Off Camera Flash Question (Nikon)

Sherman Banks

TPF Noob!
Feb 24, 2009
Reaction score
Rain City
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
I am trying to get a light setup built and have two umbrella kits on their way. I am going to get an SB600 which will sync with a D90, and was wondering what another option could be for a flash (less $ than the SB600). Would the SB400 have any use here? I have read that it won't fire as commander and I don't believe it can be used in any way off camera. Could anyone recommend some options that I could look into?

SB 400 will not work as commander and is difficult to make work off camera. Other than another SB600 or two, your best bet might be older Nikon flashes with selectable outputs or a few Vivitars, 383's and 385's are good value. Other than CLS using SB600-800-900 or third party CLS compatible, which is usually even more expensive, you have to go manual.
That's what I was thinking would be the case. The SB600 is a good price at Ritz right now, but I'm forking out a bunch on a body upgrade already so the second may have to wait for now.
Just stick with SB-600's I have 2 (soon to be 3) and love them to death.
Look for a Metz 45 CT3 or 4 OR 5, or a CL4 if you can find a deal. (a CT3 should be about 1/3 to 1/2 the price of an SB600)

They are more powerful than an SB 600, have 1/1, 1/2, 1/4 manual settings and on Auto they are amazingly accurate. Their bracket is made to fit on a light stand too.

A pair of cactus triggers and you're good to go.
Just stick with SB-600's I have 2 (soon to be 3) and love them to death.
Actually, your flickr page sold me on how good the SB-600's are, not to mention your photos are excellent. I will probably do one now, and save up for another in the meantime. I'll just have another umbrella kit to sit in the closet until then. Thanks for the feedback everyone!
why is the SB 600 so good?
Personally I like the SB800 and SB900 better than the 600 for a number of reasons. The main one being the Zoom. I like to be able to zoom the flash way out to give a real punch and edgyness. Anyone on here that has read Joe McNally's new book will probably agree that there is something to be said for that zoom capability.
I just use an SB-800 and am planning on buying more flashes. I think eventually I'll move up to an AlienBee, but until then I think I'll buy some Vivitar 285s at $89 each or some SB-600s
It really depends on what you want to do. For me, I've split my lighting needs into a couple of simple categories.

When I want to go small and fast, a couple of SB-600s on umbrellas and I am good. If I need softer light, I place 2 SB-600s onto a custom bracket and place them inside either a 28" or 50" Apollo softbox and are easily controlled from the commander mode of an on camera SB-800 so that I do not even need to go close to the softbox to change power settings.

Of course, if I want to have greater distances, I have 3 Pocket Wizard IIs available to me and when the Nikon versions of the FlexTT5 come out, I will order 4 of them.

When shooting outside, one needs power, plain and simple. To that end, last light I ordered a Photogenic 2500DR 1000 W/s strobe head and to make it portable, I added a Vagabond II battery pack to my list of tools. Now, first thought is that people will say that the battery pack will limit your number of shots, and that is true. The Vagabond is good for about 250 full power 1000 W/s flashes before needing to be recharged. So, after a little research, found out that the inverter from the Vagabond can connect to an external battery... and I just happen to have a brand new 20 pound car battery waiting for me on the side that should be good for an additional 500-600 full power flashes. Now, one of course normally doesn't go around using it at full power, so at even half power, I have (in theory) enough to take between 1000-1200 flashes using my current setup, which is more than enough for my needs.

I also purchased a 12-volt charger with the Vagabond unit... so I can do some charging while driving from location to the location, if needed.

Because I have tried to meticulously plan out and research my needs and the equipment that meets those needs, I find that my setup is extremely versatile and can be used inside, outside, dark and very bright locations (1000 W/s is strong enough to overpower bright sunlight even through my softboxes under most circumstances).

So why Photogenic instead of Alien Bees?

The reason I went to Photogenic instead of Alien Bees are:
- True 1000 W/s vs true 640 W/s
- Much more consistent WB from low to high power settings
- Fan cooled vs no fan cooling
- extruded metal case vs plastic case
- 6-stop adjustability vs 5-stop
- 7 lbs vs 4 lbs
- 2 year warranty vs 1 year
- Pocket Wizard support vs Cybersync support
- Professional level quality vs more of a consumer level.

It always surprises me that people do not know that Photogenic has been around for over 100 years, and in that time, have put out some incredible pro-level quality equipment that is incredibly reliable, durable and stable. I saw a 40 year old unit that was working today that was used in a kmart style of in-out fast shoot and pay me place that took 200-300 shots per day and then was used by a wedding photographer on the weekends for years... usage that would have MELTED any plastic covered unit decades ago... and was still going strong with nothing more than 5 modeling bulb changes and 2-3 flash bulb changes in it's entire carreer!

What really got me is that with other higher powered head units, you could not power them down enough to use in a mixed environment of studio heads and speedlights. Well the Photogenic unit that I ordered can go down to 32 W/s which is way below the maximum of a 75-80 W/s output of your average SB-600 which means I *can* mix and match both the studio head and speedlights in a useful manner.

I did that same test on a set of Profoto Compact 600 W/s heads and it was a waste of time. At the Profoto's lowest power levels, I was hitting F/11 at 20 feet subject to light distances. If I wanted to mix and match strobes and speedlights, the Profotos would have to be so far away, that they would be 2 rooms down... lol. There was no way I could use a triple diffused Profoto softbox and a speedlight in the same setup... something that I can do with the Photogenics.

Anyways, all that to say, this is how I think, how I work and if anything, I hope it gives people a different slant on how to think/plan/decide what is best for them. :)
Last edited:
Wow Jerry! I didn't expect such a comprehensive answer but I really appreciate your insight here. Your full setup is impressive, and the fact you have researched it so much is great. I just want something that will be semi portable and versatile without costing a ton. For now, I'd rather have 2 sb600's than 1 sb800 or 900. If I ever start to make money off of this (like in 30 years...) I'll go with whatever Jerry's running. Thanks again everyone!
Personally I like the SB800 and SB900 better than the 600 for a number of reasons. The main one being the Zoom. I like to be able to zoom the flash way out to give a real punch and edgyness. Anyone on here that has read Joe McNally's new book will probably agree that there is something to be said for that zoom capability.

Jason is correct, the zoom head does add a lot to the flashes capability. A few more features I like about the 800 & 900 over the 600 are 1) PC cord connection for use with pocket wizards without a hot shoe adapter, 2) High voltage input for use with Quantum style packs, 3) Commander mode for 3 TTL flash groups, and 4) the envy of every Tim Allen fan "More Power!

And if you have now read it yet, get "The Hot Shoe Diaries" bt Joe McNally referenced in Jasons post. Not only is there a wealth of info in it, he's a very entertaining writer. My wife calls his style of writing "Stand up comedy for Photographers". It's well worth the investment, you will want your own copy.
I just picked up an old Nikon SB-25 off ebay for about $60-$70. Doesnt get much better than that. It even has a PC port! Now all I gotta do is get another cybersync receiver and cable, then I'm good to go.

I'd recommend one of these flashes, they are older, but comparable to the newer ones of today. You can even get infrared or radio transmitters to set them off.
I ended up ordering two Vivitar 285's to accompany my SB600 with some Cactus v4's, but I didn't realize at first that the Cactus transmitter prevents the on camera flash from popping up, making it able to control the SB600. So now I've ordered two more receivers and will probably get one more low end flash just for kicks. I am actually kind of weary about the cactus triggers as I've been reading a lot of bad stuff about them now. Oh well, we'll see what I end up with.

Most reactions