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Nikon SB-28 Speedlight SB28 Flash Test Review
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Nikon SB-28dx


I had two of these SB-28s and now one SB-28 DX. They are light, fast and powerful. Go get a few for your film cameras. They only work in A and manual modes (not TTL) on the digital SLRs. Forget it for digital SLRs, get a new SB-800 or SB-600 instead for complete compatibility with the latest cameras.

Recycling time is only 5 seconds after a full power dump with Ni-MH batteries. You can blast away at a couple of frames per second at normal output levels. Alkalines are slower.

The SB-28 is the first flash to replace the 20 year old Vivitar 283 in terms of size and power. The SB-28 is smaller than other full-size Nikon flashes and at least as powerful.

The SB-28 flash sucks batteries if you use all that power. I use Ni-MH rechargables to get the fastest recycling time. Used just for fill at close distances the batteries ought to last a lot longer than used at the long distances with slow film as I do.

Watch the use of lithium batteries: Nikon cautions in the instruction book that the heavy power drain of the SB-28 in heavy repeated full-power use can open the built-in protection circuits of the cells and shut off your flash till they cool down. Lithiums are great for many users, but the really heavy user will prefer rechargables. On the other hand, I believe the manual warns that you can melt the plastic of the SB-28 if you pop off more than ten full-power flashes in a row without waiting ten minutes for it to cool down.

If you have the cash and don't mind the size, go get an SB-28 or two. There are no downsides for film cameras, except that I find the older slide switches faster to use than the new mushy rubber pushbuttons on the SB-28.


It works on all Nikon SLR cameras. I have not tried it on the Coolpix digitals.

It also works on the digital SLRs like the D1X and D100, just not in TTL mode. Use the A mode instead, which works better than the TTL mode for some people. You don't necessarily need the more expensive DX series flashes for your digital camera unless you want to use the fairly inconsistent TTL mode. I didn't know any better when I went out and paid top dollar for my SB-28DX.


Here are my measured manual guide numbers, in feet at EI 100, for either of my SB-28s in an ordinary light walled room about 12 x 16 x 8,' measured at 10:'

Bounced off ceiling: 28-40
Lumi-Quest diffuser: 40 (in top photo)
20mm setting: 56 - 1/3
24mm setting: 80 -1/3
28mm setting: 80 -1/6
35mm setting: 80
50mm setting: 110 -1/3
70mm setting: 110
85mm setting: 110 + 1/6

These are about one stop less than Nikon specifies, which is typical for flash makers.

Current Consumption (from 4-AA Ni-MH cells)

7A peak (approximate)
500mA charging
111mA with the LCD illuminator on
28mA on but not charging, plus 500mA for 0.8s each 32s as capacitor is topped off (40mA average)
0.75mA in STBY mode, plus 500mA for 0.8s each 32s as capacitor is topped off (13mA average)
0.5 uA when off

What about high-speed FP sync mode with the SB-28?

Those FP sync speeds faster than 1/250 are a hoax.

I don't know if an N80 or N65 can do it, but I never use it anyway with F100.

This mode only works with a lot of manual fooling around. To use the FP modes you have to calculate f/stops manually using guide numbers for each distance! You have to look at the distance on your lens, look at the calculator on the rear of the flash and then set the indicated aperture on your lens. You also loose a lot of flash power and therefore this mode sucks a lot of batteries, takes a long time to recycle and has a small maximum shooting distance.

I've never even tried used this mode, so I'd forget about it.

Ever notice how the photos Nikon uses to illustrate this feature are always with a subject at a fixed distance, like of a water skier on the end of a fixed rope or made from a camera attached to a race car?

The real camera sync speed of 125 or 250 is significant. The FP mode, for me, isn't.

What about using the SB-28 as a master flash with the SU-4 wireless trigger?

A preflash is a clever idea Nikon dreamed up for general flash photography. It lets the camera cheat and get a quick idea of what's in front of it an instant before the photo is made. That lets the camera set the exposure even more cleverly.

Unfortunately the SU-4 cordless slave trigger goes bananas when the master flash, like the SB-28 on an F100, does a preflash.

You therefore have to CANCEL this preflash when using the SU-4

You have to do that by putting the SB-28 the Standard TTL (non matrix) mode if you use the SB-28 as master. Of course the Standard TTL mode is not matrix flash and not balanced for fill. Therefore, when using the SU-4 for slaves you are better off using an earlier flash like the SB-23 as camera master since it can work in TTL matrix mode without the preflash. Yes, this is confusing.


Go get some if you need the power.

I own two because I sometimes need the power of two flashes. This photo was shot at f/1.4 and both flashes popped at full power to illuminate the birds about 60 feet away on slow slide film.

I like my SB-28s because they pack a lot of power in a small package that recycles fast, not because of any of the other idiotic features they offer. In fact, the pointless features complicate getting to the features that do matter.

If you shoot fast film and don't need the power then you probably don't need an SB-28.

Read the manual completely. It tells you all sorts of useful tricks. It has 96 pages, all in English. I'm not going to repeat it all here.

For instance, if you get an insufficient light indication (a rapid blinking ready symbol in your viewfinder) the SB-28 rear panel will indicate exactly how much underexposure occurred. In many cases this value is 0.0, meaning that you did have plenty of light and are just working at the limit of the range, saving you another make-good shot. Even better, the manual explains that the illuminator button can be used to recall that indication if you don't see it immediately.

The European version has a slightly different and more restrictive external battery pack connector. If you get the European version you only can use the European external battery pack. The USA version appears to be able to use any of the external packs.

The flash will run down your batteries if put away in STBY mode because it continues to top off the charge every 32 seconds. Make sure to turn off the flash completely when you are done with it.

This is all in your manual. Read it.

The zoom head can be set manually to tighter light patterns (longer focal lengths) for deliberate highlighting, and the head moves around to let you move the highlight.

You can manually set the zoom head wider than the lens you are using to allow shooting macro with the flash still on the camera. Setting the flash to 24mm lets the light get down to where the subject is if you are only a foot away.

The best way to shoot indoors is with the bounce card out and the flash bounced off the ceiling.

The SB-23 for one-third the price is all you need for film cameras if you don't intend to bounce or need all the power for long distances and slow film.

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