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Off-Camera Flash with D40X--Mission Impossible?

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by KAEPhoto, Jun 12, 2007.

  1. I've searched the forums and haven't found prior questions about this. The D40X manual is fuzzy and says read the speedlight manual... so here goes.

    There is a lot of excitement on these boards about the creative opportunities of off-camera flash, and I have to say it is infectious. I have started wading through the Strobist site, but much of the technical info is beyond me at this point. I believe the D40X is more limited than higher end Nikon bodies in it's ability to use off-camera flashes, and was wondering if anyone has any suggestions or experience with using Strobist-sytle techniques with this camera model.

    My Birthday (and my first Father's day :biggrin:)  is Sunday and I need to alert the throngs of present-buyers to some much-needed gear (Much-needed followed by gear, is, of course redundant, I know... :wink: ).

    I'll probably get an SB400 to start with, because, why not? From what I read it works kind of well, and will always have its' uses. I know that won't get me closer to off-camera flash use, so I want to be thinking in that direction as well.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
  2. Hi Keith.

    I don't use the D40x, but the Strobist-style is what I practice for several months.

    Of course, the D40x will work. Just get a radio remote (the ebay stuff is a good and cheap starting point) and one or two flash devices - like used SB24s or something like that.

    You can place the radio transmitters on top of the D40x, set the flash control to "manual - 1/128" (or whatever is the lowest setting, it will work), and the recievers under the SBs. That's it.

    Total cost are about 50 Dollars to start, I think (living in Germany, I don't know your prices exactly).


  3. Zensu


    May 5, 2006
    Alabama USA
    Nikon dedicated coils

    I don't have a D40X, but I know the camera can accept and work automatically with the SB-400, SB-600, and SB-800. I would bet that if it operates these flash's it should also operate with either Nikon dedicated off camera flash cords, the SC-28 and SC-29. I think the SC-28 is shorter in length than the SC-29 and the SC-29 has an auto-focusing assist light. You basically attach one end of the coil into the cameras flash hot shoe and the other end to the bottom of your flash. The camera will control the flash just as if it were perched atop the cameras hot shoe, everything will retain auto functions or manual if you choose. You can angle the flash in any position imaginable, although most simply bounce the flash off a convenient neutral surface. Of course you can simply rotate any of the Nikon flash heads to bounce off the ceiling, the cords just give you a lot more flexibility. They are not cheap so you might want to shop around for the best price.
  4. well, it just depends on what you want to do and how you want to do it.

    I'd suggest getting a SB600 first, which will let you bounce light around all over the place, and then get those shots down before you start moving lights around on stands. Mostly it gives you more appreacation for the freedom of lights off the camera, and it gets you good pratice as far as how things work.

    But I'd really suggest something TTL that works with your camera, and I really suggest the sb600. It's just a lot of fun to be able shoot stuff with ttl and not worry about how things are looking!

    From there you can get really cheap radio triggers off ebay to setup that flash (on manual) off camera somewhere. Umbrellas are cheap, however I wouldn't get into brolly boxes (shoot though umbrellas with black fabric on one end) or anything really serious with small flashes.

    Studio lights are pretty cheap for some low end stuff, and those will power softboxes and the like a lot better than small flash units - they also won't burn out as easy.
  5. keraputih

    keraputih Guest

    Not end of the world!

    I am also infected by all this off-camera flash. I'd recommend getting the SB-800 first, as an on camera flash you can use it as your ttl flash, and it can also act as the Commander in CLS with TTL or as a SU-40 (emulator) for all other external flash units (when you expand your system). Do the numbers, I dunno if the triggers working with less expensive external flashes is less expensive than doing it the SB-800 + multiple CLS flashes.

    Good luck.
  6. Thanks for all the helpful advice. sometimes I have a tendency to get gear when I need practice instead. I am thinking I'll start with an SB400 and a flip it to get used to bouncing light (all I have used is on-camera direct).

    Then I think it makes sense to start small. I like your idea of a simple slave, Frank. If I put in the the practice time I'll have a better idea of where to go. The SB800 as commander and SB600 off camera sounds like a good way to go eventually.

    I'm looking forward to getting better at lighting and I'll post some pics somewhere when I get something good :smile:

    Thanks again!
  7. Since you asked, I'll toss my 2 cents in too. Yes your camera is small and so is the SB 400. Together they make a cute pair and the combination is a wonderful "party snapshot" camera. There's nothing wrong with that, but the truth is the SB 400 is really little more than an alternative to a powerful pop up flash. If you don't intend to go further with flash photography, it's a good choice. But it sounds like you would like to gradually expand your flash skills and equipment. If and when you do, you'll most likely find the SB 400 is not powerful enough.

    It won't be long before you want to try off camera flash photography, and while it's true that by mounting an SB-800 on your camera you can control several SB-600/800 flashes, you should be prepared to spend quite a bit of cash to get to that point.

    As an alternative consider this. Buy one or more used Nikon speedlights in the SB-24/25/26/28 category, with the SB 26 considered more desirable because it has a built in optical slave. If you shop around, you'll spend around a hundred bucks or so for these units. You will then have a powerful flash which can be used both on and off camera.

    Used on-camera with the built in flash metering sensor, it's a simple matter to match the ISO and aperture of both your camera and flash so you can get very good flash pictures in spite of the fact that it's Non-TTL. No doubt that Nikon's iTTL flash system is more convenient and could be better in tricky situations, especially when using fill flash, but using the sensor built into the speed light works very well most of the time. With experience, you may not miss iTTL at all.

    Off camera you can trigger a series of flashes either optically with your built in flash or you can buy a set of cheap Chinese radio triggers. For about the same price as a single SB-800 you can have a complete multi strobe set up with radio triggers, umbrellas, stands, etc. Of course, it's not iTTL, but much of the really good flash photography these days is still done without the use of TTL flash metering.

    For more information on this subject, read the Strobist.com blog. You may find that improving your flash photography skills can better accomplished by doing a bit of reading and purchasing some inexpensive equipment rather than just pulling out a big checkbook and hoping for the best.

    Yes........I own an SB-800 but 90% of my flash photography is done with one or more of my old SB-26s.:smile:
  8. Thanks for weighing in, Bob. I appreciate the info on getting some second hand flashes and putting together a relatively inexpensive system.

    I think you articulated much better, exactly what I was aiming at, that is I wanted to resist throwing money at gear when I really need to learn. I am working my way through the Strobist site, and any other recommendations for lighting instruction would be welcome.

    Your thoughts on non-TTL strobe use is encouraging and opens up more possiblities than just limiting myself to the SB600/800. I think your comment "With experience, you may not miss iTTL at all," is key. It is the "with experience" part that I am lacking and I look forward to learning the lighting craft.

    I grew up on a completely manual film SLR (just built-in meter), and with a manual flash. I think that knowing how to make settings yourself and really understanding what is happening is so important, then maybe you can let some AI do a little work for you.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. They will definitely be helpful as I go forward.
  9. I don't agree with that at all. Sure they will work, but it's nice at times to just be lazy and just set things ttl and let the camera do it's thing.

    I also don't agree that you should "get experence" with manual flash, or with old flash units when all you're doing is normal stuff. Yes, you need to know how to use it, but new flashes like the 600/800 just give you another tool in your bag, and make life really easy.

    For off camera stuff, and something I didn't get into before... anything that flashes will work fine, and you can get some really cheap stuff - hook it to a slave - and have at it. There is no magic other than trying a few things and paying attention to what happens.

    My friend has a D70 and a Sb28, which can be a great combo, but again it's just frustrating to try and use that in tricky conditions because the flash and camera really don't talk to another as well as my 600 and D50...

    It's just not worth the stress and missed shots.
  10. You certainly make a valid point. There is indeed a strong argument for buying at least one SB-800 and several SB-800/600 units. Of course, there's the very real advantage of complete compatibility, iTTL, remote CLS, etc. etc.

    In addition, there is the "new and shiny" aspect. It's something I have to guard against since I'm one of those guys who has a hard time resisting new, fancy, shiny, nifty gear. That's true of photo stuff as well as other consumer products. New is nice. High tech is attractive.

    I suppose if someone would swap me straight across the board I'd trade my SB-26s for an equal number of SB-800s. Unfortunately, so far I haven't found that person. LOL

    I could afford to buy a handful of SB-800s, but there's only so much of my less than unlimited budget I'm willing to earmark for photo gear. I also have other financial obligations such as investing in a decent red wine for most of my evening meals, occasionally replacing my Mayan hammocks in which I lounge on my front porch, and paying for NASCAR Hot Pass so I can keep up with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s pit strategy (or lack thereof).

    In other words, each person has to make a decision on which equipment gives him the appropriate "bang for the buck". For some that's a handful of SB-800s, for others it isn't. My intention was to point out that if money is a consideration, one could put together a nice, off-camera, multi-flash array with stands, light modifiers, radio triggers, etc. for the cost of a single SB-800. I'm no Luddite and when my SB-800 is the best solution, I don't hesitate to use it, but I do most of my flash photography with SB-26s:smile:

  11. Hi there Keith. I may not be all that helpful, but here is my story.
    I started with the pop up on my old D70. Yep, I could get a shot at a party of one or 2 people together, but I lost the sides of their faces etc in shadow. Then came an SB-800, wow, what a difference, I started to bounce flash off ceilings and stuff like that and thought that was pretty cool. Then I bought a wireless ebay style trigger, a master strobe, slave strobe, 2 stands, umbrella and soft box.......for $300 from China through ebay. Woohoo, I was an instant professional.....nope. The gear was bulky to carry around and needing 240 volt power points to run the gear was a pain in the neck. Over time I purchased a couple of SB-600's and started on the SB-800 as a commander and 600's being the slaves. I don't like to read too much and got confused and they sat in the cupboard for a while. One day I was looking over some comments and images made by Uncle Frank about his new SU-800 and nearly fell off my chair at the quality of the images he was showing and the apparent ease in which he did it. 2 weeks later my SU-800 arrived, a few days to get the hang of it I am off and running and very happy.
    My reason for weighing in is not to bragg about my gear, but to just check with you that if you intend to keep photographing for a long time, sometimes it is cheaper to start with the good gear. Obviously I do not know your financial position, nor do I want to. But, flashes, like lenses can cost more if you by a lesser product and take a loss when you upgrade because you knew in the back of your mind ..........
  12. Hi Dave, thanks for telling your story. I do have a tendency to buy cheap, then want better pretty soon. I've been thinking about your comments. Here is one thought I had.

    Let's cost it out. Please correct me if I am off base. an SU-800 and 2 SB600s will cost about $630 or so. Two Vivitar 285HVs will run $180 and a set of cheap radio triggers will go for around $50 with two transceivers. You need stands, etc with both setups, so that is a constant. Anything I am missing in this comparison? Ok, so that is $630 vs. $230.

    Now, will I want and can I afford the SU/SB setup? Sure, and if I get into and keep up on the strobist method, I will definitely upgrade to something, perhaps just what you use. The question I had to look at is, as you point out, is the $230 down the drain if I get a better system.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but after upgrading, either a) I will still have use for the Vivitars at times, or b) I can sell them on the Nikon Cafe and recoup some of the investment. I was thinking in this case, that whatever I'd lose after reselling, would be an educational expense as it were, the cost of getting in and learning before committing the cash to something I might not follow up with.

    Does this make sense? anyone have an opinion on whether starting with an all-manual flash setup is a better way to learn what is actually happening with the setup?

    This thread has been so helpful in sorting this out. I am reading the strobist and the strobist forum on Flickr so hopefully future inquiries will be more educated. Thanks to all for the thoughtfulness of the responses.

    One quick tag question, and if needed I can start a new thread, but does anyone have an opinion on whether it is safe to use cheap radio triggers on a Nikon hot shoe? the manual predicts floods and famine if a non-Nikon product is attached. It also hints at voiding the warranty. The risk of burning out the camera may change the calculations above....
  13. Money vs wants!

    There are some great suggestions on this thread re: flash choices. It really boils down to what do you want to spend. The likely scenario is usually this - you either go small (read price as well) and eventually move up or go for the top right off the bat. It's like that old Fram commercial - "Pay me now or pay me later." If you stick with your flash fetish, you will go bigger and better over time if you start with the SB400. I've gone both routes - buy entry level and soon move on to the more exotic stuff or just start with more exotic stuff right away. BTW, I just bought the SB400 and will bounce my head off until I feel proficient enough to move on - probably next month or so!! Count your coins and make a move. You won't be sorry, just lighter in the wallet.

    PS Congrats on your first Father's Day. I'm celebrating my 31st! :wink:
  14. Keith, what you say is perfectly correct. But the extra money spent on the SU-800 and a couple of SB-600's will allow you to have massive control over the shot, the SU-800 tells the SB-600's to increase or decrease whether on one channel or on different channels, all from the Smart little controller sitting on top of your camera. No walking over to each flash and adjusting. The only down side is that the system prefers line of site, where the radios don't. I have been reading the strobist a well and he recommends pocket wizards, at $350, not small change and I don't think they work with the creative lighting system TTL. But, they have a range of 1600 feet, that distance makes my 400mm lens feel inadequate!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 21, 2007
  15. chemisti


    May 24, 2007
    McKinney, TX
    Strobist is easy...

    I bought my D50 (for the sake of this discussion is just as capable/incapable of firing off camera flash) in Feb 06.

    The Strobist ethic is composed of a few basic ideas:
    1. Automatic control of flashes is limiting.
    2. Manual control of flashes is very easy in the digital age.
    3. A Strobist is a "thinking man's" photographer.
    4. Cheap is good - Cheaper is better.

    I have spent a total of about $400 to gather (not much more than a new SB-800) to gather a kit that gives me all kinds of versatility to supplement my SB-600 (a gift from my wife which I do use ON-CAMERA occasionally for traditional flash shots).

    Two light stands
    Two convertible 43" umbrellas
    Two umbrella clamps
    1 - Vivitar 285HV
    1 - SB-24
    2 Sets of Ebay "Ghetto" 4 channel triggers - modified with the antenna improvement detailed in the Flickr Strobist group
    3 cheap Ebay optical triggers
    A couple of PC-Hotshoe adapters
    Assorted rechargeable AA batteries

    I have the older versions of the 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses - just like you.

    I became an avid Strobist reader about 4 months after getting my camera. I started buying a few goodies about 6 months after the purchase.

    This setup gives me the option of using up to three flashes - all off camera (a fourth if you consider the popup flash). I have learned a lot about photography by learning to use this gear:
    1. It makes me think about how the camera works.
    2. It makes me look carefully at light (even without using flash).

    Here is a vendor who specializes in "pre assembled Strobist kits":
    I would strongly consider the Starving Student PC Kit (SP1) and a set of Ebay wireless triggers OR a single pc-hotshoe adapter. The D40, like the D50, lacks a pc port to directly fire off-camera strobes. No big deal.

    For ~$200 you would have the ability to really play with a single light setup.

    I am no great portait photographer, but with a few hours of "playing with my stuff" as my wife puts it, I learned enough to do these simple images:





    The last one was shot literally days after assembling my kit! All but the first were shot with the kit lenses. The first was shot with a Sigma 70-300 APO Macro - a relatively inexpensive lens...

    These are not difficult to do - but to get this type of lighting you MUST get the light off of the camera. I would recommend you consider a single light kit to let you play with your equipment. If you don't like it - you can probably sell the entire kit on Ebay for 80% of the original selling price if you decide that "Strobistism" is not for you. For a lot less than the cost of a high quality lens, you can dramatically increase the quality and sophistication of your photography. Once you see how dramatic these improvements can be - you might be hooked!

    Good luck.
  16. WOW! nice shots. I have been reading Lighting 101 all day and despite the frustrating lack of visual diagramming of the setup of shots, I have begun to get the immensity of the possibilities.

    Your concrete example is very helpful. I saw the starving student kit and it looks good, but I think I am interested in adding the cheap wireless triggers. Having PC cord backup will be useful too. Did you start with one strobe kit or get two from the start?

    Can't wait to start assembling the kit.

    Thanks a ton for the very helpful response.
  17. chemisti


    May 24, 2007
    McKinney, TX
    Started out...

    My wife bought me a SB-600 for my birthday early last November. I immediately began to read everything I could about on-camera flash use.
    Sites like:

    I immediately learned that the SB-600 could be used off-camera - so my plan was to build a 2 light kit, utilizing my SB-600 as one of the lights. I bought a SB-24 on EBay (at the very beginning of the Strobist used SB flash market price runup) for ~$48 (they now go for over $100). There were no vendors catering to the Strobist market, so I just assembled my kit a little at a time over the next few weeks. I believe that I got the rest of the 2 light kit up and running for about the same cost as my wife's investment in the SB-600.

    One more thing...

    I was very intimidated by the idea of shooting manual with manual strobes. It is just this easy:
    1. Set camera to manual mode on a subject that has at least some ambient light (don't choose a completely dark room or a sunlit subject to start).
    2. Set camera to proper exposure using spot meter (I would use the center point).
    3. Adjust the aperture to underexpose the image by 1 to 2 stops.
    4. Set up the flash in manual mode to some power setting (say 1/8 power, 5 feet from subject).
    5. Take a shot and adjust one of the things that affect flash exposure (aperture, shutter speed, flash distance from subject, flash power, flash zoom) until you get a good exposure on your histogram screen.
    6. Play with all of these settings until you get a sense of how they all affect the final image.

    Photography is a participation sport! It all will fall together quite quickly with a little practice. You could do this simple exercise with as little equipment as a optical trigger, manual -adjustment capable flash, and something to hold the flash. You can even use a tripod as your first light stand if you don't use an umbrella.

    This is one of the reasons that I advise Nikon shooters to purchase a SB-600 rather than the SB-400 - It can be used as part of a off-camera lighting kit as well as a great on-camera flash! It is also (IMHO) about twice the flash with much more versatility for approximately 50% more money...

    For ~$130 you could buy a MPEX kit and a Ebay Ghetto RX trigger set to go with an SB-600 and you would have a VERY capable one light setup!

    Good luck
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 20, 2007
  18. Bob, can I jump in with a secondary question.... I been afraid to purchase the older SBs for fear of compatability.

    Do you know which, if any, of the older (now lower cost) SBs will work wireless when using a D200 in commander mode? Will any of them work wireless right out of the box? I understand the iTTL issues, my question isn't about that... Just will they actually fire wireless without special equipment? I'd love to buy one or two for backgrounds, etc... Any help would be appreciated.
  19. Well, Thanks again to all. I purchased a Vivitar 285HV, an ebay trigger and 2 ebay 4-channel receivers and one trigger, plus the starving student version of the Mpex strobist kit (one flash setup).

    I am looking forward to getting the gear and beginning to practice. Chemisti, I like your idea for getting going with a setup. I'll keep you all posted and maybe offer a pic or two for your thoughts.
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