An external flash or speed light is an essential bit of kit and all photographers should have at least one in their kit bag. There are plenty of speed lights available to buy and choosing the best one, i.e. the speed light that is most suited to your specific needs isn’t always straight forward, and choosing an inappropriate speed light is likely to end up a costly mistake.
Before getting out the credit card and buying a speed light there are a few considerations, issues to resolve and questions you need to answer, as follows:-
How much power do I need?
Before parting with your hard earned money and buying a speed light the first question you need to ascertain is how much flash power you want. I would always recommend buying the most powerful speed light possible – after all, you can always dial the power right down but it is impossible to squeeze more power out of a low powered speed light.
The most powerful speed light is the most versatile but if you don’t need loads of flash power, and only need a small kiss of light there is no need to buy a powerful speed light. Only you know how much flash power you are likely to need for your specific needs – but you do need to consider it.
You can tell the power of a speed light by its Guide Number (“GN”), and the higher the number the more powerful the speed light. The very low powered speed lights have GNs of 14m whereas the top end speed lights can have GNs in excess of 100m, so there is a big difference.
What features do I need?
There are many different types of speed light available comprising from the very basic manual flash units through to the highly spec professional grade flashes fully loaded with manual mode, TTL mode, HSS mode and strobe mode to name just a few features.
Once again the most versatile speed light is one of the top end models but if you are never going to use the advanced features what’s the point in spending the extra for them? Before buying a speed light you need to think about your style of photography, think about what you want to achieve (now and in the future) and choose your “must have” features.
How user friendly?
If there’s one thing I have earned about speed lights it’s that not all of them are user friendly, and a speed light I find user friendly another person may find awkward and cumbersome. Some people seem to think it is only the speed lights that are full of features are cumbersome to use but this is not the case. In fact, there are many so called “basic” speed lights that are awkward, and not to mention time consuming to change the settings just as there are some fully loaded speed lights that are super quick and easy to change the relevant settings on the fly.
If your style of photography is that where you have to think on your feet, change key settings on the fly and don’t have much time between photos you are going to need a speed light with a logical interface/menu system that is user friendly.
If your style of photography is that where you can take your time setting up the shot, adjusting the flash and making sure everything is spot on before taking the shot you can get away with any speed light out there, even those that are a little more awkward to use.
I have used several different speed lights over the years and the most user friendly model I have come across is the Godox Ving. This is a powerful flash that is jam packed with features, including manual mode, TTL mode, strobe mode and HSS mode to name just a few. Switching between the modes and changing the settings is quick, simple and takes no time at all.
The most awkward and cumbersome speed light I have used is the Canon 600EX, which really pains me to say. Even though this speed light is a top quality bit of kit, and will do everything you need it to (and some).
Is third party okay?
There are several companies selling speed lights and flash guns you can use with your Canon/Nikon/Olympus or whatever brand camera you shoot, and if you are prepared to use one of these third party speed lights you can get great products (easily as good as what Canon/Nikon/Olympus etc. make) for a great price, and save yourself some serious money.
I have to admit that when I bought my first external speed light I was a “brand snob” and bought a Canon speed light for my Canon dslr. The thing I failed to realise at the time is that a speed light is only used to provide a burst of additional light and nothing else. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether a Canon speed light, Sigma speed light, Yongnuo speed light or any other brand of speed light provides the burst of light – it won’t have an impact on the photo. Providing the speed light is capable of providing light of the correct intensity and direction the photos will be the same.
Camera bodies and lenses have a significant impact on the final photo, the brand of speed light providing the burst of light doesn’t.
What’s the budget?
Money is always a consideration and it’s no different when choosing a speed light. Setting a budget isn’t just about deciding how much you can afford to spend but also how much you can justify spending. You may be in the position where you can afford to spend a decent amount of money but can’t justify spending more than a quarter of it, or you may be in the position where you don’t have that much money to spend but can justify spending the whole lot. Only you know your budget and how much you can justify on a speed light.
It is worth noting that there are loads of speed lights out there, and there is a suitable model for all budgets, regardless of how big or small it is.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
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