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Nikon Speedlight SB-700 Flash Review

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Nikon Speedlight SB-700 Flash

Nikon's SB-700 Speedlight flashgun

Nikon

Nikon's SB-700 is one of the manufacturer's mid-range flashgun offerings. It's more than $100 cheaper than its big brother, the SB-900. So, is this flashgun good enough to avoid buying the more expensive option?

Description

  • Guide Number: 128 feet (39m) at ISO 200
  • Coverage: 24-120mm, 14mm
  • Tilt / Swivel: 360 degrees
  • Recycle Time: 1.8 - 4 seconds
  • Illumination Pattern: 3 patterns: Standard, Even, and Center-Weighted

Nikon Speedlight SB-700 Flash Review

Released in 2010, the SB-700 is one of Nikon's mid-range flashguns. It comes with plenty of features, and it is considerably more compact and lightweight than the very large SB-900. But it's very similar in many ways to Nikon's older model -- the SB-600 -- and one has to ask if it's worth the slightly increased price tag.

Controls and Batteries

The battery compartment door can only be opened by pressing a door release button. I have heard a few reports of people who have had the battery door fall apart on them upon opening it, although I didn't have this problem. The door is undoubtedly a little more flimsy than that of the SB-900, though.

Recycling time is very fast with NiMH batteries, but will slow down rapidly if there is a danger of overheating. The LCD screen is quite dull, and some numbers can be hard to read as they are so small. However, the button design is an improvement on older Nikon flash models, and the controls are sensibly laid out.  

Flash Head

The SB-700 comes with a wide-angle diffuser to allow it to cover lenses as wide as 14mm. Standard coverage is from 24-120mm (down to 16mm on a DX, crop frame, camera). In manual zoom mode, you can set the screen to FX (full frame), DX, or automatic detection. 

Rather unusually for a mid-range flash, the SB-700 has complete 360-degree swivel, allowing for bouncing at all angles. This is a very useful addition.

What is the Guide Number?

We've talked about how the SB-700 has a guide number of 39m (128 feet). But how does this translate in practical terms? The guide number follows this formula:

Guide Number / Aperture at ISO 100 = Distance

To shoot at f8, we would divide the guide number by the aperture to determine the appropriate distance for the subject:

128 feet / f8 = 16 feet

Therefore, if we are shooting at f8, our subjects shouldn't be further than 16 feet away.

Modes and Filters

The SB-700 features Nikon's excellent I-TTL automatic mode, as well as manual mode and distance priority manual mode. The distance-priority manual mode is pretty clever, as you set the aperture and distance of the subject, and the flashgun will work out how much power to use. However, like all of Nikon's new generation flashguns, owners of first-generation digital cameras won't be able to use the flashgun on automatic mode. 

The SB-700 also comes with two useful filters, one for tungsten lighting and one for fluorescent. These work really well, and they help to produce correctly lit images (with information transmitted to the camera's white balance settings). The flash can also automatically detect which filter is in place.

Illumination Patterns

The SB-700 offers three different illumination patterns: Standard, even, and center-weighted. These essentially try to alter the drop off points of the flash. The even pattern spreads the drop off areas marginally wider than the standard pattern, while the center-weighted pattern concentrates the flash into the center of the image. I'm not entirely convinced that they make a huge amount of difference, but there are some subtle alterations to be had.

Wireless Mode

The Nikon SB-700 works as a master or slave unit, and it works with wireless transmitters. Using the flash off camera will help to soften the harsh lighting and prevent your pictures from looking flat. The SB-700 is the first mid-range camera that works as a master unit and this is, again, a very useful feature.

In Conclusion

The SB-700 is packed with features that consumer photographers will find useful. It's not a professional's flashgun, lacking a PC sync port and an external battery pack connector, and having a Guide Number that's too small.

But, for most people, this flashgun will be more than adequate. The only disappointment is that it's not quite as powerful as its precursor, the SB-600. This is a real shame, as, in most other respects, it's a very good flash. As a buyer, you'll need to decide whether the extra features and accessories of the SB-700 outweigh its weaker performance and more expensive price in comparison to the SB-600. I think that the SB-700 just edges it, but you'd be happy with either flashgun.

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