The Missing Flash on the Nikon D500

(commentary)

The D500 appears to be a hit. Except for one thing: the missing internal flash. 

No, the 4K limitations don’t seem to really faze you. Didn’t think they would, as the D500 is a stills camera that incorporates video features for convenience sake, not the opposite. 

No, the 20mp number didn’t faze you. Indeed, most of you seem to be responding quite favorably to the slight tradeoff of pixel count for better low light capability.

No, dropping the CompactFlash card for an XQD card isn’t really giving you much pause. It shouldn’t. Those that have shot with an XQD card versus the best available CompactFlash card know that the XQD is likely to give you a faster buffer clear, even with the older XQD cards. 

What seems to generate all the complaints and “I’m not going to buy one” statements about the D500 is one thing: no built-in flash. 

It is curious that Nikon dropped the built-in flash on the D500. This is the second time they’ve done that on anything other than the top-of-the-line pro DSLR models that never incorporated internal flash (the other smaller, non-pro Nikon camera with no flash was the Df). 

Personally, I wonder just how much of a liability no built-in flash truly is. I’ve long commented about the internal flash on the Nikon DSLRs not clearing most zoom lenses and even some primes with the lens hood mounted. Moreover, the low height of the flash head above the optical center makes for a number of other problems for me, including shadows that don’t look right.

Actually, it’s mostly a lack of shadows that happen with the internal flashes. As my good friend Chas Glatzer says: light illuminates, shadows define. Well, with the internal flash, you get illumination, but not definition. 

I suspect that most of the people complaining about the lack of internal flash are objecting to the loss of a built-in remote flash commander. Now that I can get behind. That’s the primary use of the internal flash for me. So if there’s a legitimate complaint here, it’s that Nikon didn’t build the triggering mechanism for the new radio flash capabilities into the camera bodies. Instead, we apparently have to use the WR-R10 plugged into the 10-pin socket for the most minimal remote triggering solution. Gotta love Nikon and their affection towards dongles ;~).

Significant changes in technology—and I’d suggest that the move from line-of-sight visual to radio-frequency for remote flash triggering is one of those—always come with issues for those making the transition. To a large degree, Nikon has ameliorated the change in that the new SB-5000 is a switch hitter: it can participate in the three groups of line-of-sight triggering, or it can participate in up to six groups of radio triggering. It can serve as a commander for both, or as a remote for both. 

What Nikon really wants you to do is buy a WR-R10 and an SB-5000. This moves you the furthest into the new radio flash era the fastest. You can then be:

  • Single flash on camera, as usual (SB-5000)
  • Single flash off camera (SB-5000 triggered with WR-R10)
  • Multiple flash on/off camera (all radio with WR-R10/SB-5000’s, or all line-of-sight with the SB-5000 on camera triggering your older i-TTL Speedlights off camera)

Will you miss the built-in internal flash? Probably, but most likely only if you’re truly about convenience shooting ("hell with what the light looks like, it’s light") or stuck in the old line-of-sight world and don’t want to buy any new flash gear. 

Personally, I’m surprised that it’s taken Nikon so long to get to radio triggering. Moreover, I’m surprised that we’re still using Xenon-tubed flash. My video work sent me right to LEDs a few years back, and there are now significant light and small LED options that produce plenty of on-camera light. Heck, the one small panel I tend to use lasts longer on its rechargeable battery than my SB-910 Speedlight does in constant shooting, and produces a softer, gentler light. Originally I was convinced that an always-on light might bother people at events more than the eye-popping temporary flash, but I’m coming around the opinion that it’s the opposite: people often wince at flashes going off and "pucker up" in anticipation. They seem much more comfortable after getting used to a constant light, though you have to be careful of how much you dial that light up. 

Will I miss the built-in internal flash? Yes, but only because the camera doesn’t have a built-in radio transmitter to trigger remote flash. That’s the only reason I’ll miss it. 

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