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Lifewire / Jonno Hill
Excellent recycling time
Plenty of control
Great build quality
Low guide number
Too many steps to execute functions
The SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash is an impressive mid-size flash for newer Nikon cameras, but it’ll cost you a pretty penny
The Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash is a great mid-size flash designed for newer cameras within Nikon’s ecosystem. While it’s certainly not the cheapest solution on the market, it’s on the upper threshold of functionality, covering just about every area that will be important to most photographers. A slightly lower guide number does somewhat limit the versatility of this flash in some situations, but this limitation is quickly overcome by a slew of other bells and whistles. Overall, Nikon offers plenty on the SB-700 to keep both amateurs and pros satisfied.
Out of the box, the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash includes a soft case (which houses most of the contents), a diffusion dome, incandescent and fluorescent filters, a speedlight stand, warranty card, user manual, and of course, the device itself. We definitely appreciated the soft case and how conveniently everything folds up into an easily portable package. This isn’t a budget flash, so it’s nice to see some extra touches here and there.
Moving on to the device itself, the flash head contains the expected built-in bounce card and wide panel, although the wide panel is definitely a bit more thick and robust feeling than we’ve come to expect. Just beneath the flash head are two discreet diffusion and filter detectors, which communicate directly to newer cameras to let them choose the appropriate white balance without any additional user intervention.
A slightly lower guide number does somewhat limit the versatility of this flash in some situations, but this limitation is quickly overcome by a slew of other bells and whistles.
In demanding shooting scenarios without a lot of room for error, we definitely felt that little things like this gave us a bit of an edge. Lastly, on the side of the flash head, you will find the release button, which lets users pivot the head between the 97 degrees of available vertical tilt and 360 degrees of horizontal rotation (180 degrees to the left, 180 degrees to the right).
On the front of the flash body, a red translucent housing contains the flash-ready indicator for use in Remote mode, and the AF-assist illuminator. Around the side of the device are the battery chamber (which contains a lock release button to prevent accidental unlocking) and the light sensor window for use with a wireless remote flash. On the bottom of the device are external AF-assist illuminator contacts and the mounting foot lock lever, which is surprisingly clicky and satisfying to operate.
And finally, the rear of the device contains all the controls necessary for operating the speedlight. This part of the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash is a mixed bag, somehow managing to make us feel that there are simultaneously too many and too few buttons. More on that in the next section.
On the top of the control area, flanking the LCD screen, are two toggles that control the flash mode (on the left) and illumination pattern (on the right). The LCD, ZOOM and SEL buttons below, let users control the zoom and the selected item highlighted on the screen. A selector dial in the center provides control for changing any of the functions accessible through the LCD. The OK button in the center is used for confirming your selection.
Ultimately you get what you pay for, and in this case, that means great build quality from a reputable brand, comprehensive automatic control, and a full set of wireless functionality.
Flanking the dial to the left is a flash-ready indicator, along with the Test Firing button and the Menu button. On the right, you have the power switch and wireless mode switch. The switch naturally toggles between on and off position, but users must press the lock release in the center to select between the Remote and Master modes for wireless use.
The Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash features a very quick setup, in theory, requiring only that the user inserts the four AA batteries into the device and turns it on. For fully automatic use on a CLS compatible camera, this is probably all you need to know. For anything else, however, users will need to spend a decent amount of time familiarizing themselves with the control and operation of the device. It’s not the most user-unfriendly design we’ve seen, but it’s incredibly dense and there is a lot to cover.
One reason for the elevated cost of the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash is its i-TTL flash control. Like any good TTL mode on a flash, Nikon’s i-TTL handles all aspects of zoom and exposure control to deliver the ideal amount of light for any given scene without any user intervention.
This function tends to be a lot more popular among event photographers working in scenarios with varied lighting who can’t afford to test and troubleshoot before each shot. Manual control is always preferable in studio settings where you want repeatable results, but in scenarios where there is no flexibility and every shot is a can’t-miss, it’s hard to argue with the results that Nikon’s solution delivers.
Users shopping for a full-featured mid-size flash to sit on top of their CLS compatible Nikon camera will be pleased with the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash and all it offers.
Nikon gives users the option between balanced fill-flash which attempts to properly expose the subject and background simultaneously, and standard i-TTL, which concerns itself only with the correct exposure of the subject. If the SB-700 is used in conjunction with a Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) camera and lens, ISO sensitivity, focal length, and aperture can all be automatically set based on lens and camera information about a given scene.
In Manual mode, the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash gives users a great deal of information on the LCD panel to assist in taking photos. Visible on-screen is the flash output level, the effective flash output distance, an icon representation of the flash’s orientation, the current focal length, and an indicator to show whether a CLS compatible camera is detected. One complaint we had about the SB-700 is that incredibly vital settings such as the flash output level are buried within a series of wheel selector spins, SEL, and OK presses. It would have been nice to have faster control over bare essential functionality like this.
That said, one area where the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash excels in its recycling time, or the time it takes for the flash to be ready to use again after firing. The SB-700 does this in just 2.5 seconds, giving users a lot of control and flexibility.
At an MSRP of $329.95, the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash is definitely in more premium tier of speedlights. It’s nowhere near the sky-high pricing of the $599.95 SB-5000 AF, but still leagues more expensive than a low-cost manual option like the $60 Yongnuo YN560 IV. Ultimately you get what you pay for, and in this case, that means great build quality from a reputable brand, comprehensive automatic control, and a full set of wireless functionality.
The SB-600 is the predecessor to the SB-700, and there are quite a few points of differentiation. The SB-700 boasts a slightly improved guide number, built-in bounce card, faster recycling, and included light filters. To its credit though, the SB-600 does have a simpler control scheme that many pros might prefer, versus the SB-700’s more complex and sometimes overwrought layout and design scheme.
Premium option for the Nikon ecosystem
Users shopping for a full-featured mid-size flash to sit on top of their CLS compatible Nikon camera will be pleased with the Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash and all it offers. Users that wish to save money can opt for a cheaper solution, but should expect to forgo either features, reliability, or both. If you know you need the full spectrum of functionality the SB-700 offers, this is definitely the flash for you.