Andrea Java PRO 12:11am, 8 February 2013
I have two of SB80s and they are in great working order. I got them back in the day, when I was shooting real estate. They are wonderful because of their super-sensitive optical trigger and wide range of power settings. Once, I was shooting in a house during a real estate shooting workshop - people who were shooting from three rooms away were triggering my lights. So, they're pretty sensitive.

Which is why I can't figure out the following: Two times, I've pulled the lights out of my bag during practice runs at a venue I'm shooting at later this month. Both times, they just wouldn't t trigger. I usually use an on-cam 580 to trigger them, and that's what I was using during the practice sessions. No matter what I tried, the SBs would not fire. Then, I had them in a similar (but different) venue last night - and they were back to their wonderful, trigger-happy selves. And they work fine whenever I'm practicing at home.

What possible reason could there be to explain why NEITHER of them would fire in that one venue? I had them pretty close to the 580 and the area I was in was like a wide hallway, with maybe 12-15 foot ceilings. Any ideas? Some sort of unseen interference?
Rangefindergeneral 5 years ago
You've not got the 580 in eTTL mode..??
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
Hmmm, I don't recall...but does it matter, since the SBs are purely responding to light?
Scott Strehlow 5 years ago
Possibly some high intensity IR noise from other equipment, perhaps? Stray IR would of course be unseen.

What sort of venue was it? What other things were there?

Put the flash right in front of the 580 and shield it from other sources of light. If it will trigger, then it is almost certainly bright but noisy IR in the room. If so, then you need to identify the source and see if it can be turned off, or switch to radio triggers.

If it won't, then perhaps there is some strong radio signal that is messing with the electronics in the flash. You could tease that out by carrying the flash outside, taking test shots on your way. If you get to a point as you are leaving the room or building that it starts working again, that is probably it, unless it is an outside source like a nearby radio tower.

Wrapping the flash in foil that is connected to the grounded part of its hot shoe and covering everything that doesn't need light to get through would probably fix the problem. Or use a wire mesh sock like some Canon flashes need to prevent them from interfering with an attached radio trigger.
Scott Strehlow 5 years ago
I saw Rangefinder general's post after typing mine. It would matter in that your slaves would flash on the 580's preflash and probably would not recharge enough to flash again on the main flash signal. So they would not contribute to the exposure but you would see them light up.

I'm assuming you are not changing your settings on the 580 between the different venues though.
Mr. Speedlight Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Mr. Speedlight (member) 5 years ago
Hmmm, I don't recall...but does it matter, since the SBs are purely responding to light?

If the SB-80(s) are sensitive enough they could be firing on the E-TTL preflash and not be ready to fire again for the actual exposure. Optical triggering (simple or dumb, or SU-4 manual mode which are all one and the same) do not play well with Nikon's CLS/AWL. Even in manual mode there are preflashes when using the Commander/Remote system. I doubt that they will play well with Canon's E-TTL/E-TTL II.

Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
The lights weren't firing at all, so I'm thinking it was some sort of interference. I'm glad I visited the venue ahead of time because I was able to put an alternate plan in place. I was just curious about what could have been causing the issue.
Mr. Speedlight Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Mr. Speedlight (member) 5 years ago
I recommend that you read page 84 in your SB-80DX manual. Was there an SB-80? I don't remember. I don't see an SB-80 manual for download just now. I don't have a manual for it if there was.

In the SB-80DX manual particularly note the last statement on page 85. If you do not have an SB-80DX manual you can download one free from Nikon in your country. I don't have an SB-80DX to test.

I'm out of time I'll try to clean this up latter.

Scott Hargis 5 years ago
Hi Andrea!
You're ABSOLUTELY sure the SB80s weren't firing? Like, you were staring at them?
'Cause the number one cause of this is the on-camera 580 pre-flashing, and firing your SB's prematurely.

The second thing to look at is if the pins on the flash foot (where it makes contact with a hot/cold shoe) are in contact with anything metal. If they are (as in a metal shoe), then that will override the optical mode. Putting a strip of gaff tape on the metal of the coldshoe will solve that.

Third thing to look at is strong ambient light. The optical sensor is the small very-dark square just above the battery door on the side of the flash. It's NOT the big round silver lens that looks like it should be an optical sensor. If you're placing the flash near a window with daylight, make sure the sensor is oriented towards the nearest other flash. Definitely don't let it be aimed outdoors.
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
Hey Scott!

Yup, I was staring right at them, because I noticed they weren't firing and then started to really try to troubleshoot. The cold shoe is an interesting angle - they MAY have been metal. I have many different stands and I can't be positive which one I had with me at the time.

Definitely wasn't strong ambient light (just the opposite).

I'm going to go pull everything out and play around with all that's been suggested here.

Dave - They are SB80DXs, to be precise. Nope, don't have the manuals.
Scott Hargis 5 years ago
Andrea, the manual is posted on my blog for download -- search "Packing Light".
I'm betting ten bucks on the metal shoe shorting out the contacts on the flash.
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
Well, my tests proved the following:

SB80 doesn't care if the triggering flash is in manual or ETTL (which I knew)

SB80 doesn't care if the cold shoe is metal or plastic

As usual, they worked perfectly here at home, no matter how I tried to mess with them.

There's nothing special about the venue, on the surface. It's a banquet hall. Used to be a bank. The walls were pretty dark (is that a possible cause? The 580 wasn't pointed directly at the SB80).

What things use IR? Maybe an alarm system of some sort? I won't be going back there again before the actual event, so I can't test anything out. But it bugs me, because I prefer working with the dumb optical lights over fancy flashes and triggers.

If I have time during a quiet moment at the event (as if), I'll play around again.
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
Just saw your last post, Scott. You owe me $10 ;)
Scott Hargis 5 years ago
Dammit! OK, stop by anytime.

OK, just to cycle back over the obvious're sure they're in optical mode, right? There's a little zig-zag line on the LCD? I know they're working at home....but just checking the easy stuff first.

There should be no IR issues whatsoever. I think that's a red herring.

What about it possible that at home, the ambient conditions are such that the 580 recognizes that it isn't going to need to contribute to the exposure, and thus doesn't bother with any pre-flashes? But in the dark environment of your shoot location, it does?
I've never owned a 580, so I don't know really how they behave.
elv0000 5 years ago
I don't see how ETTL signal could not be effecting the result, unless the SB-80 has a pre-flash suppression mode for the optic slave?

But if the flash is not firing at all the pre-flash is not the problem. My $10 would be on there simply not being enough light bounced into the sensor (dark walls wouldn't help there) or too much light on the sensor already. Bigger venue, further away, not enough light to bounce in.

But if you use this at a wedding, everyone elses flash is going to wear out your SB-80 no?
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
Yup, definitely in optical mode.

I still don't get why the pre-flashes, at any time, would cause the SB to not fire at ALL. Maybe fire prematurely, but they should fire.

During my troubleshooting at the venue, I had the 580 and SB within 3 feet of each other. Nothing. So, even though the walls were on the darker side and the ceilings on the taller side, is that enough to cause the SB to not fire? I have a tough time buying that. Those SBs are maniacs.

And when they DID work as expected at the similar venue I mentioned, the lighting conditions and dimensions were nearly the same.

Elv - No, I wouldn't try to use the SBs during the reception or anything like that. Just during the couple's formals, when we'll be by ourselves (I always tell my couples to "gently guide" guests away from where we'll be doing the formals, so we can be alone and not distracted).

Huh - I guess this is really just a mystery.
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
And don't forget - the non-working condition happened BOTH times I visited the venue. So, it's definitely something specific to the location (I think).
Marko Krsic Posted 5 years ago. Edited by Marko Krsic (member) 5 years ago
Does the venue have any wireless controls for their AV/lighting systems?

Security Cameras? Motion Detectors? Large displays?

I'm thinking IR interference.

The SB's sensor might be getting hit with a lot of constant IR that it can't sense the burst of light coming from the 580.

Test outside of the entrance to the venue and if the SBs go off proceed to the next step.

Try putting the 580 and a single SB80 in your gear bag inside of the venue and see if the SB sets off. If it goes off inside of the bag but then doesn't once you repeat the test outside of the bag it is most likely IR interference.

For the above test, the bag needs to be as sealed off as possible with just your hands going in but not much IR if it is present. Set the 580 to minimum power and the SB to full power and you should be able to feel it pop in your hand otherwise judge by the amount of light that leaks out.
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
I have the SBs set to make an annoying beep sound when they fire, so I'll know for sure if they go off. I'll try it when I'm there, in the interest of science ;)
sayhellotomylf Posted 5 years ago. Edited by sayhellotomylf (member) 5 years ago
Was there a monolith emitting a strong beam towards Jupiter in the building?

Because that'll do it every time. Us hairless apes have a lot to learn I guess.
elv0000 5 years ago
Is the sensor on the SB facing the camera though? It doesn't matter if they are only 3 feet away, if the sensor is blocked from direct light and there is nothing to bounce the light back into the sensor its not going to work.

At home the flash could be further away, but the walls and ceiling are not far away so light bounces around everywhere.
Andrea Java PRO 5 years ago
I was moving all around the SB at the time, trying to get it to work. I don't know - it's weird. Those lights have always behaved so consistently in other settings. This particular setting just wasn't different enough to render the flashes inoperable. I don't have any other explanation, though. Well, except for the monolith and the Jupiter beam.
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