New flash on the block

By Martin Joergensen | July 2, 2008 1:24 AM | Permalink | Comments ( 0)


Everybody seems to be going haywire over the new D700 - which is of course an interesting new item from Nikon - but being a flashaholic, I have been waiting for someone to cover the new SB-900 flash in a decent way.

And who better to trust with that job that than Joe McNally?

McNally (of National Geographic and "The Moment it Clicks" fame) has had the chance to play with a couple of these puppies for a couple of weeks, and has a thorough writeup of his findings on his blog.

Now I have personally always thought that the people who designed the user interface on the SB-800 should be punished in ways not fit to mention in a good-mannered blog like this, and have never come to terms with the awkward and clumsy interface on this 300-dollar-baby.

On a unit tagged with a price of 300 US$ I would assume that Nikon could afford a bit of user interface engineering. But no. The system is confusing, far from logical and downright annoying.

My favorite SB-800 trick? Hold down the "mode" and the "off" button at the same time for a few seconds. That resets the flash to factory default and can save your *beep* when you have navigated yourself into the depth of the controls of CLS, wrong zoom or strange manual settings.

I always wondered why it had to be this difficult. I mainly shift between full automatic controlled by the camera on the camera and remote controlled by the camera with the flash off the camera. This change requires so many button clicks and holds that I gave up counting. I have time and time over wished for a simple toggle.


The SB-900 has it! Yeeehaaa!

A button called on/off/remote/master. A physical button. Not a toggle, thumb wheel, combo thingamajig, but a genuine physical switch. I sing unison with McNally:

"Thank you, strobe wizards! Do you realize if you multiply how many times you use this unit over the course of your life by the number of seconds it would have taken you to punch through the SB800 4 box grid and get to the options menu and drop the 800 into either master, remote or SU-4 (let's say, 15 seconds) that you will be given back probably enough time to watch all of the Rambo movies and seriously ponder the nuances of characterization and subtleties of the human condition that define those movies? And how much richer your life will be because of that? All due to the simple on/off/remote/master switch. No more punching through the menu. Go click, you're there."

And once set on the SB-800, rest assured that you will by accident press some button and get the flash set into some strange channel or group with utter failure as a result. Hopeless.

The new Sb-900 seems to solve some of these problems. The SB-900 obviously has a better interface - it couldn't be worse - and it has a lock button, that secures your settings once you have reached them.

My only problem with this new flash is of course the increased NAS-symptoms that will now mar my daily life and the urge for a couple I will have every time I unpack my SB-800's. And the eyes my wife will make if she discovers that I might pop a thousand dollars for two flashes. "Two!? Don't you already have a flash...?"



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