Camera Flash Buying Guide – For Beginners

Camera Flash Buying Guide – For Beginners

As you may have read in one of my recent about natural light in photography, light is one of the crucial things that can make or break an image. When I started with photography got tired of the pop-up flash on my camera for a number of reasons. Super hard light, light from the wrong angle, and lens shadow. So I decided to buy an off-camera flash and I did. Of course, I bought a flash that wasn’t the right choice. Because there are just some many different types and brand and features to choose from that I got lost in them. 🙂 And that is why I wrote this camera flash buying guide where will show you the flashes that I think that are the best camera flashes for beginners, based on my experience with them.

Before I show you the best camera flashes I will explain some basics about flashes so you can make the right choice based on your needs.

Which that being said let’s get started! 🙂

Which Brand Should I Trust?

You probably realized that Canon and Nikon flashes cost a tiny little bit more than others. Which sets up the question why? Right? Some photographers say they are a little better, more robust and have a longer lifespan. In my opinion that might be true, but considered that the cheapest canon flash costs $169 and isn’t really better than the pop-up one makes it hard to believe that you pay for the flash and not for the brand. This doesn’t only go for the Canon it is the same thing with Nikon and every other brand leading camera manufacturer.


Are Third-Party Flashes Even Worth It?

YES!!! They are not every third-party flash but most of them. For example, Yongnuo (the brand that copies everything from canon) has a surprisingly smart way of building their stuff. ;P They might have a small quality difference, but the price difference is HUGE. The same goes for Neewer or Godox.

To Give You An Example

  • The Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT costs $479 (which is a high-end flash.
  • The Yongnuo version costs $119 and it does the exact same thing 🙂

If you still think Canon is a better deal because of quality and what not. Look at it that way. For one canon flash, you can buy four Yongnuo flashes… in case they break quicker than the canon version. Which I can’t confirm that they do because all my flashes are still working.


Straight or Flexible

It might be obvious, but just in case I want to point out that you definitely want a flexible flash that can be tilted and paned. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a difference to your pop up flash. Panning and tilting it gives you the ability to bounce the light from different surfaces such as walls, ceilings or reflectors. Having a straight flash would be the same as using the pop-up flash.


TTL and Manual Mode

Manual Mode

Manual mode units are usually cheaper than TTL units. Manual mode means that you have to dial in the strength and the zoom of the flash. That takes time and test shots to get the exposure right. I personally don’t like that because I rather use my time to shoot awesome pictures. 😉


TTL

Stands for through the lens. Which means that the camera measures through the lens how much flashlight and zoom is needed and communicates that to the flash. so you won’t have to do anything. Of course, you can still tell the flash that you need more or less light. Flashes that support TTL are usually more expensive and support manual mode as well.

However, the first flash I bought was a manual one and it was a pain, but it still worked great. So what I want to say is that if your budget is tight you don’t need TTL, but it is definitely worth the money.


HSS

Stands for High-Speed Synchronisation. A flash without HSS will only flash up to 1/125 of a sec. After that you will need HSS to fire 3 flashes super fast I could explain you why, but you could also have a look at the little picture below. 🙂 With HSS you will be able to sync. your flash up to 1/8000 of a sec. If your camera can go that far.

HSS is Useful When:

  1. you try to freeze something fast moving like a water drop or a kickboxer.
  2. When you try to flash in daylight. When you combine the sun and a flash you have a lot of light. And you will have to compensate that. You probably don’t want to shoot with f/22 so you need a higher shutter speed like 1/2000 of a sec.
  3. When you use multiple flashes because you will have a lot of light there too.

Of course, HSS will cost you extra… as always… also, flashes that have HSS usually support TTL as well. In my opinion, HSS is a feature that I love and often us in daylight. However, if you are on a tight budget you can compensate the problem with an ND filter, which works great when you have a good one. There is no way that you can use a flash effectively for fast moving objects though.


How Fast Can It Recycle?

The cycle time of a flash is basically the reload time it needs. A flash doesn’t take its energy directly from the batteries, because they would break and your flash would burn down. So what a flash does is taking the energy slowly from the batteries and stores it in a capacitator which can release a lot of energy super quick.

Why Am I Telling You This?

Because depending on how quick your flash is able to reload the faster you can shot with it. Which is important when you shoot a lot of sport or other things where you need to shoot in burst a lot. The recycle time also depends on how strong the flash fires.


Ok, let’s get to the reviews 🙂

Let’s start with my favorite:

Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II

  • Quality:8/10
  • Cost/Performance: 9/10
  • Price:$119
  • Best Place to buy: Amazon.com

camera flash buying guide

The Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II is for everybody who already knows that they will use their speedlight. I know it is more expensive than the other one but, It also has all the features you could possibly have in a flash. The YN600EX-RT is the direct competition or a copy of the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT which is a little bit better but also costs $479.

camera flash buying guide

 

Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II for Canon vs. Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT Comparison

Technical Specifications

Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II  Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT
E-TTL / E-TTL II, Manual yes yes
HSS yes yes
Vari-Power 1/1 – 1/128 1/1 – 1/128
Bounce Head -7 to +90° -7 to +90°
Swivel Head 360° 360°
Focus Assist Beam Yes Yes
Wireless Operation Method: RF

Distance: Up to 328.08′ /100m

Method: Optical pulse

Distance: Up to 82.02′ / 25 m

Method: RF

Distance: Up to 98.43′ / 30 m

Method: Optical pulse

Distance: Up to 49.21′ / 15 m

Wireless Communication Channels 15 Channels 4 Channels
Wireless Groups 5 Groups 5 Groups
Flash-ready Indicator yes yes
Compensation -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps) -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/2 and 1/3 EV steps)
Flash Duration 1/200 – 1/20000 sec 0.0018 – 0.0023 sec @ Full Power
Recycle Time Approximately 3 Seconds Approximately 0.1 – 5.5 Seconds
Power Source 4x AA Alkaline, Rechargeable NiMH Batteries Or Camera Flash Pack 4x AA Alkaline, Lithium, Rechargeable NiMH Batteries or Camera Flash Pack
Zoom Head Full Frame: 20 – 200 mm Full Frame: 20 – 200 mm
Price $119 $479

So you can see there is a slight difference in the technical specifications as well as in build quality. The Canon version will make more sense if you use it for professional work or when you need fast flashing. Plus it has the canon Guarantee. As a beginner, there is no way that you need to spend $360 more.

Should You Buy The 600EX-RT II As a Beginner?

Yes and no. If you have enough money why not go for the YN600EX-RT II. $119 isn’t that much money plus you have all the freedom you could possibly have to experiment with all those features. However, if you are just thinking about maybe trying flashes and don’t have the money for it, this flash should be a big NOO. 🙂


YONGNUO Flash Trigger YN-E3-RT

 

If you decide to buy the Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II, you will need the YONGNUO trigger flash trigger YN-E3-RT if you want to use it off camera. It is very well built and works flawlessly. It has a range of 100M supports every function of the YN600EX-RT II. 

camera flash buying guide

 


Yongnuo YN560-III

  • Quality:8/10
  • Cost/Performance: 8/10
  • Price:
  • Best Place to buy: Amazon.com

The Yongnuo YN560-III is a good flash for beginners on a budget or just don’t want to spend a lot of money on something they don’t know how to use yet. It does the job and costs about $100 less than the YN600EX-RT II. You will have to make some compromises in terms of TTL or HSS which is said.

camera flash buying guide

If you want to use this flash off camera without an optical trigger (which I would recommend since it is manual) you will need the Yongnuo YN560-TX-III Wireless Flash Controller. It can control up to 3 flashes. And is well build.

Yongnuo YN560-III or Yongnuo YN560-IV

I’m also aware that there is a newer version called YN560-IV. It has the advantage that it can master other flashes. In other words, it can replace the YN560-TX-III Wireless Flash Controller, but at the same time, it forces you to keep one flash on your camera.


Conclusion

I did not show you any Canon, Nikon or other big brand flashes. I know 🙂 The reason is that all these flashes are for beginners:)  and to be honest, I do not see one single reason why either of these big brand flashes would make sense for a beginner Since the most basic one from Canon already costs $169. I also know that there are some cheaper flashes out that claim to be able to do HSS and TTL and what not. The reason I didn’t include them in this review is that they really lack on quality, durability, and reliability. Even if you don’t buy one from those flashes above I hope you will keep the build quality in mind.


That’s already it with my Camera Flash Buying Guide. I hope you found know now what you have to look for when buying a flash or even have found your flash. If you have any questions or opinions please let me know in the comments and I will get to you as quick as possible.

Cheers Aaron.

 

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4 thoughts on “Camera Flash Buying Guide – For Beginners

  1. TJSchlenker

    TTL… HSS… Recycling… all terms I did not know, so… thanks for the education!

    I do video a lot so some of these terms are still applicable.

    One thing I didn’t get from your graphic that I’d like to see though is… what is the difference in photo quality between using HSS and not using it? How does the finished shot look different??

    It’d be great, for example, to see a shot that had a normal flash and then one that used an HSS flash. That way we can see the difference and decide if it’s worth it.

    Thanks, Aaron!

    1. Aaron

      Hey TJ, Thank you for the nice feedback. The difference between HSS and no HSS is that you won’t be able to shoot over 1/125th of a sec. so the picture example would be: 1. Black picture because there was no flash firing in time at 1/2000th of a sec. and a normal exposed picture which had HSS switched on. 🙂 I hope that cleared things up for you. 🙂

  2. Spot On Website!

    Aaron,

    Thanks for educating me on this aspect of photography. I am a true newbie and it can be very confusing.

    I certainly was not aware of the differences between TTL and Manual mode and HSS, appreciate the time you took to explain.

    I am definitely considering your suggestion for theYongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT II combined with YONGNUO Flash Trigger YN-E3-RT.

    Thank you

    1. Aaron

      Hey, Thanks for the great feedback! The YN600EX-RT II is a good decision. I have used it and it worked great for me. I’m glad that I was able to help you out.

      Cheers Aaron..

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