Nikon Speedlight SB-800 Flash

Nikon's former top speedlight SB800Nikon’s SB-800 is not the current top-flash anymore – it was replaced by the SB-900 a couple of years ago. But for many professional photographers this flash is still the best hot shoe strobe out there today.

Why is that? The successor sports a wider zoom range, a much improved user interface e.g. with direct keys for wireless mode and DX/FX format detection, and a number of other improvements.

However, it’s also a behemoth compared to the compact-size SB-800, and the SB-800 has more power under the hood: at 35mm you get a guide number of 38 (meters) from the SB-800 while the successor’s GN is only at 34.

Combined with a robust construction, a PC sync port for trigger cables and external power pack socket, support of the latest Nikon flash protocol (i-TTL / i-TTL BL) plus manual mode and “auto” mode the SB-800 is a truly professional tool.

Which in turn also means that this flash is not cheap even though the oldest units are past their 8th birthdays already. It’s practically impossible to find a good Nikon SB-800 for under $300 – I paid $340 for mine at eBay including accessories such as the soft bag SS-800, color filters, 5th battery holder, and flash stand, but without the diffuser cap.

Nikon CLS flashes SB800 and SB900 with i-TTL

In 2003, the SB-800 was the first Nikon flash supporting their 2nd gen digital camera bodies with i-TTL flash exposure control. The 800 series smaller brother SB-600 was added in 2004 – check out the in-depth review for the SB-600 here on Speedlights.net. Then, in 2008, the SB-800 was replaced by the new “top dog” SB-900 but, as said before, it did not convince everyone in every respect. Main points for critique are the thermal cutoff mode which proved to be too sensitive, the lower guide number, the loss of the old analog and 1st gen D-TTL support.

The SB-600 in turn was replaced in late 2010 by the new mid-range SB-700. The 5th compatible flash with today’s Nikon cameras such as D90 or D7000 is the tiny SB-400 – an entry-level unit which replaces the camera’s built-in flash but is too limited in any other way to be a recommendation.

Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900

Photo above from left: SB-800, SB-600, SB-400 on D80, SB-700, SB-900.

SB800 user interface with 4 way controllerBack to the SB-800. In terms of exposure quality there is no difference to the younger Nikon flash models for two reasons.

First reason is that the i-TTL BL (“balanced light”) flash exposure protocol within Nikon’s “Creative Lighting System” CLS is still the latest format for data exchange between camera and external flash, and this protocol is used by the SB-800 just as it’s used by the current generation models.

OK, there are one or two features such as the DX/FX detection that’s not working with the SB-800, as well as the automatic color filter detection, but these features don’t make your photos look better.

Second reason is that flash exposure is controlled by the camera body and not by the accessory flash: it’s the camera which does the metering, the balancing of flash with ambient light, and the determination of appropriate flash output.

Nikon SB800 wireless commander combining TTL - M - AWhen it comes to the wireless mode the SB-800 is also a winner: it can control 3 groups of slave flashes (where the SB-700 has 2 only), there’s even a built-in optical slave sensor (called SU-4 at Nikon), but it’s also perfectly usable with radio triggers and manual mode if you’re venturing into the “strobist” land.

The only weakness is the user interface – there are fewer direct keys on this flash than on the latest gen Nikon speedlights, and the menu system is slower to navigate.

Nikon SB-800 Highlights

  • very powerful (max GN 38, even GN 41 in Speedlights.net tests)
  • support for the latest Nikon i-TTL / BL flash exposure mode
  • full-blown wireless master and slave modes
  • designed for professionals (external power connector & sync port)
  • backward compatible with Nikon’s film-based camera bodies

Compatible Nikon Camera Bodies

SB-800 (and SB-600 for that respect) are the last flashes from Nikon which can be used with all Nikon cameras that feature any form of a TTL flash exposure mode: these can be film-based cameras such as the Nikon F4, or first generation digitals such as the D1 or a D100, and it’s certainly also compatible with the latest DSLR models such as D7000, D700 or the D3.

On top of that you can use this flash even on non-TTL camera bodies with the “auto” mode: in that mode it’s the speedlight which is metering flash exposure without the camera being involved. This is usually not quite as precise as TTL but still a good option to have.

Speedlights.net In-Depth Review of the SB-800

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Nikon SB-800 Tech Specs Table

The tech specs table shows the performance data for the SB-800.
 

Model Information
Brand Nikon
Model SB-800
First introduction 2003
Successor SB-900
Output Specs
Guide number spec
(35mm, ISO 100, in meters)
38
Guide number test result 41
Manual power settings 1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128
Flash duration (full power) 1/1050
Recycle time spec
(at full power)
6 sec w/ 4 alkaline, 5 sec w 5 alkaline, 4 sec w 4 NiMH, 2.9 sec w 5 x NiMH
Recycle time test result ?
Triggering
Flash foot material, type metal, standard ISO (Nikon)
PC Sync Port yes
Optical Slave yes (Nikon SU-4)
Other Trigger wireless TTL slave mode
Trigger Voltage 4 V
Standby Mode adjustable
Flash Head Features
Swivel -180 to +90 degrees
Tilt -7 to +90 degrees
Manual Zoom Head (14) 24 – 105
Auto Zoom (14) 24 – 105
Bounce card / 2nd reflector yes / no
LCD Display yes (segment type)
Power Supply
Batteries Used 4 or 5 x AA
External Power Source SD-7, SD-8/a, SK-6/a
Nikon TTL
D-TTL yes
i-TTL yes
CLS Wireless Slave yes
CLS Wireless Master yes
Canon TTL
E-TTL(II) na
E-TTL(II) wireless slave na
E-TTL(II) wireless master na
Other Flash Modes
Stroboscopic Mode yes
Auto Mode yes
TTL Features
AF Assist Light yes (dual beam)
Exposure Compensation in TTL Mode on the Flash unit -3 to +3 EV (1/3 steps)
Rear Curtain Synchronization yes
High Speed Synchronization yes
Sensor Size Detection (DX, FX, etc) no
Modeling Light yes

Where to buy the SB-800

Check amazon and especially eBay to find used SB-800 speedlights for sale. You help running and expanding this website if you buy through these links. Thank you very much for your support.

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