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Nikon SB-20 flash

Not a lot to it, but it works — and that is the only measure of a good piece of equipment. This is the end of your excuse not to have a mid-powered flash.

The Nikon SB-20 is a compact flash designed primarily for Nikon SLRs but usable on most cameras with hot shoes. It runs on 4 x AA batteries and gets about 140 flashes to a charge. The flash has the following features.

-- Guide number of 100 (feet; 32 in meters). This puts it in about the same output class as a Vivitar 283, which does 120.

-- TTL flash operation with Nikon and compatible bodies. Flash gives an underexposure warning in the finder when power is insufficient and gives a ready "lightning bolt" indication. On most Nikon SLRs with electronic shutters, it will automatically select one of the synch speeds.

-- 5 automatic modes. At ISO100, these are f/2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, and 8. All distance ranges are shown simultaneously; the f/stops appropriate to these ranges change with the ISO setting (slider on the left side).

-- 5 full power modes: 100% power down to -1/16 power. These are shown on a graphic display and adjust via a slider on the ritght side of the back.

-- Rotating diffuser for 28, 35-70, and 85mm lenses. This is activated via a knurled ring around the flash head (which is cylindrical).

-- Bounce capability at 45, 60, 75 and 90 degrees (via a "turn key" on the side of the flash head). It also has a -7 degree deflection for subjects close to the lens.

-- Slot on the top for sticking in an index card as diffuser.

-- Generously-sized AF illuminator

-- Screw in PC connection and AC power supply terminal.

-- Standby power mode.

The design is impressive because it achieves a high degree of separation between lens axis and flahs head without resorting to a fragile conventional tilt/zoom head. There is no rotational capability, though.

In terms of use, the SB-20 is very user-friendly for people who don't want to squint at LCDs. Everything is visible at a glance, whether the flash is on or off. There is no fidgeting with adjustment buttons.

The flash has a very, very accurate automatic exposure system. The TTL flash seems to work perfectly on everything, from an F3 with a TTL shoe adapter to an F4s with Matrix Balanced Fill Flash. Battery life is exceptionally long, and the fact that the flash can be left on "on" gives you a way of intentionally draining a set of NiMH batteries for optimal recharge. Newer speedlights from Nikon tend to automatically go into standby mode, defeating this. There is not really much bad to say about it. In fact, nothing.

The SB-20 is not just useful for Nikon SLRs with TTL flash; it is also a low-cost, high-power, high-reliability flash for multiple cameras:

-- Its low synch voltage and variable power output make it a natural match for the Konica Hexar AF, which is able to take advantage of low, low power in its programmed flash mode. If you are using 400 film and can't get close enough with the HX-14, you can use the SB-20 on 1/16 mode and set the GN as low as 2 (meters). Then you can shoot at 0.6m and f/6.7. Just remember to set the flash to the -7 deflection.

-- The Konica Hexar RF comes with a pretty small flash. The SB-20 will trigger the flash ready indicator and set the synch speed in AE or AE-L mode. The multiple auto modes help.

-- The Fuji Finepix S2 can use the SB-20 for TTL operation, since unlike the Nikon digital SLRs, it can use conventional TTL flashes.

-- If you don't have a TTL flash Leica (so if you have a Leica M4-2 through Classic M6), you can use the SB-20 in manual or automatic.

In sum, you can use the SB-20 on anything that has a conventional hot-shoe flash connection.