Choosing your Flash Wisely
by PhotoManhattan Photography School
Buying an External Flash unit can be a daunting decision. With all the options, settings, bells & whistles available it can be difficult to determine where to start looking. To help guide you along this process we’ve listed some of the most important features and considerations for each photographer to keep in mind when selecting a flash that will work best for them. The most important factors you’ll need to consider are:
- Compatibility – Many flash units will offer some form of light metering, distance evaluation, focusing capabilities, or exposure compensation, however not all flash units are created equally, and you may find that some brands and models are more compatible than others when it comes to your specific camera model. Be sure to test all flash features against your camera body before purchasing your new flash unit.
- Movement – Some flash models offer a fixed directional light, others will have between 15° and 45° tilt and swivel options, while other still can offer up to 180° range of motion. Consider how you’ll be using the flash, will you need to bounce it off or a ceiling or a wall? Or will you be using it externally through a TTL cable? Figure out how much “wiggle room” you’ll need so you know what to look for when you’re at the store.
- Operation Modes – Flashes can come with a variety of different operation modes. Some have a single output setting, others an adjustable automatic mode. Some can meter a scene automatically through the lens of your camera (TTL) while others will will allow you to manually set your exposure and output settings. Consider the amount of control you’ll need over your flash in order to determine the operation features you’ll need.
- Output Power – Often referred to as the flash’s “Guide Number”. The flash’s guide number is the farthest distance the flash is able to illuminate a given subject under a particular exposure setting or direction. In general you can assume that the higher the guide number the more powerful your flash unit will be. Are you using the flash to shoot stationary items in the studio or moving subjects on a baseball diamond? This will help you determine how much power and distance you truly need.
- Networking Options – Many flashes of the same brand or model number will allow you an option to network them together and control each unit remotely from a single flash. Others have a “slave” mode that will cause the flash to automatically fire when it senses others going off. For events and time sensitive jobs being able to control your flash output remotely can be a big time saver, so consider if you’ll need networking options before you purchase.
Other questions to consider when buying a flash include:
- Do I need a quiet flash or one with noise reducing capabilities (for weddings, events, etc.)?
- What is the battery life/power source? How long will it last?
- How heavy is the flash? Will it be a significant addition to my camera pack?
- How quickly will the flash recycle (allow for shots to be taking one-after-another)?
- What kind of accessories and flash modifiers are available for this model?
Consider the above information when researching flash models and be sure to buy from a supplier who you trust. PhotoManhattan students receive discounts up to 10% through 17th Street Photo Supply. See their flash models online.