When I use sb 800 on D3, it fires but it does not light the picture. I have tried this same SB 800 with my D200 camera body as well and the problem is the same. So there should be nothing wrong with the camera settings.
Even if i try to increase the power from the flash pictures remain dark. Same happens with different modes.
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This is an excellent flash, very powerful and compact and actually more flash then what was available when the D200 first cam on the market. The two will work nicely together and I think the problem is that the SB-800 can be programmed within itself. This meaning with some cameras you program the camera for the flash output with the SB-800 you can program the flash as well. It has some excellent features like Flash value lock (which I think is set to slightly underexpose from what your question is asking) it also has Flash color information and a built in Flash compensation. Possibly the compensation or value lock are set to underexposure. I'm saying this over the camera setting because you stated that the internal flash appeared to be okay, check your SB-800 settings
It sounds like you're trying to use the SB-600 off camera, as a slave flash. While the SB-600 does indeed have slave capability, the D40 does not have the ability to function as a commander. Thus, the SB-600 is being triggered by the D40's pre-flash.
As stated above, the D40 does not function in commander mode. You can mount an SB-800 or SB-900 flash unit, which will function as a commander as well as a flash. Or you can mount an SU-800 commander unit.
Alternatively, you can switch the D40 to manual flash mode so as to eliminiate the preflash. However, you will then have to calculate the proper exposure yourself.
I have 2 SB-800s. When batteries leaked in one Nikon took forever to fix it, so they eventually sent me a refurb. Then they sent my original back. Which was great, until recently it developed this problem.
Another possibly related side effect is the modeling flash does not burst -- it only fires a single (very bright) flash.
The capacitor argument sounds likely. Coincidentally I also had a problem where the flash would fire sporadically -- but that was due to scuz buildup on the contacts.
1) i-TTL: TTL flash control by 1,005-pixel RGB sensor, built-in flash, SB-800, SB-600, SB-400: i-TTL balanced fill-flash and standard i-TTL flash 2) AA (Auto Aperture-type) flash: Available with SB-800 used with CPU lens 3) Non-TTL Auto: Available with Speedlights such as SB-800, 28, 27, and 22S 4) Range-priority manual flash; available with SB-800
put in a fresh set of batteries. The ready light won't turn on until the flash capacitor is fully charged. And if your battery is weak, it can take very long (minutes!) to fill the capacitor. You still can fire the flash even it is not ready, it will just dump whatever power it stored in the capacitor.
Series of images is the KEY. If the Power you set the SB-600 is HIGH it will take a LONGER time to recycle than the SB-800. If you try to take a photo before the SB-600 is ready you will get a dark image. The randomness you get is due to the time between shots. In general try to run remote flashes at a lower power so they recycle faster.
I like the SB-800 because it can take 5 cells. 5 cells can really make a difference in the recycle time (faster) The SB-600 only takes 4 cells so it is slower.