Digital Camera Flash

Buying a Digital Camera Flash: How to Get the Best One for the Job

Digital Camera FlashTo those outside the professional photography community, buying a camera flash seems pretty easy. After all, every digital camera flash illuminates a room better than a traditional digital SLR flash does, and that means good things for the quality of pictures. At least, that’s how the conventional thinking goes. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the process of buying a camera flash actually works in reality. Instead, photographers must painstakingly ensure that the flash they’re about to buy will actually light up a room in an exact amount, with the right time between flashes, every time.

Buying a digital camera flash, then, is actually pretty hard. It’s a process that most photographers take pretty slowly, preferring to use extra time and get the right device than to hurry up and buy a flash that will reduce the quality of their products. Before buying a flash for a digital camera, those new to this type of shopping should be aware of the things that can differentiate between a great model and a big mistake.

1. The Price of the Flash

The first thing photographers need to determine, before they even begin the shopping process, is the extent of their budget. The available flash models for today’s digital SLR cameras start at a rather affordable price and quickly escalate into a major purchase that can rival the cost of the camera itself. It’s a good idea to determine just how much money is available for this purchase before heading out to the nearest electronics retailer. If nothing else, it will at least eliminate a tendency toward sticker shock and intimidation that sends many lesser photographers home without a new flash in their hands.

2. Pay Careful Attention to the “Recycling Rate” of Each Option

One of the most important things to consider when purchasing a flash is how long the device will have to wait between taking individual pictures. Every flash on the market needs a bit of time to “recharge” its light so that it’s perfect for the next shot. Really great digital camera flashes will have a very short recycling time that will help photographers do their job more quickly and more professionally. Other flashes will have longer recycling rates that cause photographers, and their subjects, to simply stand around and wait, and wait some more, and then get back into position, every time a picture is taken.

That’s not really a viable option in today’s professional photography marketplace, especially as consumers get more and more accustomed to things being simple, quick, and without so much as a second’s wait. Pay careful attention to the recycling rate paired with any flash. This will generally be listed on the box that the flash comes in, or on a specification sheet that is paired with the flash if it is placed out in a store for demonstration and trial usage.

3. Use TTL Metering to Determine the Flash’s Response to Lighting Conditions

In the milliseconds leading up to when a digital SLR camera takes a photo, its attached flash will fire a series of “micro-flashes” to determine the lighting conditions of the room. It will then use those small tests to determine how much light the flash should produce when the actual picture is taken of the subjects. This process is a high-tech replacement for the analog sensors found in many older flashes that were sold in the era leading up to digital SLR cameras. It is also a key differentiator between today’s flashes.

The approach that each flash takes to determining the lighting conditions of a room is termed TTL. Each flash manufacturer has a slightly different algorithm and approach to determining the lighting conditions of a room, and this will be noted on the packaging of the flash itself. It will also be noted in specification sheets and product materials. Generally, there are subtle differences between the way each flash determines the room’s lighting and produces its effects. Test these before buying a flash in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises in the field.

4. Buy a Flash with Auto Zoom

Today’s digital camera flashes are able to change the way they function based on how near or far the camera’s zoom is currently set. This is because all-digital flashes can communicate with the camera they’re attached to, giving them the ability to produce far better pictures than their analog counterparts. Without this functionality, the flash will produce a near-universal flash of light in every lighting condition, potentially washing out the faces and colors of the people in a picture.

Make sure that any flash purchased has Auto Zoom technology built in. This is the key way to ensure that light will not be underwhelming or overpowering based on the camera’s level of zoom. It’s also the number one way to obtain a flash that will be highly versatile and a great investment long into the future.

5. Multi-Directional Flashes are the Best Bet

A good flash must be able not only to tilt, but also to swivel. This allows the light source to be positioned in a way that works best with each subject’s position and features, and it will result in a better quality of photographs overall. With just tilt, or just swivel, it can be hard to position the light source in a way that is both effective and flattering in some more challenging photos or environments.

6. Pay Attention to the Power of the Flash

The Guide Number of a flash, or its GN level, is extremely important and can make a huge difference when taking pictures. This power rating indicates the level of power that backs up the light source, indicating whether it will be too powerful or not enough in certain environments. The GN can also be a bit shaky between manufacturers, with no universal way of testing and reporting this measure. Always test a flash first, and observe how its GN affects its operation, before buying it and using it in the field.

Careful Shopping Will Lead to Amazing Pictures Every Time

With careful shopping and hands-on testing of each digital camera flash, professional photographers can find the right one for every condition. The right combination of light, power, and sensors, will ensure that subjects look perfect in all shots, regardless of lighting conditions or the time of day.

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