Yes, they push their gear a bit more than the typical consumer, but that’s still no excuse for the overheating problem. Particularly when other brands can pull off frequent firing without shutting down. Fail Nikon.

  4. PeterZ says:

    It’s nice to see some of the improvements on the sb-900 and especially the dedicated menu button.

    I must also disagree with frank though.

    I’ve been shooting sb-900′s since they came out and they’re fantastic and very reliable. I only use sb-800′s in emergencies as they are inferior in almost every practical way. The idea that the sb-910 lessens the output or slows the flash down makes it inferior as well unless you routinely abuse your equipment.

    The heat issue can be resolved by: (1) Turning the heat cut-off to off. (2) having backup units available in case it does cut off and (3) simply not overshooting the speedlight.

    People have a tendency to use their speedlights at much lower ISO’s and much higher (smaller) f-stops than generally necessary in situations where this occurs–which adds to the strain on the flash. Changing either or both in a given situation can dramatically affect the performance of the speedlight.

    The sb-900 a much more powerful speedlight than the sb-800 and much more reliable using Nikon CLS. Sb-800′s are nice for the size and superior in several ways to the sb-700 but when trying to use at longer focal lengths there is simply no comparison with the 900′s. Sb-800′s are also easy to fry as well when overshot, especially with the 5th battery, which is why they installed the heat cut-off in the Sb-900 in the first place. When the sb-800 fails it’s so hot the case can melt. This is very bad if you’ve had it happen as it’s completely unusable instead of simply unusable for a few minutes.

  5. Dismayed says:

    Sorry, bu over $500 for a speed light is absurd. Yes, it’s auto everything, and you can control your flash remotely (easier than thinking). Bu there are other choices. I’ll stick with my old Metz lights – Auto mode works really well, and I can easily set up in Manual when I use multiple flash.

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