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A New Flash….

Nov 30

In News at 5:07am

As the bhagwan said, “The only thing certain is change,” and that’s definitely the case with digital camera stuff. Nikon announced a new flash today, the SB-910. It’s actually not really a brand new flash, but rather a collection of tweaks to the existing 900 model.

Absolutely the most important adjust is in the area of heat management, which has definitely been an issue with the 900, of which I have fried at least two in the course of time. From what I know of the electronics of the 900, they’re designed for fast recycle, and thus build up a heat component. The engineers, being the sane and safe souls that they are, installed a thermal cutoff in the 900, which is designed to shut the unit down prior to meltdown. I have always argued with the folks at Nikon that the cutoff feature should be coupled to a klaxon horn on an interval timer, blaring every five seconds or so, with an ominous voice intoning in between warning honks that imminent evacuation is highly advisable. Think Sigourney Weaver rescuing Newt at the end of Aliens.

They didn’t go for it.

But, in this unit, they did take the whole heat thing seriously, and it appears to be much, much better in that regard. Borrowing from the SB-700, there is improved thermal cutoff technology. Much more consistent, continued performance when pushing the unit hard.

This is opinion only, not hard scientific fact. I got a last minute call from Melville, asking me if I could shoot (quickly) a package of pictures to accompany the release. It took me about .5 seconds to say yes. I did what I usually do–take ’em into the field and try and knock the bejeesus out of them. I had ran them pretty hard for three days, trying to use them in different ways. For instance, the above pic is shot with three units together on a Tri-flash, spreading out the light, running at 1/4 power each. My light shaping tool? Uh, see below….

Thank goodness for battered, white trucks parked in fortuitous places. I didn’t have a big soft box, so this worked out as a light source as Jonathan went all sorts of Superman off the brick wall.  Which he is amazing at doing. The below was shot with one flash, roughly on axis with the sun, powered up full. It produces a double shadow of Jonathan, generally to be avoided, but here, I liked it. It actually extends the shadow of his legs in a fun way.

The good news on the timing was that I was able to drive those long suffering folks at Peachpit just a little more crazy than usual, and we held my book for a few days to insert a small chapter on this updated light maker.

Sketching Light is on the press right now, and will ship in about 10 days. I have many apologies to offer for delays in writing this puppy. It took a while. The good news there is that it delayed just long enough to be the first book to have a look at this new stuff. More on Sketching Light in  day or so, but, thankfully, it’s real, and done, and about to ship. It’s also, BTW, 420 pages. Yikes. As the sub-title suggests, it’s all about the possibilities of light. Lots of pictures, most of them driven by one source. Sketches, metadata, production pix. The whole skinny on each picture. Now that it’s done, I can honestly say it was fun to write.

Back to the flash. It’s got a couple new features, like click-on, hard plastic color conversion gels for tungsten and fluorescent, a dedicated menu button, and a locking feature on the battery compartment. And, the buttons are backlit, handy for night shoots, for sure.

I took them into a bar. (Where else at 10am?) And knocked out a multi-flash portrait of Jake, which was fun to do. Six flashes, all told, all TTL. Shot with fast glass, 35mm f1.4, at f1.4. Production snap below.

More on these TK, and in the book.

Summing up: Physically, a little bit sleeker and smoother. There’s a design continuance with the SB-700, so if you use that flash, this one will be a no brainer in terms of buttons and dials. Some other small stuff, mentioned above, that’s helpful. But the biggie is the heat management. They seem to wrestled with that particular SB-900 demon pretty successfully. In the three days in the field I had with them, they only complained a couple times, but kept performing, and kept exposures consistent. I used them in the studio and in the street.

Here, with Jasmine in the studio, I really pushed the overhead main. It is firing into a Flashpoint beauty dish, with a honeycomb grid over it, and running at full power. The background streams of light are from 1k Arri’s, constant, daylight balanced sources. The fill is another 910, skipping off the floor.

The main light kept up pretty well, and I was shooting fast, trying myself to keep up with the ever fluid Jasmine. I purposely shot it before it recycled, just to see, frankly, if I could fry it. There was some exposure variance, but it hung in there, and kept working. During a shoot like this with the 900, the 900 most likely would have given up, and I would have had to replace it with a fresh flash, or certainly fresh, cool batteries. So, there’s definitely improvement on a speed light that’s already pretty smart.

More tk, on the flash, and the book…..

Nate Benson says:

on November 30, 2011 at 5:23 am

And then we have the Canon 580exII which hasn’t been updated in what? 3-4 years? I sometimes cry myself to sleep while thinking about my canon flash strategy’s.

Adrian says:

on November 30, 2011 at 5:24 am

The photograph of Jonathan against the wall is great. And I love the use of the truck as a light source.

The book looks interesting. I have never photographed much with flash but it is an area I’d like to explore further.

cory Lum says:

on November 30, 2011 at 5:34 am

awesome !
can’t wait to test drive these bad boyz

kyle jerichow says:

on November 30, 2011 at 5:35 am

Glad the book is printing and will ship soon! We pre-ordered is last December! (Now a very late birthday present for me :P)

Can’t wait for it.

All the best,

Jimmy says:

on November 30, 2011 at 6:14 am

The lit-up buttons – I think it’s a great idea! :)

Andor says:

on November 30, 2011 at 6:33 am

‘They didn’t go for it.’ – I just imagine it and bursting out in laughter :-)))
The shots are all great – especially the one in the bar, awesome as usual!

jeremy mayhew says:

on November 30, 2011 at 6:52 am

first a big YEAH for a new book, and second, do you think they will sell the clip on gels separately for those of us shmucks that bought a sb900? I got one in the markdown bin at and the darn head doesn’t rotate either…blurg.

anyway, great news, can’t wait for the book….and (cough cough) another lighting tour with DH?

ron hiner says:

on November 30, 2011 at 7:32 am

Nice illustrations on the NikonUSA web site sample photos pages! I guess they didn’t want to use your bar napkin sketches? Interesting to throw the Arri’s in the mix! Nice stuff!

Ken Driese says:

on November 30, 2011 at 7:43 am

Wow–I guess this means that you’d like to sell me some of your SB900’s for very little money!

Kidding. Sort of.

Thanks for all of your work–I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

Greg Kolanowski says:

on November 30, 2011 at 7:53 am

I really like the shot of Jake in the bar. I’m curious where the other 3 flashes are. I see the main, the fill to camera left, and one through the interior restaurant windows. Is there one up in the racks to give the blue rim on his shoulders? You’re on tungsten white balance, so you gelled the main for tungsten. Did you gel the background light to get extra blue or was it that blue just from the color shift?

John says:

on November 30, 2011 at 8:10 am

I guess Nikon didn’t go for putting a remote sensor on BOTH sides of the flash yet??

Scott Coggins says:

on November 30, 2011 at 8:33 am

Who makes the blue cold shoe you have mounted on the Justin? My 900’s don’t fit will on the stock shoe. Can’t wait for the new book!!

Marshall says:

on November 30, 2011 at 8:35 am

It is interesting stuff, though I find it hard to talk about the new flash without considering its price. Isn’t it supposed to list at like $550? That’ll make you miss when the excellent, top of the line flash seemed a touch pricey at $330. Doesn’t mean I don’t wish I had one, but still.

Joan Pantesco says:

on November 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

Wouldn’t you know, I just purchased the 700 due to the heating issues with the 900! It is good to see Nikon’s responsiveness to identified/reported issues. Love the backlighting of the controls since I have some sight difficulties. Think the shots are stunning, especially that terrific shadow. Look forward to the book release. Thanks for all.

Scott says:

on November 30, 2011 at 9:36 am

Flash looks great…but I shoot Canon. Wish Canon would catch up in the flash department.

Also heads-up, Amazon has your book listed as shipping after Christmas which might cost you some holiday sales.

Can’t wait for the book!

DQ says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:13 am

CAN ANYONE please tell me what the blue show is on top of Joe’s Justin Clamp? Def not the way they ship them. Thanks!!!!

Caleb Fleming says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:26 am

Yes, I’ll 3rd wanting to know what the Blue Shoe is on top of the Justin Clamp, I keep tearing the plastic ones apart in the field!

John says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:28 am

Looks like a Frio cold shoe (the blue thing).

knh771 says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:29 am

Great news about the book! I was thinking it would never actually hit my mailbox. Merry Christmas to me!

mike says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

DQ –

Joe (or anyone, really) – did Nikon fix the fact that the SB-900 “foot” was JUST thick enough that it was a PITA to slip into mounts?

Tony Bynum says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:52 am

great addition, still feel burned by the 900 – no pun intended ouf course since the 900 could not burn anything but your patience! The heat issues caused me to use the 900 as a backup or worse leave it at home . . . joke . . . Thanks for the great coverage of the new flash!

Darren Elias says:

on November 30, 2011 at 10:54 am

DQ, that’s a Frio! You can find it at

Ranger 9 says:

on November 30, 2011 at 11:20 am

Nikon needs to put the guts of this flash into a rigid case, omit the reflector and zoom mechanism, leave the flashtube sticking out with a protective dome over it, and build on an S-mount for attaching to speed rings. They would instantly rule the entire “strobist” universe.

Maybe they’d listen if YOU told ’em…

BH says:

on November 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

The blue cold shoe is a Frio. Interesting Joe used that instead of the Nikon supplied foot. For me, at $550 a piece and shooting 6 at once or $3300 (w/o sales tax or shipping), is just too much. Its also good to know my SB800’s will hold their value.

Jay Mann says:

on November 30, 2011 at 11:41 am

Hey Joe,

How does the new flash react when the batteries start to run down? I am still using 800’s because I have three. My beef with them has been the way they behave when the batteries get low, the first indication is usually random exposure, like 3-4 stops overexposed, just to get my attention. I have learned to have a fresh set of batteries in my bag, always, but it still drives me nuts when it happens.


brett maxwell says:

on November 30, 2011 at 11:42 am

DQ, it’s a Frio cold shoe:

Mike De Simone says:

on November 30, 2011 at 11:54 am

Ahmed Sharif says:

on November 30, 2011 at 11:58 am

nice review, Joe… its nice to know the irritating heat management thingy is changed… but its a high price to pay for an updated flash, I think…

btw, the pics are superb, as usual…. inspiring to say the least!!… just shows what these small flashes can do when in the right hands…

Johan Sopiee says:

on November 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Sorry Nikon. SB-910 = no biggie. Wait.. the new speedlight sensor is still the size of a pea? Duh!

Sketching Light = Awesome! 420 pages = YEAH BABY! Drool drool! I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Bravo Joe!

Libby says:

on November 30, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Joe I have been chompn’ at the bit here for that book for several months now! And you delayed again LOL!

Thank you for the notes on the new flash – that is a gorgeous close portrait of Jake in the hat. You are the master 😉

Joe says:

on November 30, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I never had any issues with the flash overheating — and kind of feel that if you are overheating the flash you might be using it for a situation in which it isn’t the best tool — but it’s really nice to see them address the situation.

I’d love a setting that would keep the flash from firing at all until it had enough ‘oomph’ to fire at the ‘right’ level. I hate doing a 1/4 power pop at a decent FPS and having the light ‘dim’ slowly through the frames. I’d rather half had no flash contribution and half had the right amount.

Michael Preston says:

on November 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Well, based on your recommendations a couple years ago for the SB900, I bought two of those overpriced, overheating hogs. I’ll not fall prey to this Nikon commercial…especially since your rudeness to me at the Photo Safari PSW 2010 has blown your credibility.

Go ahead, Mr. McNally….delete this post since it doesn’t deify you like most others.

Ivan Boden says:

on November 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

DG – the blue cold shoe adapter on top of the the Justin clamp is a Frio.

I use them and they’re great.

Joe- the new flash sounds great. As a Canon guy, I have flash envy. :-)

Ryan says:

on November 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Good news on the book Joe. I’ve been looking forward to it since pre-ordering it in March. Can’t wait!

DQ says:

on November 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Thank you to MIKE above for pointing me to the FRIO coldshoe. And to Ivan! And to another Mike! And to BH!

DQ says:

on November 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm

And to Darren!

DQ says:

on November 30, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Thanks to all who pointed me to the Frio — just bought one to try.

TheInconvenientRuth says:

on December 1, 2011 at 2:55 am

Hey Joe,

I’ve read that when you clip on the hard filters, the flash automatically sets the WB on the camera. Can you override this? Otherwise it’ll be the end of your “camera to tungsten wb and cto on the flash” trick to get nice blue backgrounds.

Just wondering,


Joe McNally says:

on December 1, 2011 at 3:01 am

hey gang…yep the frios are good. David Hobby pointed me in their direction during Flashbus. the Justin Clamp now does come with an enlarged cold shoe to take the SB900/910 hot shoe, but that is just a recent development…

Joe McNally says:

on December 1, 2011 at 3:08 am

Michael I publish just about all comments, positive or otherwise, unless something is just over the top offensive, or someone just cares to repeatedly bash on the same issues, which tends to get tiresome, and a bit repetitive. Apologies if you felt I treated you rudely during our encounter, which, truth be told I don’t remember. I recall just generally enjoying myself on PSW Safaris, and others doing the same. And, yes, price point and heat transfer are issues with the 900. The heat and thus the pacing of use has to be managed. Price is not something any of us, including me, have any influence over.

John A. Fugel says:

on December 1, 2011 at 9:54 am

I already have a couple of SB-800s and a 600. Will the 910 “talk” to these now obsolete speed lights?

Michael Preston says:

on December 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

Mr. McNally,

Apology accepted, sorry it was public, my bad….I should have emailed you directly instead of stewing over it for 2 years, but since internet trolls are so prolific I didn’t think I’d get a response.

All is good, rock on.

Joe McNally says:

on December 1, 2011 at 11:07 am

Yep, John, no worries…same TTL type technology…

Harry Hilders says:

on December 1, 2011 at 11:29 am

Amazing photos! These are perfect for in a Nike campaign :)

glenn usdin says:

on December 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Michael, I spent a week with Joe at his St. Lucia workshop. 6 months later I saw him at NYC PhotoPlus and he didn’t recognize me. Guess how I felt? Answer-Fine. The man teaches thousands of people a year, he gives 110% at every class I’ve been to, and I still go to everything he gives in my area. You can’t expect him to be as popular as he is and still remember everyone and everything he meets. So many people want to have a piece of Joe and he can only do so much.

Dave Reyno says:

on December 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm

It’s nice to see a new product in use and this helps alot so thanks!. PS Apparently I have been living under a rock and just checked out your work..Very impressive!!

Jason says:

on December 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm

First off, I can’t wait to pick up the new book! Hopefully my dog won’t eat this one like he did to my copy of “The Hot Shoe Diaries”.

Secondly, It’s a little disappointing that Nikon didn’t just solve the issue with the SB-900 rather than replacing it with a “new” model for even more money. This devalues my SB-900 which I simply couldn’t sell for a fraction of the value now that it has been “replaced” with something without the same flaws. Perhaps Nikon should take them as trade-in’s towards SB-910’s?

Clearly their are ways to avoid overheating the units, such as using multiples of flashes, higher ISO or a ‘faster’ aperture. But it does surprise me that Nikon doesn’t just make something with a little more flash power and a compact external power supply like the Qflash or even something similar to the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX mini-pack system. And when will they get around to adding built-in radio CLS triggering? Even if they made it a “plug-in” module for the camera and flashes to keep initial costs lower (and to offer specific frequencies for specific countries), I suspect it would have plenty of people who would gladly adopt this system over the current CLS due to obvious limitations.

Carlos Erban says:

on December 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Joe: I have a lot overheating problems with fashion shoots. I have two SB900s and one SB800 as backup. I am thinking of selling my SB900s and buying the SB910s. I would probably lose $300. Do you think it is worth doing the upgrade?

Diego Muñoz says:

on December 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm

great review!!! incredible shots

Joe McNally says:

on December 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Sorry to say, Carlos, but yes. Hate to tell anybody to spend dough, and I do think the 910 is too much money. But if you are shooting fashion, heat is going to continue to be an issue with the 900. hang in, Joe

Joe McNally says:

on December 1, 2011 at 4:59 pm

you are preaching to the converted, Jason…good ideas.

Carlos Erban says:

on December 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm

thanks, Joe. One more question, I got PW Flex tt5 because I was frustrated with the infrared. Did they improve this in SB910? BTW, have you tried the Flex tt5s?

Joy says:

on December 2, 2011 at 12:07 am

Dear Joe McNally,

You are a lighting god and I wish to work with you for free…..because I am no good at lighting. I love all your tips and specifically you’re minimalist, common sense approach to lighting. Teach me Obi-Wan!!!!!!!! Photoshop World visits are just not enough!

Dana says:

on December 2, 2011 at 12:41 am

Hey Joe – how did you get the Frios on the Justin clamps? I wanted to do that with mine, but I’m guessing a trip to the hardware store is necessary.


Theis Poulsen says:

on December 2, 2011 at 4:31 am

Looking forward to the book placed the ordre in december last year so I have done my waiting :)

James Bruce says:

on December 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Thanks for the info Joe. Heat has been a huge deal for me with the 900s. Have to find a way to unload my stash to upgrade though.

RobyFabro says:

on December 2, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Thanks for the info Joe, you’re the best!!
I’ll keep in mind for my next purchase.

Brisbane Wedding Photography says:

on December 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm

you really have very good lighting when it comes to pictures. thank you very much for sharing.

Harold Watters says:

on December 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Great Stuff Joe. Thank you for another good look at what these Nikon Speedlights can do for us. I do have the SB 900 & it was good to see you using and talking about the new SB 910 Speedlight. I might get one mext time around.

Mark Pino says:

on December 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Joe, I wish nikon would go back to the knurl knob to secure the flash to the hot shoe. I’ve got wobble between my d200 and by sb-600 and there’s no way to snug it down. Because of the poor contact, I find that it will fire randomly. Maybe there’s a problem with corrision on the hot shoe but I think it is just the wobble with the connect. No problems when I put my sb24 on there. Snug as a rug. O well, the new ones go on and off much faster. Progress!

Martha Gorfein says:

on December 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Any possibility that Nikon will correct/repair the problems with the current SB900 and overheating management?
As an event photographer, it’s difficult to work with a piece of equipment that will suddenly cease working (cut off because of overheating limitations) in the middle of a shoot. Having had this happen several times, I need to have my SB800 handy, just in case.
Or ….have you found a solution to this problem?

Sean says:

on December 4, 2011 at 5:52 pm

It’s strange to me that the engineers didn’t deal directly with the heat buildup by innovating better radiators. The bodies are still made of insulating plastic… at least swap out the upper head for magnesium alloy (200x better thermal conductivity). What good are $550 flashes if you either have to stand around and wait for the heat to dissipate or gang up 3 of them to fire at 1/8 power??

Paul Reklaitis says:

on December 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I just saw this blog for first time. Great article. What is the blue thing holding the flash on the ball-head?

Big Fish Phil says:

on December 5, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Way to go Joe. You make us all better photographers. Can’t wait to get my copy.


Che Ibarra says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I’m new to photography (4 months) and I was inspired Joe’s HotShoe Diaries so I went out and dropped $1000 on two SB900 ( shot his creepy guy scene ). Anyway, I’ve had my SB900 overheat and stop working when shooting fast at events. My question to you guys is “Am I the only one feeling robbed by Nikon!!???” This is a frustrating issue for me!

photography enthusiast says:

on December 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Wow.. amazing photos and use of light. Love the one reflecting off the large white truck!

john says:

on December 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Great following and attending your classes. I’m chirping in with Martha about Nikon fixing the 900s. I know they’re in it for the money, but I have 3 sb900 (> 1500$$$) I seldom use due to overheating. Quantum has its limitations but they are very dependable.
john p

Red Chilli Photography says:

on December 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

yes I liked the idea of using the white truck as a massive defusing reflector. :)

portrait photographer asheville says:

on December 15, 2011 at 11:53 am

Hey Joe! Great use and technique of light on location. You are getting all you need out of those SB’s. Great job!

Douglala says:

on December 17, 2011 at 12:48 am

Great photos. Love the examples pictures that show the lighting setup. Just what I need to really grasp the lightening. Thanks!

Rex Gigout says:

on December 25, 2011 at 12:40 am


Thanks so very much for writing your books! I just purchased a second copy of _Sketching Light_ to give to my wife for Christmas. (Some things we can share; other things are best when we have his and hers.) An SB-910 is on my short list of future gifts for her. We both wear badges at work, on night shift; her “clients” are deceased, whereas mine are usually alive. Either way, we often need to work fast, with handy-sized, portable lighting, and your instruction is valuable.

Be safe and well!


David Tavens says:

on April 18, 2012 at 9:26 am

Who is Nikon kidding??? “when taking pictures in rapid sequence the flash will slow the recycling time” thus defeating the ability to take pictures in rapid sequence.
A few properly positioned holes drilled in my 900 helped
relieve heat build up. When will any Nikon engineer ever use their product in real world situations??????????

Steve Weinberg says:

on April 28, 2012 at 8:39 am

I have an SB 800. The mount is bent a lttle, & the unit shudown after a rapid sequence of shots. I looked very briefly what was offerred & I chose the 910. Don’t know too much yet,but from my early tests, it seems QUITE ADEQUATE. More testing this weekend to go.

Dennis Petoff says:

on August 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I cant tell you how grateful it was to read this column..I am getting a 910 in replacement by Nikon repair after almost 2 years of complaining about this overheating,,,,What I find frustrating is all they did was have me buy a sd 9 battery pack or question what batteries I shoot with..
Have me send in my Nikon D90 batteries to check…the list goes on…all the time they were completely aware of this..up to recent…The sb900 went in and the said there was a tube replaced..
My next job this month it failed again..and they finally are upgrading to a new or certified 910
Why they made us wait so long is unprofessional…know some of us depend on a company like Nikon…I used to tell them how embarrassing it was to fail in the beg of and walkdowns or entrance..
I learned a good lesson….and will follow your future expertise columns

Devon Wedding Photographer says:

on October 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

Great post……. I have to admit I love your work, truly inspiring. Have two of your books. Def a big fan!

Vladmir Avellar says:

on September 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I have any doubts about strob effects in SB910 + SB800.
I don´t understand in or with relation to frequency x flash output level.
But I know which have a sequency of images into the same picture.
How can I work in this mode?

Jason Burt says:

on November 12, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I’d like to see the NEXT generation SB come out with built in Pocketwizard Flex TT5 receiver. Canon’s new speedlight has their own proprietary wireless radio… I often find myself in situations where the line of site “preflash” communications just doesn’t cut it. I love the Pocketwizard Flex TT5 units but to have it all built into the speedlight would rock my world!

Joe McNally says:

on November 12, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I hear ya….hoping for something along those lines as well….it would rock…joe

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