We shed some light on eight of the best Nikon-compatible flashguns
Often referred to as ‘the most available light’, a decent flashgun is an amazingly versatile camera accessory. It can make a huge difference to the quality of lighting in almost any scenario, from night-time shots and gloomy interiors, to portraits on a bright sunny day. What’s more, all of the flashguns tested are fully dedicated to Nikon cameras.
With TTL (Through The Lens) metering, dedicated flashguns can team up with your camera to enable correct exposures in all sorts of shooting conditions. The system works by using a brief pulse of light, fired by the flashgun prior to the actual exposure. This is reflected from the subject and passes through the lens, after which it’s measured by the camera’s metering system. The camera then communicates the correct setting back to the flashgun, and the duration
of the flash during the exposure is adjusted as necessary.
The Nikon and Metz flashguns on test actually go beyond regular TTL flash metering and add a TTL-BL (Balanced Light) mode. Pioneered by Nikon, this aims to give a better balance between flash and ambient lighting, for more naturallooking results. It works in wide-ranging scenarios, from relatively dull indoor conditions to bright outdoor lighting where, for example, you’re using a flashgun to fill in shadows caused by direct sunlight. Typically, however, overall exposures can look a little darker, so you might prefer the results you get with regular TTL mode. Either way, it’s easy to apply some positive or negative flash exposure compensation to adjust the flashgun’s output power to your desired value for any given shot.
Apart from the compact Nikon SB-500, all other flashguns on test have ‘zoom heads’. These have a zoom range of at least 24-105mm or more, in fullframe terms, equating to 16-70mm focal lengths on a DX format camera. What’s more, the zoom mechanisms in the flashguns are motorized so, as part of the ‘dedicated’ features, the flash can automatically zoom to match the focal length or zoom setting of the lens you’re using. The bonus is that, as you sweep from wide-angle to standard and telephoto settings, the angle of flash coverage becomes correspondingly narrower. This makes more power available for illuminating subjects that are some distance from the camera when using longer lenses. For extra wideangle coverage, a flip-down reflector is usually included in the flashgun head.
All the flashguns featured have bounce and swivel heads. These enable you to bounce the light off walls and ceilings, instead of firing it directly at the subject. This can provide a softer quality of light that’s much more flattering for portraits. The softness of the light increases with the size of the light source so, if you bounce the light from a flashgun off a large surface like a white wall or ceiling, it effectively becomes much bigger. The trade-off is that the light has to travel further, and some intensity is lost, so greater maximum power ratings become preferable.
Another option is to use the flashgun off-camera. This enables you to use shadows and highlights to capture the modelling of your subject, which gives images a much more three-dimensional look, rather than typical ‘flashgun’ lighting, which can appear very flat.
Bounce and swivel heads enable you to bounce the light off walls and ceilings, instead of firing it directly at the subject. This can provide a softer quality of light