June 27th, 2011
For those of you that have Scott Hargis’s Lighting Interiors eBook or have been hanging out in the PFRE flickr group for any amount of time, you understand why Nikon SB-80dx manual flashes are THE small flash of choice for real estate photographers so move along, there’s nothing here for you. However, the questions I’ve gotten recently about, “why not use some of the SB-80DX alternatives”, indicate it would be good to recap what’s so special about the SB-80dx and how do you set them up.
First of all let’s get some of the basic assumptions out of the way:
- We are talking small manual flash here. Scott’s eBook makes the case for using manual small flash and shows you how to do it. Nikon CLS and Canon E-TTL is just not reliable enough for interiors. The infrared signals will work OK some of the time, but they work best with line-of-sight conditions. The signal will bounce around corners, but not reliably. With interiors work, we rarely have line-of-sight.
- This manual small flash approach is for any type DSLR: Canon, Nikon and all other DSLR bodies. Optical triggering is not brand-specific.
- Flash triggering is as the diagram from Scott’s book above illustrates. Some kind of radio triggering from the camera to the first flash and optical triggering for all other flashes. There are many alternatives (Cybersyncs, Skyports, Cactus, RadioPoppers, etc.) for the triggering of the first flash. Pocket Wizards are the “gold standard” for radio triggers. You could also mount a flash on the camera’s hot-shoe (when the on-camera flash fires all optical triggered flashes will trigger), and eliminate the need for any radio trigger at all!
So, you can see from the diagram that the only requirement for the first flash is that you can connect your radio triggering device to it. But the requirements for all of the rest of your flashes are:
- Very sensitive, reliable, built-in optical slave.
- The optical triggering should be good enough that it works around corners.
- You want to have total and complete control of power adjustments for these flashes.
- Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg because you want to carry a bunch of them.
Here is a list of all the flashes I know of that are a possible fit:
- Nikon SB-80DX – Cost about $180-$200 on Ebay, Amazon, Keh.com
- Nikon SB-26 – Cost <$100 Ebay – This flash is not as powerful as the SB-80 and the power is not as adjustable as the SB-80.
- LumoPro LP160 – Cost $159 – David Hobby gives this flash a positive review but I hear other complaints about build quality.
- Yougnuo YN-560 – Cost $75 – David Hobby’s review reports this flash has build quality issues.
- Vivitar 285HV– with Wein Peanut optical trigger cost $110 – David Hobby reports some quality control issues with this flash.
- Nikon SB-800 – Does everything you want, but expensive!
- Nikon SB-900 – Does everything you want, but really expensive!
The bottom line is that the SB-80dx is reliable, has great optical trigger sensitivity, has excellent build quality so even at $180 to $200 that it has become these days, it is one best small flashes for real estate photography.