In my opinion you need a speed light or flash gun that has full ETTL technology since this allows you to use manual flash and full automatic flash, and deal with any shooting situation you will find yourself in.
Whilst this is my opinion I appreciate there are photographers out there who do not need a flash with ETTL technology as they only shoot in manual mode and will never shoot in any situations that require full automatic mode.
If you are a photographer who will never use ETTL technology and can do everything you need to do with a manual flash you can save yourself a whole lot of money as there are plenty of budget flash guns that are perfect for your needs. If you only shoot manual flash there is no need spending a few hundred bucks on an all singing, all dancing top end speed light because it will be a total waste of money.
If you only need a manual flash I recommend buying a used speed light produced for use with non-digital slr cameras. These flash guns of yesteryear are going to be getting on a bit, and they will be technologically obsolete but this means they are cheap as chips. These speed lights don’t support ETTL and you can only set them manually. In addition to this you can fire these speed lights using radio triggers, so they are for off camera use only.
The good news about using these old film camera flash guns is that you don’t have to buy a model specific to your camera brand. That’s right, you can use a Nikon flash with a Canon camera, an Olympus camera, a Pentax camera or any other make of camera you own. Similarly, you can use a Canon flash gun with non-Canon cameras too. The ability to mix and match opens up more cost saving opportunities as you are not tied down to what make of flash gun to buy.
To fire these old flash guns all you need are some radio triggers, and whilst you have heard of the Pocket Wizard brand, which is exceptionally expensive there really is no need to shell out loads of cash as there are cheaper alternatives available.
Some of the cheaper alternatives are as much use as a chocolate teapot however some of them are exceptionally good and, whilst they may not be as tough and durable as the Pocket Wizards they are as reliable, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
I have a cheap and cheerful off camera flash kit consisting of two old Canon 430EZ flash guns fired using budget Yongnuo 622 radio triggers. My kit was stupidly cheap and I managed to source everything I needed for under fifty bucks, thanks to eBay and Amazon.
If you don’t need ETTL flash then please, please don’t waste your money and buy the top end flash guns or speed lights. By some cheap ones instead and then buy some budget radio triggers (I recommend the Yongnuo 622s) to fire them.
Whilst the old manual flash guns may not look as impressive as the newer (and much more expensive speed lights) it is worth remembering that the flash itself has no effect on the image quality. All a flash needs to do is provide the desired amount of additional light to make a correct exposure and it doesn’t matter whether the speed light providing the additional light is 15 years old or 15 days old.
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.