Illuminating the Flash Landscape

Illuminating the Flash Landscape

10 Top Shoe-Mount Units for 2017


Compact, shoe-mount electronic flash units can do a lot more than brighten up dark environments. They enable users to shoot at lower ISO settings for better image quality and achieve extended depth of field by shooting at smaller apertures.

In effect, they’re computerized light machines—dedicated to specific camera flash systems—that deliver advanced automation options and precise TTL flash. They have automated tilt-swivel-bounce-zoom flash heads that adjust the coverage angle to suit the focal length in use, and they offer a wide range of fractional output settings, stroboscopic mode, and first- and second-curtain sync. A few even have built-in LED video lights.

Perhaps even more important, eight out of the 10 flash units detailed here provide a range of built-in or accessory wireless triggering options. This allows photographers to integrate the flash with groups of compatible off-camera units to achieve sophisticated studio lighting effects seamlessly in the field.

Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight

The masterful control of lighting in virtually any shooting situation is the hallmark of accomplished photographers. And that’s why the flash units here represent high-value investments that will help your customers take their photographic experience to the next level.

Need we add that providing expert advice in selecting and using flash units like these is a great way to incentivize future purchases and build customer relationships?

     Flash Roundup

Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight

This elegantly compact, high-output, shoe-mount unit includes a first-in-class cooling system that enables up to 100 consecutive full-power flashes without overheating. It has a guide number of 113* at ISO 100 at the 35mm coverage setting. It works with Nikon’s radio-controlled Creative Lighting System with Advanced Wireless Lighting (using the optional WR-A10 wireless remote adapter and WR-R10 wireless remote controller). This allows users to wirelessly control up to six groups of flashes at distances up to 98 feet.

The SB-5000 is compatible with the Nikon i-TTL system, provides manual output settings down to 1/256 power and can control and mix optical and radio flashes. It has an auto-adjustable tilting, swiveling zoom head that covers DX and FX formats at focal lengths of 24–200mm—down to 14mm with the built-in wide-angle diffusor. The flash has a quick recycle time of 1.8–2.6 seconds, and it runs on four AA batteries or select external battery packs. $599.95.

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

Canon’s top-of-the-line E-TTL/E-TTL II-compatible flash features built-in 2.4 GHz wireless radio transmission for improved reliability in controlling up to five groups and a total of 15 Speedlites at distances up to 98.4 feet. Unlike optical wireless systems, it will work through obstacles and around corners. Its robust guide number of 197 at ISO 100 and 200mm represents a substantial increase over its predecessors. Its menu system has been streamlined for faster operation, and its zoom head covers focal lengths of 20–200mm, with ultrawide 14mm coverage using the built-in diffuser panel.

The flash head tilts from -7º to 90º and rotates 180º to the left or right for full bounce capability. In addition, a backlit, dot matrix LCD displays flash status and lets users view and change settings. It also features a stroboscopic mode plus high-speed first- and second-curtain sync. With enhanced weather-resistant construction, it also provides a dedicated bounce adapter. It enables 15 custom and six personal functions and has an AF-assist beam that works with a 61-point reticular AF system. Its recycle time is 0.1–5.5 sec; 0.1–3.3 sec in quick flash mode. $479.99.

Olympus FL-900R

Olympus FL-900R

This sleek, high-tech entry includes a built-in 100 lux (at 3.3 feet) LED video light with six output levels. It boasts IPX1-rated weather resistance and delivers an impressive guide number of 190 at ISO 100 at the 100mm setting. Compatible with the Olympus TTL flash system, its zoom head covers a focal length range of 12–100mm (24–200mm equivalent) and 7–10mm with its wide-angle diffuser panel. It tilts from -7º to 90º and rotates 180º to the left or right for complete bounce coverage.

For Micro Four Thirds cameras, it provides IR wireless master, slave and commander functionality that can control up to four groups of flashes on any of four channels. It has fractional power settings down to 1/128, can fire more than 30 times in rapid succession at 1/32 power and recycles in 2.5–4.5 sec. Also offered are slow and high-speed first- and second-curtain sync options, as well as a stroboscopic mode. The FL-900R is powered by four AA alkaline rechargeable, alkaline or NiMH batteries. $579.99.

Nissin i60A

This attractively styled, high-output, compact flash uses rear dials and a color LCD to view and control settings. It’s equipped with a Nissin Air 2.4 GHz radio control system that provides access to eight channels in three groups and has an operating range up to 98.4 feet. The flash supports a host of automatic functions. Despite its diminutive size, it’s quite powerful, with a guide number of 197 at ISO 100 at the 200mm setting. And its zoom head covers focal lengths from 24–200mm (16mm with wide-angle diffusion panel).

Nissin i60A

The i60A’s zoom head tilts 90º upward for bounce and swivels 180º to the right and left for maximum flexibility. It also has a built-in LED video light to accommodate hybrid shooters.

Other features include: manual output control down to 1/256 power; slow and high-speed first- and second-curtain sync; and fast recycling times in the 0.1–5.5 sec range when using four AA batteries or an external battery pack. It comes in versions for Nikon i-TTL, Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Sony ADI/P-TTL, Fujifilm TTL and Micro Four Thirds TTL. $339.99.

Metz Mecablitz 64 AF-1

The venerable German flash maker offers one of the most powerful compact flash units in it class, with an ISO guide number of 210 at ISO 100 and the 200mm position. Its auto zoom head covers focal lengths from 24–200mm (down to 12mm with the built-in wide-angle diffuser), tilts from -9º to 90º and can be rotated over a 300º arc. It also offers a second front-pointing light reflector for better modeling and more even lighting. The flash can also function wirelessly as a master or slave with ratio control.

Metz Mecablitz 64 AF-1

Other features include: a modeling light for previewing lighting effects; color touch-control LCD; multiple flash options, like high-speed first- and second-curtain sync; and built-in USB ports. The 64 AF-1 recycles in 0.1–4.4 sec and provides auto-fill, rapid, strobe and servo flash with learning curve modes. It’s powered by four AA alkaline, lithium or rechargeable NiMH batteries. In Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Nikon i-TTL, Pentax P-TTL, Sony ADI/P-TTL and MFT TTL versions, $449.99–$465.99.

Sony HVL-F60M

This powerful unit meets the needs of both still and video shooters. Its built-in LED video light has 15 output levels, with 1,200 lux at 1.6 feet and a maximum range of 6.6 feet at ISO 3200 and f/5.6 in movie mode. Its guide number is 197 at ISO

Sony HVL-F60M

100 and the 105mm setting. Compatible with Sony’s ADI/P-TTL system, its zoom head covers a full-frame focal length range of 24–105mm, expandable down to 15mm with the built-in wide-angle panel. Its quick-shift bounce system lets the head pivot 90º to the left and right. And, a quick navi control system is accessed via the dot matrix LCD and a click wheel, providing comprehensive status readouts and facilitating intuitive changes.

Wireless TTL options include radio control with various settings that let users set different outputs for three groups of flashes remotely. It also provides standard wireless controller and remote flash functions. Other features include: moisture resistance; slow and high-speed first- and second-shutter curtain sync; stroboscopic mode; and modeling flash settings. It is powered by four AA batteries and provides recycle times in the 0.1–3.5 sec range. $449.99.

Sigma EF-610 DG Super

This crisply styled, powerful, compact flash is designed for on- and off-camera use. It delivers an impressive guide number of 200 at ISO 100 and 105mm, and it has a zoom flash head that covers a full-frame focal length range of 24–105mm, extendable to 17mm with the included wide-angle panel. The flash head tilts from -7º to 90º and rotates 90 to the right and 180º to the left to provide full bounce capability.

Sigma EF-610 DG Super

Other key features include: full wireless master and slave TTL functionality; a modeling light for pre-visualizing lighting effects; multi-pulse mode for stroboscopic effects; and first- and second-curtain sync.

It provides power settings down to 1/128 power and a red-eye reduction mode. The EF-610 DG recycles in about 5–7 sec. It’s powered by four AA alkaline, NiCd or rechargeable NiMH batteries. In Nikon i-TTL, Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Pentax P-TTL, Sigma S-TTL, or Sony/Minolta ADI/P-TTL versions, $255.

Sunpak PZ42X TTL

This attractive, value-priced flash unit includes such advanced features as an automatic tilt/swivel zoom head that covers full-frame focal lengths from 24–105mm (down to 20mm with its wide-angle panel). The flash head tilts upward to 90º, swivels 300º and has a built-in wide-angle diffuser and an AF-assist light that can focus up to 16 feet in dark environments.

Sunpak PZ42X TTL

The PZ42X provides a guide number of 138 at ISO 100 and the 105mm setting. Other features include: a bright LCD panel; intuitive controls for manual flash output, lens coverage and zoom head settings; automatic shutdown mode; and EV adjustments from -1.5 to +1.5 in half-stop increments.

The PZ42X TTL recycles in approximately 3.5 seconds and is powered by four AA alkaline batteries. Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, $149; Sony/Minolta ADI/P-TTL, $139.

Phottix Mitros+ TTL Transceiver

Styled in a contemporary vein, this high-tech unit includes a built-in Phottix Odin transmitter and receiver. It enables wireless transmission using an optical pulse or IR triggering than can control three groups of connected flashes via four channels at distances up to 52.4 feet indoors or 328 feet outdoors using radio transmission with the Odin or Strato II wireless triggering systems. Ratio modes ranging from 1:8 to 8:1 are available for firing multiple flash units, and there’s a modeling flash for previewing lighting results.

Phottix Mitros+ TTL Transceiver

The flash has a guide number of 190 at ISO 100 and 105mm. The zoom head covers focal lengths from 24–105mm (to 14mm with wide-angle panel); it can rotate 180º in each direction and tilts from -7º to 90º for excellent bounce control. Other features include: full manual control; high-speed sync; stroboscopic shooting; a modeling flash; an AF-assist light; and a USB port for firmware updates. Recycle times are in the 0.1–5 sec range, or 2.5 seconds in quick flash mode. It’s powered by four AA alkaline or rechargeable NiMH batteries. Nikon i-TTL, $399; Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, $319; Sony ADI/P-TTL, $369.

Bower SFD926 Power Zoom

This cleanly styled, basic automatic shoe-mount flash covers all bases with a 24–105mm-coverage zoom head that tilts up to 90º and swivels 270º for full bounce functionality. It has a built-in diffuser to soften the light and delivers a useful guide number of 148 at ISO 100 and the 105mm setting.

Bower SFD926N

The flash unit provides wireless master and slave TTL functionality. It is capable of controlling up to three groups of off-camera flashes from camera position at distances up to 22.97 feet using an optical pulse system. Other features include: first- and second-curtain sync modes; a red-eye reduction mode; an included flash stand; and an LCD control panel. The SFD926N recycles in 0.5–9 sec and is powered by four AA alkaline, NiCd or rechargeable NiMH batteries. SFD926N, Nikon i- TTL, $99; SFD926C, Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, $89.

* All guide numbers are given in feet.