The Nikon SB-900 is an excellent flash, which I reviewed here a couple of months back. However, I ran into an issue with the flash during a critical moment at a recent Bat Mitzvah shoot.
Here’s the scenario: There I am, happily snapping away at the family of the day as they dance around, interlocked, in circles on the dance floor. Next thing you know, the circle of people becomes ever-increasing as more family and friends join in the revelry, culminating with the hoisting up of the mitzvah-ed young lady above the crowd on her chair for the hora. So, I get up on my step stool to get a better shooting angle, she is hoisted up…and I begin to take photographs only to find out that my flash is no longer firing. Now, you might be thinking already, “What a dummy he is. Everybody knows that the weaker your batteries get, the longer the flash takes to recycle.” Yes, I am aware of that, much more so than most photographers out there. That is why I shoot with a Quantum Turbo battery pack attached to my flash, and that is why I use Energizer Lithium batteries inside my flash units. When I looked at the back of the flash screen, the only thing I saw was a symbol that I had never seen before and didn’t really have time to concern myself with. So, what did I do? Kerry obviously noticed something was wrong, so she ran over to start shooting from my angle – I threw down the D3 and swung the the D700 around from my other shoulder and relied on my Nikon 50mm f/1.4, 6400 ISO, and the RAW file format. We are pleased to say, the photographs came out just fine. In fact, they had a feel to them that may not have been possible if shot with flash. But, here’s what happened:
After five minutes or so, the flash was working fine again. I was really confused, because my Quantum Battery Pack was nowhere near below 75% juice and these Energizer Lithium were fresh for this shoot. However, a little while later when I found myself taking repetitive photographs once again for a particular portion of the action, the same damn thing happened. Swung the D700 around again and kept shooting. This was very frustrating. I had about a 10 minute break, so I went over to my Pelican transport case in the other rooom and switched out the SB-900 for another SB-800 (I’m so glad I have three flashes, as Kerry was using the other SB-800). My configuration for the SB-800 is always to use the additional clip for a 5th battery. This option greatly improves recycle time, something that is not available for the SB-900. Anyway, I was able to shoot unencumbered for the rest of the day. A little bit later though, it finally clicked in my mind what happened with the SB-900. I remembered something I wrote about in my review on the flash when talking about the new features on the flash – it has an internal temperature gauge! When the flash senses that it might be overheating, it automatically shuts itself down. Now, I suppose that is fine and it will prevent the flash from being damaged, but this means that it can [obviously] cause problems and screw you up right when you are about to photograph some of the most important action at a particular event. I don’t know about you, but I know that for each subsequent wedding or event we shoot, we’ll only have SB-800s mounted on the cameras and we’ll keep the SB-900 for outdoor fill-in flash and studio usage.
Anyway, enjoy a photograph produced from the failure of the SB-900. This photograph was taken with the D700, ISO 6400 with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4