Compact shoe-mount flash units can do a lot more than deliver a much higher flash output than a built-in camera flash. They also achieve more natural-looking lighting by extending the flash-head-to-lens subject distance. Moreover, these electronic flash units are much more effective in brightening up dark environments. As a result, they allow photographers to shoot at lower ISO settings for better image quality; and they achieve extended depth of field by shooting at smaller apertures.
In effect, they’re computerized light machines dedicated to specific camera flash systems. These flash units also deliver advanced automation options and precise TTL flash automation. What’s more, they have automated tilt-swivel-bounce-zoom flash heads that adjust the coverage angle to suit the focal length in use. In addition, the devices offer a wide range of fractional output settings, stroboscopic modes and first- and second-curtain sync. A few even have built-in LED video lights.
Perhaps even more important, most of the cool flash units detailed here provide a range of built-in and accessory wireless triggering options. Consequently, they enable photographers to use the flash off-camera on a stand or tripod for far greater lighting flexibility. And users can integrate the flash with groups of compatible off-camera units to easily achieve sophisticated studio lighting effects in the field.
The masterful control of lighting in virtually any shooting situation is the hallmark of an accomplished photographer. That’s why the flash units here represent high-value investments that will help your customers take their photographic experience to the next level.
A Selection of Shoe-Mount Flash Units
This well-connected Sony unit includes a built-in 2.4 GHz radio transceiver. It allows photographers to create sophisticated portable lighting setups by interfacing with Sony’s P-TTL/ADI metering. It can function as a commander or a remote that supports Sony’s existing radio commanders and receivers, including ratio control. As a result, it works with up to 15 flashes in five groups, as well as has access to 14 channels. Moreover, it has improved overheating protection for more consistent and reliable performance.
The flash provides an impressive footage guide number of 197 (feet) at ISO 100 and 105mm, along with an improved recycle time of 1.7 seconds. Also, its tilting head adjusts from -8º to 150° and can rotate 180º. What’s more, the zoom head covers 20–200mm and widens to 14mm with its pull-out diffusion panel. Additionally, an updated front-facing LED light with an output of 1200 lux at 1.6 feet also functions as an AF illuminator with E-mount mirrorless cameras for more reliable, faster autofocus in low light. The flash also features dust- and moisture-resistant construction and a durable metal mounting foot. It’s compatible with Sony 9, 7R III, a7R II, 7S II, 99 II and 6500 cameras. $549.99.
Nikon SB-5000 AF
This elegantly compact, high-output shoe-mount flash from Nikon includes a first-in-class cooling system; it enables up to 100 consecutive full-power flashes without overheating. The flash has a guide number of 113 at ISO 100 at the 35mm coverage setting. Integrated into Nikon’s Creative Lighting system with advanced wireless lighting, the radio-control flash lets users wirelessly control up to six groups of flashes at distances up to 98 feet (using a Z system camera with optional WR-A10 wireless remote adapter and WR-R10 wireless remote controller).
The SB-5000 is compatible with the Nikon i-TTL system and provides manual output settings down to 1/256 power. It can also control and mix optical and radio flashes. Moreover, it has an auto-adjustable tilting, swiveling zoom head that covers DX and FX formats at focal lengths of 24–200mm and down to 14mm with its built-in wide-angle diffuser. It also provides streamlined access to frequently used functions, such as flash mode, zoom head position and flash compensation value. The flash has a recycle time of 1.8–2.6 sec and runs on four AA batteries or select external battery packs. $595.95.
Canon 600EX II-RT
This powerful top-of-the-line Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II-compatible flash features built-in 2.4 GHz wireless radio transmission functionality. This enables it to achieve improved reliability in controlling up to five groups and a total of 15 individual Speedlites at distances up to 98.4 feet. And unlike optical wireless systems, it will work through obstacles and around corners. Its robust guide number of 197 at ISO 100 and 200mm represents a substantial increase over its predecessors. In addition, its menu system was streamlined for faster operation.
The Speedlite’s zoom head covers focal lengths of 20–200mm, with ultrawide 14mm coverage using the built-in diffuser panel. Further, its flash head tilts from -7º to 90º and rotates 180º to the left or right for full bounce capability. A backlit dot-matrix LCD displays flash status and lets users view and change settings. Other features include: stroboscopic mode plus high-speed first- and second-curtain sync; enhanced weather-resistant construction; an included dedicated bounce adapter; 15 custom and 6 personal functions; and an AF-assist beam that works with Canon’s 61-point Reticular AF system. Rated recycle time: 0.1–5.5 sec; 0.1–3.3 sec in quick flash mode. $579.99.
Metz Mecablitz 64 AF-1
The venerable German flash maker offers one of the most powerful compact flash units in it class. It boasts an ISO guide number of 210 at ISO 100 at the 200mm position. Moreover, its auto-zoom head covers focal lengths from 24–100mm and down to 12mm with the built-in wide-angle diffuser. The head tilts from -9º to 90º and rotates over a 300º arc. It also offers a second front-pointing light reflector for better modeling and more even lighting. The unit can function wirelessly as a master or slave with ratio control.
Other features include: a modeling light for previewing lighting effects; a color LCD control touch screen; multiple flash options, including strobe and high-speed first- and second-curtain sync; and built-in USB ports. The 64 AF-1 recycles in 0.1–4.4 sec and also provides auto-fill, rapid, strobe and servo flash with learning curve modes. Power is supplied by four AA batteries. In Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, $459.99; Nikon i-TTL, $459.99; Olympus/Panasonic/Leica TTL, $467.49.
This sleek, high-tech Olympus entry includes a built-in 100 lux (3.3 feet) LED video light with six output levels. It also features IPX1-rated weather resistance. The flash delivers an impressive guide number of 190 at ISO 100 at the 100mm setting. Compatible with the Olympus TTL flash system, its zoom head covers a focal length range of 12–100mm (24–200mm equivalent ) and 7–10mm with a wide-angle diffuser panel.
The flash head tilts from -7º to 90º and rotates 180º to the left or right for full bounce coverage. The FL-900R also provides IR wireless master, slave and commander functionality that controls up to four groups of flashes on any one of four channels. It also provides fractional power settings down to 1/128 and fires more than 30 times in rapid succession at 1/32 power. Other features include: slow and high-speed first- and second-curtain sync options; stereoscopic mode; and recycle times of 2.5–4.5 sec. It’s powered by four AA batteries. $579.99.
This Sigma electronic flash is available in dedicated versions fully compatible with Nikon i-TTL, Canon E-TTL or Sigma TTL flash systems. The powerful, well-styled unit provides completely automatic settings and can operate with full manual power from 1/1 to 1/128 power. In addition, it delivers an impressive footage guide number of 207 at ISO 100 with the 24–200mm zoom flash head at the 200mm setting. It can tilt from -7º to 90° and rotate left or right 180° for total 360° coverage.
The EF-630 additionally provides multiple wireless functions, including TTL, for off-camera, multiflash lighting setups. Other features include: a modeling light function; an AF-assist beam; a built-in wide-angle diffusion panel for 17mm coverage; and a high-speed sync function for working at shutter speeds faster than 1/250 second. The Sigma EF-630 runs on four AA batteries and is compatible with the FD-11 flash USB dock for firmware updates. In Nikon, Canon and Sigma versions, $349.
Phottix Mitros+ TTL
This contemporary-looking Phottix transceiver flash is a high-tech unit that includes a built-in Odin transmitter and receiver. The all-in-one unit enables wireless transmission using an optical pulse or IR triggering; it controls three groups of connected flashes via four channels at distances to 52.5 feet indoors and 328 feet outdoors using radio transmission with the Odin or Strato II wireless triggering systems. Ratio modes ranging from 1:8 to 8:1 are available for firing multiple flash units, and there’s a modeling flash for previewing lighting results.
The Phottix Mitros+ TTL has a guide number of 190 at ISO 100 and 105mm. In addition, its zoom head covers focal lengths from 24–105mm and to 14mm with its wide-angle panel. It can also rotate 180º degrees in each direction and tilt from -7º to 90º for excellent bounce control. Other features include: manual control options; high-speed sync; a stroboscopic mode; an AF-assist light; a built-in bounce card; and a USB port for firmware updates. Recycle times are in the 0.1–5 sec range, and 0.1–2.5 sec in quick flash mode. The unit is powered by four AA batteries. In Canon E-TTL/E-TTL II, $259.95; Sony, $199.95.
Distributed by the PRO Group and sold through member stores, this high-spec, high-value unit automatically adjusts its exposure and light beam to match camera and lens settings. The articulating head is adjustable for a variety of swivel and bounce positions. It tilts from -7º to 90º and also swivels right 180º and left 90º.
Compatible with many light modifiers, the 170SL offers a respectable guide number of 171 combined with a 180mm zoom head that can illuminate subjects from afar. It covers a 24–180mm range, or 18mm with a wide-panel diffuser.
Moreover, its built-in wireless TTL system provides expanded off-camera lighting options and functions as a master or slave. Other features include: a stroboscopic mode; rear curtain sync; and wireless flash that syncs with Nikon or Canon’s optical pulse systems. The flash has a recycle time of 0.2–4.55 (alkaline) and 0.15–2.5 secs (NiMH). Four AA batteries supply power. In Nikon, Canon and Sony versions, $189.95.
Nissin i400 TTL
This no-frills, pocketable on-camera flash from Nissin provides dedicated TTL compatibility and packs some punch. It delivers a footage guide number of 131 at IS0 100 with its 24–105mm zoom head at the 105mm setting. It can also provide ultrawide 16mm coverage by deploying its built-in diffuser. The flash head tilts upwards 90° and rotates 180° in both directions for complete 360° coverage.
Furthermore, it’s claimed to recycle in 0.1–4 seconds and to deliver 220 to 1,700 flashes per set of four fully charged AA batteries. Other features include: full manual control as well as a range of preset modes; power settings from 1/1 to 1/256; an AF-assist beam with a range of 2.3–16.4 feet; red-eye reduction mode; and two back-mounted selector dials for adjusting modes and power settings. In dedicated Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm and Micro Four Thirds versions, $114 to $149.
Godox VING V860IIN TTL
Featuring the Godox 2.4 GHz X wireless radio system, it provides full master and slave TTL functionality with a range of up to 328 feet. This powerful, well-connected flash delivers an impressive footage guide number of 197 at ISO 100 and 200mm. In addition, its zoom head range of 20–200mm is expandable to 14mm with the use of the pull-out panel. Moreover, its head tilts from -7º to 90° and rotates left and right 180°.
The Godox flash also supports high-speed sync, flash exposure compensation, multiflash operation, as well as first- and second-curtain sync. Its AF-assist light has a range of 2–32.8 feet. What’s more, optical wireless transmission is available with access to four channels and three groups as well as a range of up to 49 feet. The V860IIN also provides a 2.5mm sync port for a wired connection to a camera or receiver and a Micro USB port for installing firmware updates. Its included 11.1V, 2000mAh Li-ion polymer battery pack provides recycling times faster than 1.5 seconds and 650 full-power flashes per charge. In dedicated Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus/Panasonic and Fujifilm versions, $179.