Looking for the best Nikon flashgun? Nikon keeps a fairly small range of flashguns regularly updated, but does a good job of making sure there are models to cover a range of users and budgets, so it's useful to have a guide to steer you towards the flashgun that's right for you. That's where we come in! We're here to help you choose the best Nikon flashgun for you.
Nikon's range of 'Speedlights' are some of the the best flashguns around. The good news is that if you just need something simple that works, the firm offers good entry-level budget models. The most basic of the Speedlights, the SB-300, is amazingly affordable and one of the best-value flashguns around, though that low price tag does come with its share of compromises. For one, it has no zoom facility, meaning you can't alter the beam angle for subjects at different distances. It also doesn't have a flash tube that can be twisted sideways, curtailing the possibilities when it comes to bouncing flash off walls and ceilings.
If you're willing to spend a little more, then you can get plenty more functionality out of a Nikon Speedlight. For instance, if you step up to the SB-500, you get wireless infrared commander and slave modes, which puts multiple-unit flash setups in play. This greatly expands your creative possibilities, letting you play with shadows and create three-dimensional lighting effects.
You can take a further step up the ladder and try out the SB-700, netting yourself a motorised zoom head that interfaces with your lens to detect focal length and adjust accordingly. This allows you to focus your beam more tightly if you're using longer lenses with a narrower field of view, meaning you get more flash power per shot.
At the top of the range sits the SB-5000, which is the flashgun designed for professionals, with superior build quality and features like the programmable 'repeat' mode that fires multiple times during a single exposure. Alternatively, you can try the twin-head Speedlight R1C1 kit, which is designed for close-up photography and smooth macro lighting.
Lots to consider, as you can see! Let's dive straight into the best Nikon flashguns you can buy right now...
• Read more: How to use flash for your photography
Best Nikon flashguns in 2021
Amazingly small and lightweight, the Nikon SB-300 is an almost pocketable Speedlight powered by just two AAA batteries rather than the more usual four AA cells. The Gn 18 (Guide number) is pretty respectable, considering it doesn’t have a zoom head and the equivalent focal length is locked to a wide-angle 27mm in full-frame terms. The bounce facility is generous, stretching all the way to 120 degrees, but there’s no swivel facility.
Likewise, it’s Nikon’s only current Speedlight that lacks a wireless slave mode, so it can’t be triggered remotely by a camera’s pop-up flash in commander mode. It’s also the only one to lack an Auto FP mode, so you can’t shoot at fast shutter speeds, which can be preferable when using fill-in flash under bright sunlight.
Another bit of bad news is that there are no onboard controls nor an LCD screen, so all adjustments need to be applied from in-camera menus, which can be more laborious. Even so, if you’re after something basic that’s easy to use and won’t weigh you down, the SB-300 might just fit the bill.
Like the smaller SB-300, the more up-market SB-500 has no zoom facility and has a fixed equivalent focal length, this time of 24mm (full-frame). It also runs on two batteries rather than the more usual four, although they’re upsized to AA cells. Even so, the recycling time after a full-power flash is fairly long, at around 5-7 seconds when using NiMH or alkaline batteries respectively. The maximum output itself is greater, at Gn 24, and the SB-500 has full sideways swivel of 180 degrees in both directions, as well a 90-degree bounce facility.
Further enhancements include wireless infrared commander/slave functions and Auto FP for using flash at shutter speeds up to the maximum available in the host camera body. Another neat trick is that it boasts a constant LED lamp, which can be useful for close-range video as well as stills.
Compared with many similarly priced flashguns from independent manufacturers, the SB-700 has a fairly modest power rating, but it should still prove generally sufficient. It comes complete with a carrying case, stand, diffusion dome and color filters for balancing the flash with tungsten or fluorescent lighting, so there’s plenty to play with.
The motorized 24-105mm zoom mechanism combines with a generous bounce and swivel facility enabling -7 to 90 degrees and full 180-degree swivel to both the left and right. The head also includes a pull-out wide-angle diffuser and reflector card, both of which are absent in the SB-300 and SB-500. Running from four AA cells, recycle speed after a full-power flash is fast at 2.7 seconds with NiMH batteries, but a more sluggish 5.4 seconds with alkaline cells. One niggle is that if you want to switch from i-TTL BL (Balanced Light) to regular i-TTL flash exposure mode to give less priority to ambient lighting levels, you need to swap to spot metering in the host camera.
If you’re after Nikon’s top-flight Speedlight, look no further. The SB-5000 has a comparatively mighty Gn 55 power rating that give you more than enough illumination, even when using a diffusion dome or bouncing the flash off a high ceiling. The zoom facility has extra reach as well, catering to full-frame focal lengths of 24-200mm. Subtle flash output is equally available, thanks to a power range that goes all the way down to 1/256th of the maximum output.
As well as wireless infrared commander and slave modes, there’s a built-in RF (Radio Frequency) receiver, so the flashgun can slave from an RF trigger over greater distances, and without needing direct ‘line of sight’. However, the fitment of an RF transceiver would have been preferable, as this would have enabled the SB-5000 to operate in RF commander mode as well. On plus point is that this is currently the only Nikon Speedlight that features a programmable repeat mode, for firing multiple flashes during a long exposure.
A regular flashgun is far from ideal for extreme close-up and macro photography, as the off-axis flash tends to create dark shadows. To get around the problem, this specialist kit includes a hotshoe-mounting infrared wireless SU-800 commander, and two small SB-R200 Remote Speedlight units.
The Speedlights themselves attach to an adaptor ring which screws onto the front of a lens, and the kit comes complete with a range of rings to suit popular thread diameters ranging from 52mm to 77mm. By positioning and angling the twin heads appropriately, it’s relatively easy to capture shadowless close-up and macro images. And if you want to add a little shadow to give a more three-dimensional look, you can adjust the relative power between the two heads.
See also Best ringflash for macro
• The best flashgun
• The best flash diffusers, softboxes and modifiers
• The best flash triggers
• The best portrait lenses for Canon users
• The best portrait lenses for Nikon users
• The best monopods you can buy right now
• The 50 best camera accessories
• The 6 best LED light panels
• The best lenses for street photography
N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine is a monthly magazine that's written by Nikon enthusiasts for Nikon enthusiasts, so you can be sure that all the content is 100% relevant to you! So for the best Nikon-focused news, reviews, projects and a whole lot more, subscribe to N-Photo today – with our unmissable sub deal!