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Remote Flashes with D80: sb-600/800/900?

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by Trevor04GT, Aug 13, 2009.

  1. Trevor04GT


    Jan 1, 2009
    Hey guys, I had a few questions regarding what would be the best flash to buy. I have been shooting for about a year. I shoot 99% cars. Im getting into the indoor, night, set shots. Perhaps even day time, or overcast shots to have more control over the background. Anyways, my question is, if I was to get 2 SB-600s, would i be leaving anything on the table by not getting a 600 with a 900, or a 900 alone, or an 800 with a 600. Between those three options, what do you guys recommend and why?

    I am wanting to learn, so I am willing to get a more "difficult" flash.I just want ot know if setting up 600s off camera is a good idea.

    These are the types of shots Im going for....

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  2. It's all about the money. The 600 is less powerful and lacks a built in optical slave and doesn't have a PC port, a deal killer for me but not perhaps for you. The 900 is nice, but the price difference over the 800 would make me think hard.

    Since these are set shots of glossy subjects, you will be faced with the requirement to do a lot of adjusting and tweaking to get the reflections just right. The "real" guys use a LOT of fancy lighting when shooting dramatic car images including, sometimes, light modifiers much larger than the cars. But you can do neat stuff with speedlights if you have plenty of them. Two seems like at least two too few to me.

    Why not consider four or five non AWL/CLS speedlights in the $100 range and trigger them with an RF trigger system; PWs if you're bucks up or cheap Chinese triggers (which are getting much more reliable) if you're watching your money. One SB-800/900 flash and four used SB-2X speedlights would be a nice package.

    Purely "old school" manual flash of course, but plenty capable. Think about it anyway.
  3. WayneF


    Apr 3, 2006
    Right, the first purchase decision to be made is if you might ever want to use manual flash (with sync cords, or optical slaves, or radio triggers, and flash meters), or if you want to use the Nikon TTL wireless remote system. Perhaps "both of these" is one very valid and popular choice. This could be alternately worded about if you want "automatic setup and immediate point&shoot flash operation", or if you want a "careful and slow setup adjusted with a manual flash meter to be absolutely perfect for your situation". A second question is if you want "portable" lights (batteries, light weight, automatic, etc), or if you want a fixed location manual setting, tediously adjusted to be perfect (loaded wording :smile: - but that is how it is). Another question is if you might ever need an external battery pack for more flashes and faster recycle (weddings for example). I am unsure how well a starting beginner can answer those questions, without first suffering the experience of going down a few wrong roads first.

    The Nikon automatic wireless remote system is quite impressive, but one often unforeseen fallout is that it is incompatible with later adding in other manual flash gear, like optical slaves, radio triggers, even flash meters. It is designed as a complete system in itself. And it can only "control" two or three remote flashes, not four. It also requires its own line of sight optical triggering system, somewhat limited in some aspects. People tend to assume the Nikon commander MAN manual power level mode is the same as "Manual mode", but far from it, it is definitely still Commander mode, with same limitations, and still incompatible with real Manual mode.

    The SB-600 is a very good flash, works great on hot shoe and as a Nikon system wireless remote, but it is very weak in a manual flash system. It has Manual mode, but it has no PC sync connector to attach things to use it, and it has no optical slave. Basically, it offers no way to trigger it in remote Manual mode. Third party accessories possibly can be added to its shoe foot to support it more, but SB-600 simply is a weaker system, more entry level, not designed for manual use (or rather, stripped of features for a lower price point). A little weaker flash power too, but not a big difference. The SB-600 also cannot accept the external battery packs. But is still a great flash on the hot shoe, or in the Nikon wireless remote system, lacking little in those applications. Far less great in any manual studio situation (which sort of sounds like your cars). A couple of SB-600 for commander use in the living room can be great, but loading up with four SB-600 for a bigger system sounds like a blunder.

    The now-discontinued SB-800 and the new very expensive SB-900 can do it all, and more, period. These have a very long list of additional features, which may never matter if you never grow to use those features, but which definitely do matter when you need them.

    Another excellent choice is (non-Nikon) larger studio lights, for fixed studio situations where the extra setup time is possible. Manual mode, with more power, AC power operation, MUCH more versatility regarding lighting modifiers, etc, etc. Not TTL, but the ultimate manual solution. These lights can range from half price of a SB-900 to a much greater cost. More about this mode difference here: http://www.scantips.com/lights/vs.html
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2009
  4. I agree with Bob, you might be much better off getting one SB900/800 and 3 or 4 SB26s or so. Personally that is what i would do. I would suggest getting the 900 over the 800, because now that the 800 has been discontinued they are about the same price (a new 900 for a used 800). And yes the "real" guys do use much better lighting then speedlights. I know some guys that do it professionaly and theyll have huge softboxes over top the car, much larger studio lights around it, light modifiers, and sometimes speedlights.
  5. Trevor04GT


    Jan 1, 2009
    Thanks for the info guys. The thing is, I need portable. I need fast, and quick setup. I can always go to Costco and buy 2000000 batteries. Having two or more speedlights shot into umbrellas seems like a better deal for me at this point. If I do car shoots, most places wont have somewhere to plug lights in. SO my question is back to 2 sb600s? For the time being, with umbrellas and stands. And just learning how to shoot with them and make the best from it? Or grab a sb900 and use that?
  6. roger1011


    May 22, 2009
    United States
    Wow, love your car pics. I would say go with the SB900. I have the SB600 and the settings are not as customizable. Having the 900 will also allow you to have to option to triggering other flashes with that one as the master. The 600 can only be used as a slave. I hope my concise comment helped
  7. WayneF


    Apr 3, 2006
    Given that, then:

    If using two flashes in umbrellas (at 24mm zoom on flash) as TTL in Nikon Remote mode, then the SB-600 will be equally as fine as the SB-900. There wont be much power difference, and almost no features difference (in this use). Your D80 internal flash can be commander for two remote flashes (only two). Put one flash in Group A and one flash in Group B, and the commander can meter and control them individually. Point&shoot automation. You can also compensate either group A or B in the commander menu, and a little is likely necessary.

    Here are shorthand Nikon instructions which will be useful:


    The umbrella is a light loss, and at ISO 200, you probably can get 10 feet range (umbrella fabric to subject) at f/5.6 (at maximum power, be sure to watch and understand your Ready LED warnings). You can get more range from greater ISO or wider aperture, or both. Not sure how much the umbrella is going to help the cars, esp at 10 feet. Direct flash may be more practical.

    Issues may be: This commander trigger path is line of sight... meaning, the flash bodies have the receiving sensor on the body side (next to battery door), and the flash body must be rotated on the umbrella stand to orient this sensor facing the camera commander. It must see the commander visually, directly, to work. That means the one on camera right must be pretty much rotated backwards to point back left, but the head rotates to do this, and still point to the umbrella. SB-600 rotates 270 degrees and SB-900 rotates 360 degrees, helping to do that. It is NOT line of sight if blocked by anything so there is no "sight". If not a clear view of commander to flash sensor, then trigger reliability can be poor and will fail to trigger.

    It is optical light, so the umbrella itself probably blocks it. If the camera is more forward for clear view around umbrella of flash sensor, then less blockage, but then the angular width coverage of the commander becomes an issue. Often it works in the living room with near reflecting walls, even when slightly behind the camera and less concern, but such reflecting walls are less likely to exist at the car show. It seems hard to define this line of sight situation, but it will not be trivial, not the easiest work, and expect to experiment some to find positions and angles which will trigger reliably. It will be an issue to contend with.

    Manual systems have various other ways to eliminate this line of sight problem, however the SB-600 is not a good choice then. But the SB-900 could excel, and likely would be generally much easier all around. But it is a philosophy change from TTL automation to Manual flash. Bottom line, at 2x higher cost, the SB-900 can do it all, and would offer choices the SB-600 cannot do, at least not without addition extras.
  8. 73Z1


    Sep 15, 2008
    Not exactly true.

    I believe that what Wayne meant to say was that Nikon AWL can only control two or three remote flash Groups. The Commander mode of the D80 and all of the other Nikon DSLRs (that I know of) will only control 2 Groups of multiple flashes. The SU-800 and the SB-800/900 (in Master mode) can control up to 3 Groups. In each group you can have multiple AWL capable speedlight flashes. It is my understanding that Nikon recommends a practical limit of 3 speedlights maximum per group. You could probably have more than three, but reliability or accuracy of the iTTL metering results might be suspect.

    So, with only a D80 as Commander, you could buy and control up to 6 SB-600s at a time for shooting cars. Add the D80 flash (not much, but there) and you have 7 sources of controllable light. That isn't nearly the same as what the pros use, but it should enable you to make images far better than using only one or two flashes. Would it be practical? Depends on what you desire or require. At $200+ per SB-600 it could cost more than some mobile studio setups, but it would be light, fast, and have no wires to trip over anywhere. It would be considerably less powerful than a setup using Alien Bees or similar and a mobile power pack. It also would be somewhat confining with only 2 Group settings. However, if you were to add an SB-800/900, you would greatly expand your shooting options.

    Here are three examples.
    1) You buy 4 SB-600s. Put 2 in Group A and 2 in Group B. Set iTTL or Manual 1/x in the D80 Commander for each group. Use umbrellas or other light modifiers, plus vary the distance of the lights to the car and you change the effect each individual light has. Not really 4 independent flashes, but using Manual mode settings in the Commander for the remotes means that flash 1 in Group A will provide less light than flash 2 in Group A if it is further from the car or has a different light modifier attached. You effectivly have a 4 light solution, if not actually. You can also later add more speedlights to combine flashes on any stand to achieve more power at that point or have up to 6 different sources of wireless light.

    2) You buy an SB-800/900 and 3 or 4 SB-600s. You now have 3 Groups to work with, plus the SB-800/900 in the camera hotshoe or on an iTTL remote cord. Each Group and the Master SB-800 can be configured to fire using different settings. You have a wireless 4 independent source of light system. Just as in the above example, you can add more speedlights to increase the spread of any Group or the power at a given light stand.

    3) You buy cheapo manual flashes and eBay radio triggers, plus a half decent used flash meter. You trigger the flashes and use the Flash Meter to set your power ratios. Takes more time and requires more moving about, but is significantly cheaper.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2009
  9. WayneF


    Apr 3, 2006
    Yes, that is exactly what I meant by the word "control" of only 2 or 3 flashes. If you put your background light or your hairlight into the group with the main light or fill light, you have no control of them.
  10. if you're willing to fill the frame as is done in the sample photos, you might be able to get away with SB600s. I used an SB600 and SB800 combo with my D80 as the commander.
    [​IMG] I'm no pro and this was my first attempt, but you get the idea. I positioned the lights about 5ft. from the car on lightstands. I'd highly recommend umbrellas which I didn't have time to set up during the shoot. Power on both lights was around 1/4 I think.

    Once the lights are high up on lightstands, it's annoying to have to bring them down in order to change the power settings. CLS gets around this and makes the job much easier. If you're lazy like me, you may want to stick with CLS compatible flashes (SB600/SB800/SB900).

    check out the flickr car strobist group for more inspiration and ideas. There are a lot of people in the car strobist group with a D80 + 2X SB600s.
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