On-Camera Speedlights: Better Lighting in a Flash!

On-Camera Speedlights: Better Lighting in a Flash!

Shoe-mount flash units deliver high output and pro-level system flexibility


Today’s shoe-mount flash units are essential accessories for almost anyone shooting with a mirrorless or DSLR camera. Indeed, relatively few cameras in these upmarket categories even have built-in flashes. Moreover, practically any camera benefits from the superior lighting a shoe-mount flash provides (because it places the flash head at a greater distance from the lens axis). What’s more, the current top on-camera speedlights are a far cry from the stone simple shoe-mount flashes of decades past.

They’re nothing less than cutting-edge accessories that provide a gateway into the advanced lighting systems of the major camera makers. In addition, they offer an amazing array of capabilities that allow users to shape the light, use them off camera, and integrate them into multiflash lighting setups that deliver truly professional lighting effects.

Furthermore, all the flash units detailed here deliver considerably greater output than a typical built-in flash. They also offer such up-to-date features as wireless TTL using radio transmission or optical pulses; tilting, swiveling power zoom heads; built-in bounce cards; built-in or add-on wide-angle diffusers; illuminated dot-matrix LCD readout panels; high-speed first- and second-shutter curtain sync; as well as water-resistant construction. Most also run on four convenient AA alkaline batteries, while some can use NiMH and lithium-ion cells or in-body or optional plug-in power packs.

What’s more, promoting these state-of-the art system accessories to your customers will not only elevate their picture-taking experience and help to establish strong relationships but will help bolster your bottom line. While we can only cover a selection of the top flashes here, we hope (ahem) it’s an enlightening experience.

       A Selection of On-Camera Speedlights

Nikon SB-5000 AF

Featuring the world’s first built-in cooling system in a shoe-mount flash, this Nikon flash enables 100 rapid-fire full-power flashes. The device also provides a powerful footage guide number of 113 at ISO 100 and 35mm. And it does so in a more compact form factor than its predecessors. Compatible with the Nikon i-TTL system, the camera/flash combo controls up to six groups of flashes from up to 98 feet away without requiring line of sight. It’s also compatible with existing optical triggering units. However, full wireless control requires a compatible camera, a WR-A10 wireless remote adapter and a WR-R10 wireless remote controller.

Nikon SB-5000 AF

In addition, its wide range zoom head covers 24–200mm and extends down to 14mm with the built-in diffusion panel. The head tilts from -7º to +90° and rotates left and right 180° for full bounce capabilities. Also featured are slow and high-speed, first- and second-curtain sync options; 1/1–1/256 manual power output; wireless commander TTL with optical and radio trigger options; unified flash control and PC interface with v2.23 or later of Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 software; and -3 to +3 EV flash exposure compensation in 1/3 EV steps.

There’s also an info button for fast access to frequently used settings; a flash duration of 1/980 to 1/30,820 sec; an AF-assist light; a built-in modeling illuminator with monitor pre-flash and test-firing settings; automatic color filter detection; and a 1.8–2.6-seconds recycle time. It runs on four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries or an optional SD-9 battery pack. The unit measures 5.4×2.9×4.1 inches and weighs 14.9 ounces. It comes with a diffusion dome, stand, incandescent/fluorescent filters and a case. $599.95.

Westcott FJ80

Westcott, long a leading name in pro lighting equipment, has brought forth the compact FJ80 universal, touchscreen 80Ws (watt second) speedlight. The on-camera unit provides multi-brand TTL compatibility with Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Panasonic Lumix, Olympus as well as Sony cameras with adapters. Boasting a sophisticated feature set, the FJ80 is powered by a removable, rechargeable Li-ion battery that delivers 400 full-power flashes on a two-hour charge. It also has a 2.8-inch color touchscreen LCD; an onboard transceiver; and a built-in receiver with an impressive 328-foot wireless range.

Westcott FJ80

In addition, its 9-stop power range is adjustable in 0.1-stop and 1-stop increments. The flash unit recycles in a fast 0.5 to 1.2 sec, and it is also capable of firing at 20 frames per second! Other features include high-speed sync up to 1/8000 sec; front- and rear-curtain sync; slow sync; as well as stroboscopic modes. Moreover, its integrated 16-channel, 31-group, 2.4GHz transceiver can control multiple Westcott FJ1200, FJ400 and FJ80 flash units (with the optional FJ-X2m universal wireless trigger or another FJ80 universal speedlight).

Furthermore, its 24–105mm zoom head swivels a full 360º and tilts up to 90º for enhanced flexibility. It also achieves color temperature stability of 5500K (±150K) across its entire energy range, and its 80Ws output ensures sufficient power for a variety of indoor and outdoor applications. The unit also provides a USB-C port for firmware updates. The FJ80 measures 8.4×3.2×3.2 inches and weighs in at 15.5 ounces. It comes with a shoe stand and travel case. $329.90.

Canon 600EX II-RT

The top-selling, high-output shoe-mount flash in Canon’s popular Speedlite range, the 600EX II-RT is a sleek, compact unit. It features built-in 2.4GHz wireless radio transmission that lets it sync with up to five additional E-TTL and E-TTL II-compatible Canon flash units at distances up to 98.4 feet. As a result, it enables a range of sophisticated multiflash lighting setups. And unlike optical wireless systems, it will work through obstacles and around corners. The flash unit also delivers an impressive footage guide number of 197 (at ISO 100 and 200mm) and has a zoom range of 20–200mm (14mm with the included ultrawide-angle panel).

shoe-mount flash canon-speedlite-600ex-ii-rt
Canon 600EX II-RT

In addition, its head tilts from -7º to +90º as well as rotates 180º laterally. A backlit dot-matrix LCD displays flash status and lets users view and change settings. The 600EX II-RT also provides high-speed, first- and second-shutter curtain sync. Other features include stroboscopic mode; an included dedicated bounce adapter; 15 custom and six personal functions; and an AF-assist beam that works with Canon’s 61-point Reticular AF system.

With water-resistant construction, the flash is powered by four AA alkaline, Li-ion or NiMH batteries. In addition, it features a rated recycle time of  0.1–5.5 sec; 0.1–3.3 sec in quick flash mode. The unit measures 3.1×5.6×4.8 inches and weighs 15.3 ounces. It comes with a built-in bounce adapter; a hard CTO filter set; and a soft case. $499.

Nissin MG60

This compact, professional Nissin flash unit was newly released this fall in Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Nikon i-TTL and Sony ADI/P-TTL configurations. The diminutive unit packs a punch with a guide number of 60 at 200mm, GN 28 without the zoom cover. The MG60 relies on a heat-resistant design and materials, including a quartz flashtube and variable zoom head, to allow a high volume of continuous flashes before heat protection interruption. In addition, it features a power output of 83Ws at ISO 100. Its auto zoom head covers a 24–200mm focal length range (down to 18mm with its diffuser). The head also tilts upward to 90º and provides a full 180º rotation to the right or left.

Moreover, its 8-channel, 8-group NAS 2.4GHz ISM band radio TTL system has an operating range of 300 feet (100m). Thus, it allows a variety of multiflash lighting control options. NAS Radio wireless operation is provided when paired with an optional Nissin Air 10s Commander or MG80 Pro flash. Other features include a built-in, 3.5-hour LED modeling light for constant illumination applications; an AF-assist beam with a range of 2.3–16.4 feet; slow/high-speed, first- and second-curtain sync; and a durable metal hot-shoe foot.

Nissin MG60

The MG60 is powered by four rechargeable NiMH or Li-ion batteries, as well as AA alkaline batteries. It recycles in 1.2–3 seconds, can fire at up to 10 flashes per sec and provides 360 full-power flashes. It measures a pocket-size 4.6×2.9×3.6 inches and weighs 13.8 ounces. Also in the box: a diffuser panel and gel panel with CTO gel; a Nissin flash pouch; and a flash stand. $399.95.

exciting imaging gear Sigma-EF-630 shoe-mount flash
Sigma EF-630

This, sleek, powerful shoe-mount electronic flash is available in configurations for Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, Nikon i-TTL as well as Sigma TTL DSLRs. The handsome unit delivers an impressive footage guide number of 207 (at ISO 100 and 200mm) and features wireless slave and wireless TTL functionality to control multiflash setups. It also provides completely automatic settings and can operate with full manual power from 1/1 to 1/128 power. Furthermore, enhancements include rear curtain flash, wide-angle illumination and a dot matrix liquid crystal display.

Its zoom head covers a 24–200mm range (17mm with the included panel). In addition, it tilts from -7º to +90º and rotates 180º left or right. It also offers a modeling light function; an AF-assist beam; a recycle time of 1.8–3 seconds; as well as high-speed sync for working at shutter speeds faster than 1/250 sec. In addition, the flash unit is compatible with the optional FD-11 flash USB dock for firmware updates. The EF-630 runs on four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries. The unit measures 3.1×5.8×4.8 inches and weighs in at 17.3 ounces. $379.

Fujifilm EF-X500

For Fujifilm X/GFX series cameras, this is a hot-shoe mount flash with a maximum guide number of 164 at ISO 100 and 105mm. Its support for the FP mode (high-speed flash sync) enables it to output continuous light while the first and second curtains travel across the sensor—meaning the flash can be fired at any shutter speed. Photographers can take advantage of high-speed sync, wireless control and triggering, plus other advanced flash capabilities. The flash also supports multiflash lighting. TTL lighting control is available with single flash and in the multiflash setup. Thus, users can start shooting without making adjustments to light output.

Fujifilm EF-X500

Furthermore, the EF-X500 has a zoom range of 24–105mm. A pull-out diffuser expands its coverage to 20mm, or 10mm APS-C lenses. In addition, an LED video light can be used as an AF-assist light and catchlight. For bounce lighting, the head can tilt from -10º to +90° as well as rotate left 135° and right 180°. Advanced flash capabilities include full wireless master and slave TTL functionality.

The device uses optical pulse communication to control remote EF-X500 flashes in one of four channels and three groups. Additionally, it has a multiflash stroboscopic mode. The unit is powered by four AA alkaline, lithium or NiMH batteries as well as the optional EF-BP1 battery pack. Dust and water resistant, the device measures 2.6×4.9×4.2 and weighs 13.4 ounces. $449.

Sony HVL-F60RM2

Compatible with Sony ADI/P-TTL, this wireless radio flash/transceiver unit delivers a footage guide number of 60 feet at ISO 100 and 200mm. The second-generation flash takes advantage of face detection and TTL metering to provide versatility on-camera lighting. It also boasts a 1.7-second recharge time and fires up to 200 consecutive times at 10 fps. It features a 2.4GHz transceiver with a 98-foot operating range that provides wireless TTL radio control, enabling sophisticated multiflash lighting setups. Indeed, photographers can control up to 15 flash units in five groups on one of 14 channels. Moreover, it has improved overheating protection for more consistent and reliable performance.

Sony HVL-F60RM2

In addition, its zoom head covers a 14–200mm range with its built-in wide-angle reflector. The head also tilts from -8º to +150º and provides quick-shift bounce for a 90º left/right pivot (a total 180º rotation). The flash also features a Quick Navi interface via its dot matrix LCD panel; provides slow/high-speed, first- and second-curtain sync; and has memory settings. Dust and moisture resistant with a durable metal mounting foot, the unit is powered by four AA alkaline or NiMH batteries. The HVL-F60RM2 measures 3.1x 5.8×4.1 inches and weighs 15.5 ounces. $549.99.

Sunpak DF3600U

This compact unit offers an impressive array of features at an attractive price point. Moreover, it is available in Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II and Nikon i-TTL dedicated versions. The unit delivers a robust footage guide number of 120 at ISO 100. Further, its tilt/swivel auto zoom head covers a 24–180mm range, which goes down to 18mm when using the furnished wide-angle diffuser. The head also tilts from -7º to +90º and swivels a full 360º for maximum flexibility.

0n-camera-speedlights-summertime imaging accessories Sunpak-DF3600U-Flash
Sunpak DF3600U

In addition, the DF3600U has wireless TTL and optical slave modes. They range up to 98 feet indoors and 49 feet outdoors. It provides four wireless channels in three groups as well as high-speed, second-curtain and slow sync. The flash recycles in 0.5 to 8 seconds as well as offers 1/1 to 1/128 power output settings. What’s more, it has a power saving mode and overheat protection. It runs on four AA alkaline, lithium, NiCad or NiMH batteries, or an optional power pack. The Sunpak DF3600U from ToCad America measures 7.9×3.0x2.2 inches and weighs in at a lightweight 13.2 ounces. $69.99.

Pentax AF540FGZ II

Compatible with the Pentax P-TTL electronic flash system, this rugged, high-performance unit features weatherproof construction. It provides an auto-zoom head with 24–85mm coverage (to 20mm with its built-in diffuser) that tilts from -10º to +90º. It also rotates 135º to the left and 180º to the right for full bounce functionality. What’s more, it has a guide number of 178 at ISO 100/feet.

Further, the flash unit provides four-channel wireless master and slave TTL capability using an optical pulse communication system. It can trigger auxiliary flash units up to 13.1 feet away. Moreover, its constant LED light has five output settings for shooting video and stills or to enhance AF performance in low light.

Pentax AF540FGZ II

It also provides nine custom functions to personalize its operation. They include on/off switching of the LED light when used as a catchlight and setting of the LED light’s discharge mode in still image shooting. Other features include multiflash mode for stroboscopic photography; contrast control sync; slow- and high-speed, first- and second-shutter curtain sync; and a backlit LCD info panel. It runs on four AA alkaline, NiMH or lithium batteries. The flash unit measures 3.0×4.4×4.3 inches and weighs a portable 12.3 ounces. With case, $579.95.

Profoto A10 AirTTL

This studio light is clearly aimed at pros and sophisticated enthusiasts. The unique high-spec, high-power flash can be used on or off camera. Moreover, it is available in dedicated Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon and Sony configurations. It features a round, 2.8-inch, tilting, rotating head that puts out natural-looking light with soft, gradual falloff. The override-able auto-zoom head covers focal lengths from 32–105mm and 14–24mm with the included wide-angle diffuser. It also provides 90º and 360º rotation.

What’s more, the A10 was upgraded with Profoto’s new Bluetooth-enabled technology, AirX. Consequently, photographers can download new firmware for the A10 wirelessly via the Profoto app, as well as capture and control the A10 using a smartphone. Other features include high-speed sync; a built-in LED modeling light; a 9-stop power range with 76Ws output; an upgraded Li-ion battery for 450 full-power flashes; an included 100–240v AC charger; a built-in transceiver for use with compatible monolights; and a high-res LCD display.

Profoto A10 AirTTL

The unit also features a smart magnetic mount for Clic light-shaping tools. In addition, it is compatible with the Profoto Air remotes that provide wireless ranges up to 1,000 feet. Also included is a bounce card; a dome diffuser; a flash stand for off-camera use; a USB cable; a bag; and a robust shoulder strap. The device measures 3.0×6.4×4.3 inches and weighs 19.2 ounces. $1,095.