Quick Review: Nikon SB-700

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Specs and purchasing info

sb700_front.jpgI love speedlights. I know I am not alone in my passion, but speedlights and I have a deep relationship, given the idiosyncrasies of my career, especially that:

  1. I shoot a lot of jobs — I recently went back and counted just the wedding-related shoots from 2010 (weddings, engagement shoots, and a few workshops), and came up with 131. Whew.

  2. If the light isn’t what I want it to be in a location, I will very happily make my own, and
  3. I live in central Manhattan, so I don’t own a car. The rental agents know me by name, but if I can, I always want to use just the gear that I can carry around with me.

So these incredibly versatile little guys without external battery packs, separate heads or tiny, exposed, easily breakable parts are often my best friend, and I try not to break out my studio lights unless I have a really good reason.

I currently use SB-900s across the board, and I’m crazy about them except that they’re a bit too large for the power they put out (the SB-800s are smaller and a bit more powerful), so when I heard that Nikon was releasing a new flash that offered most of the SB-900 benefits and a smaller size, I had to get my hands on one.

The SB-700 is the new entry in Nikon’s mid-range, replacing the SB-600. But it’s far better to simply think of this as a baby SB-900, since it has much more in common with Nikon’s flagship flash than with the one it replaces. The SB-600 was meant to be a basic flash, introduced before Nikon had added the truly basic SB-400 to the line, just to get the remarkable accuracy of the i-TTL automatic exposure system into people’s hands as cheaply as possible. It provided great exposures, and worked well as a slave in the Nikon CLS off-camera-flash system, but did little else. It couldn’t function as a master, so if you only had SB-600s they would have no way of talking to each other; it had a rudimentary interface, and was a bit fragile.

In contrast, the SB-700 brings almost all of the advantages of the 900, such as:

  • Knowing the difference between DX and full-frame cameras, and shaping the light beam accordingly

  • A head that swivels in both directions (A big advantage over even the SB-800)
  • Much better ergonomics, both in the menu system, and in the feel of the flash overall (although with my brand-new model, the battery door and head were a bit stiff)

    And the 700 even has a few big advantages over it’s big brother, especially its smaller size and an even better system for switching between flash modes, with a dedicated switch on the side of the monitor:

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    There are two big drawbacks, though. The first is that this flash has no PC sync, so if you’re a lover of PocketWizards, this is probably not the flash for you. There seems to be little reason for this omission other than market differentiation. With all of the benefits in inherits from the SB-900 in a smaller size, I’m picturing Nikon execs sitting around and wondering why new photographers would buy the bigger, more expensive SB-900 at all. “I’ve got it! Take out the PC Sync! That will keep the Strobists paying more!”

    Happily, though, the SB-700 DOES have optical slaving, so you can use it in an array of off-camera flash situations without even if you don’t like Nikon CLS. (I love it).

    Finally, the SB-700 is not super-powerful, with even slightly less maximum output than the SB-600. In the photo below, Claudia is being lit by two flashes — an SB-700 is lighting her face, and an SB-900 is lighting her body, both at 1/2 power. You can see that the light on her body is a bit brighter — well within the camera’s latitude, but I’ve kept the hot-spot in for display purposes. Still, the SB-700 is powerful enough to expose her properly at 1/2 power, even though this was shot at f/22, ISO 200.

    I figured Claudia was a bit more interesting than a brick wall.

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    The SB-700 also ships with the same sort of “smart gels” that were introduced with the SB-900 — essentially, if you put a tungsten gel on your flash, your camera’s auto white balance will adjust accordingly. I still like to have control, though, and in the photo at top I set the WB dial down to 2500K to turn the mid-day sky an interesting shade of blue, while still putting a flattering warm light on Claudia.

    Recommendations:
    If you were going to buy an SB-600, save up and get this instead. It’s much more versatile as a flash, insanely more versatile as part of a system of multiple flashes, and the ergonomics will save you some headaches.

    If you are a PocketWizard-loving manual-flash-only guy, you would probably be better served by either the 900 or even cheap, syncable flashes like this one.

    Will I buy it? Probably not. My kit isn’t portable anyway, and I’m already optimized around the SB-900. But I think that for your average user who wants to get better light without much hassle and wants a flash that gives them the option of building a system later, this will be a fantastic tool.

Wedding: Reema and Kartik at the Hyatt Regency

This fantastic wedding at the Hyatt Regency was a long time in coming. You’ll notice that this post leads off with an engagement shoot, which isn’t something I usually do.

It’s not an engagement shoot. It’s a new invention of mine I call a “Three-and-a-half-month-later shoot.”

Reema and Kartik’s wedding was so lively, so filled with fun and family and 600 guests, that the only time they could stop to have some photos taken on the wedding day was for 30 seconds as they lined up to enter the reception. So I posed to them a simple choice: We could either take five minutes away from the crazy, constant party to get some great shots, or we could have another more casual shoot later.

They chose the non-stop party, and I think it was the best choice, particularly when they started the night with a carefully rehearsed Bollywood dance.

When you talk about epic weddings, this is epic. Fantastic planning, as always, by Shaadi Chic. 600 guests. Multiple outfits, including Reema’s metal dress that was as heavy as it sounds — ladies, you constantly amaze me with your endurance — and Kartik’s late-night cow outfit. Yes, epic. I really can’t even show you the craziest stuff, so you’ll just have to imagine. Congratulations!

Photo of the Day: Pure Grace

Pure Grace

Lens: Sigma 85mm f/1.4 — 15 image “Brenizer method” panorama
Camera: Nikon D3s
Light: LitePanel Micropro

I had a wonderful time teaching at the Digital Wedding Forum conference in San Antonio, and I got to do some really fun shoots along the way, testing out new gear for B&H Photo. Great weather, even better people. If you hate beautiful women, you might not want to visit the blog for a little while.

Photo of the Day: Focus on the Moment

There is nothing with such stark a connection between the power of the moment and the lack of power of the resulting photography as someone giving a heartfelt speech at a podium. I sometimes mix it up with freelensing because it’s hard, and thus rare, and it sticks in corporate clients’ minds who haven’t seen it before. I know my buddy Sam Hurd likes to do this in the DC press pool, and gets a lot of strange stares. Sorry for any bad influence, Sam.

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4D
Camera: Nikon D3s

Memories of San Antonio

Thanks to the magic of scheduled posts, if all has gone well I should at this very moment be taking off from La Guardia airport, bound for San Antonio, where I will be the first speaker at the 2010 Digital Wedding Forum Convention!

The last time I was in San Antonio was on a magazine assignment, writing and photographing the remarkable Maybelle Montgomery, who was 109 years old at the time — born before J. Edgar Hoover and Buster Keaton! She had retired in 1945. She came from another world — half of the things she loved to do in her youth are impossible now — visiting the old Penn Station and the Battery Park Aquarium, climbing into the torch of the Statue of Liberty and watch immigrants stream into Ellis Island, among others.

I carted studio lights and a softbox all the way down there, and then made the wise decision that she would be far too bothered by the bright lights. Sadly Maybelle is no longer with us, but she lived a fuller life than most of us ever will.

Lens: Sigma 30mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D2X

Photo of the Day: Be In Love


Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s

Sometimes I think that by the Law of Conservation of Awesomeness in the universe, my clients are making the rest of us less awesome. I demand an apology.

Photo of the Day: Shining Through


Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lighting: SB-900
EXIF and GPS data

Once again, at the workshop I deliberately took people to terrible locations to show them how I would work through it. The key to making a nice, attractive negative space for Kelly to play in was using the off-camera lighting to kill the ambient light. Without it … well, the space doesn’t have quite the same effect, as you can see below:
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Wedding: Liz and Ariel at the Scarsdale Women’s CLub

Sometimes all it takes is the smallest detail to let me know that a wedding is going to be extremely fun. For Liz and Ariel, it was “well, since this is happening the day before Halloween, we’re going to end the reception in costume, and hand out vampire fangs to guests.” That was indicative of a whole day devoted to making sure their friends and family were having a great time.

Fall is absolutely my favorite season in the New York area, and they had a perfectly gorgeous late-fall wedding day. Cool weather, gorgeous color, and countless leaves that apparently were begging to be thrown into the air. Congratulations!


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Photo of the Day: (Light-)Painted Lady

Not everyone can make trying to stay warm look as good as Mae does.

I processed through all the photos from my last workshop just in time for my upcoming lecture at the DWF Convention in San Antonio. At the workshop the shooting scenarios were all about options to create attractive work in bad situations, such as, in this case, night-time. So we used light-painting to get the job done.

Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lighting: Litepanel MicroPro
EXIF and GPS data

Wedding: Jackie and Kee at the Venetian

Like most people I photograph, Jackie and Kee felt like they were not naturals in front of the camera. I hate to correct you guys in public like this, but boy were you wrong — and I’d already known that from the engagement shoot. Not only did their great relationship with each other shine through visibly, but they were so wonderful to work with. I kept saying to Dennis Pike and Erica Camille — who helped me capture the day — “Aren’t they nice? Man they’re nice!”

I could spot from the first few minutes of the reception that things were going to get wild on the dance floor, and boy did they — especially once they cannibalized most of the props from the photo booth we were running. A fantastic day within the gorgeous setting of The Venetian, filled with great people.

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