Digital SLR Camera Flash

Finding the right digital SLR camera flash is quite easy in some respects: it all comes down to cost.

Once you decide on a budget, the right flash solution will fall into place.

When it comes to digital SLR camera flash, you can spend anywhere from $100 to $10,000 — it just depends on how often you want to use your flash and what you want to use it for.

If you hate the look of on-camera flash and want a little something different, then there are plenty of low-cost alternatives to choose from.

But if you're trying to set up a professional portrait studio in the basement, then you're going to have to spend a bit more.

In the end, how you use your digital SLR camera flash is more important than HOW MUCH you spend.

While some exceptional images are the result of incredibly expensive flash setups, many are captured by budget photographers who really know how to leverage the limited equipment they have.

The pages of this flash guide will introduce you to the terms, technology and accessories associated with off-camera flash to help you make the best decision about what type of flash to get for your digital SLR camera.

Buying a Camera...Again

The steps required to find the best digital SLR camera flash are quite similar to the four-step process that I recommend when you're looking for a digital SLR camera:

  1. Know what you want to photograph with your flash
  2. Understand the jargon so you can objectively compare different flash units
  3. Compare the different options available in your price range
  4. Find the best price for your digital SLR camera flash

Unless you approach your flash purchase this way, you're going to find the range of possible options quite overwhelming.

Once you have a specific need in mind (i.e. I want to photograph small figurines for eBay auctions) you'll be able to zero in on the best digital SLR camera flash for you.

The Cons of On-Camera Flash

If you're reading this page you're probably already interested in using off-camera flash with your digital SLR.

But some of you may have found your way here quite by accident, and are wondering why there are SO many flash options available when many digital SLRs come with that convenient built-in flash that pops up from the top of the camera.

There are several reasons why professionals don't use built-in flash:

  1. On-camera flash is more likely to create red-eye in your portrait photos
  2. The light is harsh, direct and always comes from the direction of the camera
  3. Many cameras don't allow you to control the intensity of the built-in flash
  4. Built-in flash units are less powerful, and can't light large areas effectively

If none of these seem like great limitations to you, then stick with your built-in flash — there's no need for you to read any further.

However, if you're feeling constantly disappointed by how your photos with flash turn out, then an alternative to built-in flash may be just the thing you need.

Flash Options

I mentioned at the beginning of this page that there is a huge range in price when it comes to digital SLR camera flash.

This is because flash packages run the gamut from a single external flash to professional three-light setups that include stands, umbrellas, power packs, barn doors and reflectors.

This section will serve as a quick high-level introduction to the more detailed pages that follow.

Flash Terminology

Before you start looking in earnest for a flash, it helps to know some of the terms that get thrown about.

The first two apply to flash units themselves:

  1. Guide Number
  2. Recycle Rate

While the second two are actually features of your digital SLR camera:

  1. Sync Speed
  2. Slow Sync Flash

Learn these terms upfront, because they apply to every type of digital SLR camera flash unit you'll consider. Understanding the first two terms will also help you realize why some flash units are significantly more expensive than others.

External Flash Units

The cheapest way to dramatically improve the quality of your flash photography is to invest in an external flash.

These flash units are more powerful than the built-in variety, and many include swivel/bouce heads so you don't have to aim the light directly at your subject.

An external flash can either be attached directly to the camera, fired via a cord, or activated wirelessly.

You can either buy a proprietary flash unit that matches the manufacturer of your camera, or you can go with a third party model (less compatiblility but also less expensive).

External flash units are small and portable.

Studio Strobes

Strobes are a step up from external flash units, but inexpensive ones can sometimes cost the same as a high-end external flash.

The big question that you have to answer when considering a strobe is whether you want the light to be plugged in all the time, or if you want it to be able run off a battery pack.

Strobes are significantly larger and heavier than external flash units.

Flash Triggers

There are five ways you can trigger a flash:

  1. Using the camera hot shoe
  2. Using a hot shoe "extension" cord
  3. Using a PC sync cord
  4. Using a wireless transmitter
  5. Using a "slave" trigger

Just like with external flash units, there are plenty of camera-specific and third party options that you can choose from.

Flash Modifiers

Flash really starts to become interesting when you modify it in some way: either by bouncing it off a reflective surface or by passing it through a diffuser.

There are a lot of accessories that will help you control the intensity and color of flash, and these include: reflectors, diffusers, umbrellas, softboxes, barn doors, snoots, gels and grid spots.

SLR Flash Packages

From a simple flash setup that produces great results for a mere $100 to one that costs closer to $600, I've put together several different flash packages in increasing order of cost.

For each flash setup, I'll illustrate what sort of results you can achieve and I'll also explain some of the limitations of each package.

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