Nikon SB-600 Review

Nikon SB-600

Nikon SB-600

Released in 2004, the SB-600 added to the already successful SB-800 in Nikon’s CLS capable flash line up.

The SB-600 was designed as a smaller, lower cost alternative to the SB-800, so inevitably has a corresponding reduction in feature set. Whether the differences are enough to make you choose the SB-800 over the SB-600 is up to you.
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The SB-600 is relatively sturdy, having a metal hot shoe foot with a reasonably high standard of construction. The dedicated LCD display and a 6 button interface (Power, Flash Test, Zoom, Mode, [+] and [-]). result in a surprisingly easy to use yet very functional system.

The smaller size will make it the natural choice for many who like to travel lighter, however, the reduction in size, and cost, means that some features are now missing.

The SB-600 lacks the Diffuser Dome that is included with the SB-800, though the pull-out wide angle diffuser is still there allowing the zoom position to move to 14mm, where without it the widest zoom supported is a relatively wide 24mm. While we are on the subject of zoom, the SB-600 only zooms to 85mm, whereas the SB-800 zooms to 105mm. Probably not a big deal for most people, but it’s something to consider. Another loss is the pull out catch light card (present on the SB-800). I tend to use that quite a lot when hot shoe mounted, so would miss this one for sure. It is of course possible to stick some card on there manually, but it’s not quite the same and certainly won’t look as professional.

What you do still get is the desktop stand (AS-19) that also includes a thread on the bottom to allow you to mount the SB-600 to a light stand (or tripod). You also get a nice carry case including a belt loop for when you are walking around.

However, gone is the ability to add an external power pack for faster recycling, and there is also no option to add the SB-800s 5th battery ‘wart’ (again for faster recycling). Gone is the SU-4 (optical trigger) mode, PC Sync and TTL cord input for wired remote triggering, but given that many people never use these, why pay for them?

TTL & Manual Modes
What the SB-600 does include is the excellent i-TTL mode than Nikon introduced with CLS. This mode allows intelligent fill to match the ambient light, and really works well. I would put Nikon as the class leader when it comes to speedlight type technology, and the SB-600 benefits directly from this expertise. Not only does i-TTL work in hot shoe mode, but also in CLS (Creative Lighting System) Remote mode, so when using multiple flashes to light a scene, i-TTL helps balance the entire scene, and not just the flash from ‘on-camera’.

I was also relieved to see that the SB-600 includes a manual mode. One of Nikon’s biggest competitors left this out of their base mode, and it was much the poorer for it. Manual mode allows you to make all the decisions and have full control over everything if you want it. There may be times when you want to tweak every last part of an exposure, and as good as i-TTL is, manual mode will allow you to go last last few percent of the way – if you really want to!

CLS Remote Mode
While the SB-800 can operate in both Master and Remote modes, the SB-600 is endowed with only the Remote capability. This should not be a problem if you already own a Nikon camera with a CLS capable popup-flash, or an SB-800 that you use as a master. Using an SB-600 in Remote mode is child’s play, and makes getting the flash off-camera very easy indeed.

In Remote mode the SB-600 supports both TTL and Manual modes, with a power range from 1/1 down to 1/64. Note that the SB-600 does not support the older A (Aperture) modes.

In Hot-Shoe mode (i.e. on-camera), TTL flash exposure compensation needs to be set via the camera, because the SB-600 does not provide any way to set it on the flash itself. This should not be a problem for most people.

Also gone is the ability to tilt the head down 7˚, which I find helpful when shooting in to an umbrella, and of course the head rotation has the same problem as the SB-800, where it only rotates 270˚ (90˚ one way and 180˚ the other). C’ mon Nikon, this shouldn’t be that hard!

Custom Functions
It seems that nowadays you can’t buy a product without it having some ‘custom functions’, and the SB-600 is no different. Luckily the custom functions have been kept to a minimum, and unlike the complicated menus on some products I could mention, these are all easy to understand, and useful. The custom functions menu is easily accessible by holding the ZOOM and [-] buttons at the same time for around 2 seconds, then use the [+] and [-] buttons to navigate from function to function. There are only 5 (phew!), and these are:

Wireless Remote Mode (CLS) On/Off

LCD Backlight (On/Off)

Manual Zoom (On/Off)

Standby (Auto / Off)

AF-ILL (On/Off)

We already talked about the Wireless (CLS) Remote Mode, and hopefully the LCD Backlight is self explanatory. With the Manual Zoom set to ‘On’ the power zoom is now under manual control, rather than automatically following the zoom information sent by the camera. The standby function allows the SB-600 to sleep whenever the camera is no longer focusing / metering. This is a power saving function and would normally be left on. However, if the SB-600 keeps going to sleep when you don’t want it to, simply disable Standby.

AF-ILLumination provides an illumination pattern on the subject to help the camera focus in low light. It’s turned off as soon as the camera achieves focus, so does not appear in the final shot. However, this illumination is visible, and may be distracting, or cause other photographers to see the pattern in their shots. Disabling AF-ILL will prevent the pattern being emitted, though auto focus in low light may suffer.

We already talked about the Wireless (CLS) Remote Mode, and hopefully the LCD Backlight is self explanatory. With the Manual Zoom set to ‘On’ the power zoom is now under manual control, rather than automatically following the zoom information sent by the camera. The standby function allows the SB-600 to sleep whenever the camera is no longer focusing / metering. This is a power saving function and would normally be left on. However, if the SB-600 keeps going to sleep when you don’t want it to, simply disable Standby.

AF-ILLumination provides an illumination pattern on the subject to help the camera focus in low light. It’s turned off as soon as the camera achieves focus, so does not appear in the final shot. However, this illumination is visible, and may be distracting, or cause other photographers to see the pattern in their shots. Disabling AF-ILL will prevent the pattern being emitted, though auto focus in low light may suffer.

Conclusions
All-in-all I think the SB-600 is a very welcome addition to the Nikon Creative Lighting System, and will make an ideal flash for most users. When traveling means taking less equipment, the smaller size of the SB-600 is a definite benefit. The slightly slower recycle times compared to the SB-800 are unlikely to be a major problem for most people, and inclusion of Manual mode in additional to the highly useable TTL mode is very welcome.

A size by side comparison of features between the SB-600 and SB-800 (and now the SB-900) can be found here.

Side by side pictures can be found here.

A tutorial on setting the SB-600 in to CLS Wireless Remote can be found here.
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Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Nikon SB-600 Speedlight
Author Rating
4