The Nikon SB-400 is the cheapest of all new Nikon flash units and intended as a more powerful replacement for the built-in flash of camera bodies such as the D3100 or the D7000. More power gives you a greater maximum range so you can illuminate objects that are farther away.
With a guide number of 21 (in meters) the SB-400 is almost twice as powerful as the small flash that’s integrated in the D7000, for example. But don’t expect miracles here – it’s still a small gun compared to the bigger Nikon flash models SB-700 or SB-900.
The SB-400′s main advantages are the small size, the low weight of just 127g without the 2 batteries it runs on, and the great ease of use: just power it on and that’s all you have to think about: the camera takes care of all settings so you can just shoot along.
The entry-level SB-400 is supporting the latest Nikon flash exposure protocol i-TTL in the same way a the mid-range and professional flashes do, so all things being equal it takes photos that should look just as good as if they were taken with a more expensive flash.
Which brings us to the big weakness of this flash.
Light can be too much or too little – that’s a question of guide numbers and metering technology or the quantitative aspect.
Then, there’s also a difference between light that looks good and light that looks bad – that’s the question of quality.
It might sound surprising but the quantitative aspect is not the main issue with the SB-400 – it will have enough power more often than not; keep also in mind that you can give it an extra boost by dialing up the camera ISO.
The problem is the quality of the light (not the quality of the flash itself, which is pretty well made actually).
And what causes the issue is the lacking of real flash head adjustment (only a bit of tilt as can be seen in the photo, but no swivel at all), combined with a total failure as wireless flash.
Wireless or remote flash is so important because it makes your lighting look good whereas flash in the accessory shoe makes your lighting look flat, bad, and ugly.
But, unfortunately, the SB-400 is simply useless for wireless use:
- It lacks the wireless mode called “AWL” or “wireless i-TTL”.
- Even worse it’s incompatible with regular radio triggers such as Cactus V4 / V5 or Yongnuo RF-602 or RF-603 due to the fact that it refuses to fire with the x-contact alone.
- And if it fired you’d notice the lack of any manual mode so no power control.
- Last but not least there’s also an issue with the power-saving feature; the flash falls into standby mode after 40 seconds and this can’t be altered.
All this means that the 2 best options for wireless flash do not work. What’s left are unhandy i-TTL cables or expensive i-TTL radio triggers costing more than the SB-400 itself – doesn’t make sense.
What are the alternative in the 120-$ class? Go to the flash for Nikon page to see other, better specced speedlights from Nissin, Vivitar, Sunpak and Yongnuo for example. But maybe the SB-400 is still the right choice for you? Maybe because you have a set of other wireless flashes already? In the end it depends on your needs.
The entire line-up of Nikon’s i-TTL flashes can be seen in the picture; displayed are all flashes that work in full automatic mode with the modern DSLR camera models (that means all i-TTL flashes that are part of the Nikon CLS = creative lighting system).
- light and very portable
- low priced (at least for a Nikon flash)
- support for latest-gen Nikon flash exposure protocol i-TTL
SB-400: What it’s not
- not usable for “strobist” photography
- not usable as wireless slave/ master in Nikon’s CLS / AWL system
- no zoom head, no swivel option (only tilt)
- no own AF-assist light, doesn’t help the camera to find focus at night
Compatible Nikon Camera Bodies
Nikon’s SB-400 is compatible with all Nikon DSLR bodies that hit the market in 2004 or later, so it’s compatible with today’s camera bodies such as D3100, D7000, D300s and so forth through i-TTL.
Due to the lack of an analog TTL mode it can’t be used with film-based camera bodies (except the F6), and it’s incompatible with the very first digital generation as well (D1, D100).
Speedlights.net In-Depth Review of the SB-400
Nikon SB-400 Tech Specs Table
The tech specs table shows the performance data for the SB-400.
|Guide number spec
(35mm, ISO 100, in meters)
|Guide number test result||22|
|Manual power settings||no manual mode|
|Flash duration (full power)||1/1300|
|Recycle time spec
(at full power)
|3.9 sec alkaline, 2.5 sec NiMH|
|Recycle time test result||?|
|Flash foot material, type||metal, standard ISO (Nikon)|
|PC Sync Port||no|
|Standby Mode||fixed standby after 40 secs|
|Flash Head Features|
|Swivel||no swiveling flash head|
|Tilt||0 to +90 degrees|
|Manual Zoom Head||fixed coverage 27mm|
|Auto Zoom||fixed coverage 27mm|
|Bounce card / 2nd reflector||no / no|
|Batteries Used||2 x AA|
|External Power Source||no|
|CLS Wireless Slave||no|
|CLS Wireless Master||no|
|E-TTL(II) wireless slave||na|
|E-TTL(II) wireless master||na|
|Other Flash Modes|
|AF Assist Light||no|
|Exposure Compensation in TTL Mode on the Flash unit||no|
|Rear Curtain Synchronization||yes|
|High Speed Synchronization||no|
|Sensor Size Detection (DX, FX, etc)||no|
Where to buy the SB-400
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