SB-24 02

I completed my first major photo shoot of the new year on Sunday, a day-long engagement with a group of incredibly talented models and stylists for a local magazine.  Actual photos from the day will have to wait until after the publication date, which is sometime in late February, but will definitely appear as soon as I am able to share them.

Getting ready for this shoot as the same as for any other large photo production: batteries charged, gear checked and readied, bags packed.  I picked up some additional gear, knowing that this day would be long, and would often include more complex, multi-light setups.  Nothing too exciting, just some extra batteries and another speedlight.  Which got me thinking about the strange cycles that move through life.

The flash is a Nikon SB-24 speedlight, pictured at the top of this post.  About five or six years ago they were the rage, thanks to David Hobby’s Strobist movement.  And despite being older-model speedlights introduced in 1988 – which makes them almost 30 years old now – they were in such high demand that you simply couldn’t buy one for a reasonable price on eBay, or anywhere else.

By reasonable price, I mean for $50 or less.  For comparison, before the whole Strobist thing took off, SB-24s were selling for, I think, about $20 each.  After Strobist, they were closer to $100.  At the time I was just getting into off-camera flash and desperately wanted as many speedlights as I could get my hands on.  I ended up with three Nikons and eventually a pair of Canons that integrated with my then Canon-based system.

The cycle continues around today, with the SB-24s being back near their original price range.  The one I picked up was about $40 with shipping and works well, save for the zoom head, which won’t go past 50mm.  (That little detail was left out of the eBay listing, but I don’t much care, since my YN-460 speedlights don’t even have zooming flash heads, and it isn’t a feature I often use.)

SB-24 01

I laughed a little when the SB-24 arrived and I threw batteries in it.  It was familiar, and I was on the verge of saying something silly like, “Hello old friend,” when I realized that the controls were different from how I remembered.  Looking back, it turns out that I had SB-25s and SB-26s; I was never able to find a SB-24 due to their insane popularity.

I sold the Nikon speedlights a couple of years before my switch to m4:3.  My goal at the time was to replace them with Canon models and fully dive into TTL flash.  It was probably at the same time that I bought the Canon 7D, which had TTL master flash control built in.  I ended up with a Canon 580Ex and two 430EXs, and discovered that the 7D’s master flash capabilities were a major PITA to use, that using the 580EX as a master was a waste of an otherwise perfectly good flash unit, and never ended up doing any real TTL work at all.

In fact, the whole way through my exploration and use of flash, I’ve used the Strobist model: mixed-brand speedlights in manual mode with dumb radio slaves.  In other words, full manual from camera to flash.  McNally makes the whole TTL thing look really slick, but the expense of TTL speedlights vs. manual speedlights is huge, to say nothing of high-end, feature packed radio slaves.

Why the SB-24 now, when I’ve otherwise been using – and been happy with – the YN-460 speedlights?  It was a simple matter of supply and demand; I needed the flash to arrive before the shoot and waited too long to order it.  The YN-460s come from China and wouldn’t have made it in time (and the ones shipping from within the USA cost significantly more).  I was able to pick up the used SB-24 for less that the price of a new YN-460, and it shipped from New Jersey and arrived within three days.

Both the YN-460 and the SB-24 do the same job and do it well, although I will admit to liking the SB-24 more when it comes to power settings.  It displays the power levels, from 1/1 down to 1/16 (which is as low as it goes), whereas the YN-460 uses a series of 7 (?) lights to indicated the range from minimum to maximum power.  And I’ll be damned if I ever remember what the lights mean, or if they actually correlate to 1/1, 1/2, 1/4, etc.

And so it’s a funny cycle, from manual flash to TTL to manual again, away from the venerable old Nikon SBs and back to them.

The batteries I mentioned ate NiMH Duracell rechargables, which a little internet searching indicated were either the same as (rebranded) or nearly as good as the Eneloop rechargables that are my standard, go-to AA batteries.  The Duracells are listed on the packaging as “Made in Japan,” which is apparently the key.  I don’t know how they worked yet, as I didn’t end up needing a backup set.  All I know for sure is that although the package said they came “pre-charged,” I threw them in the charger anyway, and they spent several hours there before the electronics indicated that they were done.


Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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