Last updated: September 7, 2021

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Welcome to our big flash unit test 2021. Here we present all the flash units we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web. We would like to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best flashgun for you.

You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should pay attention to if you want to buy a flash unit.




The most important facts

  • Flashes allow you to take sharp photos even in low light. In many situations, you should avoid direct flashes. Rather, point the flash towards the ceiling to avoid strong reflections.
  • Flashes that are automatically set by a camera are much more expensive than manual flashes. In addition, they are often only compatible with a certain camera manufacturer.
  • Important quality criteria you should consider when buying a flash unit are compatibility, guide number, TTL control and triggering mechanism.

The Best Flash Unit: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a flashgun

What are the advantages of shooting with a separate flash unit over shooting with the camera's pop-up flash?

In general, separate flash units offer the following advantages over built-in flashes on cameras:

  • Higher flash output
  • Can be used separately from the camera
  • Rotating and swivelling reflector

External flash units are also called system flash es. Several of these flashes can be combined to form a flash system. In such a system, a flash unit is not only a simple substitute light source for "shots with too little light", but a versatile tool for creative design with light.

Did you know that the first flash unit for photography worked by lighting magnesium on fire and burning it? This then produced a bright and glaring light. However, at that time, the amount of light and the length of the burn was difficult to control.

How much do flash units cost?

In most cases, the price increases with the guide number (see below). The greater the luminosity of the flash, the larger and more expensive the flash. However, the price also depends on additional automatic setting options. The price range for flash units is relatively high.

There are large price differences depending on the manufacturer. It is important to note that many flash units are only conditionally compatible with different camera manufacturers, which limits the choice. Decisive criteria that influence the price of a flash are, in addition to the guide number:

  • The length of time it takes for the flash unit to be ready for use again after use
  • Ability to set the flash to a weaker setting for faster bursts of images
  • The possibility of automatic flash setting by the camera (TTL)

Camerablitz

Flash units are available for little money. For high-quality products, however, you pay a lot of money. (PublicDomainPictures / pixabay.com)

Where are flash units most often used?

Here we would like to show you some of the most common areas of application for flash units. It becomes clear that this is primarily photography in the close-up range:

  • Event photography: photos of people, often in dark surroundings.
  • In bright sunshine / backlight: To reduce harsh shadows / contrasts, e.g. on people's faces.
  • Portrait photography: Often coupled with several system flashes.
  • Macro photography
  • Animal photography: For "freezing" fast movements

What should I pay attention to when photographing with flash units?

To get a more "natural" picture, direct flash should be avoided. Indirect flash via a diversion (white wall / white cardboard) diffuses the hard flash light. This prevents harsh shadows and possible reflections from the flash itself (e.g. on a person's forehead). The result looks more natural. The larger the illuminated area in relation to the subject, the softer the light.

A simple possibility here is, for example, a white bed sheet that is stretched out and placed in front of the speedlight. If you need to use the flash frequently, we recommend buying an umbrella or a softbox. If possible, place the flash unit to the side and higher than the lens in the room (see unleashed flash). This way you achieve discreet shadows and a three-dimensional image impressionis created.

To avoid "red-eye" on the photo, many cameras have the option of an integrated pre-flash. A too significant drop in brightness can be avoided with the help of a second flash unit ("slave flash"). This can also help you to avoid core shadows. You should also make sure that you have a bag to store the flash unit in after you have finished taking pictures, so that it is protected during transport.

The direction of the light, the size of the light area and the strength of the flash are three important points to consider and assess when using flash units.

Where can I buy a flash unit?

You can find flash units in any well-stocked photo shop and in the usual electronics shops. In recent years, there have been more opportunities to buy flash units on the Internet. The selection is usually larger and the prices are usually lower. However, we recommend that you visit a specialist shop. There you can try out different flash units and compare them better.

What terms and abbreviations are used to describe flash units?

In the following we would like to give you a brief overview of the most important terms and abbreviations.

What does the guide number describe?

Generally speaking, the higher the guide number, the further away objects a flash can still illuminate correctly! A guide number is usually given for system flashes for SLR and compact cameras. If you put it in relation to the f-number used, it provides information about the possible flash range at which the flash is able to illuminate the subject plane correctly.

Described as a formula, it looks like this: Flash range = guide number / aperture In addition, the guide number is also dependent on the light sensitivity (ISO setting) set on the camera. The guide number is therefore always given together with an ISO value.

With today's automatic TTL flash metering (see below), the guide number no longer has the same significance with more expensive equipment as it did in the past, when you still had to do the math.

What is a diffuser?

A diffuser is a device used to make "hard" light "softer". This is to reduce extreme light-shadow contrasts and disturbing reflections. Placed in front of a flash unit, it diffuses the light and is also called a "scrim". This reduces the flash range. However, when used correctly, a more natural result can be achieved.

What is a flash shoe / accessory shoe?

These terms are used to describe the device on cameras to which accessories such as external flash units, lamps or rangefinders and others can be attached. A hot shoe is usually equipped with a centre contact that synchronises the simultaneous firing of the flash with the release of the camera's shutter.

Nowadays there are further contacts in the hot shoe that are used to control special functions or the extended communication between camera and flash (e.g. TTL flash control, see below). These vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so that accessories and cameras from different manufacturers are only compatible in exceptional cases.

What does the abbreviation HSS stand for?

HSS stands for high-speed synchronisation, also called short-time synchronisation. This was developed to enable flash photography with exposure times that are shorter than the flash sync speed. The flash syn c speed is the shortest selectable exposure time at which the shutter is briefly fully open for exposure. During this time, the light (from a flash unit) can illuminate the entire surface of the image sensor.

The flash sync speed is often also called X-sync speed. With short-time synchronisation, the aim is to go below the flash sync time. Instead of a single flash, the flash output is divided into a large number of small flashes that are emitted evenly over the entire shutter speed.

In this way, the entire picture is exposed by means of flash light, even if the shutter is never fully open. However, the flash energy must be distributed among the many rapidly following individual flashes. This makes them weaker and the guide number of the flash unit decreases considerably with short-time synchronisation.

What does the abbreviation TTL stand for?

With TTL flash metering, the exposure is measured through the lens (TTL = Through the Lens).

There are devices that have TTL automatic. Any changes to the camera can either be made manually or the automatic system of the camera is used.

This technology has ensured that modern SLR cameras have replaced flash units that have their own sensor for measuring exposure (computer flash). The main advantage of TTL metering is that it measures exactly the light that falls through the lens onto the film or, in the case of digital cameras, onto the sensor. Further advantages are:

  • The measurement refers only to the subject being photographed. Light sources just outside the picture, which the sensor of the computer flash could still detect, do not interfere.
  • The measurement automatically takes into account different focal lengths of the lenses used.
  • With the computer flash, the parameters film speed and aperture must usually be transferred manually from the camera to the flash unit. This can lead to operating errors that do not occur with TTL flash metering.

However, TTL flash metering has not been standardised independently of manufacturers, and in some cases has been changed several times within manufacturers. Flash units for TTL flash metering must therefore always be matched to the camera model used and are often not universally applicable.

What is a "triggered flash"?

In photography, a "remote flash" is the use of a flash unit that is spatially separated from the camera. The communication between flash and camera or flash and flash can take place via the following possibilities:

  • Connecting cable
  • Infrared
  • Radio
  • Triggering by the flash light of another flash unit

The flash that is used to control other flash units is called master, transmitter or main flash. Common names for unleashed, remote-controlled flashes are: Servo flash, slave flash, slave flash, slave or slave flash.

Examples of the use of a remote flash would be, for example, side lighting, where a stronger spatial effect is created. Also, parts of a subject can be emphasised more by placing the flash closer to the subject.

What is a ring flash?

A ring flash is a special type of flash unit. One or more flash tubes are arranged in a ring around the front of the lens. It is primarily used in macro photography. The advantages of such an arrangement are:

  • Shadow-free illumination of the subject
  • "Soft" light due to its spatial expansion

Disadvantages of a ring flash:

  • On shiny surfaces (such as eyes) the ring flash causes a circular reflection
  • Lack of spatial effect due to the absence of shadows

Decision: What types of flash units are there and which is the right one for you?

Basically, you can distinguish between four types of flash units:

  • Attachable flash
  • Ring flash
  • Studio flash
  • De-flash

Depending on the purpose for which you want to use the flash unit, one type is better suited to your needs than the others. In the following, we will give you an overview of the differences between the various types of flash units and show you their advantages and disadvantages. This way you can decide for yourself which device is right for you.

Blitzgerät

There are four different types of flash units. Which device is the right one depends on the use. (CITYEDV / pixabay.com)

How does a clip-on flash work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

A clip-on flash is slid onto the hot shoe of your camera and electronically connected to the camera through the contacts there. In this way, the flash communicates with your camera and, depending on the model, is controlled directly via your camera.

The reflector of the flash then automatically adjusts to the focal length of the lens. Since a clip-on flash is very compact and handy, it can be easily transported in a camera bag. Depending on size and price range, compact flashes differ in their performance and functions.

Advantages
  • Compact, handy
  • Easy to carry
  • Automatic control
  • Indirect flash possible
  • Inexpensive
Disadvantages
  • Low compatibility
  • Smaller light source
  • Reflector fixed

In most cases it is possible to change the angle of the flash head and thus illuminate pictures indirectly - for example by redirecting the flash light over (white) walls. Due to the fixed reflector, however, the direction of the light cannot be changed individually.

Another disadvantage is that clip-on flashes of a certain brand are usually only compatible with cameras of that brand. With third-party flashes, you should make sure that they are compatible with your camera, otherwise the devices cannot communicate with each other. A clip-on flash is the right one for you if you need a compact, easy-to-carry flash for many occasions.

How does a ring flash work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

A ring flash has a special ring design and is installed around the lens of your camera. It provides very good, shadow-free illumination of the subject and is used particularly often in macro photography.

Advantages
  • Very good, shadow-free illumination
  • Soft light
  • Good for macro photography
Disadvantages
  • Spatial effect can be lost
  • Ring-shaped reflection on reflective surfaces

However, due to the absence of shadows, an image shot with ring flash may lack spatial depth, making the image appear flat. In addition, circular reflections often occur on reflective surfaces such as eyes. A ring flash is the right one for you if you want to illuminate your subject particularly well or if you want to experiment a little with the light.

How does a studio flash work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

A studio flash has a higher flash output than a clip-on flash and can be used for a longer period of time. In addition, a studio flash can be flexibly expanded with light-changing equipment such as reflectors or filters for dimming and individual colouring of the light.

Advantages
  • High flash output
  • Continuous operation possible
  • Flexible expansion possibilities
  • Can be combined as desired
Disadvantages
  • Much equipment, difficult to transport
  • Higher price
  • Large, heavy

However, transporting a more expensive studio flash is somewhat more cumbersome, as a lot of equipment is often needed and the unit is heavier and larger than a clip-on flash. A studio flash is the right one for you if you are planning mainly stationary shoots and need a powerful light source that you can operate over a longer period of time.

How does a flash work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

A remote flash is the name for a flash that is not permanently attached to the camera. Any flash can be bounced with the appropriate accessories. Communication takes place indirectly via the hot shoe in the case of a wired connection or wirelessly via light impulses or radio triggers. The flash can thus be placed anywhere to optimally illuminate the subject.

Advantages
  • Individual illumination
  • Can be combined as desired
  • Flexible control
Disadvantages
  • More accessories with transport

Several flash units are often combined, with one acting as master and the others as so-called slaves. This makes the illumination much more flexible for you, but also requires some practice in operation. In addition, transport is associated with a little more effort. An unleashed flash is the right choice for you if you want to illuminate your pictures very individually and flexibly.

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate flash units

In the following we would like to show you which factors you can use to compare and evaluate flash units. This will make it easier for you to decide whether a particular flash unit is suitable for you or not. In summary, these are:

  • Compatibility
  • Guide number
  • TTL control
  • Triggering mechanism
  • Diffuser

In the following paragraphs you can read about the individual purchase criteria and how you can classify them.

Compatibility

In most cases, a more expensive flash unit from a camera manufacturer is only compatible with the cameras of that manufacturer (e.g. Nikon flash units with Nikon DSLRs). One reason for this condition is the advanced automation in photography, in this case the in-camera TTL flash metering (see above) through the lens.

The results of this measurement are transmitted electronically to the flash unit via contacts on the camera's hot shoe. Since these camera contacts are not the same for all manufacturers, the flash units are often not compatible or only partially compatible. However, there are flash unit manufacturers who produce flash units that are compatible with different camera manufacturers (e.g. Metz).

Before you buy a flash unit, you should check whether it is compatible with your camera. You should also make sure that your flash unit can be packed in your camera bag for protection, i.e. that there is a compartment for it in your camera bag.

Guide number

The guide number is the number used to indicate the light output of a flash unit. If you put this in relation to the aperture, you get the possible flash range at which the flash is able to illuminate the subject plane correctly. Although it is one way of describing the performance of a flash, you should not interpret too much meaning into this number.

On the one hand, this is due to the fact that modern DSLRs automatically measure the light and then adjust the flash (see above: TTL). On the other hand, many photographers try to avoid direct flash, so it is not decisive whether the flash is able to shine one or two metres further (see above).

TTL control

With TTL flash metering, the exposure metering takes place through the lens used (TTL = Through the Lens). TTL metering has the main advantage that (also) when flashing, exactly the light is measured that falls through the lens onto the film or, in the case of digital cameras, onto the sensor. To take advantage of this mechanism, you should make sure that the flash has TTL support and is compatible with your camera.

Triggering mechanism

There are basically three different ways to trigger flash units:

Way to trigger the flash Description
Revealed state The flash fires automatically at the same time as the camera's shutter button is pressed.
Placed separately from the camera(light pulses) In this case, an exchange with the camera takes place via the small flash already integrated in the camera by means of small light pulses to the external flash. The flash unit receives this signal with the help of its red receiver eye (red reflector-like plastic disc) and triggers the flash. Visual contact between the camera and the flash unit is necessary.
Placed separately from the camera(radio trigger) several flash units can be triggered without direct visual contact

A master flash is a flash that controls other flashes in a flash system. This can work via cable or wirelessly (see above: unleashed flash). Whether a flash unit is capable of functioning as a master flash is therefore only of interest to you if you intend to use several system flashes.

Diffuser

A diffuser diffuses the light of a flash unit and thus reduces conspicuous reflections that can occur with direct flashes. If a diffuser attachment is not included in the delivery, this should not prevent you from buying one. Diffusers can be purchased at any time for very little money.

If you are using a flash unit for the first time, it is worth doing a little research on the unit and its use to make sure you buy the right one.

Facts worth knowing about flash units

What are the alternatives to a flash unit?

If there is not enough light to take sharp photos hands-free, there are only two other options besides the flash unit:

  • Tripod (longer exposure time possible)
  • artificial continuous lighting

Image source: Pixabay / Meditations

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