Nikon Coolpix 8800 when used with Nikon SB-800 external flash

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005.

  1. After getting fed up with highly inconsistent flash
    performance in museum and car show environments with my
    Nikon Coolpix 5700 and Sunpak 433D external, I plunked
    down $1,400 for an 8800 and Sb-800 external.

    I investigated both this camera and the flash extensively
    earlier this year and was convinced the new iTTl flash
    exposure system would solve my problems with the 5700,
    namely 1/3 of my flash pictures on Programmed Auto and
    TTL on the Sunpak looked just fine, while another 1/3
    were maybe 2 f/stops under, but the remainder were 5-6
    stops under.

    I never was able to find a root cause for this
    inconsistent behavior. I could take a dozen pictures of a
    particular car, all looking like the proverbial black cat
    in a coal bin, then turn 10 feet away and shoot another
    dozen pics of another car in the museum, which were
    perfect. And, there wasn't anything obviously different,
    such as backlit scenes or strong ambient lighting to
    "fool" the TTL system.

    Well, I took my brand new 8800 for a "test drive" this
    morning at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, in Auburn
    Hills, Michigan. It is only 15 minutes from me and I get
    in free as a DCX retiree, so I spend lots of time there.

    Got the same 1/3 good, 1/3 OK, and 1/3 dark /on the very
    same/ cars as I had shot just a week ago with my 5700!

    So, back to my camera store for some discussion with the
    manager. He checked the camera to be sure I hadn't messed
    up some setting, then announced "I don't think you are
    ever going to get a Nikon EVF camera to work consistently
    with TTL flash, even with Nikon's own flash". WTF?!

    He's more than willing to let me return the 8800 and SB-
    800 if I can't get it to work to my satisfaction, at
    least. His best suggestion was to take the SB-800 out of
    TTL mode and use in on "Auto" mode, which supposedly
    bypasses TTL communication with the camera and just does
    its exposure cut-off of the length of flash pulse based
    solely on its ability to judge distance to the primary

    I was advised to go back to the WPC museum tomorrow, and
    shoot another series of the same cars on Programmed Auto
    or Aperture Priority, and let the flash do its thing on
    Auto instead of TTL.

    I can and will do this. But, I'm wondering if any of this
    makes sense to those of you that understand TTL flash in
    EVF cameras in general, and the Nikon 8800 in particular.

    I don't mind the expense of the new 8800 camera as Nikon
    has improved just about everything I care about visa vie
    my older 5700. And, I intentionally bought the big bucks
    SB-800 so Nikon couldn't cop out on me again and say the
    problem is the Sunpak.

    I have /no/ exposure problems in daylight with my current
    5700 nor the little experience so far with the 8800. The
    /big/ issues is I /want/ and EVF and I /want/ to shoot
    flash in car museums, and /not/ available light on a
    tripod. But, naturally, I also /want/ consistent
    exposures that are within the dynamic range necessary to
    post-process with quality in Paint Shop Pro 9.

    I am open to any/all advice or recommendations, including
    "dump the Nikon and buy XXX with YYY flash". The only
    thing I don't want is anybody's DSLR because I prefer the
    EVF to the SLR view and like the large attached zoom of a
    top-end pro-sumer EVF.

    Thanks in advance!
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
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  2. All Things Mopar

    Paul Furman Guest

    Ugh, I'm glad I haven't had to deal with flash. Even DSLR users always
    seem to be struggling with it. I also don't care for tripods but that
    would be the next step I might try to solve this. Also, I would just try
    putting it in manual and bracket till it looks right. Ultimately that's
    going to give more control and understanding.
    Paul Furman, May 25, 2005
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  3. All Things Mopar

    Paul Rubin Guest

    Maybe some specular reflection just happening to hit one of the
    multi-zone sensors? I haven't heard of this happening with the
    SLR/DSLR cameras though. And I don't see any inherent reason
    the 5700 should be worse than a D70 at getting the right flash
    exposure, if iTTL is one of its advertised features.
    Paul Rubin, May 25, 2005
  4. Are you sure you're watching for underexposure indications from the
    flash? One possible contributing factor is the flash being unable to
    produce enough power. This is more likely if you're bouncing (I can't
    imagine decent photos of this sort of subject with direct on-camera
    AAAIIIEEEEEE! Oh, *man* would I be annoyed.
    I wonder about the reference to "EFV" camea. He may be using that
    just to group the particular Nikon cameras he has that opinion about,
    in which case fine. But if he's claiming there's some actual
    cause-and-effect relationship between EVF and this flash problem, I'd
    worry about his reliability.
    Yes, auto mode will give you different behavior, and takes the camera
    out of the circuit so it's *simpler* behavior. Possibly it'll
    actually work better on these subjects. Only one way to find out
    Well, if the AUTO mode works -- try it with your old flash. You may
    at least be able to return the expensive SB-800. Sounds like you
    might want to keep the 8800 anyway :).
    I find that TTL works poorly with my Fuji S2 DSLR and Nikon SB-28 and
    SB-80dx flashes, and end up using manual a lot, exposure compensation
    a lot, and ordinary AUTO on the flash some (but it doesn't work very
    well either). I'm *extremely* disappointed with this, because the TTL
    flash with my N90 was *so much* better than all my previous auto-flash
    experience (TTL *and* 'D' lenses). I hate losing that in digital
    (though, with the preview, I can at least tell I have a problem, and
    work around it; but it's still more work and slows me down, and I want
    the automation to work better there).

    I believe the DSLR cameras have particular problems with TTL flash
    because the sensor surface has very different reflectivity from film,
    so the stuff built into the film SLR bodies the DSLRs are built from
    isn't happy. I think Nikon and Canon have created new flash modes to
    try to address these problems (but they don't help me, not being in my
    camera or flash yet).

    I would have hoped that a non-DSLR wouldn't have that particular
    problem, though.
    David Dyer-Bennet, May 25, 2005
  5. All Things Mopar

    Roy Guest

    Hi there.

    I have the D70 and SB600, and also found some inconsistencies with exposure.

    I have found that the best combination is to set the Camera to Manual,
    choose the fastest flash sync shutter speed, but ensure the f number is
    within the correct range for the Flashgun. Leave the Flash on iTTL.

    This seems to solve the problem, because I suspect that otherwise the Flash
    is working more as a Fill Flash and the ambient light is having too much of
    an effect on the exposure.

    The only problem is that there does seem to be a slight under exposure, but
    it is a constant value, so "Plus" a half stop of Flash compensation corrects

    I also put the SB600 on a bracket, and set the on board Flash to "Commander
    Mode", just to ensure there is no red eye, that might also help you to
    eliminate any Specular Reflections.

    The highly reflective surfaces on car bodies, could just be the main source
    of all your problems, and using a Manual Flash and an Incident Flash meter
    might be the only real answer.

    Any Auto system could be confused by a "beam" of light being reflected back
    onto either the TTL or Flash Sensors.

    Hope this is some help.

    Roy G
    Roy, May 25, 2005
  6. Paul Rubin commented courteously...
    The camera store manager, who sounds like he's very
    knowledgeble, says this problem occurs with both EVF and DSLR
    Nikons, all vintanges. Again, I dunno.

    The 8800 is the last in a chain of upgraded cameras off the
    basic 5700 architecture. While significant changes have been
    made, not the least of which is 8MP vs. 5MP, and the new iTTL
    flash system system (which was why I bought it), the basics
    are virtually identical.

    As to specular tricks, I dunno that either. All I know so far
    is that it doesn't matter much what the ambient light it,
    still is "random" and uncontrollable.

    I'm going back today to shoot with the flash on Auto, Manual,
    and Guide Number, and the camera on Programmed Auto, Aperture
    Priority, and Manual, and see if there's a combination that
    works consistently. Otherwise, it's gonna go back for a charge
    credit, and I'll look for something else.
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  7. David Dyer-Bennet commented courteously...

    Thanks for the long and detailed comments, David!
    Yes. The flash has a range of over 30' at f/2.8, and I'm
    shooting at under 20'. The issue seems to be that the
    iTTL auto exposure system "thinks" it has enough light
    when it doesn't, hence it cuts off the flash pulse
    Yepper! "$1,400 pissed off" was more like it!
    Everybody has their "reliability" problems, not just this
    guy, hence my post here to "calibrate" his assertions.
    But, I've "talked" to 5700 owners who saw this phenomenon
    as well. Iffn I can believe the camera store manager, it
    isn't so much an EVF vs. DSLR issue, as it is Nikon's
    choice for the underlying flash auto exposure. That's why
    I'm so perplexed - and pissed off - iTTL is supposed to
    fix this sort of thing, right?!
    Yes, I'll be back to the museum this morning, also with
    my 5700 and its Sunpak 433D. I'll be shooting the 8800
    and flash in all the relevent modes, on a representative
    set of cars, some known to work OK and others know to be
    badly underexposed.
    Maybe so. My Sunpak won't be able to talk TTL to the 8800
    at all, but as you say, there may be some reason to keep
    the camera but not the flash.
    I'm sorry to hear about /your/ troubles, but maybe it at
    least tells me I've not gone into the Twilight Zone!
    Still, my first digital, a 4MP Fuji 4900, worked 100%
    consistent even with its small built-in flash (up to max
    range, of course).
    I don't have nearly enough data points to make a judgment
    here, I'll just have to fall back on the ole "trial and
    error" method to see if I can make the 8800 and SB-800
    work minimally consistently.
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  8. Roy commented courteously...
    Egad, Roy! et tu, Brute? Seems everyone gets these
    inconsistancies! Can't Nikon make $1,000+ cameras that work, evn
    with a $330 flash (SB-800)?
    Yeah, I can do that, but its a PITA. I didn't pay this much
    money to estimate the distance for each shot and fuss with
    aperture and shutter.
    If you also put the flash into manual mode, you'd supposedly get
    the full GN worth, not as a fill-flash per se.
    Nikon "likes" to underexpose, so, Yes, an EV correction or tweak
    in PS CS or PSP can fix that.
    Could be, but I don't think so. Whitewalls on the 1940s/50s cars
    /do/ fool TTL, but not the paint. Anyway, no one can explain why
    I can stand stock still and shoot 3 different cars, one in front
    of me, and one either side of me, and have 1 or maybe 2 be fine,
    while the 3rd is a black cat in a coal bin!
    I looked for this, also, for the past year with the 5700 and
    yesterday with my 8800 test drive. Can't find anything that'll
    consistently make them work nor consistently make them fail. The
    saving grace, such that it is, is that I can immediately see if
    the picture is good, just OK, or bad
    Yes, definitely, Roy! Now I have 3 more data points that it just
    isn't me, it's the camera/flash combo that ain't working as
    advertised! Thanks, muchly!
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  9. Paul Furman commented courteously...
    I prefer flash because my cars are brighter, contrastier,
    and look snappier, albeit I have to watch for flash
    glare. Tripods and available light work OK in museums,
    but are /really/ slow and upset the other visitors to the
    point that some museums won't let you do it.

    And, upping the ISO to get decent exposures invites an
    attack of the dreaded sensor noise!

    Thanks for the comments/suggestion, I'm gonna do exactly
    what you and the others, as well as the camera store
    dude, suggest, and try out various flash and camera
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  10. All Things Mopar

    Roy Guest

    Hi. Again.

    I said leave the Flash on iTTL. Put the camera on the Manual Exposure Mode,
    ( further round the dial from P, S, A.), dont go into the menus and change
    Flash Control to Manual, leave that on iTTL on both the Camera and

    So the Camera and the Flash will still communicate, and control the amount
    of light emitted.

    All you are doing in Manual is selected a shutter speed and lens aperture,
    which the Camera / Flash Auto systems will not alter. The Camera will still

    You don't need to do any calculation other than checking that the aperture
    is not so small that the Flash won't be able to provide sufficient
    illumination. It will tell you if it was "Out of Range" automatically.

    I don't know your Camera, but on the D70 I can dial in Flash Compensation
    to up the output by up to 1 stop, or reduce it by up to 3 stops, to get the
    histogram the way I want it.

    I am too much of a realist to expect any Auto System to be able to work
    entirely without Input from the Photographer, all they do is make it a bit
    easier for me to exert control.

    Nikon's have been "under-exposing" (in the view of some) ever since I have
    owned one, early 80s, and probably well before that.

    Roy G
    Roy, May 25, 2005
  11. All Things Mopar

    Jim Guest

    You need to be certain that the flash is not set to balanced fill. You are,
    after all, using the flash as the main source of light.
    As for cameras in general, my ranking for best to worst (of those that I
    have owned) is:
    1. Nikon N90s with SB27
    2. Nikon F3 with SB16
    3. Canon FT-QL with Vivitar 283
    4. Canon FT-QL with off brand Vernon flash
    5. Nikon S2 with Zeiss BC flash gun (which burned to S2's flash contacts)
    6. Practica FX with Zeiss BC flash gun

    There was a big gap in ease of use between the N90s and the F3. I can't see
    any under-exposing in these cameras.
    There was an immense gap in ease of use and exposure between the F3 and the
    Canon. The other two represent ancient technology and really don't count.
    Jim, May 25, 2005
  12. Roy commented courteously...

    Hi, Roy. Thanks for continuing the dialog with me, I
    appreciate it.
    Guess I misunderstood what you were saying, but what I
    did was "obey" the advice of the camera store manager, so
    I actually shot this morning in the same museum, the
    same cars, in a very methodical fashioon.

    I shot with both the 8800/SB-800 /and/ 5700/Sunpak 433D,
    cycling between TTL, Auto, Guide Number, and Manual on
    the SB-800. On the Sunpak, I shot with TTL and their
    Auto. Then, for each and every car, I shot both
    Programmed Auto (5700 & 8800) and Aperture Priority (both

    I haven't had time yet to look at the nearly 300 pictures
    I took on my computer, but just looking at the 5700 and
    8800 LCD's in Playback, it looks to me like I'm better
    off with my /old/ 5700 with the Sunpack on Auto.

    So, my first blush reaction is still WTF?! Why should I
    invest $1,400 for and 8MP camera that I'm really only
    going to shoot at 3MP? Yes, there are some /significant/
    upgrades besides just more MP, and I'll make the
    "decision" this afternoon.
    As best I can tell, Roy, the "problem" is that the SB-800
    on TTL is shutting down the flash pulse pre-maturely,
    thus underexposing 30-40% of the time. I don't know, but
    I suspect it's short-burst flash to get the distance
    isn't right somehow.
    I still have trouble doing full manual, but I didn't try
    that today. I have AF turned off in favor of focus lock
    via half-push on the shutter release. AF is just too slow
    and I /always/ lock the focus anyway.
    Yes, what you describe is exactly how I was shooting this
    morning on Aperture Priority, and it worked OK but not as
    well nor as consistent as I'd like.
    Yes, me, too. The flash will go +/- 2 stops and so can
    the 8800. But, while I'm willing to "calibrate" both the
    camera and flash to my own idea of what consitutes "good
    exposure", I'm reluctant to play with these controls on
    30-40% of the pictures I shoot, until I think it is
    "right". Too much work, I'd rather keep my 5700 until
    something better comes along, and/or reluctantly switch
    to somebody's DSLR.
    Me, too, albeit, I /do/ expect something as advanced as
    iTTL on the $995 (before $100 rebate) 8800 replete with
    Nikon's own $330 SB-800 /should/, IMHO, be able to do
    better than only 60% "good" on the first try.
    Yes, that's true of the digitals I've tried, but was
    /not/ true of my $450 (body-only way back in 1969) Nikon
    Photomic FTN. If I centered the "TTL" indicator in the
    viewfinder using compatible aperture and shutter, at
    /all/ file types and ASA (then the "standard"), I got
    exposures "right on the money", across maybe 10,000
    slides over 15 years or so.

    Thanks again for taking time to help me!
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  13. All Things Mopar

    Jim Guest

    Sorry, I left out the D70... With the built in flash, it ranks below the F3
    with SB-16. With an SB600, it ranks below the N90s and SB27. You also
    should note that the D70 manual mentions that dark subjects may be
    underexposed. The photographer should review the histogram and set the
    exposure compensation as needed. I never use exposure compensation on the
    N90s or F3.
    Jim, May 25, 2005
  14. Jim commented courteously...

    Hi, Jim.
    There's more controls/options on the SB-800 than "I can
    shake a stick" at! But, I've not read anything in the
    manual about whatever "balanced fill" might be - it may
    be there, but I don't recall seeing it.
    I can deal with overall underexposure by altering the EV
    on the flash or camera or both, plus I can easily fix +/-
    2 stops or so in Paint Shop Pro 8/9. What I /can't/ deal
    with is /inconsistent/ flash up to 5-6 stops under, on
    30-40% of my car pictures. That's the connundrum I'm
    trying to reconcile.

    Thanks for your observations!
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  15. All Things Mopar

    Don Wiss Guest

    I have an 8400 and SB-800. I've found that if there is any reflective
    material in the picture the flash shuts off too quickly. Here's an example
    that I already have on the web:

    I have others where even with less reflective material shut it down too
    soon. For example here just the two small reflectors made it underexposed:

    In your situation I can see chrome and glass on the cars turning it off too

    Don <> (e-mail link at picture album bottoms).
    Don Wiss, May 25, 2005
  16. Jim commented courteously...
    Hi, again, Jim!

    I understand histograms, both in-camera and in PSP 9, but
    us simple folk <grin> don't do much with them. The 8800
    has an excellent alternate display that shows a thumbnail
    of the histogram in the EVF, so iffn I were so-inclined,
    I could take note of the shape of the dynamic range
    profile, and tweak the settings accordingly.

    BTW, I call myself a "documentary" photographer of cars,
    not an "artistic", "creative", or "dramatic"
    photographer. For example, when I'm shooting a full-on
    front or rear view, I'll back up enought to zoom in to
    100-150mm equivalent, so as to have the windshield or
    backlite look like it belongs, and not a little piece of
    glass on top of a big body. For the same reason, I don't
    shoot at full wide-angle down low for the "dramatic"
    effect, unless I really have to because I can't go
    farther back.

    I sometimes I wish I had more "creative" talent, but I do
    OK, I guess, for what it is I'm trying to accomplish. So,
    to get back on-point for this thread, I'm most interested
    in getting an exposure no more than about 2 stops under
    so I don't block up the shadows nor induce underexposure
    noise or distort the colors, and a few other nasties.
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  17. Don Wiss commented courteously...
    Yes, Don, I /do/ sometimes see what you're seeing in your
    two web links. I find headlights being blown out by the
    flash frequently, side marker lights ditto, even the old
    fashioned wide WSW tires. But, I can usually avoid the
    tragedy of your two pics, except when the dang thing
    won't exposure right no matter what I do! I've oft seen
    older cars with the wide white go pure white and
    therefore underexpose the paint 2-3 stops, but I can fix
    that easily by selecting just the whitewalls, toning them
    down and putting back some of the yellow and red, then
    inverting the selection to fix the rest of the car.

    And, as you probably do, I ignore the background
    exposure. Moreover, I'll adjust the yellow-cast in the
    background which is illuminated only by the incandescent
    ambient lighting. And, I'll clone out the most egregious
    of the spots and streaks from the overhead spot lights...
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  18. All Things Mopar

    Paul Rubin Guest

    iTTL is a brand new feature and so it's absent in all but the newest
    Nikon cameras. So I'm skeptical. What happens if you just crank up
    the flash exposure when you see on your LCD that there's a problem?
    What happens if you just use the SB800's built-in autoexposure mode
    instead of messing with iTTL?
    Paul Rubin, May 25, 2005
  19. Paul Rubin commented courteously...
    What happens if I crank up the flash? The image gets
    brighter, naturally, but that isn't the point. The point
    was, and is, that the dang thing cannot /consistently/
    expose pictures from one to the next, even of the same
    car, much less a car 10 feet away.

    Yes, iTTL /is/ new to the 8800 and other "new" Nikons,
    that's the reason I bought it! But, the 8800 and SB-800
    have been out, I think, since September, 2004, and mine
    is "fresh from the factory" (i.e., my store ordered it
    from his distributor, as his stock was depleted from an
    in-store sale the previous week). So I'd expect it (maybe
    naively!) to have the latest firmware patches (no, I
    haven't looked for a patch or hack), but again, this is a
    /new/ machine, why should I have to patch it right out-
    of-the box?.

    Please see my other posts where I said I launched a test
    this morning with all the relevant flash mode, including
    Auto vs. TTL, and the relevant 8800 exposure modes.
    Leaving the 8800 in either Programmed Auto or Aperture
    Priority and the SB-800 in Auto rather than TTL does work
    the best. But, my 5700/Sunpak still beat it all hollow!
    And, it is both smaller and lighter...

    I'm still evaluating the 8800/SB-800 images I took this
    morning against my "old tech" 5700 and $80 Sunpak, but
    right now, it is leaning /clearly/ in favor of the older
    stuff. I need to be sure, and weigh the other advantages
    that the 8800 offers before deciding (such as much better
    ergonomics, more mega pixels, quieter images, and some
    other things I value), but I'm in the 90%+ range right
    now that I'll be taking it back tomorrow for a charge

    I'm not arguing with you or anybody, but for $1,400
    before rebates, I have a (maybe unrealistic) expectation
    that I should get "correct" exposures in "easy"
    situations +/- one f/stop without resporting to various
    tricks. Iffn that ain't reasonable, I'll drop back to my
    (paid for) 5700 and wait until fall, and re-eval the
    latest Canon DSLR as well as what new EVFs come out in
    the fall, if any.

    As for everyone else who has responded, I thank you for
    your perspectives.
    All Things Mopar, May 25, 2005
  20. All Things Mopar

    chrlz Guest

    After getting fed up with highly inconsistent flash
    I still maintain it is a problem inherent in shooting big shiny things,
    made worse by environments that are often dark or have distant
    backgrounds. My experience with automatic flash systems, ttl or
    otherwise, is that you should be very afraid of shiny stuff! If the
    flash gets its own reflection back, even if only from a small (but
    highly reflective) area, it is likely to shut down too early. And then
    if you have *lots* of such reflective surfaces on curvy cars and

    I'll be very surprised if you can find any system that will work
    reliably in these conditions even 70% of the time, let alone 90%.. So I
    would think manual settings are by far the best solution. I'm guessing
    there are probably only a few set distances that you use very
    frequently, so maybe it wouldn't be too onerous..? And you pretty well
    guarantee successful exposures every time.

    Having said all that, I think you should talk to people who do this
    professionally and just find out - don't you bump into those sort of
    folk as you do all this? Or perhaps try Scott Eaton over at,
    he claims to do a lot of auto show work. (Careful, he bites!)

    It's a rather unusual type of photographic environment, and anecdotes
    from folk who don't do a lot of it (inc. me!) are possibly/probably not
    going to get you anywhere.

    But good luck anyway!
    chrlz, May 27, 2005
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