Flash Overview

Built-in (pop-up) flash

The built-in flash in in the D40/x/60 is serviceable when nothing else is available, but is considered less than ideal for two reasons:

  1. It is not very powerful, therefore limiting its rage
  2. Its direction is fixed, perpendicular to the subject

While it can provide basic additional light on a subject, the the resulting light is often harsh and unpleasant with hard shadows. There are third-party accessories available to enhance the built-in flash, such as clip-on diffusers. Others have had success with DIY-style solutions, like using a business card to bounce the light off a ceiling or wall. The built-in flash's output can be controlled automatically by the camera's meter, or by setting a manual output level in the camera's menu system.

Hotshoe-mounted external flash units (speedlights)

External speedlights, while not inexpensive, can provide a significant advantage over the built-in flash, specifically allowing the photographer to have greater power and range, as well as the ability to direct the light away from the subject (called "bouncing" the flash) towards a wall, ceiling, or other object that will be lit and in turn illuminate the subject with softer, more pleasing light. Additionally, most external flash units have dedicated controls, allowing the user to avoid the camera menus for flash settings.

Modern (TTL-Compatible) Nikon external flash units

For complete compatability with the Nikon DSLR's, using the TTL method of metering (TTl stands for "through the lens"), there are four choices, all made by Nikon. (Third-party flashes are not fully compatable with Nikon's latest TTL system.) These are:

  • SB-400
  • SB-600 (recommended)
  • SB-800
  • SB-900


The SB-400 is a small, lightweight speedlight with no dedicated controls whatsoever. It simply has an on/off switch and the output is controlled by the camera. It can use the TTL system for fully-automatic output, or the output level can be set manually via the camera menus. The flash head can tilt up, but not swivel to the side. This allows for limited use of the bounce flash technique, but the bounce direction is restricted to up (when in landscape orientation) or to the side (when in portrait orientation). The D40/x/60 Club discussions have plenty of first-hand opinions on the effect of these limitations, which warrant careful consideration by prospective buyers.


The SB-600 is a full-size external flash with dedicated controls. For those doing any sort of strobist/flash work, this is the minimum flash you should get. It's recommended to almost anyone who has a camera and wants more than the in-body ones. The SB-600 sits between the SB-400 and SB-800, but is much closer to the SB-800. It's not as small or light as the SB-400 but not as big or heavy as the SB-800. This flash is highly recommended over the SB-400 since it has far more features. The beam sits higher off of the camera preventing some flatness from the subject (bouncing the light is still better). This is also very important when using larger lenses (Sigma 10-20mm 1:4-5.6 comes to mind) where the lens casts a shadow in the image where the flash cannot illuminate, this flash sits high enough to prevent it. It also has a rotating head for use in portrait and when using Nikon's CLS (Creative Lighting System). Unlike the SB-400, this can be triggered wirelessly off camera in CLS providing far more flexibility. The flash can also be triggered manually by setting the power level in flash and using the FLASH button. This allow you to 'paint' and object when preforming night photography. It also provides zoom for 24-85mm which controls the beam size. The flash also has many dedicated buttons allowing you to adjust the i-TTL exposure right on the flash.

This flash is a must have item for any photographer who wish to get something more than "good enough" images when using a flash.


The SB-800 is similar to the SB-600 in many ways, but is slightly more powerful and includes several additional features, including repeating (strobe) modes, a non-TTL automatic mode (aperture-based), and infrared control of remote compatable Nikon speedlights. It comes with a diffuser, an optional 5th battery compartment for faster recharging, and colored gels for color-matching the flash output with tungsten and flourescent lights.

The non-TTL auto mode can provide significant advantage to users of older non-CPU manual-focus lenses (pre-AI, AI, AI-S, etc.), since it will accept input of the user-selected lens aperture and compute the required flash output, independent of the camera's metering ability. This results in a semi-automatic exposure method for lenses that do not meter on the D40/x/60. The SB-400 and SB-600 do not have this mode.


The SB-900 is Nikon's newest and most powerful flash to-date. It offers a huge range of features though it comes at a price. The flash alone costs about as much as the D40/x/D60 body. This is the flash for professional use and for those who want to get the absolute best flash.

Comparison Table

This table is copied from Nikon Review and formatted for our wiki use.

Model Nikon SB-600 Nikon SB-800 Nikon SB-900
List Price
(Subject to change)
$249.99 $420.99 $570.00
Guide Number
(ISO 100, m/ft.)
98 125 111.5
Guide Number
(ISO 200, m/ft.)
138 157.5
Weight 10.6 oz. (300 g) 12.3 oz. (350 g) 14.6 oz. (415g)
Size, WxHxD 2.7 x 4.9 x 3.5 in. 2.8 x 5 x 3.5 in. 3.0 × 5.7 × 4.7 in.
Flash Exposure Control i-TTL,D-TTL, TTL Auto Flash, Manual i-TTL Balanced Fill-Flash, D-TTL, TTL Auto Flash Only i-TTL
Flash Duration
(full output)
1/900 1/1050 1/880
Lens Coverage 24 to 85mm 24 to 105mm 17 to 200mm
Min. No. of Flashes (alkaline) 200 130 110
Bounce Angle (degrees) 0 to 90 -7 to 90 -11 to 90
Left Rotation (degrees) 180 180 180
Right Rotation (degrees) 90 90 180
Optional Power Supply No SD-7 or SD-8A SD-8A or SD-9
Recycle Time (Alkaline) 3.5 4 4
Recycle Time (Lithium) 4 6 4.5
Recycle Time (Ni-MH) 2.5 2.7 2.3
Wireless Flash Modes Off, Remote Off, Remote, Master, Master (RPT), SU-4 Off, Remote, Master, Master (RPT), SU-4
# of Remote Groups 3 3 3
Power Output Range 1 to 1/64 1 to 1/128 1 to 1/128
Non-TTL Auto Mode No Yes Yes
Commander Mode No Yes Yes
Adjustable Light Pattern No No Yes
Firmware Updating No No Yes
Gel Filter Identification No No Yes
Overheat protection No No Yes
Accessories Speedlight stand, Soft case Speedlight stand, Soft case, Diffusion Dome, Color Filter Set, Quick Recycle Battery Pack Speedlight stand, Soft case, Diffusion Dome, Color Filter Set, Color Filter Holder

Modern (TTL-Compatible) Third-party flash units

These are much cheaper options to the Nikon Speedlights but since they do not work in Nikon's CLS they not as recommended. Regardless, all flashes do the same thing so just be wise when buying third-party flashes.

Older Flashes and Modern Manual Flashes

One way to potentially save money while building your collection of flash equipment is to buy used older flashes, or new equipment which isn't smart enough to interface with your camera's TTL system. These flashes will be usable only in manual or in non-TTL auto modes (where the flash is varying its output based on its own sensor, not the camera's).

Older but generally highly serviceable Nikon flashes like the SB-24, SB-26, etc. are a good option in this regard, although the increased interest in off-camera flash lately (due largely to the Strobist folks) has driven up the price somewhat.

Another good option for this kind of work which is available new from B&H and other normal vendors is the Vivitar 285HV. Note that this new version, unlike some older copies of this flash, is safe to use when connected directly to your DSLR.

There are plenty of other old flash options going back even farther, but be aware of dangers when using flashes with unknown voltage. You may need to do some research or testing to make sure a flash is safe to use on-camera or connected to the camera via PC cord. If you're triggering the flash off-camera wirelessly, that issue doesn't pertain.

Off-camera flash


*SC-28: The SC-28 TTL cable allows you to use TTL with an SB-400, 600, 800, or 900 off camera. PC sync cords don't allow TTL.

*SC-29: Same thing as SC-28 but with AF-Assist Illuminator.
Need more info here….


Need more info here….

Third-party off-camera triggering

There are a variety of off-camera methods, ranging from PC cables to ebay radio triggers to Pocket Wizards, etc. For further information, see Strobist's Lighting 101.


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