What with the huge sensitivity range of modern digital cameras, and the strong likelihood of finding a built-in flash on most models, it might be a logical assumption that the days of producing separate flash units are numbered. In the right hands though, a powerful flash can add something very special to a subject or scene - even when there's already ample background lighting. Nikon camera owners can now look forward to a new flagship Speedlight flash unit arriving just in time to help light up festive office parties.

The new Nikon Speedlight SB-910 has been treated to an enhanced operating system, which includes illuminated function buttons, a dedicated Menu button and better graphic user interface on its LCD screen. The unit is capable of identifying FX or DX camera bodies attached to it, and optimizing zoom settings to suit. It features a multi-step power zoom range to cater for use with attached lenses ranging from wide 17mm right up to telephoto 200mm, which Nikon says will cover most of the popular focal lengths.

The SB-910 also includes a useful new Thermal Cut-Out function that protects the flash panel and body from overheating during continuous use by delaying the flash recycling time - to give the unit a little breathing space rather than have it shut down altogether. There's a built-in AF-assist illuminator that's compatible with all Nikon autofocus systems and the new Speedlight also offers three illumination patterns. The standard is used for most conventional usage situations, the center-weighted option is for portrait situations where light fall-off at the edge of the image can be safely disregarded, and - as its name might suggest - the even pattern covers a subject from the middle outwards without any fall-off.

The new 3.1 x 5.7 x 4.4 inch (78.5 x 145 x 113mm) flagship Speedlight unit (which is a tad heavier than its predecessor - the SB-900 - at 14.8 ounces/420g) can be placed on the camera itself, or wirelessly take command of up to three separate groups of other Speedlight units, or can itself be remotely triggered as part of a group. It uses new hard-type color compensation filters for fluorescent and incandescent color temperature balancing, and automatically detects which filter is being used and adjusts the white balance on the connected Nikon DSLR to suit.

Nikon has also improved battery efficiency - with flash recycling with four NiMH batteries taking just 2.5 seconds, 3 seconds with four AA-size Alkaline batteries, or 4.5 seconds with four Lithium batteries. The flash head can be tilted down to -7 degrees or up to 90 degrees, and rotated 180 degrees horizontally to the left and right.

The Speedlight SB-910 will be available from the middle of this month for a suggested retail price of US$549.95, and will come supplied with a stand, diffusion dome, a couple of color compensation filters and a soft case. Optional weather guards for certain (as yet unnamed) camera models will be made available shortly to protect the connection between the flash and camera.

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