First Grope: Nikon SB-700


When Nikon first announced their new SB-700 speedlight three months ago, I went down the feature list and immediately took notice of one thing: The lack of a PC jack.

But I recently had a chance to talk to some folks from Nikon. And they're all like, Dave, you're putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. It's an evolution of the SB-600, not the SB-800. (And to be fair, they've got the SB-900 for that.)

Okay, fine. Maybe it is not the most PC flash out there. But given that, what's under the hood?

First impressions after a hands-on day, inside.
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So, this is more of a test drive than a full-blown review of the Nikon SB-700 speedlight. And to be sure, if you are already familiar with the other models and Nikon's CLS system, you will get the gist of this flash almost immediately.

No word on street price yet, but full retail is gonna be $329.95. And since there will be supply bottlenecks as they roll it out, that's exactly what you'll pay for a while.

So, not cheap. But fortunately, the SB-700 is a very well-built and capable flash. Which, ironically, is why I still shoot with a bag full of SB-800s. They just keep going. If Nikon is going to wait until my '800s wear out before they sell me more flashes, they'd better not be holding their breath. I don't see those babies pooping out any time soon.

But given its features and design, the SB-700 is shaping up to be a formidable competitor to … the SB-900. Much more so than in the SB-600/SB-800 line-up, this is truly the Nikon SB-900's little brother. The design and interface are pretty much exact replicas.

It even makes the cool "pew pew" Star Wars blaster sound when it fires in full power. (Okay, maybe that is just cool to me.)


Kudos to Nikon for this. This kind of continuity of interface makes the flashes much more intuitive for multi-flash shooters. It's nice to be able to adjust a flash by feel very quickly while keeping your attention on your subject.

The SB-700 is sized like a hot dog with a bun. Feels almost exactly like an SB-800 -- size and weight -- in your hand. That, along with price, gives it an advantage over the '900 if I were in the market.

For CLS/TTL/FP sync shooters, the '700 will happily act as a master (albeit 2 groups only) or a remote (to the SB-800, SB-900 or another SB-700). So if you already have an '800 or '900, it would be a very logical addition to your bag.


The interface continuity is a big improvement over the SB-600. Here's another: The optical port is mounted flush, rather than recessed. I have to think that improves reception, if just for physical reasons. (And you can always nipple-mod it, too.)

The only time I tend to use CLS is when I am working in wireless FP sync, to kill focus on a background in daylight. But I use the SU-4 mode a lot. Fortunately this is yet another improvement over the SB-600. They did not neuter the slave. In fact, that thing is extremely sensitive. All you have to do is walk into the next room and whisper the name "Doc Edgerton" and it will fire in sync.

The button sequence for getting an SB-700 into SU-4 slave mode is just like the SB-900. Thank you, Nikon.


Like the SB-900, it has a sophisticated internal reflector system which allows for three selectable illumination patterns -- standard, centerweighted and even. I found these to be fairly subtle in practice. The one time I would likely use it would be to further boost the reach when shooting at the 128mm zoom setting (another evolution over the '600.)

The head goes 180 degrees both ways, so you will not need to do the chicken neck mod. (Most useful not for bouncing, but for being able to aim the head any direction while keeping the eye pointed at a master flash.)


Nikon seems to be following the Toyota strategy with regard to power. Which is to say the current Toyota Corolla is bigger and more powerful than my parents' original Camry back in the day.

Both the '700 and '900 are more powerful than their predecessors, with the '700 approaching the power of the (formerly) flagship '800. The apples-to-apples shot above is exact same power and beam spread between a '700 (left) and an '800 (right).

Speaking of power, there is a heat meter on the back. But even recycling full manual pops with NiMH batts every ~2 seconds, I could not get it even into the midrange temperature area. My guess, it would be pretty hard to cook one into auto-shutoff protection.

Speaking of AA's, each battery gets its own little tube -- very nice -- and they are sized generously enough to accept even the little-bit-fat NiMH's that try to squeeze in a bit more power. So you won't be whacking the thing against your palm like a pack of cigs to get the batts out.


Straightened out '700s will stack like crazy in a typical roller. But they ship in squarish cases which nestle them bent to 90 degrees. (It's a pick 'em, I guess.) The case allows for the supplied stand (with 1/4x20 jack, no metal) and the dome diffusor. There are also green and CTO hard plastic filters, which will auto-swap the camera's WB when attached. Nice touch.

In the US, Nikon supplies both a quick guide and a 120+(!) page manual set, one in English and one in Spanish. Thanks for not combining them, Nikon. Woulda been a novel…
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So, the big Q is, do you take the plunge? Depends.

For Nikon shooters, you have to decide if you will be using CLS and/or wireless FP flash. 'Cause SB-700s were absolutely made for that. They will fit right into an 800- or 900-based CLS setup. And if you have a '900, there is zero learning curve.

If you are not going to use the special features, your competition will be the 3rd-party multi-sync flashes, such as the LP160.

The SB-700s have awesome build quality, super-fast recycle and lots of bells and whistles. But are they worth 2X an LP160? That is totally a case-by-case call, depending on your wallet and how much you will use them.

And if you shoot Canon and you have still read this far, you would not be the first person to toss your Canon flashes and use SB's with your EOS. Just saying.


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