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Nikon Speedlight SB-80DX

The Nikon Speedlight SB-80DX, released in February, 2002, is a high-performance, highly functional flash unit designed for use with Nikon's advanced film-type SLRs as well as D1-series and D100 digital SLRs.
In this issue, we take you behind the scenes to learn more about the development of the SB-80DX and some of its more advanced features.

MATSUI, Hideki
Manager, 6th Design Section, 1st Development Department,
Development Division, Imaging Company, Nikon Corporation
Born in Tokyo in 1958, MATSUI earned an M., H. from Meiji University.
Upon graduation, he joined Nippon Kogaku K.K. (present Nikon Corporation) in 1983 as he "......had always loved photography, and wanted to work in the field."
He was assigned to the Third Design Section of the Camera Design Department, where he has since been involved in the development of Speedlights beginning with the SB-21.
During his time with Nikon, MATSUI has served as project leader for a variety of standard Speedlights, as well as underwater models such as the SB-104 and SB-105. He has also lent his talents to the development of Speedlight-related accessories, and to the design of circuits for custom Speedlight controller ICs.
Not surprisingly, he is an avid picture taker, and uses his knowledge of Speedlights to his advantage as a photo enthusiast.
Whenever I'm taking pictures, I have a Speedlight attached to my camera. If I happen to see someone taking pictures in daylight and not using a flash, I always recommend that they use a Speedlight."

The primary benefit of using a Speedlight in photography is that it enables the capture of more natural photos with greater depth and dimensionality.

Please tell us a little about the structure and features of the SB-80DX.

Matsui, Hideki:

The Speedlight, an electronic flash, gives the photographer more precise control over light and shadow than they would have without one. It offers valuable support to, and enhances the the functionality of, the camera.
More specifically, external Speedlights such as the SB-80DX allow the photographer to capture images with increased depth and dimensionality, and to add artistry and even a sense of illusion to their pictures.

How do Speedlights like the SB-80DX adjust the light output to the appropriate amount ?

There are a number of methods, the most common of which is TTL control (see Note 1). TTL control measures the light transmitted by an internal or external Speedlight as it is received through a specially equipped lens. The light output is adjusted based on data sent from the camera to the Speedlight.
Pressing the camera's shutter release button initiates automatic control of film exposure. When the shutter curtain is fully open, the flash signal is sent to the internal and external Speedlights, which immediately flash in response. The internal camera sensor measures the light reflected from the subject and back through the lens in realtime, and turns off the Speedlight when the optimal degree of subject brightness is attained. This entire process takes but a fraction of a second.
TTL control technology is employed in most SLR cameras today. The reason it has become so popular is that photographers can enjoy Speedlight photography without having to worry about complex lens aperture settings.

Has Nikon been using this method for a long time ?

Yes, but note that with earlier Speedlights, their primary purpose was to flash. They did not perform any type of adjustment of the light output. Automatic control first became available with the introduction of the external Speedlight.
The first Nikon camera to feature TTL control was the Nikon F3, released in 1980. We developed the SB-11 and SB-12 TTL control Speedlight models in parallel with the development of the F3, and since then TTL control flash has been the method of choice in SLR design.

So Nikon has been using TTL control Speedlights for over 20 years.

  • Note 1:TTL (Through The Lens) control
    The light emitted by the Speedlight passes through the lens, and is measured by a sensor located in the camera.
    Data is sent from the camera to the Speedlight to control the amount of light output.
  • Note 2:Guide Number
    The guide number indicates the amount of light that the Speedlight is capable of emitting. It can be abbreviated as GN, G.No. or G.N.

The SB-800DX is compatible with old silver-halide cameras, as well as the latest digital cameras.
The well-conceived control layout gives the impression that the Speedlight is very easy to use.

Please tell us about some of the special characteristics of the SB-80DX ?

The one that stands out from the rest is its multifunctional design.
There are also features such as fast recycle time and high light output capability (max. guide number 56) -- both crucial to the performance of an external flash unit.
The SB-80DX's support of TTL control, external control, manual control and its incorporation of multiple flash functions enables it to be used with a wide variety of cameras. Our FM10, F55 / N55 and COOLPIX 5700 / 5000 are all compatible with the SB-80DX, enabling convenient externally controlled flash photography.
The Speedlight also features 14mm ultra-wideangle lens coverage thanks to the built-in wide flash adapter, and coverage out to 105mm lens.
And wireless slave mode allows its use as an extra flash unit even without the optional accessory cord.
I would also like to mention the supplied bounce adapter, a milky white cap that fits over the flash output. It makes the light emission area broader, and also serves to soften the light emitted.

In news reports, for example, I've often seen press photographers with bounce adaptors mounted on their cameras.

Bounce adapter. Many press photographers keep bounce adapters mounted on their external Speedlights all the time.

Yes, they're fairly common. If a Speedlight is used for a full-face shot, for example, it can produce a very unnatural photograph that makes it clear artificial illumination was used. With a bounce adapter, though, the output area is larger and the light softer, resulting in a more natural photograph that preserves the atmosphere of the scene.

It's impressive that the mounting of a cap has such a profound effect on the image. Now, are there any other special features you would like to mention ?

Yes, there's the Monitor pre-flash function. The SB-80DX fires a series of low-power flashes prior to shooting. These flashes reflect off the camera shutter's surface and are used to calculate the necessary flash output. We recommend that people take advantage of this feature instead of using a monitoring lamp.

The positions of the buttons are noticeably different from previous Speedlight models. How did you arrive at the current design ?

The SB-80DX. Its design, which employs an intelligent layout and as few controls as possible, makes the multi-function Speedlight easy to use.

Well, it wasn't easy. We debated the issue repeatedly before finally reaching a consensus. And I think that users may notice the inspiration for the design when they see the Speedlight -- the design of the newest Japanese mobile phones. Our thinking was that by having the design of the Speedlight reflect the times, people would adapt to it more easily.
Our top priority in design was ease of use. And even though the SB-80DX has nine controls with the addition of the modeling flash button, where the SB-28DX only had eight, we are confident that we have achieved an easy-to-understand, easy-to-use layout with the SB-80DX.

Yes, the positioning of buttons and controls is a key aspect of design, isn't it ?

It certainly is. In fact, when you pull the wide panel out from the SB-80DX flash head, you see a quick reference guide for control locations printed on the light reflector plate. This allows users to find all of the controls without having to refer to the user's manual.
And in the event that the user presses the wrong button and loses track of the previous setting, they can reset everything simply by pressing two buttons simultaneously. This technique is widely used with SLR cameras and other related products, and is further proof of our continuing efforts to enhance ease of operation.