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Reliability Boost: Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight

By Stan Sholik

From the incremental increase in product number and price, it is clear that there are no big changes in the Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight from its predecessor, the SB-900. But the small changes make the SB-910 a worthy successor to the venerable SB-900.

Having personally experienced unexpected thermal shutdown of my SB-900s under conditions where my SB-800s were able to function, I appreciate the tweaks that Nikon made to the thermal sensor system. With the SB-910 there no longer is total shutdown until temperature levels decrease. Rather, recycle times decrease, allowing you to keep on shooting, just not at motor drive speeds, or so I’m told. While I tried to overstress the SB-910, I wasn’t successful. I think it would require higher ambient temperatures and humidity than the conditions I could test in, along with rapid firing. Wedding, sport and other photographers no longer need to fear their Nikon flash shutting down at an inopportune moment.

Thermal control didn’t come at the expense of flash function. Flash output of the SB-910 is identical to my SB-900s. This indicates that the SB-910 is using the same internal components for the flash system. TTL exposure accuracy is as good as ever, and repeated photos of the same subject still yields identical exposures.

Recycle time isn’t affected by the new thermal sensor system either. If anything, recycle time seems less with the SB-910, particularly at full power.

There are some tweaks to the shape of the flash body, but my RadioPopper radio slaves still align properly, so the changes are minor. And the PocketWizard ControlTL system interfaces properly also.

Nikon nailed the ergonomics and menu system on the SB-900, so there was little that needed improvement, but Nikon found a few things. The buttons on the back are now larger, and the three selection buttons below the display are backlit to ease operation in the dark. The Zoom button on the SB-900 is replaced with a Menu button to allow easier access to the menus.

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©Stan Sholik

Externally, the SB-910 (left) is nearly identical to the SB-900 (right). Minor changes in the buttons below the LCD improve on the already excellent ergonomics. The menus on the SB-910 have been slightly revised also, and the brightness of the LCD has been greatly improved.

The LCD display is noticeably brighter, which makes the menus and settings easier to read in low light. Some of the display screens have been redesigned or rearranged, but the same information is still there. All of the Master and Remote functions of Nikon’s Creative Light System are present without any changes other than rearranged LCD screens.

The thin gel incandescent and fluorescent balancing filters supplied with the SB-900 are replaced with hard plastic filters for the SB-910. The new filters are more convenient to mount and remove, but I wonder how long the plastic prongs that hold them to the flashhead will last with professional use. I admit that I have never bothered to use the gel filters on my SB-900, but I did shoot with the plastic ones on the SB-900 and they are far more convenient to use. They are available as accessories also, and you can purchase them as replacements or to mount on your SB-900, which has the same attachment points. A diffusion dome is also included that is interchangeable with that of the SB-900.

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©Stan Sholik

I suspect that the hard filters were one factor in a redesign of the fabric case for the system, which is now larger and more rectangular than that of the SB-900. Where I have been carrying the SB-900 in a camera bag and the filters in a pocket of the bag, I would have to consider carrying the SB-910 to provide extra protection for those filters when I bang stuff around on location.

As current stock of the SB-900 is sold, the SB-910 will become the top-of-the-line Nikon speedlight. At present it is selling for $550, about $50 more than the SB-900. If you have had your SB-900 shut down during an important photo session, the additional cost is well worth the additional peace of mind that a SB-910 will bring. 

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His fifth book, Nik HDR Efex Pro, for Wiley Publishing, is now available.

Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight Technical Specifications