Today, on the Strobist Surgery Channel...

Remember the chicken neck-breakin' version of making your SB-800 rotate around to 135 degrees in the other direction? Yeah, well, as of today that method has now been ruled Barbarian and out-of date.

Watch as South Carolina shooter Lee Morris shows you how to do it the civilized way -- and it is pretty darn easy. Being a smart guy, Lee sticks his portfolio in at the end, too.

Note that the video seems to load a little slowly, so you might want to let is play for 30 secs and then back it up to keep it going nonstop.

Again, the reason you really want this ability is not to be able to bounce a vertical, on-camera flash off of a wall behind you. But rather you want to be able to point the flash any direction and the CLS receiver (or SU-4 slave) in any other direction.

Same disclaimer applies: You break your SB-800, don't come crying to me. But I am going to try this method on one (and then, hopefully, all) of my '800's.

IMPORTANT: Mind you do not touch any wires that appear to be heading toward the main capacitor, which is likely inside the tube where the flash head pivots (haven't opened mine yet.) That cap can hold hundreds of volts and be very dangerous.

Additionally, I would fire the flash on full manual and then immediately turn it off. Then wait a day or so before opening it up to bleed what little juice will have gotten back into the capacitor. If you are not comfy with this kind of stuff, skip this one or get help from a solder monkey friend.

(You can see more of Lee's work here.)



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Blogger Dan said...

Much safer, I think. But, that looked like an SB-600. I'm not sure how different one is from the other in this situation. I'm pretty sure the internal stops are probably similar.

Nice video though. Now, if only I could get my Dremmel back from my idiot brother.

October 08, 2008 12:42 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

good thing i shoot canon! 580exII users already have this feature built in. thanks for the post if I ever need to hack an sb.

October 08, 2008 1:02 AM  
Blogger D™ said...

Dan, it's definitely an SB-800.

October 08, 2008 1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Lee for the very helpful step-by-step instructions.

It was, however, sometimes difficult to actually make out what you were saying because of the soundtrack. This was a little frustrating, particularly because the music really didn't add anything to the video.

October 08, 2008 1:22 AM  
Anonymous owen-b said...

Dan, it's definitely not an SB-600. I have one of each and that's an 800 - the control panel gives it away.

October 08, 2008 4:00 AM  
Anonymous Fotografia said...

I'm a little bit scared when I see this kind of movie.
Nice Tip

October 08, 2008 4:39 AM  
Anonymous hivewasp said...

What I find the most amusing, is that the guy who found the chicken neck trick didn't think of opening the flash to see which part was broken by the operation, before posting his break & pray method. Personally I'd also be careful when opening the unit to avoid zapping myself on the capacitors :D

Philip: 580EX I and II do have it... but not the 430EX, Canon didn't make things better than Nikon there; now I wonder why they don't just allow 180 degrees on either side...

October 08, 2008 7:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing to note for any modders - the capacitors inside can easily hold 300v+ even if the flash is off, so be very careful not to stick your finger in the circuitry and accidentally zap yourself.

Hopefully not fatal, but still more than enough to scare the pants off you when you are not expecting it.

October 08, 2008 8:34 AM  
Blogger Ed Selby said...

I'll echo the "production values" of the video. Yeah, the information was good, and I'll be altering my SB800 for a shoot this weekend; however, for your future videos, please turn down the soundtrack. In addition, think about adding more light to your video productions, and cut out the last 35 seconds of "dead air"

October 08, 2008 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Joe Loehle said...

Lee Morris shot my wedding this past weekend. They were fantastic to work with and even just seeing the photos on the back of the camera, they were fantastic. We couldn't have been happier..... and I shoot Canon. :)

October 08, 2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

"Personally I'd also be careful when opening the unit to avoid zapping myself on the capacitors"

Heh - that was my thought too... I was hoping he'd at least add a disclaimer, although he may have assumed that because batteries were out he was okay :/

October 08, 2008 9:14 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I'll second the warning to take every precaution not touch the inside with bare skin.
I accidentally did this 20 yrs. ago with a flash opened (and batteries out) and it sent me flying off my chair to the floor. It packs a wallop of a jolt! I'll never do that again.

I'm really tempted to make this adjustment with my one-and-only SB800.

October 08, 2008 10:25 AM  
Blogger Will and Debbie said...

so WHY did they lock (design) that head to NOT go all the way around? is there any explanations out there?...why not just remove that piece of plastic in the first place?

October 08, 2008 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Carole Wolf said...

Can anyone tell me what a ringflash is and what it might be used for?

Sorry if I am posting this to the wrong spot.

October 08, 2008 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Eduardo Aspe said...

dont know about others, but i recently got 2 brand new sb800 and they both turn 180 to the left with out forcing them, nor modifying.

October 08, 2008 10:46 AM  
Anonymous CEUNSP said...

tried myself and it was very easy. took no more than 10 minutes to perform on 4 sb-800. all 4 safe and sound and rotating easily. very nice tip.

October 08, 2008 11:20 AM  
Anonymous CEUNSP said...

for those concerned .... one additional safety tip: use long plastic tweezers to remove and replace the cable and a thin rubber sheet to cover the electronics while using the dremmel.

anyone with minimal electronics experience should perform this modification very easily.

October 08, 2008 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to know if I ever switch to Nikon. However the music as he was narrating was really really distracting.

October 08, 2008 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Harry said...

I tried the "chicken neck" method and opened it up afterwards to see what got broken. There's a metal collar that comes against the plastic "stop" and keeps the head from rotating further. The "chicken neck" method causes that metal collar to sheer the plastic bump off. So it is safer, easier, and quicker than opening up the flash and grinding down the bumps.

October 08, 2008 12:12 PM  
Blogger Andrew T. Sullivan said...

Not a bad tutorial. I have to wonder why Nikon engineered the flash to rotate the way it does... If you shoot vertically, what is the point of being able to illuminate the floor at any angle? Wouldn't the obvious restriction to the rotation of the flash head be the reverse of what Nikon ended up with?

October 08, 2008 12:23 PM  
Blogger Mark Yager said...

Lee - thanks for taking the time to do this up. I'm glad you put a few of your pics in there at the end. Absolutely stunning shots! Maybe in 10 years I'll be half that good. Keep up the amazing work.

October 08, 2008 1:03 PM  
Blogger Maciej said...

Great tip. Watched it in the morning, and right now my SB800 is even better flash that it was before. Took me 2 minutes to do it.

October 08, 2008 1:34 PM  
Blogger R.L. Morris Photo said...

Thanks for posting my video strobist. Sorry for the music/sound issue. I have my home computer hooked up to a big stereo and it sounded get... I am now watching it on my laptop and it is a bit harder to hear. I'll blame the crappy mic in my d90.
Use this link to watch in HD and the sound is a bit better:

October 08, 2008 1:46 PM  
Anonymous Debi_in_California said...


October 08, 2008 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW!!!WOW!!, finally an excuse to go buy a Dremel. And btw great video. I wish I had gotten the deal at Best Buy on the SB-800 to try this.

October 08, 2008 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting indeed, I just had a very hard time to concentrate on the steps with the volume of the music and the music itself. It was very, very frustrating. I know is your 1st video, please consider it for the next ones.

Thanks again!

October 08, 2008 3:31 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Wasn't this already covered by Eric Grenier, in a comment he had posted for the original chicken neck post August 13, 2008 11:58 AM? As soon as I saw that, it was clear to me that *no one* should ever use the "chicken neck" method.

- James.

October 08, 2008 4:07 PM  
Blogger Nelson said...

The music is great Lee, don't listen to them...;-)

October 08, 2008 4:21 PM  
Blogger D™ said...

Hi David and Strobists,

If an SB-800 is out of your price-range (as it is mine) and you still want to modify your flash, I've detailed modifications so that the SB-600 can be rotated 135° clockwise. You can see the steps here on flickr.

Maybe I should have done a video.

October 08, 2008 4:39 PM  
Blogger James said...

Once the thing is opened, is there a problem with grinding enough stops down so it does a full 180? Even after the mod, it does not go all the way around. I mean if you're almost there anyway, why not go all the way?

Just an aside, I can't believe how they squeezed all that stuff into such a tiny space. I opened an SB-28 to add a phono jack and you want to talk about close quarters when it came to soldering? If human hands were involved in the assembly of these things, they must have had baby fingers.

October 08, 2008 4:54 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Wow that was cool. I actually was the camera operator on this...those D90s are awesome especially paired up with a 50mm 1.2 lens ;)

I must say it was pretty tricky lighting the flash even as well as we did since it's so black and pretty hard to show such small parts. We had like 3 dynalite modeling lamps on this and it still can be tricky.

As for the comment about just breaking it chicken method, I have to believe if you do that 10 times, a few of them will cause the plastic to sheer in a way that breaks the flash housing. Our way preserves everything every time.

October 08, 2008 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Fonzie said...

I second any of the safety comments people have already made about the capacitors!!!! That's the part that freaked me out about the video......I know he was fine, but I'm sure someone out there is gonna get zapped!

I figured this would be an appropriate time for me to mention how back in my first job, sophomore year of high school, at the one hour photo lab of Walgreens, my coworker and I would take the remnants of the disposable cameras (after we'd extract the film rolls), look for the ones that had the built-in flash, charge up the flash and intentionally zap ourselves on the circuitry ("Hey, touch this thing. Why? Just do it. Okay. OWWWW!!!! Your turn. OWWWWW!!!!"). In hindsight: REALLY DUMB! Actually, in the present tense back then it was pretty dumb too, but somehow found the jolt (read: pain) and the persistent tingling sensation along the entire range of the arm amusing. Really, dumb. I think I did that twice before I realized it was probably dangerous. It was.

Those were disposable camera flashes - not SB-800s. I think it's safe to assume the SB-800's have bigger capacitors!


October 08, 2008 9:46 PM  
Blogger Derek Powell said...

I'm not sure if it's the same, but I've been zapped with the vivitar 283's trigger voltage (250+) volts a couple times. Obviously not fatal, since I lived to get shocked more than once, but certainly something I'd try to avoid.

October 09, 2008 12:17 AM  
Blogger ShotsbyRick said...

WHAT!?! I hope nobody takes offense to my saying this is an insane thing to do, even if the SB800's are coming down in price. First of all, in Canada we pay close to $400 dollars as it is, and since I have been reading the Strobist, close to a year now have never seen an SB800 for sale privately. As David has conveniently placed some DIY mods for the SC Cables and explains in detail the use of pc cords all I can ask is WHY!? Before anyone tries this mod, first try bouncing the flash by use of a cord, you can mount the flash in any direction you like.

October 09, 2008 1:16 AM  
Blogger Wayne said...

Out of curiousity has anyone done this with a 430ex? I had some batteries leak inside and the battery contact needs cleaning (or replacement). I'd tried a little while ago to open her up but even after removing the screws it seems the bracket fitting is interfering and I couldn't get it open. After seeing the video I have another reason to try again assuming the contacts are salvagable.

October 09, 2008 1:39 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Fonzie, if you enjoyed zapping yourself with those Caps on disposable cameras back then, wait until you see what I have coming for you soon on strobist ;)

I really don't know how you'd hurt yourself on an SB800 if you do exactly as we show in the video, don't touch anything you don't need to and you'll be fine

October 09, 2008 1:51 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

David, I just saw a small strobe modifier for use on camera that looks interesting and/or possibly gimicky. I thought you might want to take a look at the website, so here's the link:



October 09, 2008 9:01 AM  
Blogger Will H said...

The stored voltage in the SB800's capacitor isn't enough to kill you. I had shop teach in high-school that intentionally shocked himself once each semester on a lawn mower spark plug. That's 25,000 volts! BTW, it's the amps that kill you, and most high-voltage electronics, like speedlights, can't deliver high amperage. However, I'm not condoning intentionally shocking yourself!

October 09, 2008 1:47 PM  
Blogger PBY said...

About the capacitor danger: just firing the strobe for discharging the capacitor is not safe!
These big capacitors recharge themselves, for example a classic 300V capacitor, after a "full" discharge in the tube would be at 150V after a few minutes.

The only safe method is to discharge totally the capacitor, using a resistance. Personally, I use a 2200 Ohms resistance of 25W. It expansive for a resistance, but it's a lot more safer. Let plugged the resistance on the capacitor for at least 30 seconds to be sure of having done a real full discharge.

October 09, 2008 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Alan Lapp said...

I recently (OK, this week) purchased an older EOS-compatible Metz 54MZ-3. It suffers from the same type of peculiar design trait, that when the camera is held in a vertical grip, you get a spectacular range of options for bouncing the flash off the floor.

I think some exploratory surgery is in it's future.

October 09, 2008 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Russell said...

So, has anyone tried shaving down both stops? Will you get a full 360 degrees? Obviously it can't go to far without screwing up the wires inside, but as you remember not to go past 180 in either direction, should be fine, right?

Although I guess if you left it pointing directly back you might forget which way you came from...

October 09, 2008 5:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

I was scared by the strangulation method, but figured this was worth a bash: at least this way you can see how close you are to killing it :)
Have to say, it worked a charm, and I didn't fry myself on the capacitor either.

October 09, 2008 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David.

Long time reader.

any chace we might see some info on the video that just came up in the strobist stream?

Id love to more about the shooting and creation.

anyhow. Thanks 4 the great site!


October 09, 2008 6:34 PM  
Blogger copelandhouse said...

Thank you for the great tutorial. I find it absurd that some of the comments actually criticize your video when you are giving away the information for free.
By the way, your photo booth concept is brilliant. I've never seen that before.

October 09, 2008 9:22 PM  
Blogger RyanG said...

I did it with a sb600 and made a brief video.

October 09, 2008 10:10 PM  
Blogger Johann said...

My zap wasn't fatal on the SB-600, but it sure as hell did scare me. Be sure not to drop your either.

October 10, 2008 2:21 PM  
Anonymous jazzweezel said...

Hey chillax strobist posse; we are talking on AXIS not on CAMERA (fill) flash.

Get yourself stroboframed up with a TTL cord, and console yourself that you are still all off-camera. Check out Chuck Gardner. Thats how he rolls..

(Man why doesnt the word verification work on firefox (mac) ?)

October 10, 2008 3:49 PM  
Blogger Verent said...

Wayne and other Canon shooters,

I've attempted this and succeeded with the 430EX. Similar to the sb800, you need to remove the same tab that is blocking the flash head from rotating. The tricky thing is that the circuit board is in the way, so you need to have a small enough dremel tool to get into the area. The big green sander cone in the video will not work. I used the smallest carving bit in my set.

Also, when opening the 430ex, there is an interlocking tab on the cover that prevents it from being open easily. I broke mine off, and it seems to not really matter, but if you wanna try and preserve it, the tab is located on the side opposite the battery door on the back (controls) half of the flash right above that mysterious threaded hole. It clicks into a metal piece that is attached to the other half. The best way to remove the back half without damaging the tab seems to be to pull the side outward instead of only trying to pull the back half off. If that isn't confusing enough, you can message me on

October 11, 2008 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johann said...
"My zap wasn't fatal on the SB-600, but it sure as hell did scare me. Be sure not to drop your either."

Well, I'm thinking the guys who had the fatal zap won't be coming in here to post...

October 12, 2008 7:11 PM  
Anonymous Alan Hess said...

Works great.
Took about 5 minutes to do the first one.

October 17, 2008 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

On a similar note, I've just hacked my Sigma EF500 DG Super to also rotate 135degrees to the right.
For anyone that's interested,

October 29, 2008 11:07 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Nice tip - Thanks! I just modified 5 speedlights and I'm very happy with the results. Word of warning - the little blue/gray cable is very delicately attached to the main board. I didn't have needle-nose pliers thin enough to pinch the tabs to remove it so I did the surgery with the wire in place. I had to be a lot more careful with the Dremel, but it wasn't that difficult. Just an FYI in case anyone is having trouble with the wire.

April 17, 2009 6:06 PM  
Blogger Obi-Wan said...

Encouraged by Verent's comment, I tore open my Canon 430EX (v1) to find that the same theory applies, but it is indeed a bit tighter working quarters. Undaunted, I managed to modify it to rotate a full 160 degrees to the right. I spent most of the evening working on it, but I could do it again in well under an hour now that I know what I'm doing.

I wrote up the entire process, with photos, at
Hopefully these instructions will help others avoid some of the hangups I experienced.

March 18, 2010 12:24 AM  
Blogger heavydpj said...

Just modifies all three of my SB-800's. Worked like a champ.

July 30, 2011 3:56 PM  
Blogger Sven Hedlund said...

Just followed the instructions in the video - works great - THANKS!

May 21, 2012 3:05 AM  

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