How Would You Change the Nikon SB-900?

As a Nikon shooter, when people ask me why I use Nikon over the other brands I tell them that I really am not into the religious war between the various camera brands out there. I bought a Nikon D70 (upgrading from an Olympus EN-20) back in the day because at the time the specs met my needs and of course once you start investing in lenses you're pretty much locked in. So honestly I don't really care what you use. I don't! If you're a Canon shooter and you're happy with your gear, more power to you. That's great! Go out and take great pictures because that's what it's all about anyway. Once I get past the story about how I started, I then tell them that now that I am a Nikon shooter there are a couple of things that definitely keep me with Nikon over the other brands (besides the lens investment). One is the integrated GPS support in the Nikon DSLRs.

Although I wish the GPS chips themselves were built-in to ALL CAMERAS, I do appreciate the fact that I can buy the GPS module of my choice and just plug it in. The Nikon DSLRs will automatically record the Geo location information into the metadata of the images (both RAW and JPG) and there's even a menu for it right on the camera.

The other thing that I LOVE is the built-in support for wirelessly controlling the Nikon Speedlights.

If you have a Nikon DSLR that has the Commander mode/feature built-in, then the pop-up flash can be configured to send out a pulse (instead of/or in conjunction with a flash) to not only fire the Nikon Speedlight remotely, but also control the power output directly from the back of the camera. You can even control different groups of Nikon speedlights turning the power up and down as needed. This way you can put the lights on stands or anywhere you want around your subject.  If your Nikon DSLR doesn't have the built-in Commander, you can buy an external one and put it in your hotshoe.  I use both these features all the time and would miss them dearly if I were to switch brands. I started with an SB-600 Speedlight. Then I bought an SB-800 and then an SB-900. I have and use all three when needed. The other night I was having dinner with some fellow Nikon shooters and we got on the subject of the SB-900. We all agreed that in many ways the SB-900 was actually a step backwards from the SB-800. So the question becomes…


How would you change the Nikon SB-900?

Yes, I know you would drop the price to $99 🙂 So let's move on to the features. We all agreed that the one new feature that is VERY NICE is the simple selector switch to switch the light from being a Flash to a Remote Flash. So simple and so long overdue. On the previous models you'd have to dig through the menus to make these simple choices. Beyond that it was hard to come up with things we liked better. The SB 900 is bigger than the 800, but yet doesn't put out any more power. It just makes it harder to fit it into your existing cases. Also Nikon still only puts the sensor eye on ONE SIDE of the speedlight. While you can swivel it around, it would GREAT to have this sensor on BOTH sides or make it RF based instead of requiring line of sight. We can assume that Nikon is probably working on the their next Speedlight and here's what I'd want:

  • Either give me a sensor on both sides or make it RF based
  • Make it smaller or give it more power. Pick one!
  • Give me the option of buying an accessory that allows me to plug it into the wall! If I'm using it inside and power is available why should I have to use AA batteries.?
  • Lower the price a bit. It's hard to justify buying more than one of these when you can get strobes for the same price!


How would you change the SB 900?

You can get the SB-900 here from B&H for $459.95 (List price $570)

21 Replies to “How Would You Change the Nikon SB-900?”

  1. Great points Terry regarding the SB900. I use the SB800 as well as the SB600. Hard to justify dishing out all that cash for an SB900. I do like the idea of having the sensor on both sides. Wonder why it’s taking Nikon so long to figure that one out.


  2. I have several of the SB900s. I fully agree with having the light sensors on multiple sides instead of just one. I’d love to see Nikon build in RF transmitter into the camera bodies and receivers/transmitters into the 900 so it can be a slave or master at the user’s discretion. I know this would put a crimp into radio trigger vendors, but I want to have all that built into a finely integrated system without having to go to multiple vendors to get the functionality I want.

    Kicking up the power a few notches would be good also. Although I like the gel holder, I don’t use Nikon’s gels with the chips. I want to be in control so I see that feature as useless and a waste of time/money and electronics.

    I’d also like to have more than 3 groups that can be controlled from the SU800. I sometimes find it limiting to have to move lights in the same group farther from the subject to get the light ratio I want.

    And yes, having the ability to power it off household current would be very nice.


  3. I agree with the facts already mentioned. One of the new features of the SB900 I don’t want to miss anymore is the zoom range up to 200mm. I consider this as one of the major improvements compared to the SB800. Of course, the user interface of the SB900 is a major advantage and I somewhat hate my old SB800 since I got my first SB900.
    So, my favorites for new features would include having more than 3 groups, probably the integration of radio triggers and for sure the ability to plug it right into the wall. a little more power would be fine if it doesn’t come with heat issues.
    Regarding the price tag, the comparison with a strobe gets even worse, if you get the external battery pack in addition to the speedlight…
    And Nikon please, update the SU800 with a rotating head!


  4. The next version definitely needs to have better sensor positioning. More power is always useful and if so I wouldn’t object to the size. I doubt we will see RF though because of restrictions in different countries. The overheat issue really needs to be addressed. I would like the battery packs to come down in price – they are ridiculously expensive for what they are and I want one for every unit I own.


  5. Great points and hints to Nikon Terry regarding the SB900. I managed to purchase the SB 800 right before the SB900 came out. I choose to go with the SB800 due to the fact the cost of the SB900 was allot more I like to pay for a flash unit. Don’t get me wrong, I will pay a decent amount for a lense but not a flash unit. I think Nikon should have kept the SB 800 in the unit line until another flash unit could fill in the gap of price.

    Thx, Glenn

  6. I agree with Terry with one big addition: The 900 overheats very easily. I find I can shoot my SB800s without fear of overheating. I too would like Nikon to find a way for the RF sensors to work a little better. Still to spotty. I find I use radio triggers more often than not.

  7. The reason Nikon won’t ever put RF right into the bodies and/or Flashes is due to the limitations abroad. Different countries have different limitations on frequency use. Nikon would then have to produce a “chip” or some other removable module that could be swapped out from country to country. This isn’t a large problem(Pocket wizard already does it with Sekonic on their meters) but not one that I think Nikon is willing to invest in. There are too many quality third party RF manufacturers for Nikon to jump into that game now, not to mention the fact that your SB900 that sells for $459 right now, would have to have a price increase to pay for/justify the RF units. So for example, a pocket wizard unit is around the $189 range(depending on where you get it) would you pay $650 for a flash just because if has a RF module in it now? I doubt a lot of people would, so it’s just not fiscally responsible for Nikon to go that route.

    What would I change about the 900? I would add an external fan. I can’t tell you how many times I have “bricked” my 900’s for 10+ minutes because I popped too many shots off, too fast. This hurts at a wedding. I would like to see a small ventilation fan on the head, and one on the body of the flash to keep this from happening. I use quantum packs, so the external power cord isn’t an issue to me. Jason

  8. Reduced power with continuous light for modeling and video. Same price but put all options in the box.

  9. I’ve used both the 600 and the 900 (but not the 800) and I’ve gotta tell you, I reach for the 900 without hesitation. It’s a gem of a flash as far as I’m concerned. The interface is great, it has fantastic power, love the gel holder and the increased zoom is much needed.

    However…the overheating issue is a real one. I shoot mostly high school seniors and families, and when I do an outdoor shoot, I always have a 900 in a Lastolite Ezybox. I also have a spare 900 in my camera bag, because if I start stressing it too much, I know it will “brick up”, as another commenter put it, for about 10 minutes. I know that I can go in and disable this feature, but who wants to make a potential $450 mistake? I just wonder why Nikon hasn’t addressed this issue in the firmware by now.

    The RF thing and dual sensors aren’t a problem for me anymore since I started using Radio Poppers. Since I shoot so much outside, I really didn’t have much of a choice. On even a moderately bright day, the IR receivers have a very limited range. I can shoot 50 yards away with the Poppers.

    I guess the one thing other thing that I would change is transmitting the Nikon gel information when the flash is off camera. Now, when you use the gels off camera, it doesn’t send what color gel it is to the camera for WB purposes. That would be a nice feature to have. Oh, and the Modeling light that William talked about would be nice as well.

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  11. Agree with you Terry: Either give me a sensor on both sides–and back and front–or make it RF based. Even for an additional $189, the Pocket Wizard (when available for Nikon) looks awfully attractive.

  12. I think they should collaborate with PW and offer some models with a PW tranceiver built in. It would’nt have to be on all of them but at least have a version that carries it. I know the CLS is their flagship program, however it could bring in an entire market (canon shooters) and allow anyone with a PW to use it right off the bat. Not to mention if it has the iTTL capabilities then the limits to this flash would be endless. I also agree with the power option for an AC plug in. I know that most people have power inverters in their cars already which means any shoot done near a car could be powered by the car itself especially with a good inverter and a good extension cable. Also, give us a diffuser dome that doesnt add another 2 inches to it.

  13. I can’t/won’t afford the SB-900, so maybe that’s what needs to change. Maybe I should come back for the “What to do with the SB-600 replacement” post. Having 2 SB-800s and an SU-800 (and SB-26), I fully agree with Joe about being able to direct the SU-800. The only reason I’m keeping it is hoping that with the next gen of PWs, I can remotely control power levels using that. Otherwise, the CLS coverage can almost never get all the flashes I set up unless I’m in a small room and shooting small groups from a certain distance at a certain focal length to make the commander to flash, camera to subject distance, desired lens compression and angle of CLS signal to match. It reminds me of Orwell: freedom is slavery. Don’t tell me I need to put my SU-800 on a Stroboframe with a mini-ballhead. That’s the slavery part.I choose to use my speedlights as optical slaves plus a radio trigger on one more often than not if I’m the only shooter. Re: where the power issue meets price, if I were to buy a SB-900 plus the external AA batt pack, I’m most of the way to buying a Q-flash plus battery pack, but at a 1/3rd of the power. Unless Nikon can find a sweet spot between the features and price of the SB-600/800/900 lineup, I’d rather buy something completely different.

  14. Terry,
    I would fix the ONE thing that was wrong with the SB-900 right from the start, the hotshoe foot! Has anyone noticed that there is less clearance between the slots where the foot slides into a hotshoe? I’m talking maybe half a millimeter but the difference is huge when you try to mount your flash to something like a Justin Clamp. I ended up having to grind down some of my cold shoe adapters just so that they could handle the lower clearance of the SB-900. What the hell were they thinking? I never had any problems with the 800 not being secure so I don’t know why they felt the need to make that small but crucial design change. Widen the gap on my next 900 hotshoe foot and I’ll be a happy camper.

  15. 1. I want to be able to mount an umbrella directly to the flash unit.
    2. An ability to attach the speed light directly to the standard 5/8 light stand tip.
    3. Radio trigger & ttl
    4. An ability to use standard nikon camera batteries. AA batteries are very inconvenient. I could never figure out which ones are charged and which ones aren’t. Also I have to keep 2 separate chargers which is also inconvenient.

    Why doesn’t anyone do this. I’d buy this even if it would cost a $1000.

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