The B&H Speedlight Buyer’s Guide


An on-camera flash, also known brand-wise as a “speedlight” or “speedlite,” is an indispensible accessory for many photographers; it provides additional light when conditions become too dark to handhold your camera comfortably, allows you to achieve more balanced exposures in daylight, permits freezing of fast-moving subjects, and can also be used to control or trigger other flash light sources. Additionally, a flash can be used as a highly effective creative tool to establish an aesthetic that elevates your imagery when lighting conditions are considered less than stellar. The benefits of an external on-camera flash far outweigh those provided by a built-in camera flash, while the only drawback is having to carry an additional piece of equipment.

On-Camera Flash versus Off-Camera Flash versus In-Camera Flash

The term on-camera flash, or speedlight, simply refers to a type of strobe light (flash) that can connect directly to your camera. While it is generally referred to as “on-camera,” this does not require the flash to be physically mounted on your camera. On-camera flashes can, and often are, used off-camera. This differs from other strobe-light sources, such as studio pack strobes and monolights, in that these types of strobes are not meant to be physically connected to your camera (except under rare and unusual circumstances involving convoluted methods of adaptation). Additionally, speedlights usually have a self-contained power supply, although external power sources can sometimes be used to improve performance or extend battery life.

On-camera external flash also refers to the type of external flash that can be used on your camera, compared to a built-in flash that is integrated into many cameras. An on-camera external flash performs better than a built-in flash in almost every regard with the one exception that it is not built into your camera. The ability to take the flash off your camera results in a significantly greater number of lighting options; far more than simply providing a blast of flat light to the scene to facilitate an adequate exposure. It is often not desirable to have your flash pointed squarely at the scene you’re photographing; more often than not, you will want to bounce the flash light from other surfaces and point it in other directions to control the look and directionality of your light.

Most built-in flashes are also located near the camera lens, which can often result in the red-eye effect when photographing subjects in dimly lit conditions. Red-eye occurs because pupils dilate in dim light, the built-in flash is aligned with the lens's optical axis, and its beam enters the eye and reflects back at the camera from the retina at the rear of the eye, which is quite red. Being able to use an on-camera flash source off-camera, from a different angle, will help to eliminate the red-eye effect in your photographs of people, especially when the ambient light is low.

Guide Numbers, Manual Usage, Controlling Flash Power, and Sync Speeds

Before delving into the automatic technology that is contained in most contemporary flashes, it is best to understand how to manually control and grasp a flash’s power. This is directly related to having an understanding of exposure ratios—how shutter speeds and apertures affect and balance each other—even though auto-exposure metering is available and often utilized for determining the best exposure settings.

Guide numbers are the standardized, numerical way of determining the power of a flash, with a higher guide number representing a more powerful flash. A guide number is the product of multiplying the f/stop of an exposure with a given distance, at ISO 100; or GN = f/number x distance. This calculation directly refers to the Inverse Square Law, which states that a specified physical intensity of light is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of the physical intensity. For example, a given intensity of light will be 1/4 the intensity at twice the distance from the source, 1/9 the intensity at three times the distance, 1/16 the intensity at four times the distance, and so on. Since f/numbers relate fractionally to the intensity of an exposure, they fit perfectly into the guide-number equation as a variable for determining flash exposure.

Simplifying this a bit, a realistic example would be if you have a flash with a guide number of 100—photographing a subject 25' away will require the use of f/4 for proper exposure. Likewise, a subject 50' away requires f/2 or a subject 5' away requires approximately f/22. Since guide numbers are typically expressed at ISO 100, you can further determine your exposure if using a higher sensitivity, such as ISO 800, as a subject 50' away would require an aperture of about f/5.6. Another variable to consider is that all of these values assume you are using your flash at full power; often, you can control the flash output of your strobe in increments to save on battery life, provide faster recycle times, or to control your exposure more when working in closer situations. This flash power variable can easily be compensated for in the guide number equation by reducing one of the other variables. For instance, if you’re using a flash with a guide number of 100 (at ISO 100) at 1/4 power and photographing a subject 25' away, you will now require an aperture of f/2 (which is 1/4 the original example’s given aperture).

One thing to keep in mind when comparing guide numbers is that with zoom-capable flash heads manufacturers measure different flashes at different zoom positions. This affects the reading since, with a wider beam, let’s say at 35mm, it will read as less powerful than with a tight beam, such as at 105mm, even when the flash is set to the exact same power setting. Zoom heads can be found on a large percentage of on-camera flash units.

It should also be noted that, in most instances, controlling your exposure in-camera when working with flash should only be accomplished by modifying your aperture. This is because the precise duration of a flash is substantially less than most shutter speeds; if you compensate for your exposure by using a faster shutter speed, you will not see any change in exposure because the flash is essentially performing the role of the shutter. Additionally, unless you’re using a leaf shutter (a shutter contained within the lens, featured on many medium and large format lenses), it is likely your camera’s focal plane shutter will not be capable of producing a fully exposed image at shutter speeds shorter than about 1/250th of a second (depending on your camera).

"To properly use fill flash, first meter your subject and then meter the background."

The fastest recommended speed at which your camera can record an image when using flash is called the "sync speed." If you make an exposure faster than the sync speed while using flash, the shutter will likely not have enough time to clear the image path of the sensor or film while the scene is fully illuminated by the flash. This will result in blocked or blacked-out areas of the image (the part of the shutter that couldn't clear the path in time). Conversely, you can make exposures longer than the maximum sync speed and still produce a fully-exposed image; however, depending on this length, other consequences or benefits may ensue.

High-speed synchronization is available on certain flashes and camera systems to bypass the usual sync-speed limitations. These modes require communication between the flash and camera and work by rapidly flashing in sync with the movement of the shutter, allowing for faster shutter speeds to be used. This feature is useful when shooting in bright scenarios, such as outside on a sunny day, where you want to keep your aperture wide open for creative effect, as opposed to being forced to stop down to maintain a proper exposure with the ambient light. This setting does limit the power of your flash and you may find that the highest settings, such as 1/1 and 1/2, are unavailable.

Fill-Flash and “Dragging the Shutter”

While flash is often used to illuminate a scene entirely, either because of low-light conditions or because you are using a small aperture to gain additional depth of field, flash can also be used in combination with ambient exposure to provide additional creative benefits. Relating back to sync speed, if you're using a shutter speed that is similar to what would be required of an ambient, regular exposure, in conjunction with flash, you will be mixing both ambient and flash light. This technique is called dragging the shutter and can be utilized to highlight specific objects or subjects in a scene. An example would be photographing a field or bush at dusk; while the foreground and surrounding areas are very dark, there is more light available in the sky regions of the scene. A way of rendering this type of scene would be to use your flash to illuminate the nearer regions, and then let your shutter stay open longer to capture the ambient light of the sky. This will provide exposure to adequately render both the darker and brighter portions of the image within a single frame. Additionally, this technique works well for freezing movement in darker light; by using the flash to freeze and illuminate the moving subject, and then keeping your shutter open to properly expose the background.

Similar in concept, but using the opposite protocol, is fill flash. Fill flash is a technique in which you use your strobe to fill in areas of the scene, either because they are darker than surrounding areas or to intentionally darken the background to better illuminate a nearer subject. This technique can be used during daylight or in well-lit situations, even if the ambient exposure is appropriate for handheld use, where there is a discrepancy between the exposure values of the foreground and background (i.e. backlit or silhouetted subjects).

To properly use fill flash, first meter your subject and then meter the background. This difference in exposure values is what is to be made up by use of flash exposure. Once you have determined the difference, you set your camera to properly expose the background values (knowing you will be underexposing your subject) then you set your flash to account for the difference in stops between the two regions. This will render both areas of the image properly, giving you a more balanced, evenly lit exposure. This tool can be further manipulated to intentionally render your nearer subject brighter than the background, to give it more prominence. In order to accomplish this, you follow the same steps as outlined before but simply set your camera’s exposure settings to purposefully underexpose the ambient regions and have the flash properly illuminate your main subject; thus producing an image with a well-lit subject and darkened background.

TTL Flash Metering

By using a flash in manual mode, or a flash that does not possess automatic exposure capabilities, you are in full control of determining both your flash’s power and your camera’s exposure settings. This is ideal for creative use, and becomes easier the more familiar you are with certain working situations; however, it sometimes cannot be the most practical or fastest method, considering the availability of automatic flash metering. Automatic in-camera calculation of flash metering is usually done using a TTL, or through-the-lens method. This method of determining proper flash exposure is very similar to the way a camera’s exposure meter works, but it takes into account more variables, such as flash power and even subject distance, if used in conjunction with a compatible lens.

TTL flash metering initiates when the camera’s shutter button is pressed, which then instantly triggers the connected flash. This flash then sends out a burst of light, a pre-flash, which will strike the subject and reflect back through the lens. This returning light is directed to an exposure meter, which will determine how long the true exposure should be to properly expose the subject. Modern TTL systems are able to control both a camera’s and a flash’s exposure settings to provide well-exposed results, taking much of the guesswork and experimentation out of flash photography.

This method of determining proper exposure when using flash is also codependent on the type of flash and camera you are using, with both variables needing to “speak the same TTL language.” Different camera types all have proprietary TTL systems, such as Canon’s E-TTL II or Nikon’s i-TTL, and then TTL-enabled flashes will specify which TTL system they support. Additionally, modern TTL systems will also work in conjunction with certain lenses, which further benefit TTL accuracy by being able to factor in your camera-to-subject distance. Depending on where your focus point is set, the flash will deliver enough power to properly expose a subject at that distance.

For intentional over- or under-exposure when working with TTL flash metering, most flashes incorporate an exposure compensation system similar to that of a camera, allowing you to vary the “correct” amount of light output by a certain number of stops. Exposure compensation, as well as dedicated settings, also allows you to control fill-flash amounts when working with TTL, further enabling more controlled and consistent flash shooting. Today, many third-party brands produce dedicated flashes with complete TTL functionality for numerous brands, which allows them to work automatically just as well as original-brand flash units and speedlights.

Bouncing Your Flash and Using it Off-Camera

On-camera flashes can be divided roughly into two classes: those that feature moving (rotating or tilting) flash heads and those that do not. The strobes that do not have a moving flash head have the benefit of being more compact but, outside of that, their flexibility is significantly less than that of a strobe featuring a flash head that can tilt—and even better—one that can rotate. A flash with no movements is similar to an in-camera flash you might already have, and when mounted on your camera, it will always output light in the same square, front-facing direction. These flashes do often have more power and manual controls than your in-camera flash, though.

However, once you add the ability to move your flash head, you can suddenly gain much greater control and a variety of options regarding how to direct the light falling on the subject. Light that is pointed directly at your subject is typically very harsh light, producing deep shadows and having a quick light fall-off from your subject to the background (Inverse Square Law). To render a similar scene with softer light, you can tilt your flash head to bounce your light from a nearby wall or the ceiling to broaden its directional quality. Once the flash light strikes a wall or a ceiling, that surface is being converted into a much larger light source than your flash itself. This omnidirectionality helps to lessen the effects of the Inverse Square Law, since the light source is larger, and will produce fewer harsh shadows with more even lighting.

Even better than the ability to point your camera-mounted flash away from your subject is the ability to remove your flash from the camera entirely and point it in any direction and at any angle you wish. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways; either by way of a wired connection or a wireless connection. A wired connection simply requires running a sync cord between your flash and your camera. Make sure to have a cable with compatible connections to your camera and your flash. Flashes often have a kind of proprietary connection, or sometimes also support more standardized connections, such as a household plug or a miniphone, photo, or sub-mini jack. These cables usually feature a PC connection at the other end to provide a connection to your camera. If your camera does not have a PC sync socket, there are also adapters available that slip into your hot shoe and provide a PC connection from there. Cables that connect your flash to your camera are available in lengths from 6" up to 33', in either coiled or straight designs. It is best to assess how you plan to use your flash off-camera before deciding upon length; if it is too short you won’t be able to get far away from the camera, if too long the cable will become cumbersome to handle.

If you're not handholding the speedlight, you can easily remove the flash from your camera and mount it on either a stand or a flash bracket. A flash bracket enables you to place your flash off to the side or above the camera, and usually gives you a bit more freedom as to the orientation in which you can place your flash and the direction you point it. Brackets typically attach to your camera from the tripod socket and provide you with an additional method of holding your camera/flash system. While on this topic, some manufacturers produce handle-mount flash units, which are flashes that mount on the side of a camera via a dedicated bracket. These flashes are generally larger and more powerful than shoe-mounted units and can run on larger power supplies without making your camera extremely unwieldy.

The other method of tethering a flash to your camera is to use a wireless receiver/transmitter system or a slave, which employs radio, infrared, or optical triggering methods to communicate between your camera and your flash. A wireless system affords you the most creative control, as the boundaries of how far away your flash and camera can be are practically limitless, and you can also work with multiple flashes for more creative lighting setups.

Wireless Flash Control

Wireless flash is a complete entity unto itself, but by way of briefing, there are essentially three types of wireless triggers: infrared, radio, and optical. Beginning with the most basic, optical triggers (commonly referred to as slaves or optical slaves) are a small addition to your flash that enables wireless triggering once the slave detects a flash of light. These slaves come in an assortment of connections, typically household plug, 3.5mm or 1/4" jack, PC connection or via a hot shoe. Determine which connection type is compatible with your specific flash before considering anything else when using an optical slave.

Once properly paired, you simply connect the slave to your flash and utilize another flash in order to trigger it. These are ideally used in a situation with multiple light sources, since optical slaves require one burst of light to trigger them; however, you can use them effectively in single-light situations by programming your in-camera flash to fire at a very low power (1/64th or less if possible) and assume that the flash with the optical slave will completely overpower this small amount of light. It should also be noted that many modern flashes contain a built-in optical slave, which eliminates the need to add an optical slave; they are mostly for use with older flashes or in circumstances where you might need an especially highly sensitized slave.  

One other note regarding optical slaves is to account for the pre-flash that will occur when using TTL flash metering. Often, the slave will react to this pre-flash, as opposed to the intended “main flash,” and your lighting sync will be off. Some optical slaves have a function to automatically ignore this pre-flash, while on others you must manually disable the pre-flash, either through your camera or the master flash you are using to trigger the optical slaves.

The other method of wireless triggering is through the use of an infrared or radio system. One of the main advantages of these is that you do not require a hard-wired flash in order to trigger a group of flashes or even a single flash wirelessly; your entire lighting setup can be controlled from a transmitter connected to your camera. When working with a wireless transmitter and receiver system, you will connect one unit to each flash needed and one to your camera; this provides a remote method of communication between your camera and flashes to trigger flashes, and sometimes a means to even control the power output of individual flashes. This method can also function well if you’re using a single unit on your camera and main flash, then utilizing optical triggering to set off subsequent flashes. Another benefit to these triggering systems is that some flashes contain a built-in infrared receiver, saving you the need to attach an auxiliary one. When working with radio transmitters, it is less common for flashes to have built-in receivers, unless working with proprietary transmitters and higher-end flashes.

An infrared triggering system is similar to an optical method, but as the name implies, it utilizes infrared wavelengths to transmit the flash signal. This has a benefit over an optical trigger, as you do not need an on-camera or directly tethered flash to trigger your exposure, which can affect your exposure and limit the means of how you light your image. An infrared transmitter is essentially a low-powered flash with an IR filter over the front of it; when it emits a burst of light, the IR filter attenuates most of this light and converts it to an infrared signal. Infrared remotes work best in indoor situations when there isn’t an abundance of ambient light to disrupt the infrared transmission, and they also usually require your infrared receiver to be in direct line of sight of the infrared transmitter. With these drawbacks in mind, IR systems do have the advantage of being able to handle extremely fast sync speeds, due to the lack of time needed to compensate for a radio transmission.

The last, and most sophisticated method of wirelessly triggering flashes, is through the use of a radio transmitter and receiver system. Radio remotes have the advantage of being completely non-reliant on optics and do not require a line of sight or certain lighting conditions to function properly. They can operate across numerous channels, which greatly enhances photographing with wireless flash in situations where multiple photographers are working. Their other main benefit is that some radio systems integrate full TTL compatibility, which gives direct connection between the flash and your camera for controlling flash exposure. Many radio slaves also have dual functionality, deeming them transceivers, which allows the same units to be placed on either cameras or flashes. Transceivers can usually be set to transmit or receive, which helps to further dial-in the specific purpose of them under certain circumstances.

Additional Power Options

As previously mentioned, one of the defining characteristics of an on-camera flash is a self-contained power source. This power source, often comprising AA batteries, is stored inside the flash and can be replaced easily during the course of a photo session. This convenience is certainly appealing when compared to portable strobe packs featuring batteries that alone can weigh more than 20 lb; however, AA batteries are also not that powerful. Flash is a power-craving tool that requires battery power and quantity in excess of typical camera batteries. Rather than favoring a dependency on numerous AA batteries, it is beneficial to use an external battery pack if you use flash on a regular basis.

Auxiliary battery packs are often compact in size, for carrying in a pocket or attaching to a belt, and connect to your flash via a dedicated cable. Packs contain an internal, rechargeable battery; a removable, rechargeable battery; or in some instances, are simply a means to bundle several AA or other common battery type together to provide longer battery life more efficiently, versus changing out batteries from the flash itself. In addition to longer battery life, battery packs also often allow for faster recycle times—meaning you can fire your flash more rapidly with less time between bursts. Often only higher-end flashes will support the use of an external battery pack, since they are more typically subjected to longer shooting times and more strenuous conditions. Additionally, some companies produce dedicated accessories that will take advantage of the battery ports on some flash units. These accessories include small rechargeable batteries that, when plugged into the socket, can halve the recycle time of the flash at full power.

Other Features to Look for When Purchasing a Flash

As it would when looking for any other camera equipment, purchasing a flash should be heavily dependent on your needs to ensure it has the features you will use and will best suit the applications for which you intend to use it. Additionally, it is usually preferable to work with a flash best suited to the specific camera type you use, either by way of using the same brand or a third-party manufacturer with camera-compatible accessories and connections. This is especially prevalent in regard to TTL systems, with not all TTL-compatible devices being TTL-compatible with your specific camera or flash. Like cameras, too, flash choice should also take into account the build quality and how it will withstand the conditions in which you typically work. Certain flashes feature full weather sealing, which could be necessary for working in adverse conditions.

Flash Accessories and Light Modifiers

As mentioned previously—when talking about bouncing flash and getting the flash off your camera—a flash’s artificial light and straightforward angle does not make for the most flattering or aesthetic source. In addition to directing your light source at something other than your subject, you can also use numerous other tools to affect the way the light strikes your subject. These on-camera light modifiers come in a wide array of shapes and sizes, all serving to alter your light in various ways.


The most common type of add-on light modifier for your flash is a diffuser, in either bounce, flat, dome, or wide-angle styles. These diffusers work by placing a translucent box or substrate in front of your flash, helping to soften and spread the light a bit more evenly than an undiffused flash head. You will likely lose at least one stop of power from your flash, but your light will have less directionality and a softer, less high-key appearance.


Mini Softboxes and Dome Diffusers

mini softbox, as the name suggests, is a smaller version of a softbox that is designed especially for use with an on-camera flash. A softbox converts your flash into a larger, softer light source to help lessen the intensity of shadows and produce a more wrapped-light quality. The differently shaped softboxes will produce differently shaped catch lights in subjects’ eyes; otherwise the different shapes will function similarly based on corresponding dimensions or surface area of the softbox. Dome diffusers function in a very similar way, but simply slip onto the flash head to create a larger, softer light source.

Speed Rings

Speedlight speed rings are available and have the same function as their off-camera flash counterparts: to allow you to attach full-size softboxes to your light. Shoe-mount flash dedicated speed rings usually have the ability to accept multiple speedlights for use in a single softbox, effectively doubling or quadrupling the possible power output of the softbox.

Beauty Dishes

For a distinct light, beauty dishes create a soft, yet contrasty light that falls between direct lighting and a softbox. They produce a wraparound look that can provide a more dramatic effect. Also, they usually have an opaque, though sometimes tinted or translucent cover directly in front of the light, which bounces light back into the reflector and prevents direct light from hitting the subject.

Bounce Cards

Many flashes feature a built-in bounce card that slides out over the flash head, but if not, or for more control and adaptability, auxiliary bounce cards are available. In terms of light quality, a bounce card is something between a diffuser and a soft box. It produces light akin to bouncing your flash off the ceiling or a wall. These reflector cards extend from the top of your flash head and block light from spilling in all directions, and subsequently create a larger, softer light source. Additionally, these cards can be used to create catch lights in your subject’s eyes when bouncing the flash toward a wall or ceiling.

Grids and Honeycombs

Grids afford more control and a tighter light output from your flash. The honeycomb pattern helps to limit the overall spread of light and concentrate it into a more organized beam. Grids are often available in an assortment of sizes or degrees, with the smaller measurements referring to a tighter, more refined light spread.

Snoots and Barndoors

For an even narrower beam of light than a grid, a snoot can be used to create a small circle of light. The longer the snoot, the smaller the circle of light will be. Additionally, snoots often feature an attached grid spot at the end for an even narrower beam angle. Both grids and snoots, and a combination of the two, will produce a harder light quality, greater contrast, and more dramatic shadows due to their limiting of the light spread. In addition to snoots, barndoors are available for speedlights, which allow you to control the spread of light and limit where the light will fall on the scene, without directly affecting the quality of light.


flash extender is essentially a Fresnel lens that concentrates the flash light into a tighter beam to be thrown at greater distances. It is similar to the idea of a telephoto lens for your flash, and some flashes even have telephoto/Fresnel lenses built into them to serve this purpose. An extender is different than a snoot in that it does not merely restrict the light from spilling; instead, it focuses the light into a tighter area to simulate the angle of view of longer lenses.

Color Filters and Gels

Color filters and gels are used over your flash head to alter the color of light being produced. Most flashes emit light that is daylight balanced (between 5000 and 6000K), which is fine for general purposes. When working under mixed-lighting conditions, however, such as fluorescent or tungsten-lit rooms, the difference in the color temperature of light between your flash and the ambient lighting will be much more apparent. By covering your flash with a colored gel, you can more closely approximate the surrounding color temperature for more balanced lighting. These filters, often sold in kits or packs, can contain a range of colors that typically include CTB (color temperature blue) and CTO (color temperature orange) filters.

These specific filters, and more often the CTO, are frequently used to balance your strobe’s light accordingly; a full CTO will convert your flash light to approximately 3200K for tungsten lighting, and a full CTB will convert it to approximately 5600K for daylight use (if you’re using a flash that is not already balanced for daylight). Additionally, many of these kits include many other colors to choose from, for more creative applications where you want to use a colored light source as opposed to one appearing “white.” These filters and gels can be affixed to your flash in a large variety of ways, ranging from dedicated filter holders for your specific flash to simply taping the gel over the flash head.

Ringlights and Macro Lighting

One other specialized type of lighting is an on-camera ring light, and other types of on-camera lighting well suited to macro applications. While all ring lights are technically “on-camera,” these refer to the type that feature self-contained power and other features, as noted earlier. A ring light is a unique lighting tool that is doughnut-shaped and goes directly around your lens. This circular light is perfectly aligned with the axis of your lens and helps to provide nearly shadowless lighting, since the light is coming from all angles directly surrounding the lens. When used with more powerful studio-strobe battery packs, a ring light is a popular tool for fashion and portraiture work, but when confined to an on-camera source, the light output is typically fairly limited and best suited to macro and close-up applications.

The other, and even more important, reason that ring lights are best suited to macro work is that they constitute an effective solution that provides even lighting to subjects, in situations where your own or your camera’s shadow would be in the way if you were using off-camera lighting. Since the light is positioned on the same plane as your lens, you are able to light anything on which your lens can focus. These ring lights come with either standard flashtubes or with an array of LED lights (and sometimes the flashtube models also have LEDs for use as a modeling light). The flashtube versions function in the same manner as a shoe-mounted flash unit while the LED versions have a couple of distinct differences. LED models usually have a constant-on setting that allows for use during video, as well as simply being a modeling light, and sometimes will have a “flash” mode that will trigger it when the shutter is pressed.

In addition to ring lights, there are also twin-light setups that position two separate flash heads off to either side of your lens, but still on a similar plane as your lens. These dual heads can be positioned to induce a more physical, 3D quality than a ring flash, since they can be tilted or moved slightly to create more dimensionality with objects. Finally, there are also twin-light setups that are attached to a ring light to provide the benefits of both systems, including the flat, even lighting of a ring light but with the available dimensionality of a twin-light configuration.

So, consider flash an entire co-existent realm to available-light photography—it can be utilized to better highlight or give a more interesting visual appearance to subjects. Flash can provide additional dimensionality and texture to subjects in a way that cannot be achieved with natural light. An on-camera flash is a practical and lightweight option for using additional light when making photographs, and serves to be much more expansive than a flash that is simply confined to be atop your camera. When used in conjunction with controlling the power output, light direction, placement, shape, and color of the light output, an on-camera flash is undeniably an important tool to have for many, if not all, photographers.

If you have any questions or concerns about flash photography and what equipment is right for you, please contact a B&H Sales Professional via live chat, over the phone at 1-800-606-6969, or in person in our SuperStore.


Could the section on Guide Numbers be updated to include an example based on how the Guide Number is displayed in the product specs?  For example, the Godox QS400II (BH# GOQS400II)  - I have no idea how to apply the formula to "Guide Number   213' / 65 m at ISO100".   Thank you!

A very informative and concise article. Well written. Thank you

Hello, great article!

Please I'm hoping you can be some help...

I currently have a Canon EOS Rebel T5 and I am planning on purchasing products that are compatible with it. I'm mainly looking for portrait photography.

Thank you!

I would suggest sending us an email to [email protected]. Please let us know what kind of lenses/flashes you have current, as well as what budget range you are working with. Were you looking to shoot portraits on location, or in a studio type setup? Once we have a bit more information we will be better able to make suitable recommendations. 

Hey, on occasion I see a 400 site error when I view this website. I thought you may wish to know, best wishes


I just passed by your article.

I'm planning to buy camera for my products and portrait photography.  Any suggestion camera model and accessories should to buy? I'm a budgetting for about USD3,000.00,  more or less.

Please i need your help.  Thanks

I would recommend a good standard DSLR camera, such as the Canon Rebel T5i model, and I would outfit it with a macro lens as well as a portraiture lens for the two applications you’ve indicated wanting to use a camera for, and also a ringlite which could be used for both product shots as well as some portraiture.  See the links below for details on each recommended item:

Thank you very much.  I found this article to be very informative.

This article is a must read for photographers. It explains the whole speedlight stuff.

But I wish the pictures in this article were better.

The article is a must read. I wish the commenters were better.

Thank you for the laugh, John! And, thanks for reading Explora (and the comments)! Have a great day! Stop by anytime!

I want to do fill flash and also dawn/ dusk flash on birds and small wildlife. I have three flash heads, all non-TTL. Maximum distance would be 50 feet, and would use 300 and 400mm telephoto..

Is there an effective way to use these manually, or do I just guesstimate the settings and use ACR to adjust over/ under exposures? Or maybe I should get some TTL heads that will high speed sync, and use them for BIFs too.

With manual flash work and digital cameras these days, the amount of time it takes to zero in on your proper exposure settings are quick and forgiving compared to film days when we relied on a flash meter and then processing of film to see our exposures.  TTL is great in most instances, but can still in some cases take as much effort to set up and get the exposure right as doing manual work does. 

I would recommend doing at least one (if not a few) test runs with the gear you have, and work with a 2nd person on the shoot to help you set the strobes’ settings up for you while you take test shots to narrow the exposure until you see it like you want it.  If you repeat the procedure a few times you’ll have your ideal exposure narrowed down pretty quickly for each lighting condition.  Take notes on the settings and save them for the next time you set up similarly…each shoot should only take a few test shots to get the shot right each new time.  Otherwise, you could invest in a flash meter and narrow down the proper exposure for each that way but time-wise these days its almost easier to do it the way I have recommended above. 

Do you have to shoot in Manual Mode for all flash units? I often shoot in sports mode and am not yet comfortable with manual mode. I have a Nikon D3200. I'm looking for recommendations on an inexpensive flash unit, but I don't understand how to find out if you have to shoot in Manual mode with the flash. Is there some designation for flashes that you don't have to shoot in Manual with? Thank you so much!

TTL type flashes communicate with the camera in most every mode to give the best possible exposure automatically.  One does not need to shoot in manual mode to work with a flash on-camera.  Any of your "Sports" or other sorts of exposure modes are all variations of Auto exposure mode since your allowing the camera to make exposure calculations and decisions.  The same goes with the flash, when you add it to this scenario it will work with the camera to give the best overall exposure given the subject and lighting.

Thank you so much for your help, Yossi.

       I was going to write anyway, but it's convenient to have this email window at the bottom of your article on flashes. Nice touch, B&H!

       I know photography and cameras well, and I'm familiar with the basics of flashes, but I want to make sure I buy the right model to do what I intend. I'm strictly a landscape/wildlife photographer and I mainly want an external flash for fill light - off camera for wildflowers and on camera for small mammals and birds.

       Always ready for a wildlife opportunity, I carry my camera on tripod like a rifle, carried in the crook of my arm or at arm's length. So I'm concerned by the strength of the 'neck' - the shoe mount structure of the unit. I've read reviews on your site and some of the horror stories involved the 'broken necks' of flashes. Also, I'm concerned that the weight of some flashes, with batteries, is close to a pound. (Yet I need that power) Since the photos I see indicate that all flashes are of a similar physical design, I tend to assume that this concern applies to all brands and models, but if that's not the case, I'd appreciate a recommendation on models that are better built to withstand a little stress. (in my price range)

       I'm interested in a powerfull flash since I shoot telephoto almost all of the time. So it seems that a zoom flash would be the way to go. For me, though, I see no advantage in "auto-zoom" since my telephoto lens (75-300mm full frame) is largely beyond the 85mm zoom setting and for wider coverage, I'll have time to manually set the flash.

       I'm open to advice on all flash brands, but viewing the models listed on your website, two that perked my interest are Vivitars: the DF-286 and the DF-383. These seem to be a lot of flash power for the price, especially the 286. Reading the reviews, though, there are some who said that Vivitar units failed with little use and the Vivitar customer service was poor. Opinion? I have no preference for brands, so any recommendations are welcomed. I'd like keep the price below $120.

       In reading your descriptions of flashes, there are some terms that I'm not familiar with. Maybe you can give me a brief description what what these mean: 

What is "auto-focus" in a flash? 

"Automatic shutter speed setting?"  (Is this what "flash sync" is about?)

"Built in vari-power?"  (Referring to manual power settings?) (Or that the power syncs to the E-TTL?)

When they say 'alkaline' batteries, does that also include Ni-MH?

Am I right in thinking that if you have TTL, then having an illuminated display on the flash would not be that important - or am I missing something?

When the specs refer to a flash zooming to 85mm, does that refer to 'full frame equivalent'? I have an APS-C camera but my tele zoom is a full frame lens. So am I correct in thinking that the full range of my 75-300mm zoom will be fully covered by such a flash?

       Note that I need a flash that will work with a non-Canon wireless trigger. (unless Canon has an inexpensive trigger/receiver system)

       And I need a wireless trigger that will work with a non-Canon flash. (Advice on such triggers would be great also!)

       Finally, I'm also thinking of buying a "Better Beamer" or some such tele extender for flash. Two questions:  1) Better Beamer vs other brands?  2) Will such devices work with all the flashes you recommend for me?  Also, I just read that BB lists compatibility with Nikon and Canon flashes, but not other brands, so do you know if the Beamer units can be used with other brand flashes? If you don't know, I can ask the Beamer folks.

       One more comment:  if there was ever a topic that would benefit from a chart with all the features, weights, prices, etc. listed as a top line with all the models you sell listed in column form with check marks for each feature, that would cut through a ton of confusion for potential customers. And along with the chart, you should have definitions of all terms used. No matter what source of info I've found online, there seems to be no consistent, efficient way to track down the brands and models that best match what I'm looking for. After narrowing down some basic features, you almost have to click on every model and scan the list of features. With so many flashes to choose from, this is way too much to remember and too much time to research and take notes on. Luckily, you are there to assist, but I've spent a lot of time trying to educate myself - and you can see how many questions I still have.

       I didn't realize I had so many questions. Thanks for your help.

       If you would like to save time with your answers, feel free to call me. If you do, though, it would be to your advantage to set up a time frame to call me via an email exchange. If I'm here, I'm usually on the computer editing photos. Also, if you call, speak slowly enough to give me time to take notes.

                         -- Mike Schuster   

Flash shoes on DSLR and Flash feet these days are being made more durable than in past models, at least this is the case with higher end flash models that are designed to stand up to professional applications.   In your comment about hiking with the tripod with the camera mounted and your concern of the flash mounted on the camera – we would recommend removing the flash.  I would not hike around with my flash mounted on-camera in that same manner.  Remove the flash when hiking, and reapply it when you go to shoot again.

Autofocus in a flash indicates that the flash also has an infrared panel on it, which it uses in the same manner as the camera’s autofocus system in the lens.  It emits its on IR beam and the camera uses that distance measured to help triangulate and calculate the subjects distance.  In low light it helps the camera decide on its focus point quicker.

Automatic Shutter speed setting – off hand is not a term that I hear regularly but it would describe the camera being set to shutter preferred mode and the camera/lens and flash will set the settings to best accommodate that shutter speed.  If that’s not what you’re asking about, if you could provide a specific reference to a camera that has this feature so I may regard it and reply.

Flash sync – indicates the shutter speeds at which the flash and camera fire simultaneously.  It can vary from camera to camera.

Built-in Variable Power – indicates a flash which in manual usage allows one to adjust the power output.

“Alkaline” batteries are one type of battery. Ni-MH indicates batteries which are powered by Nickel-metal hydride power source. Lithium is another type of battery power source.

On your question “Am I right in thinking that if you have TTL, then having an illuminated display on the flash would not be that important - or am I missing something?” – Are you referring to the LCD display that displays various exposure information on the back of the flash?  If so, yes, it is useful to have the information it displays there yes.  Battery power levels are posted there, flash mode settings, other details such as compensation levels etc are posted there.

Flash zooming specs are given in regards to full-frame format yes.  A flash that zooms to 85mm on an APS-C Canon camera will abide by the same 1.6x magnification factor as the lenses do.  85mm x 1.6 = 136mm.  There are not any flashes designed to cover telephoto focals such as those in a 75-300mm zoom.  The Better Beamer devices are great for extending the range of the flash and are commonly used by birding and wildlife photographers.

As far as flash recommendations and triggers etc go, I ask that you contact our sales division directly via telephone, as there are many details and options to go over, and speaking with a sales agent will be able to quickly resolve many of your topics that are too detailed to get into here in this forum.  Unfortunately I am not able to arrange to have a sales agent contact you via this means.  You may opt to call us anytime that is convenient for you during our normal business hours which are Mon-Thurs 9am-7pm eastern, Friday 9am-2pm Eastern, Sundays 10-5pm Eastern.  Please call - 800.606.6969 / 212.444.6615.

As far as your recommendation for information goes, I will pass that suggestion along to our Web Team for them to consider.


I am new to photography. I recently purchased a Canon T3i. I am happy with most of my images except in low-light situations. Can you recommend a speedlight that will not break the bank. Thanks!!

hey im looking for a speedlight for my canon t5i mainly to use for dark settings, im not a professional but I do enjoy a crisp clean photo.. also looking for something not too bulky that can draw too much attention.. any recommendations?

Hi I need a speed light for portrait photography and also interested for a speed light capable for better zoom range.

My body is Nikon d7100.

And after reading the reviews ,I am confused among this three-

1)Nikon SB700 - NIKON Brand, Fully CLS compatible but the issue is the power output (lower GN number)

2) METZ 58 af-2 - Is it fully compatible with CLS ?? Is it better than SB 700 from performance point of view . Does the higher GN no as compared to SB700 really makes a difference?

3) Nissin Di866 mark2 - lower price same performance , what about CLS compatibility with Nikon D7100.

Could you please suggest me one out of this three or do you see some other better solution , also does the higher GN no really makes a difference ??

Thank you very much in advance for your time.

Hello, I am a novice. I have a Nikon 5000 and a Speedlight sb-700. If I use the speedlight off camera or remote, it appears that the pop-up camera flash will fire as well as the speedlight. I looked in the manual to stop the pop-up flash, to no avail. Would I need to get a cable or a different solution to be able to use the remote feature of the speedlight without having the pop-up flash fire? Thanks.

Hi, I'm new to flash photography and want to get a external flash for flower and insect macro photography but I have no idea if I need a powerful flash or a weak one? please help.


Thanks for the wonderful information! I am shooting with a Nikon D7000 and am looking to get started with some lighting for portrait shots etc indoor as well as outdoor possibility. I have been looking at the sb-700 and obviously the 900, but a little steep. Are there any other brands of speedlights comparable? Any other reasonably prices lighting kits you would recommend?


i am mostly shooting outdoor family portrait and newborn with a nikon d5100...which speedlight should i get knowing i cant afford to spend a fortune on it right now....

If speedlights won't work for sports what kinda flash do you reccomend? Is there something else I should be looking at? Need about 100 ft. maybe a little less. Will be using with a Nikon D5000. Thanks..........

With the speed lights how can I tell how far the flash will shoot? I want to take action sports shots in low light and stop the action. Thanks.


Having used battery operated flashes for many years, in my experience they become ineffective past 25 feet. When subject matter is this far away from your camera position, one concern is someone or something can come in between you and your subject and affect your exposure.

The guide number on a filter specs gives you a good idea on how far it will go.
But for sports photography a speedlight is really not going to do much as usually sports photography is distance and speedlights are not strong enough or fast enough for those shots.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can assist you with.

Speedlight is for Nikon, Speedlite is for Canon.

Very useful article on the basics of using a speedlite. Very clear and concise primer that gives me something to build on. Thank you.

I'd like to add one thing to consider when choosing a flash: How heavy is it? Some flashes are great but the weight changes the balance of the camera; sometimes that's a necessary trade-off but other times a lighter (read lower-power, less feature-rich) flash works just as well. I personally have two and find myself using the lighter one most of the time and the larger one for specific effects or longer distances.

Enjoyed this a great deal. Many reviews and articles I've ome across lean this way or that, typically saying the mot expensive unit is the best without any real description as to why. Even fewer bother to describe how units function and why they do so. I appreciate the functional description of speedlights and their optional accessories. This was a useful article. Much appreciated.

This article made clear for me exactly what a speedlight does. Very informative. i walked away knowing exactly what type of flash to purchase.

Great article. Very informative.  Thanks for clearing up some questions.