For a Few Dollars More: The Nikon SB-26

Anyone who has been reading Strobist for a while knows that I think the Nikon SB-24 is the best bet for the starving student's entré into the world of off-camera manual flash. With an external PC connection and full manual control over a 5-stop range, it has what you need without your paying for what you don't.

But for someone with a little flexibility in their budget, the more recent (circa mid-90's) SB-26 may be a better call. And if you are moving from just one flash to two, the SB-26 is a no-brainer. It can be had for around $100 at the time of this writing.

NOTE: If the earlier readers swoop in and snarf up the sub-$100 examples, don't blame me. Well, OK, I guess technically you could blame me, but they were just faster on the draw. So try to wait for more stock or troll eBay for a while to grab a good deal. But bear in mind that you are likely to be bidding against each other for the few days after May 15th, when this post goes up.

The SB-26 does everything the SB-24 does, plus the following:

• Full manual control over a 7 f/stop range.
• A built-in bounce card.
• A built-in diffuser panel for ultra-wide beam width.
• A "delay" function (more on that later.)
• A built-in optical slave. (Schwing!)

Now, before I go into detail on the features, I want to give you a word or two about keeping these vintage flashes alive.

First, USE THEM OFF CAMERA. I'm not making a value judgement (for once) on your lighting skills. It's just that the hot-shoe foot is the vulnerable point on these flashes. An SB-24, or -26, or whatever, could theoretically last you a whole career if it is happily firing on a stationary stand. That's because there is no torque on the hot shoe foot.

But if you are shooting on-camera, say, stalking Sean Penn or English soccer hooligans, well, that's another kettle of fish. You might catch an elbow (or a brick) to the head and your flash foot could go 'bye-bye' real fast.

Even if you use them on stands, a good policy is to not stick them straight out so all of the pressure is on a horizontally-mounted shoe foot. Mount them vertically (or as near to vertical as is practical) and use the swivel head to do the pointing. Way less torque. Way happier flash foot.

That said, if you snap one off, all is not lost. There is a good discussion (and link resources) for getting it fixed (even DIY-style) over at Sportsshooter. (Link will open in a new window directly to the discussion.)

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The seven f/stop range is really sweet, especially for close-up work. There are times when I have had to dumb that down even a couple more stops with neutral density filters. One-sixteenth power can be way too much at a few inches in distance.

The "delay" mode is, as far as I know, unique to this model of flash. Here's how it works. Say you are using an on-camera flash in the auto (or TTL) mode. You can use the SB-26 in manual mode stuck out in the background somewhere as a back/rim/whatever light and it will wait until the other flash has finished firing before it fires.

Why is this important? Because if it fired at the same time, it could screw up the other flash trying to work in its auto or TTL mode. (Usually this means the main light would not put out enough light. That's bad.)

How does it know when the flash is done? It doesn't. There is simply a "delay" switch on front of the flash. (Set it to "d.")

Does it matter what kind/brand of camera/flash is used for the auto/TTL front light? Nope. (Sweet, huh?)

What does this cost me? Well, other than a few bucks more to get this flash instead of an SB-24 (or -25) it costs you a third of a stop on your max synch speed. Most SB/Nikon combos max out at a 250th synch. This setting limits you to 1/200th, to account for the delay. Not an issue in the environments where you are likely to need to be filling dark backgrounds.

Now, for the other feature that makes this an ideal second light: Built-in optical slave. It'll see your other flash fire and fire the SB-26, either in "real time" or in the delay mode. For our purposes, it'll usually be real-time.

Now, this is not a fantastic slave. But for typical environmental portrait set-ups, for instance, it works great. You can help it along by making the SB-26 the strobe that fires the weaker light of the two, if there is a difference. Theory is, if one flash is going to set off the other (using light) you want the slaved flash to be receiving the bigger shot of light - not the other way around.

The other way to increase your efficiency is to point the front panel (that's where the slave eye is) of the SB-26 at the other light. Since the head rotates and tilts, this is almost never a problem. And of the SB-26 is firing into an umbrella, you're golden. That umbrella acts as a big relector, catching your main light and sending it right into the sensor.

These babies sold for $350 (and adjust that for ten years of inflation) back in the day. And now people have visions of "$B-800's" dancing in their heads, so they sell them for a song. Why, thank you, Mr. Rich Photo Hobbyist Guy.

All in all, a great little light. And believe me, if I was still looking to pick up a couple more of them, you would not be reading this article yet.


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Anonymous Aaron J Scott said...

Since I'm still getting the hang of all this--AND because I'm a Canon user--answer me this: Could I use my Canon flash as the master to trigger an SB-26 as a slave? What if I have the Canon flash set to slave to use it with my Canon wireless transmitter?

May 15, 2006 2:46 PM  
Blogger The Turnbucklers said...

i have a question. Does the SB 28 have a built in slave mode? I'm not really sure but from what I've read, it doesn't. Am I wrong? Im asking because a guy is offering his 2-year-old SB 28 for $100.

May 15, 2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger Charles C Stirk Jr said...

¿Does the SB 28 have a built in slave?


May 15, 2006 4:14 PM  
Blogger David said...


Yes on the first part. Dunno on the second. The xmitter might set it off. Either way, the delay should get you past the first flash's firing. I would google around for someone else who has used this combo before committing money, tho.

May 15, 2006 5:06 PM  
Anonymous James Davis said...

Thank you for the remarks on broken hotshoes, I have a SB-28 which has a split shoe and I'm now getting excited about the prospect of having it repaired cheaply.

May 16, 2006 5:24 AM  
Blogger David Lew said...

Someone is selling a brand new one

May 16, 2006 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Captoe said...

From what I've gathered this SB-26 is unique in this optical slave feature.

Am I missing something?


May 16, 2006 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Captoe said...

Sorry, misunderstood David's note on the SB28.

May 16, 2006 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Picked up 3 of these locally for $80 CAD each today. They all work fine and have their bounce cards/diffusors in tact.

Oddly enough I had just finished doing my homework in trying to pick up a portable lighting kit and decided that the SB-26 was the one for me. I was worried when I saw the post about how great they were. Then I lucked into all I'll ever need in one stop.

Some notes from my brief experimenting. I am using a Nikon D70. The SB-26's don't fire even in delay mode if you are trying to use the on camera flash as the trigger if it is any of the Commander modes (TTL, M, AA). Which means using it wirelessly with my SB-600 is out because it dosen't have an optical slave mode.

That said it works fine with the on camera flash set to TTL and the SB-26's set to delay. It also works if you set the D70 to Manual flash (and the SB-26's to "s" or delay) 1/16th so it won't contribute to the exposure but it will still trigger.

How about that for a cheap completely portable lighting setup. ANd I still have my SB-600 for when I need the speed of i-TTL.

Chris Sweet

May 16, 2006 7:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

SB-26's are great lights. Especially for 2nd and 3rd lights in a setup. Just stick 'em on a stand, let the AA's power them and point the front body of the flash toward your main light.

When you consider you can snag these for $50-$60 pretty regularly, you start to salivate over the pictures you could make with $250 worth of lighting gear - total.


May 16, 2006 9:20 PM  
Blogger picturegrl said...

Thank you for the Sportsshooter link. The only Nikon repair guy in Alabama retired recently, and don't you know I snapped the foot off my SB-28 for the ten-thousandth time? He used to joke that he kept a box of feet just for me. Used to charge me $25, which wasn't bad, but now I feel pretty good about doing it myself. My other alternative was to have to send it to Atlanta or to Nikon, and who knows how long that would take.

May 23, 2006 12:28 AM  
Anonymous wogo said...

I'm coming in on this a bit late... Hope somebody can advise:

Love the Strobist but I'm currently still in the "sort-of-high-end-point-and-shoot" stage -- a.k.a. no hot-shoe on the camera (Canon Powershot A80) and not currently in a position to start over w/ a DSLR.

I was considering getting an external flash and using it in slave mode. The problem is that the A80 fires a pre-flash which (I assume) will set off the slave too early.

Canon sells an external slave flash (HF-DC1) designed for the Powershot series which is pretty basic (hi, med, low) and costs about $100. From what I've read, the main advantage of this particular flash is that it waits until after the pre-flash to fire (to sync with the main flash).

My question (finally) is: will the SB26 -- slaved and set to "delay" -- do essentially the same thing (wait until after the pre-flash)? Does anyone have experience with this type of setup?

It would be a no-brainer to get a far better flash for about the same $$ (with room to grow)... *if* it will work in my current setup. Otherwise I may end up throwing more $$ at the A80... Which I'd rather not do...


June 28, 2006 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless the flash has a special pre-flash mode (as some new optical slaves has, but not the SB-26) it will fire on the first pre flash. I haven't actually tried with the SB-26 but I'm confident it will not work.

If your camera is able to send out single flash (manual mode?) it will work fine.


July 24, 2006 7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So do I understand that I cannot use the SB-26 in slave delay mode with the SB-600 off camera in i-TTL mode and D70? Is that correct? I would like to use the D70 on-site flash to fire the SB-600 and the SB-26's. Will this work? Thanks for you help.

August 15, 2006 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can use the SB-26 with Nikon iTTL, but you have to make sure that the iTTL pre-flashes don't trigger the SB-26, which then will not have sufficient time to recharge and fire again with the main flash.

The way to do this is by using the FV-lock feature to trigger the pre-flashes in advance of the exposure and lock in the flash exposure level. Check the D50/70/80/200 manual for how to use FV-lock (which is also a very good feature to use for lots of other reasons). After triggering the FV-lock (normally by assigning the FV-lock function to the AE-L/AF-L or FUNC button), wait for the SB-26 to recycle (if it fired) and then make your normal exposure. The SB-26 will fire with the main exposure then (in S or D mode).

FV-lock is also very good because it locks in the exposure level (until the FV-lock button is hit again), and you can adjust the exposure compensation (general or flash exposure compensation) if the exposure was too high or low; the FV-locked compensation remains as the "base" for the adjustment.

September 22, 2006 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the auto focus illuminator on the SB 26 can be switched on (via the control panel or something simple on the hot shoe contacts) ... Versus requiring some communication from a Nikon camera?

A friend interesting in some portable lighting has a camera with poor low-light focusing, and no convenient manual focus. We're speculating that the AF from the SB 26 might be useful, if we can get it on and pointed towards the target.


October 15, 2006 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does any of you have any more experiences with a d70(s) sb-26s? what Chris said left me in a bit of confusion. thanks


October 22, 2006 2:00 PM  
Blogger drmauro said...

I've just bought an SB-26 for my nikon D70 and tried to use FV-lock trick from 'anonymous'. It seems to work: strobe trigger fine on the principal flash, but still no good results, maybe it's due to flash orientation, don't know...I'll tell you better after some tests.

February 07, 2007 4:11 PM  
Anonymous aj said...

OK, so here is the answer to my Q on the sb-24 page (couldn't find this page apart from via google) -- so just ignore that, please.
just for info for other Canon shooters, here is my set up: sigma ef 500 dg super on my canon 20D and the sb-26 as an optical slave -- works wonderfully (also (sort of) works when the sigma sends out a preflash and the sb-26 is on "D"elay ... but for some reason it only works if the flashes are over 6ft apart, which is curious, but I need to play around a bit more to figure out what is going on)
I have to say, again, the sb-26 is a really lovely little flash

April 28, 2007 8:45 AM  
Anonymous cosmin said...

can anyone clarify me if the sb600 has the same "built-in optical slave." or if it could be used in a similar manner as a slave since i don't have a nikon camera but i do have an oportunity to get the sb600 ? please ,if anyone can reply ...

July 03, 2007 10:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Sloth said...

HOW do I activete the ligt slave in sb26?!
using a D80 with internal flash or sb-400

Thank you!!

August 11, 2007 10:13 PM  
Blogger David said...

Set the front selector switch to "S".

August 11, 2007 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Charlie said...

just purchased one for 64 dollars cant wait for the ups guy to get here!

February 23, 2008 9:28 PM  
Blogger Peter Sloth Madsen said...

Love the sb-26 especially with sb-400 as a trigger with indirect bounce, then you dont get any flat flash light! Anyway - which is the best positions to use the sb-26 as remote - set S in the front for slave mode, but on the back -is it A/M/(3xlightning) / TTL ???!!! And what about rear/normal settings?!


July 07, 2008 1:38 AM  
Blogger Peter Sloth Madsen said...

I use a D80 with a sb-400 flash and the sb-26 as a remote....what are the best settings on the D80 and the sb-26 for remote use of the sb-26?

Any experiences on the positioning of the SB-26? and stands for the sb-26?


July 07, 2008 1:41 AM  
Anonymous Staale Sannerud said...

I just bought myself one of these for a song from another amateur user, and tried it out tonight.

I am using a Canon 1Ds mark II and a 580EX II. First I tried this with the 580 set in "M" mode, the 26 in normal "S" slave mode. It worked flawlessly - as expected.

I tried the Canon flash in TTL mode, the SB-26 on 1/8 power. It worked! Some experimentation later I find that the SB-26 recharges fast enough (with reasonably fresh batteries at least, they were rechargeables I had lying around that haven't been recharged in ages) to work with E-TTL all the way up to 1/2 power. It does fire twice (of course), once for the pre-flash, once for the main flash. Whether you select S or D on the front switch has no effect.

This is not vastly useful on a full DSLR setup but may offer some hope to compact users who can't get rid of the preflash on their built-in flash, or Canon DSLR users who only have the popup.

Peter: The "A-M-3flashes-TTL" switch should be in the "M" position, which lets you manually specify how powerful the flash pulse should be. "Rear/normal" is the selector for second- or first-curtain sync, it should be in the "normal" mode. As for flash placement, just browse this site.

Hama is your friend: You can buy a cheap plastic doodad that has a flash shoe mount on the one end and a threaded hole that fits a normal camera tripod on the other end. Should be available at a camera shop near you :)

August 13, 2008 1:58 PM  
Blogger Blake said...


I've had the SB-26 for 6 months now and had no idea it had the optical slave mode!!!

Well, I guess it's good I know now! Awesome!

December 15, 2008 5:58 PM  
Blogger Daniel Shirey said...

Too bad the price on these was driven up. Just picked up two for $100 each, wich isn't really a bad buy but I would've loved to pay less! Can't wait to play with them!

August 02, 2009 4:24 PM  
Blogger Photography By Jef said...

I just bought one of these today for $100 US. I use an SB-600 as my main light and set the 26 to optical fire. Wow! Still not used to using 2 lights, but I was impressed that it did it. Bought it used, no manuals anything and it works great. As a main light, it blew the 600 away. I had to back off and back it up. Now if I can just figure out how to use 2 flashes, I should be set.

April 30, 2010 6:56 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Does anyone know if there's any way to power the SB-26 with an external AC source? What about a longer-lasting battery source?

January 25, 2011 11:43 AM  
Blogger John T said...

Use Nikon iTTl flashes or other brands and your non compatible flashes at the same time!
Set the camera for iTTl and plug cords/radio transmitter for any other type of flash in the Sync (PC) socket on most Nikon DSLR's. Using the Sync for background lights keeps those lights constant while the iTTL adjust your iTTL foreground/camera flashes as you move around. You can even set the SB-26's for delay and have them do their own in flash metering (Auto). Putting a Pocket wizard on the sync socket would allow you to turn a PW flash connection on and off. Before you start thinking that it would be cheaper to buy an new flash rather than adding a PW realize that iTTL's distance range is limited. Not tried is adding a iTTL PW to the hot shoe and other transmitters to the sync operating on different frequencies. As far as I can tell reading PW manual the latest PW will not operate iTTL and old systems Sync on the same transmitter. They never come out and say it will not work on their web. site.

October 23, 2011 12:18 PM  
Blogger John T said...

Reffernce added for SB-26

Use Nikon iTTl flashes or other brands and your non compatible flashes at the same time!

Set the camera for iTTl and plug cords/radio transmitter for any other type of flash in the Sync (PC) socket on most Nikon DSLR's. Using the Sync for background lights keeps those lights constant while the iTTL adjust your iTTL foreground/camera flashes as you move around. You can even set the SB-26's for delay and have them do their own in flash metering (Auto).

Putting a Pocket wizard on the sync socket would allow you to turn a PW flash connection on and off. Before you start thinking that it would be cheaper to buy an new flash rather than adding a PW realize that iTTL's distance range is limited. Not tried is adding a iTTL PW to the hot shoe and other transmitters to the sync operating on different frequencies. (inference problem if both are on camera?) As far as I can tell reading PW manual the latest PW will not operate iTTL and old systems Sync on the same transmitter at the same time. They never come out and say it will not work on their web site.

See AUGUST 15, 2006 10:28 PM You can use the SB-26 with Nikon iTTL by using a pre flash lock.

October 23, 2011 12:34 PM  
Blogger grdaemon said...

Can I use this Flash with my Canon 500D using an extension cable of some kind? TTL probably not?

June 09, 2013 9:16 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Yes, you can use this with any brand of camera by using a radio remote, or a sync cord. You are also correct in assuming you would lose TTL capability if used with a brand other than Nikon.


June 09, 2013 3:16 PM  
Blogger Rusty said...

I just got a SB-26 on ebay for a very good deal (it was listed as for parts). My plan was to try to fix it and worst comes to worst, I didn't pay much.

Once I got it I threw some batteries in it to see where it sat and nothing happened except a faint "chirping" noise. I let it sit for a bit (10 - 20 sec) and as soon as it charged, the LCD came on and I was able to pop it. Although if I popped it at full power the LCD would turn off until it was fully charged again.

At anything under full power the LCD stays on unless the flash is popped in rapid succession. I've searched online for awhile and really haven't been able to find anything regarding how to repair these flashes at all, which is a bit strange. So I was hoping someone here may be able to help nudge me along the way.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. It does look like one battery had corroded in it a while ago, but was cleaned up alright.

February 18, 2014 4:09 PM  

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