Nissin Di866 flash
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).
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:
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:
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:
- Di866 Speedlight.
- Soft case.
- Table stand.
- One printed A4 page with Di866 Quick Manual.
- CD-ROM with PDF files of the full manual and Di866 Quick Manual.
- 1 year warranty card from distributor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  EV -0.4.
- 35 mm: 34  EV -0.4.
- 50 mm: 37  EV -0.6.
- 105 mm: 39  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  EV -0.2 (with wide panel).
- 24 mm: 29  EV -0.1.
- 35 mm: 36  EV -0.2.
- 50 mm: 38  EV -0.5.
- 105 mm: 45  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.
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.
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.
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.
The table below lists displays the main specifications of the Nissin Di866 and Nikon SB-900 Speedlights side by side:
|Nissin Di866||Nikon SB-900|
|Coverage (FX)||18, 24 - 105 mm||14, 17 - 200 mm|
|GN (ISO 100/m, f=35mm)||34  (1)||40|
|GN (ISO 100/m, f=50mm)||37  (1)||46|
|GN (ISO 100/m, f=max)||39  (1)||58|
|Sub-flash GN (ISO 100/m)||12||-|
|Flash duration (sec.)||1/600-1/22000||1/880-1/38500|
|Movements||tilt, swivel||tilt, swivel|
|Tilt Angle||0 to +90°||-7 to + 90°|
|Weight w/o batteries||380 g.||415 g.|
|W x H x D||74 x 134 x 110 mm||78 x 146 x 118 mm|
|Batteries||4xAA NiMH||4xAA NiMH|
|Battery life (2)||150 flashes||190 flashes|
|Recycle time (2)||3.5 sec.||2.3 sec.|
|Trigger voltage||3.4 volts||3.5 volts|
|Non-TTL auto (A)||yes||yes|
|Non-TTL auto (AA)||no||yes|
|Manual power ratio (M)||1/1 - 1/128||1/1 - 1/128|
|Manual distance priority (GN)||no||yes|
|High Speed Sync (FP)||yes (3)||yes|
|Manual stroboscopic (RPT)||yes (4)||yes|
|Firmware update||yes (5)||yes (6)|
|AWL master / remote||yes / yes||yes / yes|
|AWL Groups||M, A-C (7)||M, A-C|
|Plain master / slave||yes / yes||yes / yes|
|Coloured gel filters||no||yes|
|PC sync socket||yes||yes|
|External power socket||yes||yes|
|Tabletop stand||yes||yes (AS-21)|
|Cost, Mar. 2010||USD 250||USD 460|
- 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.
- Measured with four fully charged 2600 mAh NiMH batteries.
- Only works in TTL-mode when connected to the hot-shoe.
- Only when connected to the hot-shoe. Neither as wireless master, nor remote.
- Nissin Di866 firmware update via USB connector.
- Nikon SB-900 firmware update via the hot-shoe of compatible cameras (e.g. Nikon D3, D3x and D700).
- 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.
- Nissin company profile
- Di866 manual (pdf)
- Di866 Quick Start Guide (pdf)
- Nissin Di866 Update Available