What is the best external flash for the Nikon D40 camera?
February 24, 2009 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Which external flash should I purchase for a Nikon D40?

I just purchased a Nikon D40 with the Nikon 18-200mm lens for my girlfriend. She is an artist and is going to Italy during the middle of march. I want her to have the best set-up she can to take great indoor photos and outdoor photos. I went with the above lens because I thought it would be more convenient then switching between different lenses. Neither one of us has much photography experience, which is why I have asked those out there who have the experience. I have read that the SB-400 flash is an ok flash, but would it be good for indoor and outdoor shots. I also heard good things about the SB-600. I am looking for flash recommendations of any brands which will be the best choice for her trip to Italy. I'd like to spend around 200 max, but don't let that stop you from making your recommendation. Thank You!!
posted by Craiggy83 to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm far from an expert, but for her purposes I would probably go with the SB-400 just b/c it would be much easier and lighter to carry around if she's out-of-country. However if later she decides she wants to get creative with wireless off camera lighting, then she'll want to start looking into SB-600, SU-800, etc. Disclaimer, I've never used an SB-400 but am considering getting one b/c my SB-600 can be so bulky. But my SB-600 is so bright that I also need a diffuser that I can place over the flash if I can't bounce it. Long way of saying: she may also need a $15-20 diffuser or Omni-Bounce.
posted by texas_blissful at 9:01 PM on February 24, 2009

I think the SB600 is the way to go...I have one and love it. One major advantage over the SB400 is being able to bounce the light sideways--I do that often. The SB600 will also be more future-proof, for when she wants to experiment with off-camera flash (and trust me, she will...I just started with it last night and love it).

SB600 cost me about $180.

texas_blissful: Have you tried dialing down the power? I've never come across a situation where 1/64th was too powerful.
posted by DMan at 9:11 PM on February 24, 2009

Get her a tripod and a remote shutter release instead! Much more useful for good outdoor pictures than a flash. MeFi mail me if you want to know about my awesome and pretty cheap travel tripod setup (I have a D60, same lens as yours).
posted by halogen at 9:18 PM on February 24, 2009

SB-600 is what you want. SB-400 only points straight ahead, making it little better than the on-camera flash (except for the extra power). The 600 can angle and rotate, letting you bounce the flash off whatever's available (e.g. the ceiling or walls). It is a bit bulky, but much less so than the SB-900 (which is almost as expensive as a D40, is way overkill for anyone but pros or dedicated amateurs, and is a behemoth).

You don't want to get anything other than the Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-800 (discontinued) or SB-900 because other flash units (even the older Nikon ones, like the SB-80DX) won't talk properly to the D40 to automatically get the proper exposure.
posted by neckro23 at 9:32 PM on February 24, 2009

Oh, and while I'm at it, I'd recommend getting some rechargable NiMH batteries (the newer kind that don't self-discharge, like the Duracell Pre-Charged ones) and a quick-charger. Flashes eat batteries like nobody's business.
posted by neckro23 at 9:34 PM on February 24, 2009

Thanks guys for the feedback, I was pushing towards the SB-600 but it did look a bit larger, but most recommended it over the SB-400. Halogen, thanks for the tripod info, I'm not sure she will have enough room to carry it all around with her. She will probably have a bunch of art supplies on her as well.
posted by Craiggy83 at 9:44 PM on February 24, 2009

People are recommending the SB600 for off-camera flash. That's fine, but so far as I understand it, you can't go wireless with just the SB600. You'd need the SB800 for that.
posted by dance at 12:19 AM on February 25, 2009

People are recommending the SB600 for off-camera flash. That's fine, but so far as I understand it, you can't go wireless with just the SB600. You'd need the SB800 for that.

Not necessarily true. I have the SB-600 and use it off camera using the on-board flash of my D300 as the commander. Works a champ. What I don't know is if the D40 on-board flash can do the same thing.
posted by michswiss at 3:03 AM on February 25, 2009

If you have a SU-4 controller you can slave the SB-600 to the D40 wirelessly. (Unless they've built in that function in the camera - like michswiss D300 - but it's usually a higher end feature)

If you want to hold the flash in your hand, you might as well go tethered & manual: Get a hotshoe adapter for the camera + flash and a regular sync cable. You'll lose TTL and everything else, but it works and is fun.
posted by monocultured at 3:22 AM on February 25, 2009

Oh, and if you go with the tethered hotshoe hold-in-hand option and will stick to it, then it would be ok with an SB-400. Otherwise keep well away from it - it's a glorified pop-up flash and deserves nothing but scorn (see comments above)
posted by monocultured at 3:24 AM on February 25, 2009

It's not true that the SB-400 can only point "straight ahead." It can also point upwards, for the all important bouncing effect. As the owner of an SB-400 and an SB-900, I would definitely recommend the 400 for travel. It will do 90% of what she wants for 1/4 the size and weight.
But then again, as someone recommended, a light tripod will serve you better anyway.
posted by zachawry at 3:49 AM on February 25, 2009

Definitely skip the tripod. She won't carry it around. They're heavy and bulky and generally pretty useless except in certain very specific situations. I know a lot of people will argue with me about this. I've got my fists up and I'm ready to fight.

As for a flash, since she has little photography experience and since the camera is really just a glorified point and shoot (I think I played with one before it was on the market; Nikon rep was really excited about how small it was). Without a dedicated way to adjust both aperture and shutter speed at the same time, you can't shoot manually very easily, so she'll probably default to automatic mode. No experience with a camera, similarly, is another reason she'll default to automatic mode. There's nothing wrong with this, certainly, but it all goes to say that she probably won't get anything out of an external flash that she wouldn't get out of the built-in pop-up flash on the camera.

I just looked at what the SB-400 is, and commenters above are right that it's a glorified pop-up flash. The most important thing in modern flashes, in my mind, is the ability to adjust the power of the light output. Any flash that can't do that is a flash that requires the camera to determine how best to light the frame, which means you've basically got yourself a point and shoot with a built in flash. Others here will argue about TTL and all that jazz, but I'll still argue that the photos will probably be garishly lit.

In fact, my usual advice around here, when people ask how best to improve their photography, is to tell them to tape over the built-in flash on their camera. An ability to use natural light is what separates good photography from bad photography (excepting, of course, some of the great commercial photography that's out there). For instance, a buddy of mine, who's a staff shooter at the Chicago Tribune and who has won major international awards for his work, hasn't used a flash in something like 10 years.

The other thing to think about, when purchasing a flash, is whether or not you'll take it with you. They're bulky and heavy and require you to lug around extra batteries. If she's already carrying a bunch of art supplies, my bet is that she probably won't even always take her camera with her. The flash is just another large, awkward piece of plastic that's easier to forget or to leave at home than put in a pocket.
posted by msbrauer at 5:09 AM on February 25, 2009

In fact, my usual advice around here, when people ask how best to improve their photography, is to tell them to tape over the built-in flash on their camera.

The pop-up flash is unusable with the 18-200mm lens anyway: the lens is too long and throws a very visible shadow on the bottom part of the frame at pretty much any focal length.
posted by halogen at 6:14 AM on February 25, 2009

SB 400 and Stofen soft diffuser. No one should use any flash without diffusion. The SB 400 is so light that she will carry it, and more often just leave it on the camera. It uses 2 AA batteries, good for 300-400 flashes. Don't buy anything else for travel. Don't listen to them, listen to me.
posted by Gungho at 6:24 AM on February 25, 2009

Ken Rockwell has some positive things to say about the SB-400. I have the SB-600 and find it is excellent, although I use it rarely.
posted by SNACKeR at 6:46 AM on February 25, 2009

SB-400. I have the SB-600, but I'd much rather pack something smaller on a vacation.

The big advantage the 600 has over the 400 is remote wireless capability, but the D40 doesn't support it.
posted by bhayes82 at 8:49 AM on February 25, 2009

Having read the review that SNACKeR linked I realised that I confused SB-400 with the SB-23 in that the latter actually tilts upwards. So the tilting feature makes it slightly better + many people have mentioned the low weight.

I would prolly still pack the SB-600 if for no other reason cause it has more manual settings that I actually would use. YMMV.

If in need of a light tripod, why not give the guerilla-pod a try? Haven't used it myself but a friend swears by it.
posted by monocultured at 9:58 AM on February 25, 2009

FFS… Should have stayed in bed today.

I confused SB-400 with the SB-23 in that the latter actually tilts upwards → I confused SB-400 with the SB-23 in that the former actually tilts upwards
posted by monocultured at 10:04 AM on February 25, 2009

Regarding the Gorillapod... I bought a Gorillapod SLR for my old D40, but I didn't find it stable enough--even with the lightweight kit lens. It's great for point-and-shoots, however.
posted by bhayes82 at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2009

Hey Guys,

A lot of great feedback, it's still hard to figure out. I see the benefits to the sb-400 and 600, the 600 may be to large to take around while traveling but would give better options. Has anyone used the Quantaray by Sunpak XLF-50 Flash for Nikon from Ritz camera. I believe it is a Ritz camera brand, but is capable of more rotational movement. Also, what small tripod if any do you recommend and for what reason? This maybe a stupid question but I am a new camera user :). Thanks again guys (and girls :) ).
posted by Craiggy83 at 10:18 PM on February 25, 2009

Without a dedicated way to adjust both aperture and shutter speed at the same time, you can't shoot manually very easily, so she'll probably default to automatic mode.

What. The D40 is a DSLR, of course you can shoot in manual mode and it is not difficult at all. Though I find that it easier to shoot in the aperture or shutter priority modes most of the time.

It doesn't seem like your girlfriend is going to be setting up shots that require a lot of difficult lighting. For simple shots using the SB-400 and bouncing it off the ceiling would be sufficient. To be honest, I doubt she will be using a flash very much at all and it might not be worth the extra hassle.
posted by afu at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2009

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