Fixed in a flash
Posting this as a work-in-progress. I’ll get photos posted shortly.
[Insert photo of broken SB-800 LCD]
My Nikon SB-800 speedlight took a nosedive during a recent project, and the impact hit the LCD display squarely. The outer LCD protective cover survived intact, but the shock shattered the fragile LCD panel inside, and most of the display became unreadable when the LCD fluid leaked. Rather than ship this flash unit back to Nikon, I opted to buy a replacement LCD panel for about USD$50 and tackle the repair myself.
[Insert photo of the replacement LCD]
Fortunately for this project, I found Nikon’s SB-800 Repair Manual online (below). This flash is another marvel of engineering with a rat’s nest of wiring inside; the repair manual looks very helpful in getting it pulled apart and re-assembled. In particular, it describes how to safely discharge the high-voltage capacitor, safe handling of a fiber-optic sensor cable inside, and how all the connectors get unplugged.
Opening it up
The front cover of the SB-800 opens by removing four screws on the bottom and two on the top of the main body (after rotating the head 90° and pointing it up; don’t remove the rear two screws on either the top or bottom). This lets the front cover come off, after which a total of 16 connectors must be unplugged to fully disconnect the cover, remove the front PCB (printed circuit board), remove the battery case, and reveal the rear PCB. The repair manual details these steps.
[Insert photos of the opened SB-800]
A shortcut – I discovered that the rear PCB could be accessed without disconnecting any cables. Gently lift the battery case and pivot it to lay on top of the front cover that’s been unscrewed. Removing the remaining two screws near the hot shoe allows it to be moved out of the way as well. Be very careful not to stress the cables, especially the blue/grey pair connected to the front cover – they’re the shortest of the bunch. (No, it’s not possible to just remove the back cover instead.)
From here, it takes 6 screws to removed the rear PCB and access the LCD panel. The brown flat cable at the top of the PCB is connected to the LCD panel, and also needs to be disconnected. The connector has a brown clip that needs to be slid upward (but not removed) to release the LCD ribbon cable.
[Insert photo of the rear PCB]
Once the rear PCB is removed, the back cover is free, and the LCD panel just lifts out. The white silicone button module may be stuck to it, but it’s not really attached. In this case, while the LCD panel had broken, the LCD fluid had not leaked out of the panel itself.
[Insert photo of the back cover]
Replacing the LCD was as simple as dropping the new one in the opening. Note that the replacement ships with a plastic film over the LCD display – this needs to be peeled off before installation. When installed, the bottom edge of the LCD tucks under the lip of the silicone button panel, and there are a pair of foam bumpers that need to be attached to the top of the LCD back (ordered separately, p/n SS043-38).
[Insert photo of the damaged LCD]
I put the patient back together and loaded 5 freshly charged batteries. It fired up normally, and the new LCD worked just dandy! I exercised the zoom motor by pulling the wide-angle lens in a few times; the motor zoomed fine, and seems not to have been damaged by the impact. I fired off a few flashes with the manual button, and it seems to be recycling just fine.
Then, I noticed a catch. The LCD was dark. Drat. The electroluminescent panel that sits behind the LCD wasn’t working. I pulled the SB-800 apart again to check it out, and I noticed these rubber bumpers on the back of the LCD were missing. I hadn’t ordered them, and they didn’t come with the LCD panel.
[Insert photo of the back of the LCD]
I cut the bumpers off the old LCD and stuck them on the new LCD. My hope was that perhaps they were necessary to apply pressure to the EL panel in the right places so the EL panel made electrical contact to the PCB behind it.
Re-assemble it and test one more time – bingo! The LCD glows like it should. I’ll run through a battery of test shots with it, but to all appearances the flash is fixed.
Note that the above sources for manuals aren’t “official”, so the links are likely to fail at some point. (Although it’d be convenient, I won’t be hosting Nikon’s documents on my server.) In case you need to go searching, here are Google searches for the parts list and the repair manual – note that a lot of the results will be sites offering to sell the PDFs; just keep digging to find a free one.
All flash units contain high-voltage components that store a charge long after the power source has been disconnected. Opening a flash unit exposes you to risk of electrical shock which can damage other components in the flash or cause serious personal injury in some cases. (E.g., trigger an irregular heartbeat that could be life threatening.) Proper safety techniques are beyond the scope of this posting – don’t open the case if you’re not trained.
Yep, this content probably has errors and omissions – there are no warranties. This is an “over-the-shoulder” look at my work, notes, and opinions; it’s neither a how-to guide nor or a recommendation that you undertake a similar project. I wish you well, but if you attempt this project it’s at your own risk.
©2009 Richard Hornbaker. All rights reserved.