Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best camera flashes

Beginning photographers likely will start with simple equipment, such as a point-and-shoot camera or even just a smartphone. But they’ll quickly figure out that shooting night photos with a tiny flash doesn’t deliver great results or give you much versatility for advanced photography.

To have better luck with flash photos, it takes an advanced camera with an external camera flash unit. This allows the photographer to angle the light and adjust its intensity. As another benefit, an external flash is tall, which reduces red-eye because it’s farther from the lens than a built-in flash.

Finding just the right flash to go with your advanced camera can be an easy process — but first, you should understand the importance of its many features, including sync speeds, TTL mode, and exposure-compensation settings. 

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Some flash units are able to work with multiple models of cameras, while others are limited to only working with a few models. Always check the flash for compatibility before purchasing.

Key considerations

To find a good camera flash for your situation, it helps to understand some of the ways in which these devices differ from each other.


The base of an external camera flash unit will slide onto the square-ish hot-shoe bracket on the top panel of an advanced camera. (Simple cameras will not have a hot-shoe bracket.) With a compatible flash and camera pairing, you’ll have access to all of the flash’s features.

If the two are not fully compatible, the flash may work, but you won’t be able to use some functions of the flash. Even if the base of the flash will fit in the camera’s hot-shoe bracket, it doesn’t mean the two will work well together (a flash will have a list of cameras with which it’s compatible in its product description).

Some flash manufacturers create third-party flashes that will work with multiple camera models. This means you don’t have to purchase a Nikon-branded flash to work with a Nikon camera, for example. Instead, you can use a compatible third-party flash with your Nikon camera. (However, you also can stick with a Nikon flash if desired.)

Guide number

Understanding the flash’s guide number helps you figure out how powerful the flash will be. With the guide number in hand, you can determine the distance over which you can use the flash at certain camera settings. Higher guide numbers result in a more powerful flash unit.

When you’re out in the field shooting, use the guide number to calculate the aperture and ISO settings you should use at a particular distance from the subject.


Camera flash units don’t have a lot of physical design options. You’ll find flashes with a black color the majority of the time. However, some mirrorless camera flashes have a color that may match the color of the camera.

Here are some features to think about when comparing camera flashes:

  • Sync speeds: Typically, a camera operates at a 1/60- or 1/125-second shutter speed when using a flash. However, some flashes will allow for much faster or slower shutter speeds, always syncing with the camera to deliver the best results.

  • TTL: You will want a flash unit that can use TTL mode, which is short for “through-the-lens” mode. This mode allows the camera to control the flash, resulting in desirable lighting automatically.

  • Exposure compensation: To gain a little manual control in TTL mode, look for a flash with exposure-compensation settings. The photographer then can make slight adjustments to the flash intensity and camera exposure manually while using TTL.

  • Battery: Some flash units run on separate batteries, while others draw power through the hot shoe. Larger camera flashes typically will require their own battery power. Both alkaline and rechargeable batteries are found with flash units.

  • Screen: On the back of some external flashes, you’ll find a small monochrome display screen. You can use this screen to read the flash’s settings and make adjustments. Without a screen on the flash, you’ll make adjustments through the camera’s menus.

Camera flash prices

Inexpensive: The least expensive camera flashes range from $25 to $75. Third-party flash units often will cost about this much. These will be basic flash units over which you will not have much manual control. They’ll also have small guide numbers.

Mid-range: Expect to pay $75 to $200 for an average camera flash. These flashes provide quite a bit of manual control over the features of the flash unit. They’ll have adjustable angles for the heads and high-end guide numbers. Both third-party and brand-name flashes are found in this price range. The majority of photographers will receive excellent performance with these flash units.

Expensive: The priciest flash units will cost between $200 and $750. These often will be brand-name flash units from major camera manufacturers. Professional photographers need the features found in these types of flashes, including remote control for off-camera use. You’ll have full manual control over these flashes, allowing you to perfectly light almost any scene.


  • Bounce the light from the flash. To remove glare spots in the shot, photographers will bounce the light. Find a flash unit with a head that you can set at an angle. This bounces the light off a wall or ceiling onto the subject. White or light-colored walls or ceilings work best for bouncing.

  • Diffuse the light from the flash. Adding a diffuser to the camera flash creates a light that looks softer in the scene, reducing glare. Some camera flash units ship with a diffuser. Otherwise, you can purchase one separately or create your own.

  • Have some fun with gels. Add a color filter or a gel to the flash unit to create a customized color of light. Some photographers use gels to match the color temperature of the scene. Other times, you may just want to add a color tint to a scene.
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Even if your DSLR or mirrorless camera ships with an external camera flash unit, you can purchase another unit to use that has more features as long as the flash is compatible.


Q. Do I have to use the flash on the camera or will it work remotely off-camera?

A. Complex flash units can be used remotely. This delivers extra versatility, giving the photographer multiple angles to the scene. With the flash located off-camera, you’ll activate it through a wireless remote or through a cable. Some photographers will use two or more flash units, one on-camera and the others off-camera, firing them at the same time.

Q. My camera has a built-in flash. Is an external flash really necessary?

A. The tiny flash that’s built into most camera bodies is designed for convenience. If you need to shoot a flash photo quickly to capture a spontaneous moment, use the built-in flash. However, for a higher quality of lighting in the scene, an external flash that you’ll attach on the hot shoe is the preferred choice.

Q. When should I consider using multiple off-camera flashes?

A. For the majority of photographers, the single on-camera external flash unit provides adequate results. Using multiple flashes introduces more complexity than is required most of the time. However, if you have time to set up a shot, to control the scene entirely, and to properly position the flashes, multiple flashes nicely light the scene. On the other hand, for photography conditions that are unpredictable, a single on-camera flash works better.

Q. What’s the best way to carry my camera flash with me?

A. If you own a camera bag, it usually will have a compartment to hold the flash. Some photographers may try to carry the flash in a pants pocket if the unit is small enough. Otherwise, just leave the flash attached to the camera at all times. Turn it off when it’s not needed, and it won’t affect your non-flash photos.

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