Nikon D2Xs Flash

Like most professional SLRs, the D2Xs doesn't carry a built-in flash, but rather is designed to work with external strobe systems, or Nikon Speedlights. The camera features an external flash hot-shoe on its top panel, as well as a secondary PC Sync socket on the front of the camera. The Flash button on top of the camera accesses the five sync modes, which include Front Curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Rear Curtain Sync / Slow Rear Curtain Sync (Aperture Priority and Program modes), Red-Eye Reduction, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync. Just as these modes sound, the camera times the flash exposure with either the opening or closing of the shutter. Red-Eye Reduction simply means that a small pre-flash fires before the full-strength flash to eliminate the effects of Red-Eye in portraits. The Slow Sync setting times the flash with a slower shutter speed, which in turn allows more ambient light into the frame.

The SB-800 Speedlight

By far the most advanced integrated flash system announced by Nikon (or anyone else, for that matter) to date, the SB-800 features "i-TTL" wireless through-the-lens flash exposure control when used with the D2Xs. When it was first introduced, the SB-800 could only be used with the pro-oriented D2H and D2X, but now any current-production Nikon DSLR can be used with it, and some models can even control remote speedlights themselves, without needing an SB-800 to serve as the on-camera controller. A full treatment of the SB-800's capabilities is beyond the scope of this review (which after all, is meant to be about the D2Xs), but you can read more about it in our Nikon Creative Lighting System review, which also contains a video describing how we used SB-800 and SB-600 flashes in combination with a pair of portable light boxes for on-the-scene product photography at PMA 2005.

The Nikon SB-800 AF offers a range of advanced features, including an advanced wireless control system by which multiple SB-800 speedlights can be controlled from a single master unit, with full wireless control over relative exposure levels between units, and full "i-TTL" through-the-lens metering. Other new features include a new Auto FP high-speed sync, flash color information communication for improved color accuracy, a flash value ("FV") exposure lock, and a new wide-area AF-assist illuminator that's tailor-made for the D2Xs' 11-area Multi-Cam 2000 AF sensor unit.

One of the most technologically impressive aspects of the SB-800 AF is its use of Nikon's Advanced Data Communication system, which uses rapid pulses of the flash units during the pre-flash metering period to pass setup and exposure information between multiple units. With this system, you can control four independent sets of SB-800 speedlights wirelessly from the camera itself. The four groups consist of the speedlight attached to the camera (the master), and three separate sets of remote units, each of which can consist of any number of SB-800 units for the ultimate in lighting flexibility. Settings for each group of speedlights are made via the control panel and large LCD panel on the Master unit attached to the camera. It deserves repeating that all speedlights in all groups can operate in i-TTL mode for completely automatic flash exposures, including relative exposure differences dialed-in for each group from the Master controller. (You can also run different groups in different flash modes if you'd like, setting two groups to i-TTL, and another to Manual mode, for instance.)

When you press the shutter button, the Master fires each group of speedlights in turn, collecting exposure information via the camera's TTL metering system. This exposure information is then integrated by the D2Xs, power levels are set for all groups, and the shutter and speedlights are fired for the exposure itself. If it sounds like there's a lot going on, it's because there is, but the whole process takes only as much time as does the normal pre-exposure metering flash from a conventional "smart" strobe unit.

It's hard to overstate how effortless the SB-800 makes multi-flash setups If you've ever had to climb up and down a ladder or crawl behind a set a few dozen times to get flash levels set properly, you'll immediately understand the benefit of being able to set the exposure levels for up to 3 groups of remote strobes, without leaving the camera.

Wireless TTL multi-flash functionality is only part of the story though, as the SB-800 offers a range of other new features as well. Here's a list, copied from Nikon's marketing materials:

  • Auto White Balance Adjustment using Flash Color Temperature Information: The SB-800 achieves a high level of color accuracy when used with the D2Xs digital SLR camera. With changes in the duration of light emitted by a speedlight, there are slight variations of color temperature. Using the D2Xs in Auto White Balance mode, the SB-800 communicates these slight variations in color data back to D2Xs and the camera s auto white balance system implements the fine adjustment needed for overall excellent white balance.

  • FV-Lock: FV-Lock (Flash Value Lock) is comparable to the way an AE-Lock functions in a camera. Once the camera measures a correct flash value, the SB-800 locks this value until the photographer resets it – helping to maintain the flash value for correct exposure of the subject.

  • Auto FP High-Speed Sync Flash: The SB-800’s Auto FP function can automatically fire the speedlight in i-TTL mode at shutter speeds up to 1/8,000 second, offering excellent opportunities to use flash in bright light with fast aperture lenses. (My own note: This is a really significant capability, as it makes delicate fill-flash lighting possible even in full sunlight when using a f/2.8 lens.)

  • Modeling Flash: A modeling flash feature in the SB-800 fires a stroboscopic burst of light for approximately one second, allowing photographers to visually confirm lighting and shadow effects before shooting.

  • Quick Battery Recycle Pack: Included with the SB-800 Speedlight is the SD-800 Quick Battery Recycle pack that cuts recycling time in the SB-800 to as short as 2.7 seconds for full power manual flash.

  • Additional features: Additional features in the SB-800 include zoom coverage, bounce and rotating flash head, large LCD read-out panel, accessory filters for special color effects and emulation of fluorescent and incandescent lighting, robust locking flash shoe, and autofocus assist light.

It's no stretch to say that the SB-800 is by far the most impressive flash system I've seen to date. It makes wireless, TTL-metered, multi-flash photography not only possible but easy.


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