Whether you’re shooting indoors, in low light or in harsh sunlight, shoe-mount speedlights are an essential accessory for anyone who wants to capture pro-caliber images with a mirrorless camera or DSLR. While a camera’s built-in flash may do in a pinch, a shoe-mount flash unit provides inherently superior lighting. That’s because it places the flash head at a greater distance from the lens axis, yielding an expanded tonal range and a more natural look.
Current Flash Trends
All the flash units detailed here deliver considerably greater output than a typical built-in camera flash. They also offer up-to-date features like wireless TTL (through the lens) using radio transmission or optical pulses. Further, they provide tilting, swiveling power zoom heads; built-in bounce cards; built-in or add-on wide-angle diffusers; as well as illuminated dot-matrix LCD readout panels. Other features include high-speed first- and second-shutter curtain sync, plus water-resistant construction. Most of these flash units run on four handy AA alkaline batteries. Some can use NiMH and lithium-ion cells. Or in-body or optional plug-in power packs.
From a dealer’s point of view, promoting these state-of-the-art system accessories to customers will elevate their picture-taking experience. Additionally, it will help you establish strong relationships that will hopefully bolster your bottom line.
For photographers and videographer, a shoe-mount flash unit can raise the bar on your content creation. It can expand the capabilities of your camera and provide superior lighting for creative flexibility. We urge you to check out this entire expanding category. We trust that reading about the flashes we’ve covered here will be an enlightening experience.
Features to Consider When Buying Shoe-Mount Speedlights
Some flash units (typically those offered by camera makers) can only be used with camera models from a single manufacturer. However, others are available in a range of dedicated single-system versions for different brands. Still others have interchangeable modules or are “universal.” That means you can attach them to a range of different camera brands and systems. Make sure the flash you opt for (or sell) is compatible with the camera it will be fitted to.
The guide number is a measure of the light intensity (output) of a flash. Moreover, it allows you to calculate the maximum distance (in meters or feet) at which you can shoot. Therefore, all things being equal, the higher the guide number the better. That’s because it provides a longer maximum flash range along with greater shooting flexibility.
The recycling speed of a flash depends on its electronic circuitry, the power source, etc. This spec is important to those who shoot large numbers of flash pictures in short time intervals. This is a common practice when shooting sports, events as well as reportage. In general, the faster the recycle time, the better because it enhances both responsiveness and shooting flexibility.
When using a zoom lens, you must typically zoom the flash head manually every time you change the focal length of the lens. However, a flash unit with auto zoom moves the zoom head automatically as you zoom to match the focal length in use. Obviously, this is much more convenient, especially when shooting action sequences or tracking moving subjects.
Swiveling/Tilting Flash Head
A swivel/tilt head allows you to change the angle at which the flash beam strikes the subject—or bounce off a reflective surface. Hence, you can optimize the lighting for different scenes and subjects. In many cases, this feature enables you to shape the lighting, resulting in more natural-looking pictures. Typically, the greater the flash head rotation and tilt angle, the better. However, whether this feature is essential depends on your priorities and shooting style.
A Sampling of Shoe-Mount Speedlights
Nikon SB-5000 AF
This sophisticated Nikon Speedlight boasts the first built-in cooling system in a shoe-mount flash. Consequently, it can perform 100 rapid-fire full-power flashes. The speedlight also has a powerful footage guide number of 113 at ISO 100 and 35mm. And it has a more compact body than its predecessors.
Compatible with the Nikon i-TTL creative lighting system, a camera/flash combo can control up to six groups of flashes from 98 feet away. Moreover, no line of sight is required. Further, the flash works with existing optical triggering units. Full wireless control requires a compatible camera, Nikon’s WR-A10 wireless remote adapter as well as a WR-R10 wireless remote controller.
What’s more, it has a wide-range zoom head covering 24–200mm. Plus, it extends down to 14mm with its built-in diffusion panel. Additionally, its head tilts from -7° to +90° as well as rotates left and right 180° for full bounce capabilities. It also features slow/high-speed, first- and second-curtain sync; and manual power output control from 1/1 to 1/256. Additionally, it has wireless commander TTL capabilities with optical and radio trigger options. Furthermore, it offers unified flash control and a PC interface with version 2.23 or later of Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 software installed.
Other attributes include flash exposure compensation from -3 to +3 EV in 1/3 EV steps; an info button for access to frequently used settings; flash duration of 1/980 to 1/30,820 second; an AF-assist light; a modeling illuminator with monitor pre-flashes and test firing settings; automatic color filter detection; and a 1.8–2.6-sec recycle time. The unit runs on four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries or an optional SD-9 battery pack. It comes with a diffusion dome, a stand and incandescent/fluorescent filters. The device measures 5.4×2.9×4.1 inches and weighs 14.9 ounces.* $599.95.
This, sleek, powerful, shoe-mount electronic flash from Sigma is available in configurations for Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Nikon i-TTL, as well as Sigma TTL flash systems. Notably, it delivers an impressive footage guide number of 207 at ISO 100 and 200mm. In addition, it provides wireless slave and wireless TTL functionality to control multiflash setups.
Furthermore, the EF-630 features completely automatic settings and can operate with full manual power from 1/1 to 1/128 power. Its zoom head also covers a 24–200mm range that expands to 17mm with its included panel. The head also tilts from -7º to 90º as well as rotates 180º left or right for more creative flexibility.
What’s more, the device offers a modeling light, wide-angle illumination and high-speed sync for working at shutter speeds faster than 1/250 sec. Plus, it’s also compatible with an optional Sigma FD-11 flash USB dock for firmware updates. Further, the Sigma EF-630 runs on four AA alkaline (120 flashes) or NiMH (185 flashes) batteries. It measures 3.1×5.8×4.8 inches and weighs 17.3 ounces. In Canon, Nikon or Sigma versions, $379.
Canon Speedlite EL-1
The next-generation Canon Speedlite EL-1 is a professional unit that provides higher performance and reliability compared to previous models. The flash unit works seamlessly with EOS cameras. It is a solution for any photographer who works in portrait, still life, wedding or in-studio photography, as well as reportage.
Its features include a new rechargeable Li-ion battery that provides a high-speed recycle time of 0.9 sec. And it increases the number of flashes available while using the Canon LC-E6 battery charger.
The device offers a maximum guide number of 197 feet at ISO 100. Further, its zoom flash head has a 24–200mm range. Its bounce angle extends up 120°; down 7º and rotates 180º swivel. And it has the same level of weather sealing as the EOS-1D camera series. What’s more, it provides an expanded power range for versatility of exposure with “micro flash” minimum flash output as low as 1/8192 power.
Moreover, a Xenon glass flashtube provides increased stability for flash output and 14 f-stops of total flash exposure range. As a result, you can shoot anywhere from a bright 1/1 to a dim, low-power “micro flash’ output of 1/8192. In addition, the device offers an increased continuous firing number of approximately 170, due to a new active cooling system .
Other features include wireless radio transmission; second-curtain sync; a joystick; an AF-assist beam; FE one-touch memory; an LED modeling lamp; and a user-friendly interface display design. The EL-1 measures 3.3×5.9×5.4 inches and weighs 20.2 ounces. $1,099.
This speedlight is distributed by the PRO Group and sold through member stores. It is a sleek, capable unit that’s available in Canon and Sony M.I.S. configurations. Additionally, it provides an array of advanced features. They include HSS high-speed sync and second-curtain sync. Its powerful guide number of 200 feet (ISO 100) combined with a 24–200mm zoom head illuminate subjects from afar.
Additionally, the 200ST-R’s zoom head gets down to 18mm with a built-in wide-angle panel. Moreover, the auto/manual zoom, bounce/swivel head tilts up to 90°, swivels right to 180° and left 90°.
Further, a built-in 2.4GHz radio TTL system offers expanded off-camera lighting options. It handles 15 channels plus auto in five groups (three groups for the Sony version) when commanded by an optional ProMaster ST-1 transceiver ($69.95). It also features an onboard wireless non-TTL optical slave with F1 and F2 modes. The unit has a wireless range of up to 325 feet and recycles in 0.3–5.2 sec.
Other features include power settings from 1/1 to 1/128; a maximum power output of 500 lux-sec at 10 feet (200mm setting); wireless slave mode; and a ProMaster 3717 USB firmware downloading cable for computer connection. The shoe-mount flash is powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries. The unit measures 7.8×3.2×2.3 inches and weighs 15 ounces. Canon version, $239.95; Sony, $249.95.
Featuring a 2.4GHz transceiver with a 98.4-foot operating range, this Sony wireless TTL radio-control flash unit enables sophisticated multi-flash lighting setups. The system works with up to 15 flashes in five wireless groups on one of 14 channels. Thus, the unit operates as an on-camera flash, a radio wireless commander or a receiver.
This robust Sony ADI/P-TTL dedicated unit delivers a footage guide number of 60 feet at ISO 100 and the 200mm position. Furthermore, it recycles in as little as 1.7 sec and can fire up to 200 consecutive times at 10 fps! In addition, its auto/manual zoom head covers a 20–200mm range (14mm with the included wide-angle diffuser) and tilts from -7º to +150º. It also provides quick shift bounce for a 90º left/right pivot—for a total 180º rotation.
The flash has an LED light and a Quick Navi interface via its dot matrix LCD panel. Other features include slow, high-speed, first- and second-curtain sync; a range of flash distribution settings; as well as two memory settings. It’s powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries and works with Sony’s multi-interface shoe. The HVL-F60RM2 measures 3.1x 5.8×4.1 inches and weighs 15.5 ounces. $499.99.
The FL-700WR is a wireless radio-wave-shooting compatible electronic flash. During wireless shooting, it functions as a commander or flash with its built-in receiver. The portable unit has a maximum guide number of 138 feet at ISO 100 and 175mm. Moreover, full flash intensity is possible with a 1.5–2.5-sec charging time, permitting sequential flash photography at 10 fps.
The flash unit’s 2.4GHz wireless commander and wireless receiver control multiple flash units remotely from the camera. The commander can connect to three flash groups and an unlimited number of flash units. Thus, it also supports multi-firing by firing the flash multiple times during long exposures or bulb shooting. This enables stable communication up to 98 feet, even where there are obstructions.
The zoom head has a range of 24–150mm, and the flash head tilts up 90° and rotates 180° in both directions for full bounce flash control. The flash also supports Super FP flash. This sync mode enables flash photography even when using a high-speed shutter that exceeds the synchronization speed of the camera. Consequently, you can open the aperture for defocusing the foreground/background even when using fill-in flash in bright conditions.
Another function is TTL flash in sync mode, which lets the camera automatically control the flash output using the brightness of light passing through the lens. Other features include first- and second-curtain sync and slow sync. Plus, it has a video LED light for video recording that you can also use as an AF illuminator. Dustproof, splashproof and freezeproof (14°F), the flash measures 2.8×4.2×3.9 inches and weighs 10.7 ounces. $399.99.
Westcott FJ80 II
Westcott, long a leader in pro lighting equipment, brought forth the next iteration of its compact FJ80 on-camera strobe. Moreover, the 80Ws universal touchscreen flash unit provides multi-brand TTL compatibility with Canon, Nikon, Sony (with adapter), Fujifilm, Panasonic and Olympus cameras.
With a sophisticated feature set, you can use it on-camera as both a flash and transmitter or positioned anywhere off-camera. Powered by an upgraded removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, it delivers 500+ full-power flashes. Notably, it has a 2.8-inch color touchscreen LCD, an onboard transceiver and a built-in receiver with an impressive 328-foot wireless range.
The integrated 16-channel, 31-group, 2.4GHz transceiver can control multiple Westcott FJ1200, FJ400 and FJ80m flash units (with an optional FJ-X2m universal wireless trigger or another FJ80 universal speedlight). Furthermore, its 9-stop power range is adjustable in 0.1 and 1.0 increments. Additionally, it recycles in a fast 0.05–1.5 sec and is capable of firing at 20 fps!
Moreover, its 24–105mm zoom head swivels a full 360º and tilts up to 90º for enhanced flexibility. Other features include a modeling lamp; high-speed sync up to 1/8000 sec; front- and rear-curtain sync; slow sync; and stroboscopic modes. The updated unit measures 8.3×3.1×3.1 inches weighs in at 20.3 ounces. $339.90.
Pentax AF540FGZ II
Made for the Pentax P-TTL electronic flash system, this rugged, high-performance unit features weatherproof construction. Its bounce-swivel, auto-zoom head provides 24–85mm coverage and up to 20mm with its built-in diffusor. Moreover, the head tilts from -10º to 90º, rotates 135º to the left as well as 180º to the right for full bounce functionality. Further, it has a guide number of 178 feet at ISO 100.
In addition, the shoe-mount flash integrates four-channel wireless master and slave TTL capability using an optical pulse system. Moreover, the system can trigger auxiliary flash units up to 13.1 feet away. It also provides a constant LED light with five output settings for shooting video and stills or long-exposure photography. Plus, you can use it to enhance AF performance in low light.
Other features include nine custom functions; a 5-sec recycle time; multi-flash mode for stroboscopic photography; contrast control sync; slow- and high-speed, first- and second-shutter curtain sync; and a backlit LCD info panel. The device runs on four AA alkaline, NiMH or lithium batteries.
The strobe is built to be tougher, smaller and lighter (30% smaller in volume) than its predecessor. It measures 3.0×4.4×3.3 inches and weighs a very portable 12.4 ounces. $579.95.
Profoto A10 AirTTL
Clearly aimed at pros and sophisticated enthusiasts, Profoto‘s unique high-spec, high-power studio light works on- or off-camera. It is available in dedicated Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon and Sony (multi-interface) configurations. It boasts a 2.8-inch-round, tilting, rotating head that puts out natural-looking light with soft, gradual falloff.
Further, its override-able auto-zoom head covers focal lengths from 32–105mm or 14–24mm lenses with the included wide-angle diffuser. The unit’s optional wireless TTL works with a built-in Air Remote (six groups, 20 channels). Plus, you can use the built-in transceiver with compatible monolights.
The Profoto A10 also features a smart magnetic mount for light-shaping tools. Moreover, it is compatible with the Profoto Air remotes, including the Bluetooth-enabled AirX, that provide wireless ranges up to 1,000 feet. The remotes also support iPhones running on iOS 11 or later, plus Samsung Galaxy phones running Android OS 8 or newer.
Other key features are high-speed sync; an LED modeling light; a 9-stop power range with 76Ws output; and a large, high-res LCD display. What’s more, its upgraded Li-ion battery provides 450 full-power flashes per charge. It also includes a 100–240v AC charger. The Profoto A10 comes with a bounce card, a dome diffuser, a flash stand for off-camera use and a USB cable. In Nikon i-TTL, Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Sony and Fujifilm versions, $1,095.
Nikon SB-700 AF
This is a popular, midsize speedlight for Nikon i-TTL FX- and DX-format cameras. It packs a punch with a footage guide number of 92 at ISO 100 and 128 at ISO 200, both at the 35mm setting.
Furthermore, its auto-zoom head covers focal lengths from 24mm to 120mm. It also gets out to an ultrawide 12mm with the built-in wide-angle diffusion panel. Additionally, the head can tilt from -7° to 90° and rotate 180° to the left or right for full 360° coverage. The unit also provides three different illumination patterns—standard, even and center-weighted—to tailor the light output to suit specific needs.
Additionally, it utilizes a commander mode for advanced wireless lighting settings. Consequently, it can control multiple remote flash units and lighting ratios in two flash groups and any one of four channels. The speedlight also has power output settings from 1/1 to 1/128, with thermal cutout protection to prevent overheating. Further, it features a backlit LCD panel with nine selectable contrast levels and an intuitive rotating dial for viewing and changing settings.
Other features comprise stroboscopic, slow sync, auto FP, high-speed sync and first- and second-curtain sync for creative control; automatic light distribution adjusts to the FX or DX format in use; an AF-assist light; a modeling illuminator; pre-flash test capability; and automatic filter detection and color temperature setting. The Nikon SB-700 AF is powered by four AA alkaline, NiMH or lithium cells. It measures 2.8×5.0x4.1 inches and weighs in at a portable 12.7 ounces. $329.95.
Nissin MG80 Pro
The MG80 Pro from Nissin comes in dedicated configurations for Sony ADI/P-TTL, Nikon as well as Canon flash systems. Moreover, the powerful unit is popular with wedding/events photographers and journalists who appreciate its dependability, robustness, flexible battery options, heat-resistant design and advanced wireless control system.
Its impressive footage guide number of 196 feet at ISO 100 and 200mm makes it useful for on- and off-camera operation. Plus, its user-friendly interface includes an LCD color display with settings for TTL flash compensation, manual power output, flash zoom as well as the built-in 8-watt modeling light. And its tilt/swivel zoom head provides coverage for lenses from 24–200mm and down to 12mm with its wide-angle diffuser panel. It tilts upward to 90° as well as rotates 180° both left and right for full bounce capability.
The MG80 also functions as a transceiver, so you can use it as the on-camera commander for off-camera flashes. Or it can act as a remote flash by sliding another MG80 or a Nissin Air 10s commander into your camera’s hot shoe. Furthermore, its Nissin Air system lets you wirelessly control up to eight groups of flashes in eight channels at distances of 300+ feet. The unit features a 2.4GHz wireless TTL radio system.
The device also supports slow/high-speed as well as first- and second-curtain sync. Further, it provides red-eye reduction and flash exposure compensation. It also features an extended range of power output settings from 1/1 to 1/256; a heat-resistant design with a quartz flash tube; as well as a durable metal hot shoe.
Its flexible power options include a 14500 lithium-ion cell or four NiMH rechargeable/alkaline AA batteries that provide 250–999 flashes per fully charged set. The MG80 Pro measures 2.9×5.4×4.7 inches and weighs 18.3 ounces. $449.95.
*All weights are body only, unless otherwise noted.