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Best photography flashes and strobes for beginners in 2022


Flash can be a difficult topic to figure out for a new photographer. You know you need more light but which one do you get? Do you even need only one or should you get several? What type should you get? How much power do you need? What are modifiers? Which one do I need? Do I really need to spend all that money on one or will the cheap ones do the job? Is there not just one light out there that I can use for everything? How do I connect everything up so that it all talks to each other?

All of these questions and more can make it pretty overwhelming if you’ve never used flash before. So, in this guide, we’re going to try to answer some of them and take a look at the variety of different flashes and strobes on the market. We’re going to try to help you figure out what light or lights you might want to get to start your flash journey and how different types of light might be better suited to different genres of photography.

Why do we even need flash?

One of the big questions newer users have is “do I even need a flash?” and it’s not always an easy question to answer. I’m a big believer that everybody should have at least one flash of some type for those times when they think they might need one – even if they don’t know why that is just yet. If you’re taking a shot and not getting the result you expect, if you already have a flash, you can at least give it a try to see how it affects your photograph and if it does so in a positive or negative way.

At its simplest, we use flash in order to add light to the scene and to be able to control how that light contributes to the shot. We use it to stop shadows from falling to darkness or to create a direction of light on a boring overcast day. That might not make much sense just yet, but the more you experiment with flash, the more you’ll figure out how to use it and where its use is advantageous.

We might also use flash to overpower the ambient light in the environment. If you’ve got a backlit subject and you don’t want them to turn into a black silhouette against a bright background then you’re going to need to add some light from the front. Sure, you could just turn everything around and have your subject facing into the sun, but that’s not going to be a very flattering portrait with hard and harsh sunlight and your subject squinting into the camera.

So, where do we begin?

Starting off with Speedlights

If you want to start experimenting with flash, there’s no better place to begin than with a speedlight. They’re pretty much a standard piece of kit for most flash photographers. Even if they’re not the types of light they use most often, they usually own one or a few of them for those times when they need the advantages of a small speedlight that larger and more powerful lights simply do not offer.

You have two basic options with speedlights and both have their pros and cons. You can buy from the same company that made your camera – Sony, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji and Sigma all have their own branded speedlights – or you can buy from a third-party company that specialises in flash.

The big advantage of going with an OEM flash (a flash made by the same company as your camera) is that you can be reasonably sure that it will be 100% compatible with the features of your camera. The main disadvantage of OEM speedlights, however, is that you have very little room to grow as your confidence and abilities increase and you decide you want more – they also often cost much more than 3rd party equivalents. You can mix and match OEM and 3rd party lights, but often at the cost of some pretty useful features.

When it comes to third party flashes, most of the popular brands like Godox, Profoto, Elinchrom and others are mostly compatible with the features of your camera. Sometimes, a camera company can release a firmware update or a new camera that might break compatibility until the lighting company releases a firmware update for their products, too. This happens quite rarely, though. The main advantage of third party lights is that they typically do offer room to grow. You start off with a speedlight or two and eventually have a whole army of small and large lights that are all fully compatible with each other and your camera.

Many 3rd party lights are much less expensive than their branded OEM counterparts. This makes them better suited to beginners on a budget who think they’ll want to expand their lighting gear in the future or for those that just want to dip their toe into the water for as little money as possible. So we’re only going to list 3rd party flashes here. If you want to go the OEM route, just go to your camera manufacturer’s website and see what they have.

Godox TT685 II – $129 (Amazon / B&H)

The Godox TT685 II is the company’s closest equivalent to your typical OEM speedlight. It comes in varieties dedicated to on-camera use for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Olympus/Panasonic. It offers the full capabilities of TTL (Through-The-Lens flash metering – Basically a really fancy automatic exposure system to tell your flash what power level to fire at) and HSS (High Speed Sync – A way to use flash up to the fastest shutter speed of your camera).

If you want to get the flash off your camera and onto a light stand for a bit more creative control, then pretty much all of the Godox flashes – speedlights, strobes and specialist lights – use the same 2.4Ghz wireless triggering system. So, you can add one or two more speedlights to your existing one once your needs increase. Or, you can get much more powerful and expensive strobes in the future and still be able to use them alongside your existing speedlights with the same trigger.

Main features
  • Guide number*: 197′ at ISO100 and 200mm
  • Zoom range: 20-200mm
  • Recycle time: 2.6 Sec
  • System compatibility**: N, C, S, F, O, P
  • Pan: 360°
  • Tilt: -7 to 120°
  • Connectivity: Type-C USB, PC Sync
  • Wireless: Godox 2.4Ghz X System
  • Provides TTL & HSS support as well as TTL to Manual power conversion
  • An inexpensive light that offers most of the features of OEM speedlights at a fraction of the price
  • Includes Godox’s newest quick-release locking foot
  • Uses AA batteries (many lights are switching to Lithium-ion batteries now)
  • It isn’t as tough and durable as some more expensive lights on the market
  • The user interface can be a little confusing at first

If you just want to dip your toe in the water to see if you even like working with flash, this is an ideal light to go for. It offers a range of useful features for you to learn and experiment with while not breaking the bank. There is also a fully manual version of this flash – the Godox TT600 – that doesn’t offer TTL (but does still give HSS when used off-camera) for an even lower $69 which can be a much better option if you really want to learn flash without automatic assistance.

You can buy the Godox TT685 for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Olympus/Panasonic for $129 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Yongnuo YN560-IV – $85 (Amazon / B&H)

Yongnuo used to be the company to go for when you wanted cheap speedlights until a few years ago. They’ve since been overtaken by Godox as the go-to brand for low-cost speedlights, but the Yongnuo YN560 IV is still a popular item when you just need the bare basics for as low a cost as possible. I still think the $69 Godox TT600 might be a better option these days, but in the interests of not having this post look like “The Godox guide to lighting”, I’m including them here because they’re still often recommended.

The Yongnuo YN560 IV is an as-basic-as-it-gets no-frills speedlight. It offers no TTL or HSS, just basic manual control. As a result, though, it’s compatible with pretty much every camera on the market today and most of those made in the past that supports any kind of flash, including a lot of ancient 35mm and Medium Format cameras. There is even some basic wireless control using the Yongnuo YN560-TX trigger.

While you can expand the system by adding pretty much any light from any company into your collection, it requires buying extra hardware to make them compatible with the Yongnuo trigger and you’ll still only get basic manual control with them – no TTL or HSS.

Main features
  • Guide number*: 190′ at ISO100 and 105mm
  • Zoom range: 24-105mm (18mm Wide)
  • Recycle time: 3 Sec
  • System compatibility**: Universal
  • Pan: 270°
  • Tilt: -7 to 90°
  • Connectivity: PC Sync
  • Wireless: Built-in 2.4Ghz

  • No nonsense inexpensive flash that gives you the bare minimum to get started with flash
  • Readily available across the world
  • Very reliable when used off-camera
  • Uses AA batteries
  • The build quality leaves a lot to be desired
  • Not great upgrade path if you want to expand your system in the future

If you want to learn the fundamental of flash and are happy with potentially replacing them in a few years once your needs become more advanced, then the Yongnuo YN560 IV is still a solid contender. I still have four of these in my own flash collection for emergencies when I really have to have more lights or potentially risky situations where a flash might get destroyed. But they’re not my daily use flashes anymore.

You can buy the Yongnuo YN560-IV for $129 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Godox V1 – $259 (Amazon / B&H)

We’re going back to Godox for this one because there aren’t really many brands worth buying in the 3rd party speedlight market anymore. It’s basically down to the three mentioned here. The Godox V1 is essentially the Godox flagship speedlight, yet it still comes in at less than half the price of your typical OEM speedlight. It offers a round head design rather than the typical rectangular-shaped head we might be more familiar with.

This round head helps to provide a more even spread of light (at least, in theory) and when used inside modifiers like softboxes (those will be coming in a future guide!) you typically get a much smoother and cleaner overall look on your subject due. It’s also magnetic, allowing you to quickly and easily attach various gels, diffusers and other items to it. The Godox V1 also features a “TCM” TTL-to-Manual flash conversion giving you a more efficient workflow over power output consistency.

Main features

  • Guide number*: 92′ at ISO100 and 50mm
  • Zoom range: 20-200mm
  • Recycle time: 1.5 Sec
  • System compatibility**: N, C, S, F, O, P
  • Pan: 330°
  • Tilt: -7 to 120°
  • Connectivity: Type-C USB, PC Sync
  • Wireless: Godox 2.4Ghz X System
  • TTL & HSS support as well as TCM
  • A round head with magnetic attachments
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • A little expensive if you’re not sure if you need flash yet
  • The same slightly confusing UI as the TT685 II
  • Build quality could still be a little bit better

If you just want to dip your toe in the water to see if you even like working with flash, this is an ideal light to go for. It offers a range of useful features for you to learn and experiment with while not breaking the bank.

The Godox V1 is the one to go for if you feel pretty confident that you want to learn flash properly. It’s a very capable unit that will serve you well to learn and provide features into which you can grow. And it’ll still serve as a very useful part of your kit, even after you upgrade to something a bit more beefy and powerful.

You can buy the Godox V1 for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Pentax and Olympus/Panasonic for $259 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Profoto A10 – $1,095 (Amazon / B&H)

A $1,000+ speedlight might be an odd one to put in a beginner’s guide, but it’s pretty much the only other viable option besides the three above. And, surprisingly, I’ve actually seen quite a few people pick up the Profoto A10 (or one of its similarly-priced predecessors) as their first on-camera flash and fall in love with it. Plus, just because you’re a beginner doesn’t mean you’re not willing to splash the cash to get the level of customer support that a company like Profoto offers. So, here we are.

Like the Godox V1, the Profoto A1 is a round-headed flash that Profoto actually bills as a “studio light” rather than an on-camera speedlight. Some of its features are comparable to the Godox V1, but you get better colour accuracy, Bluetooth and you can even use it for quick behind the scenes shots with your iPhone! Profoto is one of the most highly regarded names in the flash business these days because they produce great products and offer top-notch support. Of course, you are paying for that privilege.

Main features
  • Guide number*: Not specified
  • Zoom range: 32-105mm (14mm wide)
  • Recycle time: ~1 Sec
  • System compatibility**: N, C, S, F
  • Pan: Not specified
  • Tilt: Not specified
  • Connectivity: micro USB, PC Sync
  • Wireless: Bluetooth AirX, Profoto 2.4Ghz AirTTL
  • TTL & HSS support as well as TCM
  • Can also act as a low power continuous light
  • Great manufacturer support

  • Very expensive for a beginner
  • Not quite as powerful as one might expect
  • Build quality could still be a little bit better

The Profoto A1 is the creme de la creme of speedlights (even if Profoto won’t actually call it that). If you’re the type of person who’s willing to pay whatever it takes, then this is the one for you.

You can buy the Profoto A1 for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji for $1,095 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Moving on to strobes

Perhaps you’ve already got a speedlight, maybe even two, and you’re looking at something a little more powerful. Where do you go from here? Well, if you bought into the Godox or Profoto systems mentioned above then your options are locked into the brand you initially invested with if you want to retain compatibility with your existing kit. Fortunately, both Godox and Profoto offer a lot of potential options kinds of budgets and demands depending on your needs.

Alternatively, if you’ve decided that you’re never going to use your speedlights again (or want to jump straight into strobes), or at least not mix them in with your strobes then you can start over from scratch with a new company. Likewise, if you bought into the Yongnuo system up above, then you can go wherever you like, really. While Yongnuo did announce a strobe a little while ago, it seems to have been out of stock everywhere since its launch in 2019. So for all intents and purposes, they don’t make one. But let’s take a look at the companies that do and where they might fit into your workflow.

As strobes don’t attach themselves to your camera, you’ll want some form of wireless trigger system. Most strobes these days do have some kind of built-in receiver, but you will have to buy a transmitter to sit on top of your camera, like the Godox XPro, Profoto Air Remote, Westcott FJ trigger or Elinchrom Skyport Transmitter. Remember, though, that each brand of trigger is only directly compatible with its own receivers. You can’t mix and match without extra hardware – which will typically limit the available features vs matching transmitter & receiver systems.

Godox MS300 – $109 (Amazon / B&H)

One of the first decisions you’ll face when it comes to strobes, which wasn’t really an option for most of us until fairly recently, is whether you want to go with AC-powered strobes that plug into the wall or Lithium-ion battery-powered strobes that you can use on location. While AC-powered strobes are significantly less expensive than their battery-powered counterparts, you are fairly limited in where you can use them because you need AC power.

The Godox MS300 is one such AC-Powered flash that offers a decent amount of power for a very low price point. If you’re only going to be using your strobes in a “home studio” type environment and will always have access to plug sockets, then these are a good option, especially if you’ve already bought into the Godox system with one or several of their speedlights. It features the same built-in 2.4Ghz Godox X flash system, meaning that it’s compatible with the entire range of Godox X system products, including their speedlights, flash triggers and battery-powered strobes.

There’s no High Speed Sync (HSS) on the Godox MS300, but that’s not something you’ll really need indoors where light levels are fairly low and you don’t need a fast shutter speed. It also doesn’t have TTL for automatic flash metering. This means that you’ll have to adjust the power of the light manually to get a good exposure. But this is a good skill to force yourself to learn early on. It’s basically the strobe equivalent of the YN560-IV or TT600 mentioned above. It’s as barebones as it gets.

Main features
  • Power***: 300Ws
  • Power source: 110/240V AC
  • Modifier Mount: Bowens
  • Recycle time: 1.8 Sec
  • Flash Duration (t0.1): 1/800 – 1/2,000 Sec
  • Colour Temp: 5600K +/-200K
  • System compatibility**: Godox X (N, C, S, F, P, O)
  • Wireless: Godox 2.4Ghz X System
  • Very inexpensive
  • A good amount of power
  • Fast recycle times

  • Cannot easily use it on location
  • Not as easy to store
  • Long flash duration

This is by no means a perfect strobe – and one can’t expect it to be at this price. But it’s a great general-purpose mains-powered introduction to studio strobe lighting to get you up and running. And it can forever keep a place in your lighting kit even after you switch to more powerful/advanced/expensive strobes in the future. While AC power does limit where you can use the light, it does mean that you can shoot pretty much forever without worrying about if your battery’s running low. You’ll also get consistent recycle times – the speed at which you can continuously shoot – which can be a problem with some lithium-ion powered strobes that can get slower as the battery gets lower.

You can buy the Godox MS300 for $129 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Godox AD200 Pro – $349 (Amazon / B&H)

Stepping away from the plug sockets is the popular Godox AD200 Pro. This is a lithium-ion battery-powered “hybrid” strobe that can act as both a very powerful sort-of-speedlight as well as a 200Ws strobe. What makes it a hybrid is that it has interchangeable heads. So, if you want the look of a speedlight but with a bit more power, you can pop on the Fresnel head. If you want to use it more like a studio strobe and use softboxes, you swap out for the bare bulb head. There’s also a round head available to match the look of the Godox V1.

As well as the versatility of being able to swap heads to turn it into a different type of light source, the Godox AD200Pro is also very small. It’s not that much bigger than a large OEM speedlight, making it easy to slip one or two easily into your camera bag for use on location. Despite its small size, though, you can’t use one of these in your camera’s hotshoe. These have become a very common unit since their release due to their versatility, portability and ease of use on location.

Main features
  • Power***: 200Ws
  • Power source: Lithium-ion battery
  • Modifier Mount: Bowens (with Godox S2 bracket)
  • Recycle time: 1.8 Sec

  • Flash Duration (t0.1):1/220 – 1/13,000 Sec
  • Colour Temp: 5600K +/-200K
  • System compatibility**: Godox X (N, C, S, F, P, O)
  • Wireless: Godox 2.4Ghz X System
  • Interchangeable heads make it versatile
  • Offers TTL and HSS support
  • Fast recycle times
  • Needs separate bracket to use modifiers
  • LCD is easily damaged if you’re not careful outdoors
  • Although small, it cannot be used on the hotshoe

If you started off with Godox speedlights, the AD200 Pro is a great next logical step. The Fresnel head is going to complement your existing speedlights very well and the bare bulb head is going to give you a true studio strobe. You do have to get the Godox S2 bracket in order to be able to mount modifiers to it, though. Or, if you get two AD200 Pro, you can double them up into a single 400Ws light using the Godox AD-B2 bracket.

You can buy the Godox AD200 Pro for $349 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Westcott FJ400 – $599 (Amazon / B&H)

The Westcott FJ400 is both an AC-powered strobe and a Lithium-ion battery-powered strobe allowing you to get the best of both worlds and use it with AC power when you’re near plug sockets, so you don’t have to worry about power running out, and you can use it with the Lithium-ion battery pack for when you want to use it out on location. But, Westcott doesn’t have a particularly large flash ecosystem, so future expansion is potentially limited.

That being said, if you just want a basic three-light setup that can work equally as well on location as it does in a permanent studio setup, then three of these might be all you ever need. They Westcott FJ400 supports both TTL and HSS and also features a built-in Bowens mount, meaning that you don’t need a bracket or adapter to attach softboxes. It also includes a range of magnetic gels that attach to the supplied reflector for adjusting your colour.

Main features
  • Power***: 400Ws
  • Power source: 110/240V AC or Lithium-ion battery
  • Modifier Mount: Bowens
  • Recycle time: 0.9 Sec
  • Flash Duration (t0.1): 1/280 – 1/7,000 Sec
  • Colour Temp: 5500K +/-150K
  • System compatibility**: Westcott FJ (N, C, S, F, O)
  • Wireless: Westcott FJ 2.4Ghz
  • Multiple power source options
  • Comes with magnetic gels
  • Very fast recycle time

  • Small ecosystem limits future expansion
  • Slower fastest flash duration
  • Quite large and heavy for location use

The Westcott flash ecosystem – which currently comprises only three lights – is fairly small and will be offputting to some potential customers. But if you’re not quite ready to buy just yet and just want to see what’s out there, Westcott might be a company worth keeping an eye on to see how (or if) the system grows in the near future.

You can buy the Westcott FJ400 for $599 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Profoto B10 – $1,795 (Amazon / B&H)

If you decided to go with the Profoto A10 as your first speedlight, then stepping up to something like the Profoto B10 when you need a bit more power is a logical choice. It’s wireless communication is compatible with the speedlight you already own and you can control both of them off-camera using the same trigger. As mentioned, though, Profoto products and support does come at a premium, so this isn’t an inexpensive option.

But you do get pretty solid reliability, great build quality, fantastic customer support and a very versatile light that offers TTL and HSS. It’s worth noting that if you go with Profoto lights, you’re pretty much limited to Profoto modifiers. There are adapters out there letting you use Bowens mount modifiers, but design differences between Profoto and Bowens mounts mean those Bowens modifiers may not be very efficient. You’ll almost always get the best results with Profoto modifiers – which can get quite expensive.

Main features
  • Power***: 250Ws
  • Power source: Lithium-ion battery
  • Modifier Mount: Profoto
  • Recycle time: 2.2 Sec
  • Flash Duration (t0.1): 1/400 – 1/14,000 to Sec
  • Colour Temp: 5600K
  • System compatibility**: N, C, S, F
  • Wireless: Bluetooth, Profoto 2.4Ghz AirTTL
  • A solid light with great build quality
  • Bright 150W (3000-6500K) LED modelling light
  • 10 stops of power adjustment
  • It’s an expensive system to buy into
  • Recycle time is a hair slower than others
  • That’s it, really

While Profoto won’t be the go-to option for most beginners, I’m including it here because I know many beginners who’ve gone out and bought Profoto gear and flagship cameras and f/1.2 primes and f/2.8 zooms. And it’s not usually a case of “all the gear and no idea”, they just know that when they pay that kind of money for something, they’re going to get the support they need while they figure everything out. They also know that it’s probably going to last quite a while, too. And, ultimately, that can end up being less expensive in the long term if it’s something you stick with.

You can buy the Profoto B10 for $1,795 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Elinchrom D-Lite One RX – $249 (Amazon / B&H)

Elinchrom used to be the go-to brand alongside Bowens (before they went bust) if you wanted to get a flash system. And while Bowens may no longer be around (ok, they sort of are) Elinchrom is still going strong and at their entry-level, we have an AC-powered basic manual strobe, the Elinchrom D-Lite One RX.

Like the Profoto light above, Elinchrom uses their own proprietary mount, although there is a fairly wide variety of OEM and 3rd party modifiers available to fit it. And like the Godox MS300 further up, there’s no TTL or HSS on this one. But you get a solid flash with basic manual control and a built-in EL Skyport receiver for native wireless control from your camera using an EL-Skyport transmitter.

Main features
  • Power***: 100Ws
  • Power source: 90-260V AC
  • Modifier Mount: Elinchrom
  • Recycle time: 2.1 Sec
  • Flash Duration (t0.5): 1/2200 Sec
  • Colour Temp: Not specified
  • System compatibility**: N, C, S, F, P,  O
  • Wireless: EL Skyport
  • A very small and compact light
  • Fast flash duration at full power
  • 1/10th stop power adjustment increments
  • Lower output than similarly priced competition
  • No battery power option
  • Only 5 stops of total power adjustment

While perhaps not be as popular as they used to be, Elinchrom still makes some pretty solid equipment for both beginners as well as more demanding users. And if you’re just starting out, need some AC-powered strobes and you’re limited on space, the Elinchrom D-Lite One RX is a very small and compact light.

You can buy the Elinchrom D-Lite One RX for $249 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Specialist Flashes

Godox MF12-K2 Macro Flash Kit – $249 (Amazon / B&H)

While the recently released Godox MF12 is more of a speciality light, I’m including it here because there are a lot of photographers out there who shoot macro and it’s all they’re really interested in shooting beyond the usual family snaps. Flash is immensely useful with macro – and often required to freeze a live, moving subject – and these provide a great value.

The design of the Godox MF12 system is very reminiscent of the Nikon R1C1 kit – something that non-Nikon shooters haven’t really been able to use. But being part of the Godox X Ecosystem, it’s compatible with Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Pentax, Panasonic and Olympus with the appropriate trigger on your hotshoe. This means you can also mix and match it with Godox speedlights or strobes if you need to. Like, if you want to light from the front with the MF12 but also wish to add a backlight behind your subject.

The price listed above is for the basic 2-light kit (hence the “K2” at the end of its name), but you can add up to six of the MF12 lights onto the ring that surrounds the end of your lens. These are available separately for $109 each and because they’re all part of the same Godox X flash system, you don’t have to mount them to your lens. You can use them off-camera, too if you keep them close to the subject. They’re not very powerful for general off-camera use and you’re certainly not going to be putting one of these inside a big softbox.

Main features
  • Guide number*: 16.1′ (ISO not specified)
  • Zoom range: Fixed
  • Recycle time: 1.7 Sec
  • System compatibility**: N, C, S, F, O, P
  • Flash Duration (t0.5): 1/1200 to 1/34000 Sec
  • Flash Modes: TTL, Manual
  • Connectivity: Type-C USB
  • Wireless: Godox 2.4Ghz X System
  • Very fast flash durations, especially at lower power
  • Expandable mini-ecosystem within an ecosystem
  • Allows for both symmetrical and asymmetrical setups
  • It’s a specialist light so limited use outside of macro
  • White balance reported to be a little warm
  • No wired sync cable option

While there are other macro flashes on the market, the Godox MF12 offers a lot of versatility due to being able to adjust both the quantity and position of the lights that sit around your lens, close to your subject. This allows you to light your subject in ways simply not possible with generic all-in-one macro ring flashhes. There are also a number of continuous macro lights out there which, while great for video, often tend to lack the power required to light macro scenes or provide a fast enough shutter speed to freeze something like fast-moving bugs!

You can buy the Godox MF12-K2 Macro Flash Kit for $249 on Amazon, B&H and other retailers.

Things to think about when buying your first flash

Getting your first flash can definitely be a daunting affair. Unlike cameras, where you’ve at least got the one built into your smartphone as a baseline, most people really don’t have any kind of frame of reference for flashes and what they’re looking for when it comes to buying a dedicated unit. There are some questions that you’ll want to figure out or find the answers to before you put down your money.

  • Do I just need a single on-camera flash for occasional use? – This is the first question you should ask yourself. If you just want a flash because you feel that having one in your kit is important and it’s just for occasional use on top of the camera, you’re not really bothered about learning elaborate flash setups and you plan to only ever buy one, then just go with a simple speedlight. You might even be best served by going with an OEM flash manufactured by the same company as your camera itself for guaranteed maximum compatibility.
  • Or do I really want to learn how light works? – This is the second half of the above question. If you think (or know for sure) that you might want to really get into flash and expand your lighting gear as your abilities and confidence increase, then I’d still suggest starting off with a speedlight but look at one that’s part of a larger overall ecosystem. If you buy into a limited system, you may end up having to those speedlights when your needs grow and you buy into a more powerful system
  • What kind of modifier support is available? – We haven’t spoken much about modifiers in this post, except with regards to compatibility with various lights. Modifiers are things that, as the name suggests, modify the light in some way. They might make a light source larger, providing a more pleasing and softer light on your subject. Or they may focus the light to provide a more high-intensity beam on your subject (like a spotlight). Others can diffuse your light to send it out flying in all directions to provide an even ambient light level.
  • Do I really need TTL? – TTL (Through The Lens), is an automatic flash metering system. The camera and flash communicate with each other in order to judge how much light your scene needs in order to be adequately exposed on the fly. It can be very useful in on-camera situations where the flash is perched on top of your camera’s hotshoe, but you might find that it has limited usefulness when used off-camera. For my own needs, TTL is a nice feature to have sometimes, but not required. For wedding and event photographers, however, it can be vital.
  • What about HSS? – Most cameras are speed limited in some way when it comes to working with flash. To describe it as simply as possible, most cameras contain a mechanical shutter. We call it a “shutter” but it’s actually a pair of shutters. A front shutter and a rear shutter. When you take a shot, the front shutter opens to begin the exposure and the rear shutter closes to end the exposure. Eventually, you get to a point where your shutter speed is so fast that the rear curtain starts closing before the front curtain has allowed the entire sensor to see the scene before you. This is what’s known as your “Sync Speed” and it sits between around 1/125 to 1/320 of a second depending on brand and camera model. HSS is a technique that gets around this limitation and allows you to fire your flash all the way up to the maximum shutter speed of your camera (usually 1/4,000 or 1/8,000 sec).
  • Does it have built-in wireless support? – If you’re going to be getting your flash off the camera, does it have a built-in wireless receiver? Many lights do these days, but quite a few still don’t. And if they don’t, it means you will likely need to buy extra hardware in order to have it communicate with a wireless trigger sitting on top of your camera. And even if you do buy that extra hardware, you probably won’t get the TTL and HSS features described above. As well as the extra expense of wireless receivers, it means more batteries and more potential points of failure. Buying into a system with built-in wireless receivers is generally a much better way of doing things these days.
  • How low does it go? – You might wonder why the minimum power output is important for a flash, but sometimes you only need to add a little light to your scene, especially if you’re indoors and the light is fairly close to your subject. some lights offer an 8 or 10 stop range going down to 1/128, 1/256 or even 1/512 power. Other lights, however, only offer a 5 stop range, bottoming out at 1/32. Sometimes, you might find that minimum power isn’t quite minimum enough and you’re overexposing your shot. You can add Neutral Density (ND) gels over the end of the flash tube, but that’s another extra expense and hassle to fit and remove often.
  • What do I want to shoot? – If you do plan to get serious about flash, then this may ultimately determine the direction that your flash adventures will ultimately take you. If your focus is macro, you’re often going to want a different lighting kit compared to something like portraits. Even within portraits, you might make different buying decisions depending on whether you wish to shoot on location where battery power can be vital or if you’re always in the studio where AC power is readily available. Even in the studio, though, battery-powered strobes means fewer trailing wires to trip over.
  • Do I need a combination flash & continuous light? – If you plan to shoot video as well as flash photography using the same lights, then having a flash with a powerful modelling light can be an important factor. Of course, you can buy separate lights for stills and video, but if you can find a system that offers all that you need. That being said, there is occasionally a compromise. The Profoto B10 mentioned above, for example, is primarily a strobe that just happens to have a powerful modelling light. Other lights, like the Godox FV200, are primarily continuous lights that have added strobe functionality. So, while a light may offer both features, it will usually be better at one than the other. If you can live within any potential limitations, though, it’s a viable route to take but you will want to do a lot of research and look at a lot of reviews to see exactly where they might not be able to keep up.
  • How much power do I need in a strobe? – This is going to be unique to your own requirements. If you plan to try and overpower the sun with a 5ft diameter softbox outdoors, then you’re going to need something much more powerful than if you’re photographing small products indoors in a controlled low-light environment. I would suggest starting off with something small (or at least inexpensive) to start in the 200-300Ws range. Even if you ultimately need more power, less powerful lights like these can still be very beneficial as fill lights, rim & hair lights or background lights. So, it’s not money wasted.
  • Should I look at the used market? – The used flash market is a potentially fantastic but also a potentially risky place. A lot of people sell lights because they bought into the wrong system when they started and now they’re selling up to start over with a new one. In this instance, you can often find some great deals on individual flashes or even a small kit, but there are a lot of old flashes on the used market that seem to have great prices but may not have the support you need or haven’t been made in a decade or two and repair options simply don’t exist anymore. Some unscrupulous people will also try to offload used flash gear as “untested” that they know doesn’t work but don’t declare it. So, again, do your research, ask the seller if you’re in any doubt about its functionality and as a beginner, it’s probably best to try to go for flash models still a current model. That way, if there is an issue with it, you probably have some recourse to get it repaired.

Buying into a flash system is one of the best things you can do for your photography, depending on what you shoot. Obviously, it’s not going to be of much use for things like landscapes (unless you’re into light painting) or astrophotography but they’re extremely useful for things like portraits, products, macro, pets, weddings, events, lifestyle, fashion, or any other genre of photography where using them is practical.

Exactly which path you should take on your flash journey really depends on what it is that you like to shoot, or think that you might like to try at some point. If you’re in any doubt at all as to what to get, just get a cheap simple speedlight like the Godox TT685 at the top of this post. Worst case, you’ve spent not a lot of money on something you don’t use all that often (or at all). But it might just be the thing that makes you fall in love with light and how it can send your photography in directions you never previously thought possible.

Have you already jumped into the world of flash? What do you use?


* The Guide Number of a light is a measurement of how much light it puts out in a semi-standardised way. But these numbers can sometimes be misleading. There used to be something of an industry-standard set of settings, an unwritten rule by which all manufacturers abided in order to present potential customers with a reliable light output comparison between different models from different companies. These days, as flashes have become more advanced many companies have manipulated the conditions under which the reading is taken in order to make the number look much higher than it would at the previously “standard” settings, making the numbers quite incomparable to each other today. Despite this, these numbers are important to some customers so we’ve added them where they are available from the manufacturer’s website, but take them with a large pinch of salt.

** This is with regard to native compatibility offering brand-specific features. All speedlights and strobes can work with any camera without advanced features like HSS and TTL, but you may need to buy separate hardware to go along with them in order to make it work. The Westcott FJ system requires an adapter for Sony compatibility.

Abbreviations for system compatibility:

  • N = Nikon
  • C = Canon
  • S = Sony
  • F = Fuji
  • P = Pentax
  • O = Olympus/Panasonic

*** When it comes to power, Watt-hours is not necessarily an indicator of light output between different models or brands of flash. Some electronic circuitry is more efficient than others and the design of the flash head also plays a lot into light output efficiency. Modifiers, too, will affect lights differently depending on their head design. As a result, some lights produce more or less light output for the same amount of electrical energy consumed than others. That being said, it does serve as a pretty good rough guide.


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