There are a lot of words written below, this article's purpose is to help in your decision and is not a full-blown technical description of either flash. I do own and use three Nikon models as well as a Nissin. My favorite of the three is the Nikon SB-5000 due to the wireless remote trigger capability. In this artical, we will compare the Nikon SB-5000 and Nikon SB-910.
Currently, Nikon is no longer offering the Nikon SB-910, but you can find them used on eBay, B&H, or Adorama: The SB-910 is a very capable flash and was Nikon's Flagship as it stands today, Nikon is moving away from optical control.
If you are considering an SB500 versus an SB910, both are Nikon flagship offerings and flash output and recycle times are near equal to each other. The SB-5000 is their first DLSR flash (Speedlight) that you can control using "radio waves" or RF to control the flash around the corner out of sight as they say. Yes - the package is expensive and yes you need a compatible camera for the RF WR10 support, but this is where Nikon Flash technology is heading. To Nikon's credit, the Nikon SB-5000 supports legacy optical wireless modes just like the SB700, SB900, and SB910 - commander, and slave + SB 5000 offers the RF wireless as well making the SB-5000 backward compatible and future proof for at least the next several years.
If you have the funds invest in the newer SB-5000 flash, The SB-5000 works just as well optically alongside you older Nikon flashes and with pocket wizards. This allows you to mix a SB-900/910/700 with a SB-500 and remote control them optically. If your Nikon camera supports Nikon's Creative Lighting System (CLS) then the SB-5000 will work fine. I think the choice is easy.
When I do want to optically trigger the SB-700/SB-910 or the SB-5000 flashes I use my SU-800 which is a dedicated optical wireless flash commander. The Nikon SU-800 has easy to use physical buttons that allow you to control each flash group's output individually without having to touch the flash once the flash is set up and in the line of sight of the SU-800. Additionally, if you happen to have a Nikon Camera with a pop-up flash that supports commander mode - then you really do not need the SU-800, but the SU-800 does make the job much easier for sure.
To control the SB 5000 wirelessly in RF mode, you need a WR10 RF transmitter attached to your compatible camera and paired with the flash, then enter your camera's menu to adjust the flash output in the appropriate groups, the good news is all the current cameras that support this are now touch screen to some extent. The pairing process of the transmitter to the SB-5000 flash takes a matter of seconds.
Using the Newer RF WR10 you will find yourself in the camera menus to adjust groups and output which is a bit cumbersome, Maybe in the future, a dedicated RF SU800 will be offered that has the same dedicated push buttons and LCD readout as the SU-800. it makes sense to have an RF transmitter with a quick push/touch menu dedicated to the task of controlling your RF flashes rather than entering the camera's menu system each time you need to make adjustments. The good news is Nikon's Camera Menu system remembers your last place so, at least it will take you back to the flash settings when pressing the menu button.
The Long Version of my advice above:
The Nikon SB-5000 and Nikon SB-910 are two top-line Speed-lights (flashes) and both are a great choice. Because I used the SB-910 for years, I am partial to the flash, and the 910 is a well-respected professional flash, but all technology advances, the SB 5000 is the next King of Nikon Flash. Performance of the SB-500 exceeds that of the SB-910 and has faster recycle times with AA batteries than that of the SB-910 + a better cooling system. if you are limited in funds and need a powerful flash you can find use SB-910 for half the cost of an SB-5000.
Bottom Line: Do yourself a favor, if you considering a new flash for your DSLR go for an SB-5000, it makes more sense, Nikon is finally moving to RF and you want to be on-board and future-proofed, at least for the next few years :) the SB-5000 will do that for you. Be advised that the SB-5000 is still fully backward compatible with the legacy "optical" wireless that Nikon has been using for years.
Nikon surprised us with the announcement of the D500 alongside the D5 most everyone was like WOW! The D500 brings the camera closer in line with the newer SB-5000 speedlights using RF vs Optical legacy. RF makes more sense than an optical wireless system - more flexibility.
The move to RF will have some initial growing pains while we enthusiast and pros adjust and begin making decisions on what future purchases we should make. In my arsenal of Speedlights, I have a mix of SB-700s SB-910s and now two SB-5000s.
The bad news was my WR-10 was an earlier firmware version and did not fully support the D500 / SB-5000, the good news Nikon performed a free firmware upgrade for me! I sent my older WR-10 in, and Nikon sent me a notice stating no charge and returned it fully functioning with the SB-5000 features. Way to go Nikon! Thanks.
IMHO: If you are in the market for a new Speedlight I would suggest you pony up and purchase the SB-5000 over the SB-910 or SB-700. I understand the SB-700 is much cheaper @ about $200.00 cheaper, with less light output. The difference between the SB-5000 and SB-910 is about $20.00 with the 910 currently less costly - depending on where you buy it used, It is a no-brainer I think. Although I do like the slightly smaller footprint of the SB-700 I would rethink my original purchase of the SB-700 if I knew the SB-5000 was coming out.
What does the SB-910 have that the SB-5000 does not? If you are into freeze-frame the SB-910 has a faster flash duration at the far end of the scale 1/38,500 (might not make all that much difference). Overall the SB-5000 can match and in some cases exceeds the SB-910 Performance + has an improved cooling system for longer shooting sessions without fear of overheating.
| The Comparision
| Nikon SB-5000
- Commander Mode - Yes
- Remote function - Yes
- New Feature: Radio control
- Radio Range: About 98 ft. (30m)
- Old Feature: Optical Line of Sight
- Guide number: 34.5 m / 113 ft. (at 35mm) 55m / 180 ft. (at 200mm) (FX-format, ISO 100)
- Lens Covered: 24 to 200mm lens, 14mm with wide panel (FX format)
- Recycling time: Times Approximate, 1.8 sec using Ni-MH (2600 mAh) batteries
- 2.6 sec with AA-size Alkaline batteries
- Flash duration: 1/980 sec. at M 1/1 (full) output, 1/30,820 sec. at M 1/256 output
- Optional power supply: SK-6 Power Bracket Unit, SD-9 High-Performance Battery Pack
- Wireless groups: Radio controlled: Master + 6 groups; Optically controlled: Master + 3 groups
- Dimensions: 73 x 137 x 103.5mmWeight (sans batteries): 14.9 oz. (420 g)
- Commander Mode - Yes
- Remote function - Yes
- Old Feature: Optical Line of Sight
- Guide number: 34m / 111 ft. (at 35mm) (FX-format, ISO (100)
- Lens Covered: 17 to 200mm lens, 12-17mm with wide panel (FX format)
- Recycling time Approximate:
- 2.3 sec. (approx.) with Ni-MH (2600 mAh) batteries
- 3.0 sec. (approx.) with Oxyride™ (1.5V) batteries
- 4.0 sec. (approx.) with Alkaline-manganese (1.5V) batteries
- 4.5 sec. (approx.) with Lithium (1.5V) batteries
- Flash duration: 1/880 sec. at M 1/1 (full) output, 1/38,500 sec. at M 1/256 output
- Optional power supply: SK-6 Power Bracket Unit, SD-8A High-Performance Battery Pack
- Wireless groups: Master + 3 groups
- Dimensions: 3.1 x 5.7 x 4.4 in. (78.5 x 145 x 113 mm)
- Weight (NO batteries): 14.8 oz. (420 g)
Case Study: I use a Lastolite Studio Cubelite for product photography which you can place a flash underneath for dramatic lighting opportunities, the problem is (was) you are forced to use a continuous light or run a flash sync cord or use a pocket wizard on the lower flash as an Optical line of sight will not work. Now that the SB-5000 is here I can remote fire using RF & Optical mixed (problem solved). My ultimate change out is to replace my SB-910s and 700s with SB-5000s to ensure I only have one "menu" to remember, although they are all pretty much straightforward having a streamlined setup makes more sense.
Durability: Both the SB-5000 and SB 9/7 series are equally durable, I don't find the SB-5000 less "hardy" feeling, granted I would not want to drop any speed light from any distance, as the survivability of a drop is not likely for either flash. One thing to note is the SB-910 was made in Japan while the newer SB-5000 is coming out of China. I had my SB-5000 since the release date and use them on regular occasions without issues so far, I think the quality and durability legacy will continue with the SB-5000 being known for a top of the line flash.
In Field Use: The SB-5000 is superior to the legacy optical system. My SB-5000 and D500 and was able to fire the flash using a WR-10 RF with a push of the camera shutter or remote each and every time in the brightest of sunlight. My older legacy optical wireless at times had trouble when the flash was set to fill at low power in the bright sun.
Bottom Line: If you are trying to make up your mind between an SB-900/910/700 I would very heavily consider the newer SB-5000. Just remember, not only do you now have the wireless RF capabilities (you need the WR-10 + Compatible camera) you can also attach your pocket wizards or just use the optical sensor as always. I know, the WR-10 cost a few bucks but it too serves as a "hands-free" remote shutter fire for those times when you are using slow shutters and needs hands-off shooting or remote firing your camera from a distance.
Last Update 2017: Nikon no longer sells the SB 900 or 910 and is moving to wireless RF flashes for their future remote flash and I for one can not wait for the benefit of the newer technology.
Final Note: Nikon has traditionally taken great measures to maintain compatibility over the years and the SB 5000 is proof of their commitment, backward compatible with your older Nikon wireless optical flashes and forward-leaning into the RF technology when you are ready.