Author Topic: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...  (Read 802 times)

David H. Hartman

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Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« on: September 24, 2021, 19:10:36 »
Thoughts on the Nikon SB-400...

1) It's tiny. I was quite surprised at the diminutive size of the SB-400. It's apparently much smaller than the SB-500 and especially the SB-700. It runs on 2 AA NiMH batteries.

2) for practical purposes the SB-400 runs only in TTL BL (iTTL Balanced) mode but it can be forced into TTL (Standard iTTL) by selecting a spotmeter camera metering mode. For me this is quite useless as the flash meter sensing is limited to a spot that coincides with a single spot focus sensor. Using spotmeter to force TTL (iTTL Standard) is a fault shared with the Nikon SB-700 and SB-500.

2a) TTL BL (iTTL balanced) acts like TTL (iTTL standard) if the background is under exposed or quite dark. At that point TTL BL assumes it is the primary light on the subject and not acting as fill. (At least this is what I understand and observe).

3) The SB-400 has very limited controls on the flash itself. There is a locking lever to secure it to your DSLR or DSLM. It has an On/Off switch and a ready light. That's all folks!

4) The SB-400's flash head tilts up 90 degrees for bounce flash, something not available to the popup flash built into may DSLR(s) but it does not rotate. A 2x3" piece of 20-24 lb. general purpose copy/printing paper can be cut and fitted behind the flash head when tilted up 90 degree for a fill card for catch lights in eyes and fill under brow, nose and chin. A rubber band is not needed.

5) The SB-400 is very easy to hold in the hand using a Nikon SC-17 or SC-28 TTL cord for arms length flash as used by press photographers in the '40s and '50s with their 4x5" Graflex cameras. A shortened SC-17 might keep the SB-400 from hitting the ground if the SB-400 is dropped. 

6) in a menu opened by pressing the info button and the the flash button on the back of a Nikon D850 several flash modes are available including Front Curtin, Back Curtin and Slow Sync. There are a couple of modes that include red eye reduction which I'll ignore because these may cause subjects to blink. The SB-400 can be set to manual exposure from 1/1 down to 1/128 in 1/3 Stops set in the shooting menu. [I tested the red eye reduction Ugh! There are a couple of flashes before the shutter opens. The lag between pressing the shutter release it ridiculously long. :o :o Red eye reduction is worse than useless!  :o :o :o]

7) There is no ruby red focus assist beam or pattern available.

8 ) The short height of the SB-400 gives quite little leverage to damage the speedlight's foot. An advantage for casual use or when other activities make it difficult to protect the flash from pressure or bumps from behind. Be sure when buying that the SB-400 comes with the Nikon SS-400 soft case.

9) due to it's size the SB-400 is easy to put in a pocket but the Nikon SS-400 soft case will be needed to protect the face of the flash head from things in the pocket like keys or coins.

10) The Nikon SB-400 is discontinued but many are available on the used market.

11) The SB-400 offers neither a Master/Controller or Slave/Remote mode for Nikon CLS/AWL system.

12) The Nikon SB-400 might make a good companion for a small camera like the Nikon Z fc.

I took delivery of a Nikon SB-400 a few days ago. I paid $72.50 (USD) for my SB-400 in 9+ condition from B&H Photo, NY, NY.

For snapshots it works very well at ISO 64 on my D850 when the subject is close to the camera and the flash is facing forward (not bounced). For bounce the ISO will need to be bumped to ISO 400 give or take because of the reduced power of the SB-400 compared to a Nikon SB-800, 900, 910, etc.

http://www.momentcorp.com/review/nikon_sb-400.html

https://www.dpreview.com/articles/8901824308/nikonsb400speedlight

http://www.frequentbusinesstraveler.com/2011/02/nikon-sb-400-speedlight-review/

https://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/sb400.htm


I wonder if anyone else is using a Nikon SB-400 for casual on camera flash? It may make a great companion for a Nikon Z fc, Z50, Z6 II or Z7 II, etc. I'm interested in any recommendations for using the SB-400 on modern Nikon DSLR(s) and DSLM(s).

Dave
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Luc

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2021, 23:55:51 »
I used to own a SB-400. I sold it because of it's lack of ability to swivel/rotate which was a no-go for me. Besides of that it's a nice, little flash.

Steven P.

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2021, 01:17:37 »
Nikon, Sb400,
Online prices are a bit steep, where I'm shopping from, and SB600's are cheaper. Wonderful on a Df or pro body, in a pinch.


Several years ago I picked up a Viltrox, SB400, knockoff. It was only $30, and it works well as long as auto ISO is turned off.

I can no longer find the Viltroxs on ebay or elsewhere. The canon version pulses light for preview AF, and Nikon iTTL works well.
Happy hunting.




JJChan

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2021, 03:17:29 »
It is a nice little flash and I have used it on all my Nikons including Coolpix A

Beware that the lock lever mechanism is flimsy - I have read reports of this not disengaging hence the flash stuck onto the camera. Because of this, I don't lock this flash onto the camera anymore.

David H. Hartman

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2021, 04:04:04 »
I used to own a SB-400. I sold it because of it's lack of ability to swivel/rotate which was a no-go for me. Besides of that it's a nice, little flash.

The lack of swivel isn't a deal breaker for me though I would like a 90 degree swivel right and left. Perhaps leaving a swivel feature out was about price point and would have resulted in a larger unit. The lack of a useful Standard iTTL mode bothers me a bit more. I would think Standard iTTL could be implemented in the camera menu. The SB-400 is a step up from the popups of my D300s and D800, except no master and slave modes. Despite the lacking features the SB-400 is small enough to fit in my pocket.

I own a pair of SB-800(s) which offer 270 degree swivel and more power to make bouncing off walls more practical. The SB-800 also offers both Standard and Balanced iTTL flash. The SB-800 as well as the SB-600 offer legacy film TTL. The SB-800 offers master and slave modes with three groups but only full stops in manual mode.

Despite the lacking features the SB-400 would probably make a good companion to the Nikon Z fc where a speedlight like the SB-800, 900 and 5000 would be rather ungainly in the Z fc's hot shoe.

The perfect speedlight doesn't seem to exist.

Dave
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pluton

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2021, 04:22:07 »
Way back in 2008 or 2009 I bought an SB-600 and an SB-400. The 600 died quickly with extremely light use, but the 400 motors on even today for the occasional flash occasion.
Keith B., Santa Monica, CA, USA

David H. Hartman

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2021, 06:03:52 »
It is a nice little flash and I have used it on all my Nikons including Coolpix A

Beware that the lock lever mechanism is flimsy - I have read reports of this not disengaging hence the flash stuck onto the camera. Because of this, I don't lock this flash onto the camera anymore.

Thank you for noting this short coming. I noticed that the lock isn't as robust as the one on my SB-800(s)

Dave
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2021, 13:39:59 »
I love the SB-400 and have used it for many years, although I don't use flash much, in general. It is as simple as it gets and I like that.
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David H. Hartman

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2021, 20:31:55 »
A possibility for very cheap is a Nikon SB-15 found on eBay for $10.00 to $30.00 (USD) with about $12.00 shipping. A decent SB-15 should cost about $30.00 with shipping. The SB-15 offers Film TTL and Auto Flash (Auto Thyristor) with a choice of two f/stops. I used a Nikon SB-24 in Auto Mode (Auto Thyristor) for a few months with my Nikon D2H. Using the SB-15 would be like using a vintage Vivitar 283 or 285 but without any sync voltage worries as with the Japanese made 283 or 285. The SB-15 offers 90 degree bounce up and down (whatever clears your lens and lights the subject). It also offers 90 degree right bounce but not left.

I've used an SB-15 in MD (motor drive) mode as a trigger for optical triggers or Nikon speedlights in SU-4 Manual mode. I used an SB-15 to trigger my Norman 2000P studio system.

Here is a link to the Photography in Malaysia  SB-15/17 index page...

https://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardwares/classics/nikonf3ver2/flash/sb15/index.htm

I haven't use my SB-24 or SB-15(s) since I bought a Nikon SB-800. Auto Thyristor was the best thing since sliced bread for a PR photographer back in 1977. It still works today.

Dave

The Thyristor, a special type of transistor used in the original made in Japan Vivitar 283, has been replaced in modern speedlights with an Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) in speedlights such as the SB-400, SB-600, SB-800 and later. I'm not sure when this change-over occurred. The thyristor allowed rapid successive medium and low power flashes from a Vivitar 283 and perhaps as early as the Vivitar 292. The Thyristor was a God Sent for PJ, PR and Events photographers. Earlier auto flash full dumped the speedlights primary capacitor and a medium or low power flash still required the same recycle time as a full power flash.
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ColinM

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2021, 18:47:56 »
I was just going to say, trying a "used" one is a good way for an extended trial
with the benefit of saving $$$ if it works out.

I've had several used Nikon flashes in the past (ring flash, straight etc) and got to try some stuff I'd never have had access to otherwise

Jan Anne

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2021, 19:21:16 »
Big fan of the little 400, don’t use a flash a lot so when I do it needs to be simple and straightforward plus the tiny size doesn’t make me regret taking it along unused. It worked great with the smaller bodies with a built in flash as these models had dedicated flash buttons, mostly used it with a cable.

Also had the 800 which I never bothered to master, used it rarely so each time I did was a pain figuring out how to make it work. Sold it when switching to Sony a7 ages ago but kept the 400 as Nikon wasn’t making it anymore back then and I knew I wanted one when returning to Nikon again.

Will give it a try on the Z6 when the new Zee 40/2 and some Aputure MC’s arrive for some multi light action :)
Cheers,
Jan Anne

David H. Hartman

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2021, 20:23:33 »
Also had the 800 which I never bothered to master, used it rarely so each time I did was a pain figuring out how to make it work.

I've been there.  ???

The Nikon SB-800 is quite easy to control but it is *definitely* not intuitive. I remember being confused in the beginning and again much later when I started to use my SB-800 as a remote controlled flash using my D800's popup. I've read or view videos where instructors told how they had to help workshop attendees setup their SB-800 in remote mode. ???

Nikon speedlights have most of their features control by the camera so if the meter in the camera is not turned on you never see a number of options, they simply don't appear. This isn't unreasonable as you would not want to set options for the SB-800 that are not available if it's being used on an FE2 or F5. If a function I want to set is not shown I now check to see that the camera's meter is not sleeping.  8) In the passed I was confused for a time then I would activate the camera's meter then I could proceed.

To enter the setup menu you hold the center "game pad" button down for about 2 seconds. If the SB-800 is in standby I have to press on/off to wake it (both the SB-800 and camera must be awake). In setup the controls steps are somewhat confusing a first. Once learned or relearned it's easy. To exit setup after making changes you can hold the control rocker for two seconds but I learned by accident that pressing the on/off button brings one out of the setup menu instantly without turning off the flash.  8)

Anyway I've learned and relearned the SB-800 control features several times.

Dave
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Bill De Jager

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2021, 01:34:56 »
Big fan of the little 400, don’t use a flash a lot so when I do it needs to be simple and straightforward plus the tiny size doesn’t make me regret taking it along unused.

I used one long ago, and even bought a second one when I heard it was being discontinued.  As Jan Anne notes, the small size and simplicity are very appealing when you're not in the mood to carry bulky gear.  In recent years I just haven't used it, mostly because I'm using Micro Four Thirds gear when shooting at the social occasions where I might need flash.  I'm keeping mine, though, because I expect to use it with my Z6 in the future.

MEPER

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2021, 08:42:10 »
SB-400 is the flash I use most. The only I have that can to i-TTL. I have two.
I use it with bouncer / diffuser. Stofen makes a nice one but other also exists which are much cheaper.

Pistnbroke

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Re: Nikon SB-400 for Portability and Casual On Camera Flash...
« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2021, 10:55:13 »
I have 3 and used them for all my wedding work for 10 years . the trick is to set your auto iso to 200 so when you turn the flash on it jumps to 800 ...loads of power never used the bigger units.
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