Is a dedicated Speedlight that much better? Is TTL really necessary ?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by crowdspotting, Dec 31, 2007.

  1. Hello,

    Recently I bought an SB-600 Speedlight, for use on my Nikon F4s and D50
    cameras. It's the first dedicated Nikon flash that I've ever owned or used. I
    just assumed, I guess, that the results would somehow be astoundingly better
    than the Vivitar 283 and 285 flash units that I'd been using with the same
    cameras in the past.

    I use flash for general people pictures indoors, social events, etc. Nothing

    I am hoping that the group might help me understand why the SB-series flashes,
    or Nikon TTL in general, is better. So far, here is my experience:

    1.) When shooting with the D50 and comparing the SB-600 to the built-in pop-up
    flash, the SB-600 does not light a scene any more evenly, expose a subject more
    accurately, or balance background light any better. In fact, the pop-up flash
    renders colors more accurately than the SB-600. The SB-600 is a colder (bluer)
    light. Of course, I can't bounce the popup flash, but for me it doesn't matter.

    2.) Using the SB-600 with the F4s makes me nervous - exposures are rarely
    acceptable and often blown out. I have tried both D lenses and AI-S lenses
    using both matrix and centerweighted meter settings on the F4s with equally
    poor results.

    3.) The Vivitar 285 works great on both my D50 and F4s cameras, it has a wide
    choice of useable automatic settings, but of course does not support TTL.

    I've experimented with the SB-600 and the F4s/D50 combinations quite a bit.
    Been through all of the possible combinations of settings. Tried resetting the
    flash to "sense" the best settings. Frankly, though, I can't see where the
    advantage is over a non-TTL flash such as the Vivitars.

    Could someone enlighten me? I've been a manual, natural light shooter for
    years. Are my expectations set too high about dedicated/TTL flash, or do you
    think that I might be doing something wrong?


  2. More flash power, faster recycle time, ability to bounce, ability to use flash off camera on a cord or wirelessly. Anything else I missed? If you don't need those stick with the pop up flash.
  3. Plus auto-zooming to get the appropriate flash zoom setting plus ability to use a variety of different apertures without having to reset the flash each time, easier daylight fill-in flash.
  4. Thanks for the blazingly fast response, Walt!

    My issue isn't "pop-up flash vs. SB-600." It is more like, "Is TTL really better than just using "Auto" on non-dedicated flash unit?"

    My Vivitar flashes gives me more power, faster recycling, ability to bounce, and off-camera capabilties than the pop-up flash.

    The problem is that the SB-600 does NOT seem to offer much benefit over my older flash units, which cost about a third of the SB-600.
  5. When comparing the SB-600 to the Vivitar 283/285, the most significant difference is that the SB-600 has sophisticated circuitry to set the flash power. It's integrated with the camera's meter. There are times when this is very valuable, but there are other times when you can do without it.
    It doesn't light a scene more evenly, nor does it get rid of any of the problems inherent with on-camera flash. Given a choice between a couple of 285s strategically placed off-camera versus an SB-600 on the hot shoe, I can't imagine a situation where the SB-600 would produce a prettier picture.
    If you learn how to read your digital camera's histogram, it becomes pretty easy to use its feedback to set flash exposure even without a flash meter.
  6. TTL will always try to meter for your subject and usually gives great results once you play around and figure it out.

    With flash I shoot exclusively in manual exposure mode. This way you can decide how much ambient light you want to collect and the flash will take care of the subject. For example on an indoor shot I would meter ambient light about 1 ? stops under and let the flash take care of the subject. This gives a nice balanced scene and puts everything in your control, I usually find auto modes to underexpose background a good deal.

    I hope I explained in an understandable way. Flash photography can be a bit confusing for many people, including myself in the past.
  7. Oops, I forgot to respond to big question?

    TTL will give your much more consistent results. After using it a bit you?ll wonder how you did without.
  8. TTL is not necessary - but very useful.
  9. mjt


    there's less to think and worry about with TTL
  10. We shot wedding receptions with Nikon FM2 SLRs and Vivitar 285 flash units powered by
    Bantam batteries for fast recycle time and got great results every time. TTL was a bonus
    when we got into Nikon N90s and F100 bodies. You still had to dial in a +1 when bouncing
    off the ceiling with the TTL flashes, but when going from indoors to outdoors you didn't have
    to make a change with the TTL flashes as you did with the Vivitars. The thing you get with
    TTL is more accurate flash exposure over a more wide range of lighting without having to
    change the setting.
  11. I use my Vivitar 285 with Stofen. It works fine in automatic on my D200 just like it did on my Leicas.

    A friend loves his dedicated one for auto macro work. He does not like to think.
  12. I have three Vivitar 283's that I've used for ages -- on old Nikon stuff and Mamiya medium format cameras.
    They were and are superb flashes.
    I have thought about putting them on eBay but just can't bare to part with them (esp. since they only go for $10=$15 or so).
    I now use them with my two D-70's. I recently purchased an SB-400 to play around with iTTL flash. It's a really neat little gadget, but the results aren't really different from the 283's. Hey, light is light, right?
    You do have to THINK a little more with a non-TTL flash, but what's wrong with that???
    I'm glad that I cut my eye teeth on manual cameras & flashes (guide numbers anyone??). Made my living with MECHANICAL cameras for a couple of decades.
    Today, people who started on autofocus/autoexposure cameras have, at best, a vague idea of what f/stops, shutter speeds & depth of field are all about.
  13. TTL is very useful and accurate with a single, camera mounted flash, used for events, weddings and fill flash. TTL has evolved to an high state in Nikon cameras, and gets better with each new model.

    Using the Nikon diffusion cap, an SB-800 has enough power to fill a medium sized room with light, nearly eliminating shadows. You can't do this with the pop-up flash.

    I've paid my dues with manual cameras and flash. Believe me, TTL flash is worth using. I can be more productive and consistent with less effort, so I can concentrate on the subject rather than buttons, lights and dials. With multiple flash units, studio and portrait work, I go manual all the way - whatever is appropriate.
  14. Its just a bit easier if you do walk and about photog or portrait and action.

    I don't find manual flash that hard but you have to refer to flash tables or some flashes may have a mini calculator builtin depends how manual the flash is....

    I just get it cos its less hassle that's about it. Do I utmost need it, not really. But then I don't do much portraits or events. My only thing would be travel. But then I think you can get non TTL but maybe with A-flash.
  15. TTL is nice when you are shooting with a longer lens. With auto flash the flash could be fooled by objects closer to the camera that are not in the field of view with a telephoto lens. I still don't have a TTL flash for my DSLR though and do not feel that I miss it all that often. TTL is prone to subject failier as is auto flash. An example would be a couple in black clothing in a dark dinning room with no wall close behind. Another example would be a bride in a white wedding dress in the snow.
  16. "...TTL is prone to subject failier as is auto flash. An example would be a couple in black clothing in a dark dinning room with no wall close behind. Another example would be a bride in a white wedding dress in the snow."
    I disagree Stuart. We use three or four Nikon SB800's set up for our wedding formal work and we have never experienced and failures as you have described. We also get excellent results with the SB800 on each of our cameras during the reception and dance. Unless there are extremely unusual conditions - we set them up for TTL-BL and get great results.
    It may have happened with older TTL flashes that you have tried but as others in this thread have already mentioned - the current crop of Nikon flashes are excellent and do a much better job than older models.
  17. the pop-up flash renders colors more accurately than the SB-600 I don't know if the D50 will let you set the white balance with a fine-tuning adjustment. If so, set the WB to Flash and dial in -1 or -2 to warm the images up a bit. In the D200 the adjustment is done with the sub-command dial, but on the D50 there is no such dial. For the F4, the colors depend on the film and printing. The F4 doesn't fully utilize the functions of the SB-600. It doesn't use preflashes or D info, and the flash meter unit in the camera is a bit more crude. As for the exposure accuracy, with any flash you need to understand what it does before you can use it effectively. A TTL flash measures the light in the area which will be captured on film or by the digital sensor. An "auto" flash just measures the light coming in at the flash, giving an overall exposure for whatever is in front of it, but without paying any attention to what is actually captured by the lens. If you're used to shooting with an auto flash, you need to adapt your working methods to the TTL method and apply exposure compensation when needed.
  18. I NEVER use TTL flash for formal groups - it's manual across the board. Consider the attire - a combination of black and white. A slight variation in the black/white ratio has a profound effect on auto exposure. It is the faces which need to be consistent, hence the meter-and-manual approach.

    I also use a tripod, which adds to consistency (and quality), and allows me to relate better to the subjects than when hidden behind the camera.
  19. I may be an ignoramus regarding the sophistication of TTL, but one or two things I have found about using flash on my D70s. Firstly you cannot get good evenly exposed pictures using a single flash unit whether it be the SB series or the non dedicated ones. Howsoever good the metering might be of the subject or the distance information fed into the inbuilt chip, there will always be a variety of seemingly inocuous objects in the foreground which become over exposed and dirty. Secondly to take good flash pictures we require plenty of light- mind you plenty. So my experience is to set the aperture of the camera by the old adage of flash guide number of cam mounted flash gun(based on ISO speed being used) divided by distance equals aperture stopped down by one. Set a couple of slave flash units preferably on tripods near the objects being photographed straight or bouncing from the roof, take a couple of test shots, adjust and fire away in manual mode. I set my shutter speed anywhere between 1/60 to 1/500 depending on the subject and ambient light. Practically I have found if I make a mistake of a few feet in judging the distance by eye it doesnt matter that much I get excellent photos. Not to be insulting or crude I have to state that if I use all dedicated flashes in TTL mode I get consistantly underexposed photographs. Secondly these ordinary flashes work on non wireless visible light trigger coming from the main flash. Further one can get 3 of these plus 2 light tripods for the cost of an SB 800. Jeff take what I say with a pich of salt maybe I am stupid and wrong, but I like the photos I get which is the only thing that matters to me.:) My 2 bits.
  20. TTL flash units are just tools. And once you learn to how to use this particular tool - it can be very effective and useful. Esp in a tight time frame - like wedding formals. As I mentioned earlier in this thread - we use 3 or 4 SB800's for our wedding formals with the D200 and D70s. The TTL works well without any adjustments from the bride shots to the groom shots to the full wedding party. Can we achieve the same images in manual mode? - Yes. Will it take more time? - Yes.

    IMHO - people that say that TTL doesn't work well - really have not learned how to use it properly. If your camera underexposes - simply compensate - either in the flash exposure or in your camera exposure.

    Just our experience - YMMV.
  21. auto flash = metering reflected light, be the flash controlled TTL or by its only tiny little eye and brain

    Using GN arithmetic = metering incident light

    Neither approach to metering is always right with ambient light or flash.

    What TTL is relatively better for (not in terms of results, in terms of reducing thinking) is for fill flash. You know, all those Nikonish shots of well-exposed brightly shining faces at dusk.
  22. To better understand Edward's advice against TTL, I think the outstanding post by Bill Smith in this older thread (3rd reply down the page) is well worth reading:
    ...flash exposure control
    Bill's 1998 post is a great explanation of manual (guide number or GN), automatic, TTL (through the lens), and "3D Matrix Balanced Fill Flash" approaches.
    -- Jim

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