How to Buy a Camera Flash: The Definitive Guide in 2024 (free version)


Photographers often face challenges with lighting, especially when natural light fades as the sun sets. The addition of extra light transforms a dull photograph into a professional-looking image. DSLR or mirrorless cameras have a hot shoe for attaching a speedlight flash.

Positioned above the lens, this flash provides directional lighting, yet it may yield unflattering results when photographing people. However, some speedlight flashes offer swivel and bounce capabilities for softer, more flattering light on your subject. To achieve even more appealing results, consider utilizing flashes off-camera.

In this blog post, our goal is to assist you in selecting a camera flash that aligns with your specific needs. Drawing upon decades of experience with on-camera flashes and off-camera lighting setups, we aim to demystify technical jargon so you can confidently make an informed decision. Whether you aspire to enhance family snapshots, capture stunning portraits, or establish a professional photo studio, choosing the right flash is paramount.

While incorporating additional lighting may initially seem daunting, you’ll find it more manageable than expected. And investing in this equipment may be more affordable than you imagine.

What is Flash Lighting?

Flash photography uses artificial light from a flash to illuminate scenes or subjects when natural lighting is inadequate. By introducing an additional burst of light, flashes enhance the ability to capture well-lit photos.

Why Use Flash Lighting?

In low-light settings, a flash provides illumination to expose your subject correctly. It grants you greater control over the direction and intensity of illumination. Flash lighting helps you accentuate specific features, craft dramatic shadows, or produce a soft glow. In bright environments, a flash helps fill unwanted shadow areas. When photographing fast-moving subjects like sports or wildlife, a flash freezes the action, ensuring you capture sharp images devoid of motion blur.

Types of Flash Lighting 

There are various forms of flash photography, each offering unique advantages. One limitation of built-in flashes is their stationary nature, which does not allow for control over the direction of the light, often leading to the red-eye effect and less than ideal lighting conditions when compared to the flexibility of on-camera or external flashes.

A speedlight attached to the camera’s hot shoe is known as an on-camera flash. These lights offer convenient and portable lighting solutions. However, direct illumination from an on-camera flash can sometimes lead to harsh lighting and unflattering shadows, necessitating a diffuser to soften the light.

We suggest the Godox V1 Flash as a reliable flash with creative options.We could offer you a brief introduction on these two Godox camera flash and you could read this article to learn more about the Godox v1 flash.

Its round head produce softer light than a traditional rectangular flash head. The Godox v1  head has a swivel and tilt mechanism for bouncing. It is user-friendly, with a large LCD screen and a simple control layout. We like that it has a lithium-ion battery for fast recycle times.

Another excellent option is the Godox V860III, which delivers ample power for various shooting scenarios, including outdoor photography. Unlike traditional AA battery-powered flashes, the Godox V860III comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack offering faster recycle times and longer battery life.

This flash even has a stroboscopic mode that captures multiple flashes in a single exposure, ideal for creative effects such as freezing motion or creating light trails. Another advantage of this flash is the built-in modeling lamp.

It provides a continuous light source that mimics the position and spread of the flash. This allows you to see how the flash will cast shadows on your subject before you take the picture. This is especially helpful for portrait photographers who want to ensure light placement for optimum results.

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Off-Camera Flash Lighting

One version of off-camera flash lighting involves detaching the speedlight from the camera and placing it on a stand, giving you greater creative control over lighting direction and intensity.

By strategically positioning the flash at varying angles and distances from the subject, you can create dramatic lighting or stylish portraits. Off-camera flash setups often incorporate wireless triggers or sync cords to facilitate remote triggering and control.

At the lower end of the price range, the Godox TT685II is a very affordable, lightweight, portable speedlight that can be used off-camera. It features a tilting and swiveling head for bounce flash techniques.

The Godox TT685II is a wireless master or slave unit with TTL functionality. Also featured is a new function, which allows for instant conversion from TTL to manual mode. This function helps you determine a good starting point for setting external flash units in manual mode. The easy-to-read rear LCD panel illuminates your flash settings, and with a guide number of 197 feet (60 meters) at ISO 100, the TT685II will easily illuminate most subjects.

The Godox AD200 Pro is at the other end of the speedlight price bracket. It is a blend of a speedlight and a powerful yet portable strobe for off-camera flash photography.

This unit does not fit on a hot shoe; it is mounted on a light stand. It offers a very high power output of 200 watts, providing ample juice for overpowering sunlight or achieving dramatic lighting effects even outdoors. The exposed bulb design allows for maximum light output. It works well with various light modifiers (softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dishes) that you can purchase separately to achieve soft diffused light or specific lighting effects.

The built-in 2.4G wireless system gives remote control of the flash using Godox X series triggers or the Godox app when using the flash off-camera. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides consistent power and a fast charge. It’s ideal for portrait photographers who work on location or wedding photographers who need a powerful flash that can be easily carried around.

Studio Flashes

Another form of flash lighting is dedicated strobe lights, commonly found on light stands in professional studio settings. Strobes offer powerful and consistent artificial lighting.

We recommend the Godox AD400Pro Witstro. With an output range of up to 400 watts, it has enough power for indoor and outdoor photography. The Godox AD400Pro Witstro strobe has full wireless TTL compatibility with major camera brands through a Godox X trigger. 

The rechargeable lithium-ion battery produces around 390 full power flashes on a single charge, and there is a recycle time of around one-tenth of a second at full power, so you’ll experience minimal wait time between shots. It includes a built-in modeling lamp, which is helpful for pre-visualizing shadows and setting up your shot.

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Another excellent option is the Godox AD600Pro Witstro. It is a significant step up in power compared to the previously discussed AD400Pro Witstro, making it ideal for professional photographers who require even more light output.

It boasts a very high guide number of 285 feet / 87 meters at ISO 100, providing ample power for large studio setups or shooting at greater distances from your subject. It has full wireless TTL compatibility with most camera brands through a separately purchased Godox X trigger. And with High-Speed Sync (HSS), you can use flash with shutter speeds that are faster than your camera’s standard sync speed. The Godox AD600Pro Witstro is a top-of-the-line strobe light for photographers who need exceptional power and portability.

What to Look for When Purchasing a Flash Unit

Knowing what to look for when purchasing flash lighting can make all the difference in helping you decide. Here’s a breakdown of key factors to consider.


Price is crucial when buying flash lighting, as it directly influences the available power, features, and overall functionality. Speedlights are the most budget-friendly option, countering ambient light with their moderate flash range. They’re particularly advantageous for those on a tight budget since they can be used both on-camera and off-camera.

By employing a transmitter and receiver system, they can be positioned on light stands and customized with diffusers or umbrellas. This creates a versatile lighting setup without an investment in a separate strobe light system. Mid-range speedlights offer more power and features than basic models, including faster recycle times, diffuser options, and (potentially) wireless triggering capabilities. Professional speedlights have the most power and features, including built-in wireless TTL systems, HSS capability, and weather sealing for outdoor use.

Some entry-level studio strobes might fall within a budget-friendly range. However, they often lack features like TTL or wireless triggering and might have slow recycle times, which soon becomes frustrating.  Mid-range studio strobes usually have higher power outputs than most speedlights.

They have built-in modeling lamps, and some might have basic wireless triggering options. However, advanced features like TTL or HSS might still be absent. Top-of-the-line strobes boast the highest power outputs and often feature built-in wireless TTL systems, HSS, fast recycle times, and durable construction. They are ideal for professional studios and demanding lighting setups.


In the context of flash photography systems, ‘Ws’ stands for ‘watt-seconds.’ It is a unit used to measure the energy output of a strobe light, indicating the power or intensity of the flash. The higher the watt-seconds rating, the more powerful the flash, allowing for greater flexibility in various lighting conditions and shooting scenarios.

Power (measured as Guide Number (GN) for speedlights) is an important factor when purchasing flash lighting. Flash power directly affects how much light the flash unit can emit. Higher power allows you to illuminate larger subjects or spaces. For example, a powerful strobe can light up a group of people in a studio shoot, while a lower-powered speedlight might only be suitable for photographing one person.

Through-The-Lens (TTL) Flash Metering

When purchasing a flash, TTL (Through-The-Lens) functionality is important because it offers several benefits. TTL technology allows the camera to communicate with the flash unit to automatically determine the optimal flash exposure for a scene. This process involves the use of TTL flash metering, where the camera and flash work together to calculate the necessary amount of light, considering factors like distance and ambient light, to achieve a properly exposed image without the guesswork and experimentation associated with manual flash power adjustments.

This automation simplifies the process of adjusting flash settings manually, especially in fast-paced shooting situations or when lighting conditions are constantly changing. Additionally, TTL enables more accurate metering and consistent exposure results, helping you achieve high-quality images with minimal effort.

High-Speed Synchronisation (HSS)

When investing in flash lighting, having HSS is important because it allows you to use the flash at shutter speeds higher than the camera’s native sync speed of around 1/125th to 1/250th of a second.

This capability is crucial when shooting in bright conditions or when a wide aperture is desired to achieve shallow depth of field. HSS enables photographers to effectively balance ambient light with flash illumination, even in challenging lighting situations. When investing in flash lighting equipment, having HSS ensures you can achieve optimal results across a wide range of shooting scenarios.

Flash Duration

Flash duration, which refers to the time the flash emits light, is an important factor for capturing action or freezing motion in your photos. A shorter flash duration allows you to capture sharp images of fast-moving subjects without motion blur.

This is used in photography involving action, such as sports, dance, or children playing. When you combine a fast flash duration with a slow shutter speed, you can freeze some motion in the image while allowing other elements to be blurred. This is because the sensor is exposed to light for a more extended period, capturing the subject’s movement throughout that time.

Recycle Time

Recycle time refers to the time it takes for the flash unit to recharge after a full-power discharge and be ready for another flash. A fast recycle time allows you to take shots quicker without waiting for the flash to recharge. This is beneficial for situations where you must capture multiple frames quickly, such as during event photography, capturing a child’s laughter, or in action sequences.

With a slower recycle time, you will experience a delay between shots, potentially causing you to miss fleeting moments or disrupt the flow of your shoot. Generally, higher power settings require longer recycle times as the flash unit needs more time to recharge after a full-power discharge. Flashes powered by external AC cords typically have faster recycle times than those relying on internal batteries. More expensive speedlights and strobes tend to have quicker recycle times.

Modeling Light

A modeling lamp provides a continuous light source that allows you to see how light falls on your subject and the background before triggering the flash. In dimly lit studios, the modeling lamp’s continuous light helps you focus the camera before capturing the final image with a flash. 

When a modeling light is used in product photography, you can check that you have even illumination on the product’s surface, avoiding unwanted hotspots or dark spots.

Flash Tube

The flash tube is the heart of your flash unit. It’s a long, thin glass tube filled with a particular gas (often xenon). When an electrical current passes through the gas, it ionizes it, creating a brief but intense burst of light. This light is what illuminates your subject during flash photography.

Not all flash units have easily replaceable flash tubes, so if the tube malfunctions, you might need to send the entire unit for repair, leading to downtime. Flash units with easily replaceable tubes might be slightly more expensive.

However, the long-term benefit of replacing a faulty tube instead of buying a whole new flash unit can be significant. For maximum power and flexibility, look for flashes with bare bulb tubes. For consistent light spread and portability, consider flashes with horseshoe tubes.

Firing Methods

Triggering options determine how you control the flash unit to fire. An on-camera flash is mounted directly on the camera’s hot shoe. It fires when the shutter is pressed. This is the most straightforward setup but creates harsh light that must be overcome by bouncing the light or using a diffuser.

With an off-camera flash, the unit is positioned away from the camera, offering more creative lighting. To trigger an off-camera flash unit, you could use a sync cable.

This physical cable connects your camera to the flash unit, ensuring reliable triggering but limiting mobility. Radio triggers are wireless triggers that use radio waves to communicate between your camera and the flash unit, even over long distances.

Wireless Control

Wireless control offers significant advantages when firing a flash, especially if you value creative freedom and flexibility in your lighting setups. Unlike cables that restrict flash position, wireless control lets you place the flash unit away from the camera at various distances and angles. Wireless control also makes managing and triggering multiple off-camera flashes easier. 

Wireless triggering eliminates the need to connect and disconnect cables physically, streamlining your workflow, especially when using multiple flash units or frequently adjusting flash positions. Radio trigger systems using wireless offer reliable firing over longer distances than optical slave triggers, which rely on ‘seeing’ a flash to activate the system.

Heating / Cooling

Heating and cooling are essential factors to consider when purchasing flash lighting, especially when using high-power strobes. Flash units generate significant heat during operation, particularly those with high power outputs. This heat is a byproduct of the electrical discharge within the flash tube that creates the light burst.

Excessive heat gives inconsistent light output. Most high-power strobes incorporate fans to manage heat dissipation. Some advanced flash units might have built-in thermal overload protection that automatically shuts down the flash if it detects excessive heat, preventing potential damage.

Tilt and Swivel Head

A tilt and swivel head is a valuable feature when buying a camera flash. You can bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling for a soft light. Tilting and/or swiveling the flash head can create directional effects like side lighting for dramatic portraits. In product photography, tilting the flash upwards is ideal for even illumination of products.

Guide number

The guide number (GN) is a measurement that indicates the flash’s power in relation to correct exposure at a specific distance and aperture setting. Modern flashes with TTL metering make guide numbers almost unnecessary when preparing for a photo shoot. Still, they help compare flashes because a higher guide number signifies a more powerful flash unit.

Stable Colour Temperature

A stable color temperature in flash lighting is vital for consistent and predictable color reproduction in your photos. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K) and refers to the perceived ‘warmth’ or ‘coolness’ of light. A flash unit with a stable color temperature ensures that colors are accurately captured across multiple flashes within the same shooting session.

This is crucial, especially when shooting with multiple flashes. If you shoot product photography, fashion photography, or other applications where precise color reproduction is essential, a high-precision color temperature flash is necessary.


The perfect flash isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. First, you must think about your photographic style and prioritize the features that matter most to you. With the right flash in your camera kit, you’ll create stunningly lit portraits, action-stopping moments, and imaginative lighting effects that will give your images the ‘wow’ factor. Embrace the power of flash, and light up your photography journey!

Can I use any flash on any camera?

Not all flashes have the same function on all cameras. It is possible to purchase several different cameras by Nikon and Canon, which is brand specific. Some other manufacturers produce flash that can be adapted for various

How do I know if my camera is compatible with Flash?

You should first check your camera contact contacts and pins with the flash. The pin must match both in size and location for precise contact with the pins. Most sellers display pictures of foot on flashing lights.