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Nissin Di866 flash

A flash for all seasons?
by Gisle Hannemyr
Published: 2009-10-22; Updated: 2010-07-30.

1. Introduction

Check availability: Adorama, Amazon USA, Amazon UK, B&H, eBay.

On its home page, Nissin says that it is a Japanese manufacturer of flash units, that the company was founded in 1959, and has produced professional flash units since 1967. However, the company differs from almost any other Japanese company I've dealt with by having poor communication skills, not responding to customers concerns, and putting stuff on the market before it is ready. It manufacturing facility is in Shenzhen (China) and its sales operation is located in Hong Kong. For all practical purposes, I would say that this is a Chinese company.

The distributor of Nissin products to Norway is FocusNordic.

The Nissin Di866, introduced in May 2009, is the current flagship model aimed at the DSLR TTL-market. It is a dedicated unit that comes in two versions: Canon and Nikon. The Canon version is compatible with Canon's E-TTL II and competes with Canon's Speedlite 580EX2. The Nikon version is compatible with Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) and competes with Nikon Speedlight SB-900 The subject of this report is the Nikon version.

I own several Nikon DSLRs, and the Nikon SB-600, SB-800 and SB-900 Speedlights. I have used Nikon's dedicated flash system (CLS) for more than two years. I needed a fourth CLS-compatible flash. My previous experiences with third part flash units claimed to be compatible with CLS has not been happy ones. However, with the Nikon SB-800 discontinued and the SB-900 being very expensive, I decided to give the Nissin Di866 a try.

I received my first Nissin Di866 (serial # 980432068) in the middle of October 2009. In July 2010, it was replaced by a new unit (serial #042774197). I am happy to report that in this new version, some of the problems that I reported in the first version of this review, has been fixed. This review has been updated to reflect the performance of the new unit, as this is what you should get if you buy this flash today.

The cameras I have used for testing so far are the Nikon D80 (DX) and Nikon D700 (FX).

2. Overview

The specifications of the Nissin Di866 Speedlight makes it a very tempting proposition. At less than two-thirds of the price it offers about the same power as the Nikon SB-900, along with compatibility with Nikon's CLS (including i-TTL and AWL).

For “strobist” type shooting, it comes with a PC-connector and offer a manual mode with adjustable power from 1/1 to 1/128. In addition to AWL, it also can be set up to work as a plain optical slave in manual mode.

And to really make it into a flash for all seasons, it sports a non-TTL auto mode with a built-in auto-exposure sensor that can be programmed with eight f-stops (from f/2 to f/22)

The Di866 even has a few features that you'll not find on the SB-900, such as a sub-flash and a “digital” slave mode that will ignore pre-flash. The “digital” slave mode is not necessary for Nikon-shooters, since Nikon always give you the option of firing the on-camera flash in manual mode (without any pre-flash). But the “digital” slave mode is handy for Canon shooters, since most Canon DSLRs with built-in flash does not offer a manual flash mode. In addition, it also has what Nissin calls a “film” slave mode (slave firing on a single flash). You'll find this mode on the SB-800 and SB-900 Nikon Speedlights, where is called “SU-4” mode.

The Metz-style secondary sub-flash fires straight forward to provide some direct fill light when the larger flash head is bounced. The sub-flash always operates as a manual flash (even when you use the main flash in TTL). On the Nikon version of the Nissin Di866, it can be set to power ratings from 1/1 to 1/8 (on Canon version, it goes from 1/1 to 1/32). It can also be switched off when not wanted.

Another nice feature is the inclusion of an USB port that makes the unit user upgradable. A firmware upgrade is now available from Nissin's download area.

The diagram below shows all the major features of the flash:

The parts.
Nissin Di866 front & back

As you can see from the illustration above, the wireless sensor is placed at the front of the unit, behind a red panel (along with AF-assist light). The head swivels 180 degrees right and 90 degrees left, so you should be able to establish a direct line of sight between the sensor and the on-camera master in most cases. However, the placement of the sensor may make it more difficult to make the unit work with Radio Poppers. (However, I do not have Radio Poppers, so I haven't actually tested this.)

The flash has only a few controls.

There is an on/off switch that also doubles as a lock button. Locking the unit prevents you from changing settings by accident.

The pilot lamp lights red when the flash is charging, and green when the flash is fully charged. You can press it to fire a test flash or to use the flash for modelling light.

Control of the flash is done by means of menus. There is a small colour LCD showing colour coded menus and four arrows and a “Set”-button to select settings from these menus.

The diagram below summarises all the modes and menu screens on the Di866:

Quick manual.
Nissin Di866 Quick manual. (Source: Nissin)

The first mode is called “Auto” and is signified with a large green “A” on the rear LCD display. This is actually a super-simple TTL mode that only differs from the “other” TTL-mode (blue) by having no settings so you can't use manual zoom or dial in FOLC, and by having a buggy implementation of Nikon's Auto FP-feature (more about that below). I think it is there to please the people that prefer to leave their camera's mode dial on Green Auto, but it seems to be a pretty useless mode for the rest of us.

The second mode is called “TTL” and is blue. You can use the multifunction button to dial in FOLC (Flash Output Level Compensation) from -3 EV to +3 EV in steps of 1/3 EV. As shown on the diagram above you can press the “Set”-button for two seconds to get to the Advanced menu to turn on and set the power ratio of the sub-flash. The other setting that can be changed in the Advanced menu is manual zoom for the head. The default is that the zoom head follows the focal length of the lens. ISO and aperture is picked up from the body, but not shown on the display at the back of the Di866.

The “Manual” and “Av” modes share the brown menu. In “Manual” mode you set the power ratio of the flash from 1/1 (full power) to 1/128. If you go into the Advanced menu and set the f-stop and ISO you use, you will see the camera-subject distance for the presumed best exposure displayed on the display. I find it annoying that you have do this. Why does it not just pick up ISO and aperture from the body? It is obviously capable of this, as it does so in the blue TTL-mode.

In “Av” (Aperture value) mode, the Di866 operates like an auto-thyristor flash such as the Vivitar 285HV. You set the aperture (in the top menu) and the ISO (in the Advanced menu). The UI is less than ideal - you set the aperture in a top menu and have to dive into the Advanced sub-menu to set the ISO. Again: Why does it not pick up the ISO (and aperture) from the body?

In both “Manual” and “Av” modes you can go down into the Advanced menu to control the power ratio of the sub-flash and toggle manual zoom.

If you want to use the Di866 as a plain optical slave flash, you set it up for this through the Advanced menu below the “Manual” and “Av” modes.

There is no pre-flash on the Di866 in the “Manual” or “Av” modes, so the Di866 will also serve fine as master (lead flash) for plain optical slaves in those modes.

The “Multi” mode is red, and corresponds to the “RPT” (repeating flash) mode on the SB-900. This is a mode where the flash fires repeatedly during a single exposure, creating a stroboscopic multiple exposure effect. It works with any camera, including those that do not have a built-in stroboscopic mode (e.g. Nikon D60, D3000, D5000).

In the orange “Wireless” mode, Nissin offer the functionality Nikon calls AWL (Advanced Wireless Lighting). There is two sub-menus in this mode. The one called “Master” let you program the Di866 to control up to three different groups of remote flashes (A, B, and C), in addition to itself (M). There is also four channels available to minimise the risk of other people's flashes controlling your remote flashes. The other sub-menu is called “Remote” and let you set up a Di866 to be a remote unit controlled by another Di866, a Nikon SB-800 or SB-900 Speedlight, a Nikon AWL Speedlight Commander SU-800, or the built-in flash on a compatible Nikon body in “Commander mode”.

(There is also another wireless mode, accessible through a sub-menu in “Manual”. See the section about wireless modes for details.)

The final menu that can be selected on the Di866 is purple. It let you change some basic settings, including setting a permanent exposure bias for TTL. The other settings in this menu is a control to toggle the pilot lamp button function (single test flash or modelling light), turning the display off to save power, turning the display rotation sensor off, selecting feet or meters for distance displays, selecting the time delay for auto off, and performing a major reset.

In the box

The Nissin Di866 comes in a silver coloured box that contains:

  1. Di866 Speedlight.
  2. Soft case.
  3. Table stand.
  4. One printed A4 page with Di866 Quick Manual.
  5. CD-ROM with PDF files of the full manual and Di866 Quick Manual.
  6. 1 year warranty card from distributor.
Box and content.
The box and its contents.

The box does not include a printed version of the full manual. Instead, there is a CD-ROM containing PDF files with four different language versions of the 38 page full manual (in English, German, Japanese and Russian). The CD-ROM also contains a PDF copy of the A4 page with the “Di866 Quick Manual” (reproduced above).

The Nikon SB-900 comes with a custom gel holder and a set of custom gels. It even has a sensor that detects the colour of the gel from coded tabs on the edge of the gel, and adjusts the white balance setting to match on compatible bodies. You can buy aftermarket gel kits, but the Nissin Di866 has no similar arrangement with a gel holder and sensor, so you have to improvise ways to attach them to the flash and alter the white balance manually.

Also unlike the SB-900, there is no custom diffuser dome included in the package (and also no switch on the Di866 to sense the presence of the dome). However, I've been informed by JMaldonado01 (@DPreview) that the Sto-fen OM-HV58 may fit the Nissin Di866.

Connections

Connections.
Nissin Di866 external connections.

On the right side of the unit (seen from front), there is a rubber lid and behind it is a PC socket, an USB socket, and an external power contact (see picture on the right).

Having a PC-connector is one of my main requirements for a flash unit. I dislike the fact that the Nikon SB-600 does not have one. Having a PC-connector means that I can hook the Di866 up to my GT301B poverty wizards when AWL does not give me enough range

The USB connection means that Nissin unit can be upgraded by users.

The power contact is identical to the a three pin external power contact you also will find on the front on the Nikon Speedlight SB-800 and SB-900. The manual lists compatibility with the following external packs:

  • Nissin Power Pack PRO-300
  • Nikon SD-8A

While the contact is compatible, the Nissin product page says the Di866 should not be used with the Nikon SD-9 power pack.

3. Observations

I just got mine, so I don't have much experience with it yet, but so far, it has lived up to expectations. Below is the observations I've done up to this point. Watch this space for updates.

  • Compatibility: It seems to do exposure control fine, both in TTL and Av modes. The modes than can be set in my D700's the on-camera flash menu (rear-curtain sync, slow sync, and red-eye reduction) all work fine with the Nissin Di866. It supports Auto FP fine in TTL mode, but not in any other mode. In terms of AWL, it communicates with my Nikon Speedlights, both as Master and as Remote. However, its support of AWL is less comprehensive than Nikon's (see next item).
  • Comprehensiveness: Like the Nikon SB-700, it does not offer a choice between TTL and TTL BL. Instead, TTL mode is selected automatically by the camera. TTL BL mode is used when the camera is set to matrix or centre weigthted metering, and plain TTL mode is selected automatically when the camera is set to spot metering. Comparing it to the Nikon SB-800 and SB-900, it doesn't offer the AA and GN modes. I never use these modes. The repeating flash (RPT) mode and focal plane (FP) mode can only be used when the Di866 is connected to the hot-shoe (see below). The SB-800's and SB-900's support of AWL are more comprehensive. Unlike the SB-800, but like the SB-900, it does not support Nikon's legacy TTL modes.
  • Coverage: Just as with Nikon Speedlights, the zoom head on the Nissin Di866 adjusts coverage to follow the focal length of the lens at all times (also when the flash is bounced). I don't like this and prefer to keep the head at its widest setting when bouncing. Luckily, you can turn automatic zoom off, but you have to go down into the advanced menus to do so. The zoom head on the Di866 covers a shorter focal length range than the Nikon SB-900 (24-105 mm vs. 17-200 mm, FX). The widest setting (with diffusion panel) is also less wide (18 mm vs. 14 mm, FX). Unlike the SB-900, the Di866 does not take any crop factor into consideration (so in theory, you waste some power and range when you use this flash on a DX-body). Since I almost always bounce the flash, I care very little about zoom heads, so the shorter range and less wide coverage is only of marginal interest to me.
  • Sub-flash: The sub-flash seemed like a good idea, since bouncing the light from above often creates ugly shadows under eyes, nose and chin. Even at the weakest setting, I have found it to be too intrusive when working at close range, so I turned it off. So far, I haven't found this feature as useful as I hoped to. For some strange reason, the sub-flash does not fire when the Di866 is used in AWL-mode.
  • Wide panel: Like the Nikon SB-600, SB-800 and SB-900, the Di866 has a built in wide panel. Giving a coverage equivalent to a 18 mm lens (FX), it is slightly less wide than the SB-800 (17 mm), and also less wide than the SB-900 (14 mm). Unlike the Nikon Speedlights, the zoom head does not automatically zoom out to its widest setting when the wide panel is activated.

  • AF-assist: The Nissin Di866 will output a red AF-assist light, but it it is just a red light that illuminates the subject. The AF-assist light on Nikon's Speedlight is a sharp, striped pattern that always gives the camera's autofocus something to lock on to. The AF-assisy light on the Nissin works when the subject is nice and contrasty, but with a dull subject, it is of less use than the AF-assist light on Nikon's Speedlights. There is no way to turn AF-assist light off.
  • Noise: It is not silent when charging, but it is quieter than my SB-800, and much quieter than my old Vivitar. (However, this may depend on how sensitive your ears are to high frequencies.) Moving the zoom head is pretty noisy.

Build

The Nissin Di866 is generally well built, but it does not have the solid feel of the the Nikon SB-900.

There is no lock for the tilt and swing on the head. This makes it easier to change the head's position with just one hand, but also less secure if you attach heavy light modifiers to the head.

The hot-foot is made of plastic, not metal as the SB-800 and SB-900. The fit in the hot-shoe of the Nikon D80 and D700 is very tight. You have to wriggle it a bit to get it seated or removed. I can imagine that if you are not careful when you do this, something may break. It also has an old-style locking collar similar to the one used on the old Nikon SB-28 Speedlight, not the new lever lock that you find on current Nikon Speedlights.

The zoom makes a lot of noise when it moves, but zoom action is fast and affirmative.

The battery tray holds four AA-cells. It can be removed completely, and you can carry spare pre-loaded battery trays for quick battery changes in the field.

Damaged contact.
Inserting batteries lopsided may bend and damage contacts.

When inserting batteries in the tray, you must be careful. First insert the positive pole, and the insert the negative pole by oressing firmly straight down. If you try to insert the negative pole lopsided, you may bend and damage the contacts, as shown on the close-up photograph above.

User interface

Unlike the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight, where there is a dedicated button or switch for almost everything, the rear of the Nissin Di866 looks bare. There is a 29 x 29 mm colour LCD panel displaying colour coded menus, and below this there is the multiswitch with four arrows you use to navigate the menus and a “Set”-button to select settings from the menus. The LCD panel is hooked up to a position sensor, so it will rotate to show upright text if you tilt the flash sideways.

Display.
Nissin Di866 display.

The colour display on the back of the Nissin Di866 (see examples on the right) convey less information than the LCD display on the back of Nikon's Speedlights.

For example, in TTL mode, the unit will pick up ISO and aperture from the body, but unlike the display on the back of a Nikon Speedlight, neither value is shown. In TTL-mode, the display is dominated by the EV you've set for FOLC (Flash Output Level Compensation). The position of the zoom head is also shown.

In the Manual and Av (non-TTL auto) modes, neither aperture nor ISO is picked up up from the body, so you must set these yourself. The display is dominated by the power ratio or aperture (F.No), and you have do dive into the sub-menu too see (and change) the ISO. It is very easy to forget to check and change the ISO. I have already been bitten by this.

Navigating menus is slower and more cumbersome than using the buttons and switches on the SB-900, and the layout of the menus is not always logical. For instance, when shooting in classic non-TTL auto mode (Av) you set the aperture in the top menu, but you must dive into the advanced menu to set the ISO. But using the menus is not difficult to get used to. After a while, I found it to work reasonably well.

The USB connector and the ability to upgrade the firmware is a useful feature.

versions.
Nissin Di866 version table.

How to actually see what version of the firmware a unit is running is not described in the manual, but according to this note, you can display the version table by this procedure: Press the [On/Off] switch, hold it, and then press the [Pilot] switch. It is easy to turn the unit off instead, but a bit of practice helps.

The version table consists of two columns of numbers and letters. The third row (“C”) indicates firmware version.

The latest versions as of July 2010 are:

  • Canon: 2
  • Nikon: 4

I've no idea what the three other letters and numbers in the version table mean. If somone know what the meaning is of the A, B, and M-lines, please let me know.

The Nissin Di866 preserves all settings when you turn off the power. When you power up, the flash starts up with the same settings as you left it with. Settings are even preserved when you remove all power by removing the batteries. If you want to restore the default factory settings, there is a master “Reset” in the Setting menu.

Timing

The x-sync speed of the Nikon D80 used for testing is 1/200 second. The Nissin Di866 syncs at this speed in the hot-shoe, and also when it is used as a remote unit within the AWL framework.

Exceeding the x-sync and firing the Di866 with the shutter speed set to 1/250 second results in a completely dark frame (i.e. the entire frame is covered by the shutter blade when the flash fires). When the SB-800 is fired with a shutter speed set to 1/250 second (with Auto FP turned off), only the lower 10 % of the frame is covered by the shutter blade. While it does not make sense to exceed the x-sync speed without using FP, this indicates that the Nissin Di866 takes slightly longer to respond than the Nikon SB-800.

The Nissin Di866 can be fired by my first generation GT301B poverty wizards. However, it is not able to sync with them at 1/200 second. 1/160 seems to be the fasted speed it can handle when fired by radio. The Nikon SB-800 works fine with these radio triggers at 1/200 second.

At full power, the blast from the Nissin Di866 lasts about 1/600 of a second. This is longer than the time the focal plane shutter spends travelling over the frame on a modern camera. If you fire at full power with the shutter on a Nikon D700 set to 1/8000 second, you will get the whole frame illuminated by the flash without the FP mode being active. But if you dial down to half power or less, you will see a shutterblade covering some part of the frame.

Actual Power

An old Norwegian saw says that it requires a strong moral character to sell elastic by the yard. The same can be said about selling flash by the guide number. The sad fact is that all flash manufacturers, to some extent, list inflated guide numbers in their sales literature and manuals.

To test the actual guide numbers of the Nissin Di866, I set up the flash to fire in manual mode at full (1/1) power inside my studio against a standard Sekonic 18 % grey card placed in the centre of the frame one meter from the flash. The measurement was done with a Sekonic L-778 spot meter at ISO 100. I used fully charged batteries and waited at least 10 seconds after the ready light lit up before firing the flash. Three bursts were fired at each setting. In most cases all three gave the same value. In a few cases, one flash measured 0.1 EV above or below the other two, and was discarded.

Below is the measured guide numbers (ISO 100, meters) at four different settings of the zoom head. The guide numbers in square brackets are those given in Nissin's manual, and the EV gives the difference between the specified and measured guide number.

  • 18 mm: 20 (with wide panel).
  • 24 mm: 27 [31] EV -0.4.
  • 35 mm: 34 [40] EV -0.4.
  • 50 mm: 37 [46] EV -0.6.
  • 105 mm: 39 [60] EV -1.2.

As can seen from this list, the Di866 underperforms the specified guide numbers by around half a stop with the zoom head at its wide setting, and with more than a stop at its maximum end.

To compare, I performed exactly the same test with a Nikon SB-800. The results is listed below in the same format.

  • 17 mm: 18 [19] EV -0.2 (with wide panel).
  • 24 mm: 29 [30] EV -0.1.
  • 35 mm: 36 [38] EV -0.2.
  • 50 mm: 38 [44] EV -0.5.
  • 105 mm: 45 [56] EV -0.6.

While the Nikon SB-800 is also underperforming relative to its specified guide numbers, it does so to a lesser extent than the Nissin Di866.

I intend to also do the same test with the Nikon SB-900, as soon as I manage to get access to a unit.

When the sub-flash is activated, some of the charge is used by the sub-flash. This means that the main flash have a lower guide number when the sub-flash is activated. The light output by the sub-flash will, however, make up for that loss, but there is no point in turning on the sub-flash for more maximum power.

When the sub-flash is activated in TTL mode, some of the power is apparently diverted to the sub-flash, making the main flash lose some power. This also happens when the main flash is not firing at full strength. With the sub-flash at full-power (1/1), the amount of power loss seems to be approximately -0.5 EV. I measured this by first firing with the sub-flash deactivated, and then with it activated but covered up. The second shot received half a stop less light than the first.

Light Spread

The set of photos below shows how well the zoom head of the Nissin Di866 (left) and the Nikon SB-800 (right) distributes the light at various focal lengths.

Neither flash adjusts the zoom head to take the DX-crop into account when used on a DX-body, so this test is conducted with an FX-body (Kodak DCS Pro 14n). The flash units was placed in the hot-shoe of the Kodak, and the Kodak was placed on a tripod and focused on a concrete wall around two meters from the camera. This test was conducted using non-TTL auto mode (Av on the Nissin Di866, A on the Nikon SB-800).

The EVs indicated below each pair is the averaged difference, measured in EVs, between the four corners of the frame, and the centre.

Di866:  17 mm SB-800: 17 mm
Left: Di866 @ 18 mm, with wide panel, -1.5 EV. Right: SB-800 @ 17 mm, with wide panel, -2.0 EV.
Di866:  105 mm SB-800: 105 mm
Left: Di866 @ 105 mm, -0.3 EV. Right: SB-800 @ 105 mm, -0.4 EV.

Neither the Nissin Di866, nor the Nikon SB-800 distributes light even across the frame. The light fall-off towards the corner is most prominent at the wide-angle end. The Nissin Di866 distributes the light slightly more even than the Nikon SB-800 on most focal lengths.

4. Wireless flash

Like the Nikon SB-900, the Nissin Di866 has two completely different wireless modes. For wireless off-camera flash to work, you must set the master and all the remote flash units to the same wireless mode. (Also note that the AWL-compatible wireless flash mode may not be an option in some configurations.) When using either wireless mode, you should make sure that the Di866's slave sensor (behind the name plate on the front of the Di866 body) faces the master flash for best range and stability.

There is one useful detail missing from the Nissin's wireless modes: Nikon Speedlights have a built-in sound monitor that is very helpful when the unit is used as a wireless remote or slave, in particular when you are not able to monitor the remote's pilot lamp. The sound monitor will tell you when the Speedlight is ready to fire (one short beep), that it fired properly (two short beeps), or that power may have been insufficient for correct exposure (three long beeps). This very useful sound monitor feature is missing from the Nissin Di866.

It should also be noted that RPT does not work in any wireless mode (TTL or Plain). However, I can't see much point in using this feature in wireless mode anyway.

AWL Wireless Mode (updated: 2010-07-30)

The orange sub-menu on the Di866 lets you pick the AWL-compatible wireless mode. This is the mode where the camera through the lens (TTL) monitors the light put out by the remote flash and a computer inside the camera works out what power the flash should fire with for correct exposure. The correct power is communicated to the remote by the master flash with coded light pulses.

This mode, unfortunately, cannot be used with the pop-up flash on Nikon entry level cameras (i.e. D3100 and D5000, and earlier models such as D40, D40x, D60, D3000) as master. To use the Di866 has a remote flash with these bodies, you need a master that “speaks” the AWL protocol – for example Nikon's SU-800 wireless commander or another Nissin Di866 – in the camera's hot-shoe. The pop-up flash on Nikon's for advanced models (i.e. D70, D80, D90, D200, D300, D700 and better), do “speak” the AWL protocol and can be used to control the Di866 as a dedicated remote flash in AWL mode.

The AWL mode, which is selected by means of the orange sub-menu works reasonable well. Exposure seems to be just as accurate as with Nikon Speedlights, the range seems to be about the same. Even without line of sight between master and remotes, there is very few misfires indoors. The wireless system is not reliable outdoors, but this is also the case with my Nikon SB-900 Speedlight. A minor quirk is that the sub-flash does not fire when the unit is in AWL mode. A more serious quirk is that Auto FP does not work in wireless mode. This is discussed in more detail below.

When the Nissin is set up as a remote in AWL-mode, the normal 30 second timeout (power-save mode) does not apply. (The Auto-off function still apply, but this can be turned Off in the purple sub-menu.) With the colour LCD constant on, this may waste some power, but it is a huge advantage because you need not worry about time-outs. Once set up as a remote unit, the flash will be ready to fire even if you take a long time between shots.

Like the Nikon SB-900 the Nissin Di866 AWL mode has one master group (M) and three remote groups (A, B and C). Each of the four group can be (except group A) set to one of the following modes: TTL, Manual and Off. When set to TTL, you can also set FOLC on the Master from -3 EV to +3 EV in steps of 1/3 EV. When set to Manual you can also set power on the master from 1/1 to 1/128 in steps of 1/3 EV. Group A can do all of the above, except that it can not be set Off.

They're all compatible with Nikon's groups, so mixing the Nissin Di866 with Nikon CLS Speedlights works fine.

AWL menus.
Nissin Di822 AWL menus: Master (left) and Remote (right).

Above are screen shots from a set-up where the Nissin Di866 as Master (left) is set off (---), group A is set to use TTL and groups B & C is set off. The Remote is set to belong to group A.

I tested the operation of Nissin's AWL mode using two Nissin Di866x, one Nikon SB-900 and one Nikon SB-800. The first Nissins was put on the camera (D700) as Master. The Nikon SB-900 was set to group A, the second Nissin to group B, and the Nikon SB-800 to group C. I then put the three remote units at the other end of the studio, and tried various combinations by changing the

I am happy to report that the following combinations all worked excellent in both TTL and manual mode: MABC, MAB, MAC, MA, ABC, AB, AC, A.

However, there is no way to set group A to Off. This means that when the Nissin Di866 used as Master you can not set any of the following combinations: MB, MC, MBC, BC, B or C. I do not regard this as a significant problem. In practice, you would set up Group A as key and never want to turn it off. But this quirk is yet another sign that the firmware in the Nissin Di866 is slightly buggy.

Plain wireless mode (updated: 2010-07-30)

The other wireless mode on the Nissin Di866 is what is sometimes referred to as a “plain” or “dumb” slave mode. Nikon calls it “SU-4”-mode. This is the only wireless mode on the Di866 that will work if you want to use the pop-up flash of Nikon's entry level cameras (D3100, etc.) as master. This is also the preferred wireless modes for all that engage in “strobist” style wireless flash.

To set the Nissin Di822 up as a slave flash in “plain” wireless mode, you go to the brown sub-menu and select “M” (manual), press “Set” for about two seconds to get to the advanced menu, you will find “Slave” as the third item. Go to “Slave” and change its setting to “SF”. You can see the slave flash is activated by two weak red lights flashing once every second behind the sensor panel.

In this mode, the Di866 will fire whenever it “sees” another flash. Make sure that you set your lead flash (e.g. the pop-up flash on the Nikon D3100) to Manual, otherwise the pre-flash will make the Di866 fire before the shutter opens.

When you use the non AWL slave mode on the Nissin Di866, you need to control the power of the flash manually (i.e. no TTL). In this wireless mode, the sub-flash works just the way it does when the flash is mounted on the camera.

Unlike in AWL-mode, the 30 second power-save timeout apply in “plain” wireless mode. My first Nissin Di866 had a bug that made it sometimes “go to sleep” in power-save mode. This bug is not present in the second unit I received in July 2010. With this bug fixed, the Nissin Di822 is an excellent “strobist” flash.

Flawed Auto FP

The good news is that Nikon's Auto FP feature works as you would expect in TTL mode when the Di866 is mounted in the camera's hot-shoe. I.e.: when you enable Auto FP (requires a DSLR body with this feature) you are able to set the shutter faster than the x-sync speed. As long as you have the flash in the hot-shoe, with its mode set to blue TTL, the flash synchronises fine with the focal plane shutter all the way up to the maximum shutter speed (1/8000 sec. on my D700).

Also, if you don't turn on Auto FP, the camera recognises the flash and restricts your shutter speeds to to those within x-sync (e.g. 1/250 sec. on a D700). So far, so good.

The bad news is that is does not work when the Di866 is used as a wireless master or remote. Nor does it work in any other mode – not even in the flash's green Auto mode, which is think is supposed to be an idiot-proof TTL-mode.

Worse, in those cases, it doesn't tell the camera that Auto FP doesn't work, so you are still able to dial in any shutter speed you would like, only to find that the light from the flash is blocked by the focal plane shutter.

With my SB-900, by comparison, Auto FP works with AWL, and it also works in every mode except RPT. And the camera stops you from setting shutter speeds higher than the x-sync in those modes where FP does not work.

Not having Auto FP working in wireless mode is an inconvenience, but not something I can't live without. Not having Auto FP in the auto or manual modes is is not a huge problem for me (YMMV), as I use the TTL-mode most of time for fill-flash (which is where Auto FP is most needed). However, if you have Auto FP enabled by default (as I have), you just has to be a bit more careful about your choice of shutter speeds in the other modes.

But there really isn't a reason for Auto FP not to work with AWL or the other modes (except of course RPT). And, at least, the flash should communicate correct information about its FP-capabilities to the camera, like my Nikon Speedlight SB-900 does, and instruct the camera to block the user from setting high shutter speeds when the flash isn't operating in FP-mode. The flawed Auto FP implementation is my only significant negative find when testing the Di866.

5. Gripes (updated: 2010-07-30)

My first Nissin Di866 (serial # 980432068) was delivered in October 2009. I received a second unit (serial # 042774197) in July 2010. One of my main gripes with the first unit I received was:

  • It would sometimes go to sleep in plain slave mode.

This bug has been fixed in the unit I receiveed in July 2010. However, upgrading my old unit to the same firmware version as the new unit (version 4), did not fix this bug.

The following gripes still remain as of July 2010:

  • Auto FP is not working in the green A mode, in the brown M and Av modes, nor in any AWL mode.
  • When Auto FP is not working, there is no restrictions on what shutter speeds are available.
  • FV lock does not work when the flash is used as a remote in AWL mode.
  • There seems to be no way to turn group A off (---) when using it as an AWL master.
  • It does not pick up ISO and aperture from the body in Av and M mode.
  • The set ISO and aperture is not shown in the standard display in TTL mode.
  • The sub-flash in the Nikon version only goes down to 1/8 power, not 1/32 power as it does in the Canon version.

While not terribly important, these quirks look more like software bugs or omissions, rather than limitations that is inherent in the hardware. I believe that if Nissin wanted to, they could fix them by improving the software and distribute a firmware upgrade. I hope Nissin see fit to do this. However, for some reason, the company seems to be very unresponsive to their customers. This unresponsiveness is probably my greatest gripe with Nissin.

In addition, I've noted the following limitations:

  • RPT can only be used in the hot-shoe.
  • Sub-flash not available in AWL mode.

These last two are very mariginal. I don't care whether they get fixed or not.

6. Compared to the Nikon SB-900

The Nissin Di866 is smaller than the Nikon SB-900, but larger than the SB-800. The photo below shows all three units side by side from the front and the back.

Comparing sizes.
Left to right: Nikon SB-800. Nissin Di866 and Nikon SB-900. Front and back.

The table below lists displays the main specifications of the Nissin Di866 and Nikon SB-900 Speedlights side by side:

 Nissin Di866Nikon SB-900
Coverage (FX)18, 24 - 105 mm14, 17 - 200 mm
GN (ISO 100/m, f=35mm)34 [40] (1)40
GN (ISO 100/m, f=50mm)37 [46] (1)46
GN (ISO 100/m, f=max) 39 [60] (1)58
Sub-flash GN (ISO 100/m)12-
Flash duration (sec.)1/600-1/220001/880-1/38500
Movementstilt, swiveltilt, swivel
Tilt Angle0 to +90° -7 to + 90°
Weight w/o batteries380 g.415 g.
W x H x D74 x 134 x 110 mm78 x 146 x 118 mm
Batteries4xAA NiMH4xAA NiMH
Battery life (2)150 flashes 190 flashes
Recycle time (2)3.5 sec.2.3 sec.
Trigger voltage3.4 volts3.5 volts
i-TTLyesyes
Non-TTL auto (A)yesyes
Non-TTL auto (AA)noyes
Manual power ratio (M)1/1 - 1/1281/1 - 1/128
Manual distance priority (GN)noyes
High Speed Sync (FP)yes (3)yes
Manual stroboscopic (RPT)yes (4)yes
FOLCyesyes
FX/DX awarenoyes
Overheat protectionyesyes
Sound monitornoyes
Firmware updateyes (5)yes (6)
AWL master / remoteyes / yesyes / yes
AWL Channels1-41-4
AWL GroupsM, A-C (7)M, A-C
Plain master / slaveyes / yesyes / yes
LCDyesyes
Modelling lightyesyes
Bounce cardyesyes
Coloured gel filtersnoyes
Diffuser domenoyes
PC sync socketyesyes
External power socketyesyes
Footplasticmetal
Lockcollarlever
Tabletop standyesyes (AS-21)
Soft caseyesyes
Cost, Mar. 2010USD 250USD 460

Notes:

  1. The guide numbers listed for the Nissin Di866 is measured guide numbers The guide numbers in square brackets are those given in the Nissin's sales literature. The guide numbers for the Nikon SB-900 are copied from from page F-18 in the SB-900 user manual, centre-weighted illumination pattern. I will update the Nikon numbers with actual measurements when I manage to borrow a SB-900 for testing.
  2. Measured with four fully charged 2600 mAh NiMH batteries.
  3. Only works in TTL-mode when connected to the hot-shoe.
  4. Only when connected to the hot-shoe. Neither as wireless master, nor remote.
  5. Nissin Di866 firmware update via USB connector.
  6. Nikon SB-900 firmware update via the hot-shoe of compatible cameras (e.g. Nikon D3, D3x and D700).
  7. Group A cannot be set to Off.

7. Conclusion (updated: 2010-07-30)

For people looking for a CLS-compatible flash, the Nissin Di866 is a serious alternative to the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight. Yes, it is less solidly built, the guide numbers listed in Nissin's sales literature is inflated by half a stop and it is missing a few bells and whistles, including Nikon's very handy sound-monitor. Also, on the software side, the Di866 falls short of the SB-900 by not supporting the AA and GN modes, by not showing ISO in the top level displays, and by not picking up ISO from the camera body in all modes. In addition the implementation of the Auto FP mode is flawed. Whether or not these shortcomings are important, depends on your style of shooting.

For me, the Nissin Di866 delivers where it counts. It does TTL well on and off the camera, and the built-in “dumb” slave mode also makes it equally suitable for “strobist”-type work. Comparing it to Nikon's product line, I find it a better choice than the similarly priced SB-600, which is just too stripped down. Both the SB-800 and SB-900 are better and more capable flashes, but the SB-900 is very expensive, and the SB-800 is discontinued (and used models collect silly prices on eBay). The Nissin Di866 fits nicely into the gap between the SB-600 and the SB-900, and the hole left by the SB-800, with Auto FP not working in AWL mode the only significant flaw.

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76 responses:

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Nice review Gisle.
I’ve been using this flash for a couple of weeks now, I agree with most of what you said.

Just a few notes and opinions of myself about the parts that matter to me:

  • Subflash. I too found the lowest setting too strong upclose, but that is easily fixed with a very small diffuser. Using a diffuser and the subflash alone is worth buying this flash (for me), I love the light quality I can get from it. Also the difuser makes it even better with less/softer shadows.
  • AutoFP. Indeed a flawed feature, I don’t use wireless much or nearly ever, but I use FP a lot in manual mode (or used too with the SB600), this flash don’t do FP in M mode, that’s really bad for me. I actually send Nissin an email about this. I don’t usually complain about features to a manufacturer but has got to be complained ;) The lack of handle type lock, I actually like that, I always hated that on the SB600, very fast to put on and off, but there’s a lot of play in that type of mount. I hated that play feeling, and I'm not usually putting the flash on the off :)

Just my 2 cents ;)

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Gisle,
Thanks for a superb, comprehensive review; I bought a Di866 a couple of weeks ago, and was delighted to read that I haven't been sold a pup.
Can I also comment on your superb English, it puts me to shame that I can't speak Norwegian! Thanks again,
Lloyd Crawford

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Thanks a lot for a great review! Was already considering this flash, now stronger :)

A tad skeptic on the sync speed with remotes (for outside use where you want the ambient underexposed, and still keeping a low DOF). Will test this with Yongnuo RF-602s soon.

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FP issues

Any further news from Nissin concerning FP in AWL use?

Also, does the SB-800 work in all ways when used as the Commander (master) and firing the Di866? In other words, will I get wireless FP with Di866 as remote being controlled by SB-800? If I use the Di866 as commander with the Nikon SB-800 remote, will the SB-800 then give me FP?

I have an opportunity to get an SB800 or another Di866 and I am not sure which way to go. I do like my present 866 and would like to stay with another of the same model, but FP is an issue for me.

Regards, Jim

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@Jim,
I am not aware of any news or firmware update from Nissin addressing the issues I mention in the review.

As to your specific issues: As noted in the review, the Nissin Di866 will not give you wireless FP when it is used as a remote with a SB-800 as commander; nor will the SB-800 sync in FP mode when you use the Di866 as commander.

If you want to use the Nissin Di866 for FP, it only works with a wired connection to the hot-shoe. Not with AWL in any configuration.

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Guide number

Hi.
I recently tested the Di866 - i got a GN of 32.3 at 105mm (ISO 100). My results for the SB-900 were 32.8 at 105m (ISO 100) and the 580 EXII 32.9 at 105 mm (ISO 100). I wonder if I am doing something wrong in my testing? The results seem very low. I used a Sekonics L-308S flash meter. Same protocol as you specified. I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

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@Steve,
I measured the GN in the center of the frame against a grey card using a Sekonic L-778 spot meter (1° spot). AFAIK the Sekonic L-308s flash meter doesn't have a spot measurement mode. You don't specify whether you used your meter's reflected mode or incident mode. If you used the reflected mode you should expect a too low GN as the reflected mode of the L-308s covers a fairly wide field. I am not familiar with incident mode measurements, but they vary depending whether you use measure a spherical or flat field, so they will probably also yield somewhat different values than spot measurements.

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My addition

I just got the Di866 last night. And I tested it against the SB-600 and SB-900. I measured the power at 35mm zoom at about 1.5 meters away using a light meter. And my informal test result shows:

  • SB-900 is 1 stop more powerful than SB-600
  • SB-900 is 1/3 stop more powerful than Di866

I then tried using the Nikon SD-8A power pack on Di866. It works. But I didn't use freshly charged batteries so the timing will not be compariable. The SD-9 power pack plug will not fit on the Di866 unless you modify it. But I think Nissin may have a reason to make it incompatible. And I found that when the LCD is off and you unplug the power pack, the flash will not respond to the PW trigger signal from the PC socket. Press the "Set" button to wake up the flash seem to "fix" it. I will need to do more tests to confirm this issue.

I tested the flash off-camera and triggered by a Pocket Wizard Plus II. It works both by itself and when the camera has a hotshoe flash on. (I found some other flash won't sync in time when another flash is on camera) And it still flashes after 17 minutes of idle time. So I think the sleep (LCD off) mode still have the flash active.

I think the Di866 a great value (power, PC socket, power pack compatible, feature, ease of use) compare to SB-600 if you can get it for similar price. But SB-900 is definitely a better unit in terms of power, recycling time, ease of use, features, resell value, firmware support (SB-900 is user updatable; for Di866 you need to send it to the distributor to update in US and Canada).

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My addition followup

I cannot reproduce the "not responding to pc sync signal" issue described in my last post.

It does sync up to 1/250 on my Fuji S5 Pro, which is the fastest sync speed for the camera.

The LCD screen is of lower quality where the image is a bit blurry, and the response time is slow. And compare with SB-900, SB-900 has larger and more contrasty but mono colour screen, which is more practical in harsher work condition since its sharper and can display more infomation on the same screen. But 866's attractive colour-based menu item is a good innovation. I have found a flash that is inexpensive, powerful, has pc socket, accept power pack, sync correctly, will not go to sleep on dumb manual remote mode.

Need to improve on: add wireless FP mode, display firmware version, allow user to update firmware.

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Sleep glitch

When I need to use the dumb slave in manual and run into that infernal sleep glitch after a single shot, I simply back the manual setting down by 1/3 stop on the flash and all is well. It now goes back to green light usage after flash and not much light lost at all. And no need to have to go to the flash and tap a button to re-awaken it.

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Overheats. Is my flash defective?

I used this flash to assist on a wedding shoot yesterday in about 90 degree heat, however the last part of the wedding was inside in AC at a reasonable temperature. I used Lithium AA's. I was shooting at quite a clip at times, and all said I shot approx 600 shots. Overall, quality of light and ease of use was acceptable for the price. I think it's definately better, barring the problem listed below, than a 430EX for the money.

Here is my problem: I had overheating issues with this flash. At a couple different points the flash had problems with recycle time on fresh batteries and it overheated once. Is there something I'm doing wrong? Wrong batteries maybe? It also ran through 2.5 (the third set is still in the flash) sets of lithium AA's, and I'm not sure if that is normal or not as I've never used a speedlight during a wedding so my experience is non-existant.

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@Jim H
Thank you for a very interested observation! Backing down just 1/3 of a stop does not work for me, but reducing the power setting to 1/2 does, as long as I am not popping them too fast. There is a pattern here: If you are in power-save mode and you deplete the capacitor to the point where the flash is unready (flashing red light), it does not become ready again automatically when recharged. It then goes into tthis weird state with flashing red and green light) In that state, you need you to touch a button for it to become ready again. If keep your power setting low and does not fire to frequently, it never enters that state, and works fine.

@sam
I don't recommend using disposable Lithium batteries for this flash. I think the number of shots you got (around 200 per set) is quite normal. A more economical type for flash work is rechargeable NiMH batteries. (You can read about different battery types and how to pick the right type in our Battery Guide for Photographers.)

As for the Di866 overheating, this has never been an issue for me. But I've never run through 600 shots in an afternoon. The Nissin Di866 is made of plastic and has no cooling or vents, so I am not surprised that you experience overheating with such a high frequency.

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Do you know if i can use this flash to command an SB600 using a Nikon D40?

 

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@cristian
Yes.
The Di866 works fine as a commander in the hot-shoe of a D40 with the SB-600 as a wireless remote.

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I own two Di866 flashes and shoot with a Nikon D300. I have nothing but praise for the Di866's. I also use them with YongHuo CT-301s wireless flash triggers and they work flawlessly. I use 3000 mAh batteries in the Di866's and I find the recycle time is excellent 1 to 2 seconds.

The iTTL mode is handy and very easy to use, however I'm finding I use the manual mode a lot more. There is also a software upgrade available which my local supplier here advised me of the following:

The information I have received on the upgrade is a little vague but essentially manual operation has been improved, the action of slave mode after sleep mode has been improved and the zoom position at 105mm for the D3000 has been improved.

I have also used the Nissins with the new YongHuo YN-560 flashes in a wireless configuration and they work together exceedingly well.

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“Thank you” from the a Canon shooter

I want to thank you very much for your review. It was instrumental in my decision to pick up a couple of these units.

First, let me say that, even though I felt I knew a lot about the Di866 before it arrived, I was still pleasantly surprised at the quality of the unit. Construction is right on par with the older Canon 550EX Speedlite units I used to own (I've not used the 580EX). The loud zoom motor startled me, but I remembered that was how it it was on the 550EX and 420EX units.

In all the years I used my 550EX units, I felt as if I understand how it functioned with about 90 % proficiency. I used it for specific tasks (multiple units more than half the time) and got pretty good at getting it set up to achieve those tasks. If, however, I wanted to work outside that safety zone, I had to dive into the manual or play around with the controls and experiment.

In contrast, I “got” the Di866 right off the bat. The interface isn't “perfect”, but it's very clear and intuitive. Dividing its major functions into six different categories was a brilliant stroke, compared to Canon's method of simply “handing over the controls”. After a quick (5 min) tour of the PDF manual, I understood 95 % of the unit's functions. After another 20 minutes working with it, I felt that I knew the rest.

Like you, I have expected Av mode to set the ISO automatically. However, it makes sense that it does not. “Av” mode is really a subset (or variation, perhaps) of “manual”. Setting the ISO is a “dedicated” function. It would be confusing to have to set your aperture manually but not ISO. In addition, both the aperture and ISO settings are in the same sub-menu.

The remote capabilities of the Di866 (at least for Canon) are absolutely terrific, exceeding both my expectations and my understanding from reading reviews. According to my understanding there are actually six different wireless mode:

  1. ETTL wireless: fully automatic.
  2. ETTL wireless: fully manual.
  3. Analogue wireless: manual mode.
  4. Analogue wireless: Av mode.
  5. Digital wireless: manual mode.
  6. Digital wireless: Av mode.

In addition, I was able to trigger external Di866 unit(s) using a pop-up flash from a such-equipped Canon body. (That left my 1D-series cameras out, but my old original D30 and newer T1i body did just fine.) Either Av or full manual worked great. Of course, the pop-up contributes to the exposure, but I found that exposure compensation still worked fine. That is, to make the external light a key light and the pop-up fill, -1 or even -2 could be dialed into the FEC.

Note: The “shut-off bug” does not appear to be in my units, as I could not duplicate it as you described. It's possible that 1) it was not inherent in the Canon version of this flash, or 2) it has been fixed in these newer editions.

Although I've read a couple of complaints about the sub-flash, it only works in TLL mode, and can be turned off completely if desired. I've not been fond of these things in the past, but never used one that could be dialed all the way down to 1/32, either. I'm hoping that this will allow me to ditch the Stofen-type diffusers.

Over all, I am extremely pleased with the Di866, both with its amazing versatility and its first-rate construction. It's worlds better than my old 550EX units (although I understand that the 580EXII made some significant improvements).

Thanks again for the work you did demonstrating this unit to us potential users.

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And what about us poor men, that bought our Di866 at first (last year) and that we are waiting from then for a new (promised and never developed) firmware for the Nikon model to come, for correcting all that old issues. I think they (Nissin) are not too serious with their business and costumers.

Thanks.

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@Javier,
I've tried to get information from Nissin about a firmware upgrade, but all my letters to them so far has been ignored. They have not even acknowledged receipt.

However, my local distributor has been very helpful. I got my buggy early version of the Di866 replaced under warranty by the local distributor.

If you do not get any assistance from Nissin in resolving this, I suggest you contact whoever sold you the unit, tell them your unit is buggy, and request a replacement under warranty.

I really like the flash, but I think Nissin need to improve a lot in the customer relationship department if they are to keep my patronage.

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firmware released

www.nissindigital.com/en/download.html

Please download the following application and execute it on your PC for Firmware Update.

Di866 firmware: Setup.exe

<System Requirement>
Cable: USB cable (A:miniB type)
OS: Windows XP, Windows Vista
Ram: 1G or above
Internet connection needed
Remarks: some of Firewall and anti-virus software may block the firmware execution.

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@italy,
many thanks for the tip!

Unfortunately, it does not fix any of the bugs that is present in my oldest unit.

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Poor wireless signal reception

I'm on my second di866, having sent back the first due to the overheating issue others have encountered. So far, this unit isn't as prone to overheating but I've noticed it has horrible remote sensor reception when I'm shooting my Nikon D300 in CLS/Commander mode. Unlike my Nikon Speedlight SB-600, the di866 won't fire unless the pop-up flash signal is in a direct line with it and in very close proximity--further than 10 feet away or off to the side--forget about it. Also, if I mount the di866 on a light stand and have it shoot into a softbox which partially blocks the front wireless signal sensor, it becomes useless, failing to pick up the camera's signal, even less than a foot away. Again, this isn't a problem with my SB-600.

The only workaround that seems to make some difference is if I change the default Commander mode setting from Channel 1, Group A to Channel 3, Group B. The signal reception sensitivity seems to improve somewhat, but it still doesn't work not nearly as well as my SB-600.

Lastly, I tried to use a third-party remote wireless trigger instead of the Nikon CLS/Commander mode, hoping to overcome the di866's poor wireless signal reception but the unit doesn't work with this remote flash transmitter/receiver...although the SB-600 does with no hiccups.

As much as I want to like the di866, I'm very frustrated with it and feel it's poorly engineered.

Thoughts? Guidance?

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@output555
I have two Nissin Di866, and have not experienced the range problems you describe. Outdoors (where there is nothing to bounce off) you need line of sight. Indoors, they work fine in any orientation including inside softboxes at more than 10 ft. I haven't noticed any groups or channels being less sensitive than the others.

They also work with my GT301B remote wireless radio triggers (but will only sync up to 1/160 second with these triggers).

I haven't had any overheating issues, but then I work pretty slowly. I haven't in any way pushed the envelope when it comes to overheating.

To me, it sounds like you have a second faulty unit and should request a replacement or a refund.

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Thank for the reply, gisle. I've tried my unit indoors where there's plenty of reflection and it made little difference. Mounted with a softbox, less than a yard away and it couldn't pick up the D300's remote signal is pretty pathetic. I've got a request in to Minox USA who is the US distributor. In the past they've been extraordinarily helpful and responsive.

Picked up a couple of Di866s and tested them this weekend with a new 580EXII and an old 420EX on a Canon EOS 30D. Not impressed so far: I am finding that they do not work correctly with the Canon flashes in either slave or master mode:

  • In slave mode with a 580EX master they fire in group C, even when set to Group A or B.
  • In Master mode they don't correctly trigger the slaves either, though I haven't exactly worked out what they are doing, other than I often see a weak bluish light in the image, or have a very overexposed image.

Anyone else seen anything like this/know how to fix it? Can I really have picked up two bad units?

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very interesting!

having just dropped my SB600, and with this flash at the same price it looks like a very interesting alternative! A couple of questions:

- AF assist light; I presume this is just for the central focal point? If AF assist is disabled in camera (D300) does the flash still light it's own lamp?

- Your suggested firmware updates appear entirely reasonable and sensible. Have you had any joy with them being implemented?

Thanks again for your article; very persuasive!

kind regards,

deejaybee

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@deejaybee
I just tested on a D700 and disabling the AF-assist light in the camera does not disable the AF-assist light on the Nissin Di822. I assume it will be the same with the D300.

As noted in the review, the AF-assist light on the Nissin Di822 is just a blob of red light. It roughly covers the central focus diamond (i.e. a slightly larger area than the central focus point). I find it much less effective than the striped pattern put out by Nikon's Speedlights.

Not much luck in getting my suggestions for improvements recognised by Nissin. As you can see in this answer to Pedro (in another thread), Nissin does not seem too eager to please its customers.

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thank you! and 1 more thing if I may....

Thanks Gisle,

That's a shame that you can't turn the AF assist off- I presume the flash only lights it's AF lamp in situations that the camera would do the same? [or is it every shot]

One more question: I shoot portrait with the shutter release high, rather than low; does the screen rotate in this direction too? Assuming it doesn't can I turn off auto rotation on the screen?

Thanks again for your review and help!

deejaybee

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@deejaybee,
yes, the AF-assist on the flash only light up when it is dark.

The screen rotate both ways, and even upside down. Also: you can turn off auto-rotation of the screen in the purple “Settings” menu.

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Has anyone had such problems that when taking a picture the flash totally freezes? Well, not quite totally because I'm able to continue photographing with it, but the menus don't work and I can't turn the flash off without taking batteries out. Pretty annoying... I just got it today and updated firmware (for some reason it was still version 2). I have Nikon D7000, maybe it isn't totally compatible with this camera?

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I have the Di866 and I use it with my Canon XTI. You say TTL works off camera? I may have not understood in your review, but off camera for me, it only fires in M/AV and Multi mode when using cybercyncs Tx/RX. Are you using the flash as an optical slave off camera to get the use of the TTL option?

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@shortybiscuit,
yes, I am using the flash as an optical slave with the on-camera flash as master.

I am a Nikon user and the Di866 works in i-TTL mode off-camera when I use the built-in flash on my Nikon D80 in commander mode to control off-camera flush units.

Since my review is about the Nikon version, I did not write anything about using this flash with the Canon system. However, for the record, commander mode is not available for the built-in flash on most Canon DSLRs, including the Canon XTI/400D. This means that you shall not be able to use your XTI's built-in flash as master. This is a limitation built into your camera, not the flash. As noted in nye review, the same limitation apply to the pop-up flash on Nikon's entry level bodies.

However, the Di866 will work in TTL-mode off your camera if you buy a second Di866 unit (or a Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter) and use that as a master unit in the hot-shoe on your camera to control one or more off-camera Di866 units.

The AlienBees CyberSync system does not support Canon's E-TTL II system, so you can not use CyberSync units to control any type of remote flash unit in TTL mode.

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help me pls.....

can anyone please tell me, how to use a wireless feature in Di866. and take a picture with nikon D3000. im very new those things. but want to learn how it works.....

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Using wireless flash trigger

Can you control the power of the flash when its on the remote? because when I'm using it I think its output power is on full.

by the way I'm using Nikon D60

thanks

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SB600 and Di866

So if i have the budget for SB600 and Di866 (Appearantly they have same price in here), which should i buy ?

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SB600

Andhi, personally I would buy an SB600 for a few reasons:

1) using FV-lock with the DI866 changes it's mode from the Nikon Equivalent of TTL-BL to TTL, resulting in a change in flash output under FV-lock and an additional test shot to get correct exposure. This kinda defeats part of the object of FV lock [getting around blinkers, or a quick recomposition]. There is no means to change this [whereas the SB600 can be set to TTL operation only, giving this consistency]

2) FV-lock does not work with the Di866 as a remote. Nor can you FV-lock other (Nikon) remotes, with the Di866 set as manual; the Di866 will not fire under these conditions. With the 866 in your remote set-up, everything must be in manual to avoid the dreaded shut or droopy eyes.

3) As a remote the Di866 appears to have only 7 output levels, and they are not arranged in some nice sensible order:

1/128-1/64 all is well it operates as expected

1/64 + 0.3eV is lower output than 1/64

1/64+0.7eV is the same output as 1/64

1/32 is the same output as 1/64

1/32 + 0.3eV is what I would expect to be the power at 1/32

1/32+0.7eV is now back to the same power output as 1/64

1/16 is the same output as 1/32+0.3eV

1/8 is the same output as 1/16

1/4 is the same as 1/8

In fact 1/8 to 1/1 shows no variation in power; all are set same output as 1/8

My first unit failed within a week; and I can only assume that the above is also a result of failure too. I can't imagine that it would be designed this way.

5) As a commander, the Di866 can only set remotes to full stop powers (in manual mode)

6) When I tried to discuss this with Nissin, they were not interested in talking to me.

7) the SB600 just works completely transparently. Honesly you won't care about the extra stop of light from the Di866 because of the above issues.

regards,

deejaybee

deejaybee stick to playing music

The SB-600 is a toy flash compared to the Nissin Di866. Your wonderful list of facts & figures is a load of trash not backed up by any decent factual matter. I've just read a couple of photography magazines that rate the Di866 as one of the best flashes of the year.

I have owned an SB-600, SB-800, SB-900 & Nissin Di866. The SB-600 has had its day and the SB-800 is a ridiculous flash to operate, way too complicated. The SB-900 is close to a perfect flash but for twice the price of a Di866 .. i dont think so.

You comment about the Di866's commander mode .. WTF !

Who uses a flash in commander mode, that's a complete waste of a flash, use a camera like a D300, D700 etc which has it built into the flash on the camera or better still use wireless triggers like i do.

I have three Di866 flashes and none of them have given me problems, they are also the easiest flash to setup that i have used. They are far from perfect but for most of my flash work they do the job nicely.

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Di866 Multi off camera

I have 2 x SB600, 1 x Di866 and just ordered another.

Just spent all evening trying to figure out how I could get the multi feature working off camera and finally got it to work by putting it in Slave mode (on 2nd page of Manual setting) and setting the e3 function on my D300 to RPT.

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Overheating

Hi,

I have also had overheating. I use the lithium batteries and after 50 shots, the heat inside the unit is incredible. So much so, I could easily burn my hand on the batteries in its holder!

I also need a bit of advice:

Put the flash in wireless mode and TTL, on my D90, and I get excellent pictures and enjoy letting the camera control the flash output.

However, put the flash back on my D90 shoe and I get pure white images! I have adjusted shutter speeds and iso etc in TTL mode but get pure white photos.

Note, in Auto mode I get images so dim they are worth using. However, use manual mode and everything works again.

Any thoughts as to what I am doing wrong?

Cheers :)

Hello.

I have a Nikon Nissin 866 and D5000, can the built-in flash of D5000 to command a second flash Nissin 866 through wireless option at 866.

From what I've read, the body of Nikon D5000 can not maintain the option of wireless Nissin 866.

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"Press the [On/Off] switch, hold it, and then press the [Pilot] switch. It is easy to turn the unit off instead, but a bit of practice helps."

I found that you must turn the flash ON first and then the above combination. It's work like a breeze.

BTW, I bought my second di866 unit for Nikon. A lots of problems with group A and B, too much to write now. CLS is a system made for simplify things but with di866 is very complicated. Sad.

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@D7kographer

Please put one di866 in group A, the second di866 in group B, set them to Manual mode, shoot two pictures and tell me if group B still working. This is another di866 bug... so sad... (D90 here, master from body, channel 1, group A and B two nissin di866).

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Owner of two di866 units

If someone are interested of any kind of testing, I am available. I own 2 Di866 units now and a Nikon D90.

First unit with 1441 firmware and second with 1742 firmware. Tried to upgrade 1441 to 1742 without success. It seems that on Nissin site the last firmware is 1441 (Nikon).

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Will it work with D70?

Does anyone know the answer? I see D70 is mentioned as a possible commander using its internal flash. But I was wondering if there are any limitations on how it can be used with D70 compared to e.g. D90? Thanks.

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don't buy before you try - Due to different camera has different commander code

From Nissin to my problem from above:

"Thank you for email and purchasing Nissin Di866.

The original design of Di866 is using external flash as commander, like SB900, not built-in flash of camera.

Due to different camera has different commander code. Sometimes the following situation happens.

The Di866 supports wireless trigger only under TTL mode.

Thank you very much.

Nissin"

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optional battery pack for nissin di866

i was wondering if the yong nuo sf-18 or the pixel td-381 will work on the di866 with nikon mount? any other alternatives? the power pack ps300 is a bit expensive

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optional battery pack for nissin di866

the Phottix compact battery pack for nikon works very well with nissin di866.

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Nissin's product QC problem, maybe?

I've been interested in replacing all my Nikon flashes with Di866. I've read all texts on this page and it seems to me that the quality control of Nissin production line is quite fuzzy. As a consequence, I think I'll stick to the Nikon for the time being. Thank you everyone for sharing invaluable experience.

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Nissin Di866 on D2H

I've just bought a NISSIN Di866 for my D2H, I'll post a reply when I get and try it.

I bought a Nissin 360 ( I think that was the model number ) in 1980, and it was very, very good; I used it with a number of different Nikon bodies.

It will be interesting to see what the Di866 gives against an SB900, given the price difference.

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I've got it!

Well I've got it and apart from a problem of massive over-exposure in TTL mode ( solved by a compensation of 2.3EV ) it seems great. The dosage, after compensation, is spot on, certainly in TTL. I'm still playing with auto and manual modes, but it seems to do what it claims to do, for a great price.

Menus seem a bit, well, non existant but they seem to suffice for the moment.

TTL error!

After 3 months of using i got a problem on my 866 on my canon auto and TTL mode are not functioning it gives me dark pictures using those 2 mode. im using manual and av mode but recycle time takes long even fresh batteries and easily get overheat taking a series of 10 shots.

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newbie!

I need help. I just bought my Nissin Di866 few days ago, but i still can't figure out how to connect wireless flash between my Nissin and Canon EOS 1000D even though I've already set it to wireless remote, the flash still doesn't fire. Do I need to set up something from my EOS 1000D?

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@mush
To set the Nissin Di822 up as a slave flash in “plain” wireless mode, you go to the brown sub-menu and select “M” (manual), press “Set” for about two seconds to get to the advanced menu, you will find “Slave” as the third item. Go to “Slave” and change its setting to “SD”. You can see the slave flash is activated by two weak red lights flashing once every second behind the sensor panel. Now activate the pop-up flash on your EOS 1000D. The Nissin should fire when the pop-up flash on your 1000D fires.

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Flash cord

Any reason why a SC-29 or SC-28 TTL flash cord will not work with a Nissin Di866 in TTL mode but will work in manual mode?

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@Ross,
for TTL mode to work, there must be a connection to the camera for all the three “extra” pins in Nikon's i-TTL hot-shoe. For manual mode to work, you only need connection on the centre pin.

If TTL mode do not work with the cord, there must be some sort of connection problem. Make sure that the flash is fully inserted in the cord's shoe, it may be a tight fit.

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Really appreciate your prompt reply Gisle about the i-TTL flash cord query. Let me say that i have a Nikon D3100 and a Nikon D7000 and that i have 2 x Nissin Di866 flashguns. I have tried a SC-29 and a SC-28 flash cord on both of those cameras and i have tried swapping flashguns. I tried the flashes on both cameras and i-TTL works fine as expected. I try inserting the flash cord on either camera and swapping flashes, no go .. there is no way i-TTL will work through either camera or flash via the flash cords.

I see Nissin advertises a dedicated flash cord, the Nissin SC-01 universal shoe cord .. am i using the wrong cord.

Thanks in advance.

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@ross,
the Nikon cords should work fine. I just tested my two Di866 units by connecting them to a Nikon D80 with a SC-28 cord, and TTL worked fine. However, I had to secure the Di866 to the cord's hot-shoe with the Nissin's tightening collar to make it fire in TTL mode. If I left the collar loose, it did not fire in TTL mode.

The SC-28 cord just pass-through the electrical signals from all the contacts on the camera's hot-shoe to the same contacts on the hot-shoe at the end of the cord. There obviously has to be good contact at both ends for it to work. If you still have problems after tightening the collar, try cleaning the contacts with pure alcohol.

Also sliding a “live” flash over the shoe contacts may unsettle things. I always make a rule of turning off the power on both the flash and the camera before mounting the cord and the flash. I only turn power back on after the both the cord and the flash is secured in their respective hot-shoes.

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Nikon iTTL flash cords SC-28 and SC-29 for the Nikon D3100 & D7000

@Gisle
Well this has been a rather interesting exercise. I now have 2 x Di866 and 1 x Di622 Mk2 flash and i can tell you i have been very thorough in connecting them to my Nikon D3100 and Nikon D7000. I have cleaned the terminals with alcohol and made sure they fit nice and tight. It doesn't matter which cord / flash / camera combination i use i-TTL does not work. All the flashes work fine on camera, wireless works all ok. Flash cords just wont work in i-TTL … I think i'm ready to give up.

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@Ross
I am sorry to hear that. I don't use my Nissins with a cord often (my main use of them are as wireless remotes), but when I tested them yesterday with a SC-28 cord, and both worked OK.

It is a long shot, but just to make sure that your cords are OK, you may want to get hold of a Nikon SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 or SB-900 Speedlight and see if that works better with the SC-28 or SC-29 cord?

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@Gisle

I tried them with a SB-600 and no problems, also tried both Nissans with a Phottix duo ttl cord which should work on canon, nikon Fujifilm and Samsung DSLRs for off-camera flash.

http://www.phottix.com/en/flash-accessories/phottix-duo-ttl-flash-remote-cord.html

No success here either. I've decided not to pursue it any further as i tend to use my flashes a lot in manual mode via my wireless triggers ( Yongnuo CTR-301P ). I use 2 x softboxes on stands mostly as a portable setup and the manual / wireless setup is the most reliable.

The i-TTL definitely comes in handy on the camera and when i want a quick wireless setup. Only problem i find with i-TTL is using it outside its real hit and miss especially on a sunny day. Wireless triggers and the ones i use are fairly cheap ones, they haven't failed me yet.

I do have a query about the Nikon SD-8A battery pack, there seems to be a couple of different 3rd party types one that takes 6AAs and another that takes 8AAs. Also when you connect this battery pack to your flash do you also have batteries in the flash at the same time.

Thanks in advance.

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Di866 Mark-2

Do anyone know whether Di866 Mark-2 has a fix for FP/HSS in AWL?

thanks a ton!

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Di866 Mark-2

FP is available in TTL mode. I do not think it's available in Wireless. The user manual says it's available on A and TTL, but I asked Nissin about it and returned the answer stating: "It is not available on A mode".

It is quieter for zooming. It really different. Metal foot makes mounting flash on shoe easer compare to my old unit. However, it is louder when the actual flash is firing - you can not here on real situation as shutter sound is much louder. The real application, zooming sound is much annoying for me so it's all cancelled out.

The audible (buzzer) for wireless remote mode may be handy but I also hear ticking sound like clock while that red flash indicating the flash in operating in remote slave mode. I can not turn that off even I set the buzzer off on the custom menu.

The menu respond just so slightly quicker on my unit.

I can set down to 1/128 for subflash so it's much usable.

Firmware version 03.01.01.01

Overall, I'm quite happy with unit apart of some limitations compare to Nikon SB units. It does majority of job if it's not all for my application.

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thanks Ben, I went for it..

Ben, thanks for your response.. I went for it after reading your comments

I too observe what you stated on the buzzer, flap when firing etc. Overall, it is pretty good. Some quirks I noted :

1. Very rarely I have seen its exposure not correct when subject keeps moving to/far from flash, it seems like over-expose, am not sure whether this is real bug

2. Exposure when flash is part of composition. I have seen differences between SB900 and di866M2. di866M2 just doesn't expose well compared to SB900 for some reason..

3. FP/HSS in commander mode. When Nissin is commanding other unit, it fails in HSS. However, works as an HSS/FP slave : haven't measure flash power usage though.

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Cheers Skp

That's a very good observation, thanks SKP for comment back. I'm sure lot's of people appreciated comment like this include me.

Point 3 is very interesting, so may be good to have one of SB master in that application and no need to replace di866.

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sam

Hi its a excellent review of the DI866 i like ask you if you did similar review on the Metz 58AF2 because im planning get that one for my Nikon D300.Thanks

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Di866 and SC-28 not working for me either

@Gisle @Ross

First of all, thanks Gisle for such a thorough review on the Di866. It's become a permanent bookmark and a troubleshooting place for my D7000 and Di866.

Following on what Ross said, in my case I haven't had any luck getting the flash and SC-28 cable to work together. I may have a misconfiguration problem perhaps, and will keep investigating. But for now (two hours testing) the flash icon (thunder) doesn't show up on the LCD when connecting the flash unit through the cable. The unit is not being recognized by the camera, thus TTL mode does not work. As Ross pointed, only manual mode works.

I may give up too.

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An enthusiast who is able to save for the Di866 Mark II flash

Please help me. Lot of things run in my head and it confuses me. Will the Mark II version of this flash perform well (TTL) with my D5000, I know my camera doesn't have commander mode and I also don't have in my mind to go wireless, I just need a dedicated on-board external flash. Please don't recommended me Di622MkII and SB600 because, I believe, I will be heading to strobist path also SB700 have low GN and it just too expensive for me...

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Yes, I believe the Nissin Di866 will work fine doing TTL in the hot-shoe of the D5000. As for wireless flash, it has a built in plain optical slave that should trigger off with the D5000 pop-up flash as lead flash ‐ but in manual mode only.

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Replacement Parts

I've been using my Nissin Di866 Professional for about a year now and the plastic mounting foot has cracked. I can't attach it to my camera anymore. Does anyone know if I'm able to purchase a replacement piece for the bottom of the flash or is it toast?

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Di866 and SC-28 not working .. however Pixel Componor works great !

Tried out the Pixel Componor with a 1m, 3m, 10m ethernet cable to the Di866 and the Di622 speedlites and it works great with iTTL !

http://www.pixelhk.com/product.aspx?proSortID=2247&NodesID=30502

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Breaking the inverse of square law !!!

Hi, i`ve got a Nissin Di866II for my canon 550d and have a strange problem. Shooting at about 4/5 meters on TTL and A modes the pictures are underexposed for one and half stop when the flash zoom head is in positions between 50 and 105 mm ...using lower settings on the zoom or using the attached difuser all photos are well exposed !! using the difuser i see more light comming out of the unit....Can it be possible??

On nearest distances all seems to be ok !!

I found your comments very helpfull and instructive...Thanks a lot !!!

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repairs rubbish

mine died in january after minimal use and just outside the warranty period, managed to get a response to ship it to the dealer in hong kong for march, they sent it to Nissin for repair, just got it back 4 months later and it is as dead as it went.

Highly unrecommnded in my opinion

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Power pack for Nissin Di866 mark I

@Toni,
I can't comment on the specific products you link to. But we have a backround article about battery packs on the site: http://dpanswers.com/content/equip_batteries.php#pack.

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Power pack Nissin Di866 mark I

Thanks for the reply Gisle Hannemyr. Before the question had already read the article, is excellent. The problem is that it speaks of the Nikon 800 and 900 but does not clarify the compatibility of battery power pack for Nissin brand.

The companion Gary wrote this:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Gary 2010-04-09 15:28

I just got the Di866 last night. And I tested it against the SB-600 and SB-900. I measured the power at 35mm zoom at about 1.5 meters away using a light meter. And my informal test result shows:

SB-900 is 1 stop more powerful than SB-600

SB-900 is 1/3 stop more powerful than Di866

I then tried using the Nikon SD-8A power pack on Di866. It works. But I didn't use freshly charged batteries so the timing will not be compariable. The SD-9 power pack plug will not fit on the Di866 unless you modify it. But I think Nissin may have a reason to make it incompatible. And I found that when the LCD is off and you unplug the power pack, the flash will not respond to the PW trigger signal from the PC socket. Press the "Set" button to wake up the flash seem to "fix" it. I will need to do more tests to confirm this issue.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I do not know if I use a Nikon original model or any of the "compatible" written before.

If a user is using a compatible model, please communicate.

regards

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Power pack Nissin Di866 mark I

Toni,
from what I understand, Nissin recommends the high voltage pack Nissin PS-300 for use the the Nissin Di866. However, this costs far more than the aftermarked low voltage and inverter packs you are linking to.

If you want to use an inverter pack, there are some indicators that the external power circuit on the Nissin Di866 is somewhat compatible with Nikon SB-800, but not compatible with Nikon SB-900/SB-910.

This means that you may be able to use the Nikon SD-8A power pack and compatible third party packs. However, in the posting by Gary you quote, he reports that with the original Nikon SD-8A, there is some issues.

I am quite sure The Nissin Di866 will not work with the Nikon SD-9, so you you need not look for any third party pack that is said to be compatible with Nikon SD-9, or to work with Nikon SB-900.

This means that when looking for a third part inverter pack on eBay, you should look for one that is offered as an replacement for the Nikon SD-8A, and where full compatibility with the Nikon SB-800 flash unit is part of the specifications.

Disclaimer: I haven't tested any of the power packs you refer to with the Nissin Di866, so I can't guarantee that an aftermarked Nikon SD-8A-replacement will work, but this is the best answer I can give. (If you get one, please report back here how well it worked.)

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NISSIN di868 flash settings

I am a dummy to an external flash. I don't know what setting to put it on with my Nikon d50 or if I need to change settings on my camera. I need to be able to shoot inside where light is low and in evenings shot at football game last night and the pictures suck I had camera on auto and flash on ttl. Please help

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