Why do I need an external flash?

In some shooting conditions, the flash is often much more important than the camera itself and the lens. Whatever the super-fast lens, or whatever super high ISO values ​​the camera allows, it’s often impossible to achieve a good photo without a flash.

Why do I need an external flash?

Why do I need an external flash?

I most often work with the Nikon system, because the examples here I will give exclusively for Nikon cameras / flashes, but in the general case the same applies to other systems.

Almost all modern interchangeable-lens cameras have a built-in flash, often referred to as'flash frog', more often just'built-in'. All modern interchangeable-lens cameras can use an additional flash, this flash is usually called 'external', less often 'system'.

An external flash is installed in a special connector called 'shoe' or 'hot shoe'. Usually when buying a camera, the shoe for an external flash is covered with a special plastic cap. The shoe has special contacts, with the help of which there is a 'communication' between the camera and the system flash. When attaching an external flash to the camera, it is fixed with a special lock.

This is how you can shoot with an external flash

This is how you can shoot with an external flash using the reflection of the flash light from the walls and ceiling. Image from instructions for SB-910

The general principle of the built-in and external flash is the same, but there are huge differences in the details. About the automatic flash mode, which is often called TTLcan read here. With an external flash, you can do such things that are not available when using the built-in flash:

  1. Can perform burst shooting. With an external flash, you can shoot in series. The built-in flash on most cameras only works in standard single-frame mode. This means that with the built-in flash, you can only take one picture at a time. For serious shooting, especially for reporting, the ability to shoot in series is very, very important.
  2. External flash is much more powerful than the built-in. For example, guide number (power) built-in flash on the camera Nikon D5100 is 13, and guide number outbreaks SB-700 is 28. Speaking roughly, the more guide number - all the better.
  3. External flash almost always recharges fasterthan the built-in. Also, an external flash usually has a larger threshold for overheating. This means that the external flash can fire much more times before overheating and turning off. Not all external flash units have overheating sensors. You can find out about overheating in the Nikon flash review. SB-910. Usually, the built-in flash can do 10-20 fires (depending on the pulse power) before it goes into standby mode.
  4. Normal external flash has zoom. Yes, an external flash can adjust to the focal length of the lens. The external flash lamp has the ability to zoom to fit the desired lens. For example, my flash SB-900 can zoom from 10 to 200mm. Using the zoom provides the most accurate dosing of light and maximizes the radius of the flash. The built-in flash on the camera does not have a zoom and is always fixed at a specific wide-angle position. With the built-in flash and wide-angle lens, shadows may appear in photographs from the lens itself.
  5. One can rotate the flash head in different directions. Usually an external flash consists of two parts, one of them is movable. The moving part of the flash is called the 'head'. Rotating the flash head can be used flash light reflection from walls, ceilings, etc. for softer, more natural lighting. Also, by rotating the head, you can make a low tilt for macro shooting. The built-in flash can only work in head-on mode. In this mode, the built-in flash produces a 'hard' light that is of little use for normal shooting of people.
  6. External flash does not require the use of red-eye reduction... The built-in flash almost always produces a red-eye effect when shooting people. To get rid of this effect using the built-in flash, you need to use the special flash mode for red-eye reduction. In this mode, the built-in flash makes many special preflashes, which is not always convenient. An external flash can operate normally without red-eye.
  7. External flash can use additional diffuser nozzles... This mainly concerns the diffuser card, which is often referred to as 'burdock' and diffuser hoods. If there is no card on the external flash, then it can be made like this. The built-in flash does not support original diffusers, there are only third-party nozzles, or home-made nozzles. How to make such a nozzle-diffuser can find here и here.
  8. No need to worry about charging battery cameras, because the external flash uses its own power sources. Usually these are AA batteries. The built-in flash is powered by the battery of the camera itself.
  9. External flash can be used separately from the camera in remote control mode. This means that you can take an external flash, put it in a certain place, and when shooting it can automatically fire and highlight your subject from the side / back \ from any place at any angle. This is a very, very useful feature, you can use it to create creative lighting systems with one or several flashes. I advise you to see how it works here here.
  10. If there are several external flashes, then one of them mounted on the camera, can serve as a flash master for remote control of other external flashes. Not all built-in and not all external flashes can work in this mode, in more detail here.
That's how you can shoot with a diffuser

This is how you can shoot with a diffuser to create soft light. Image from instructions for SB-910

Can be used some very useful extras. Usually these are subtle settings with difficulties for understanding:

  • An external flash may give focus backlight using a special lamp on the external flash. For example, for Nikon flashes, you can read about it. here и here.
  • External flash enables using automatic metering modeand when using the flash without using preflashes. The built-in flash of most cameras does not. Why do you need this mode, you can read here, and how the mode itself works, you can find out here.
  • External flash makes it possible to use quick sync... With some external flashes, you can take pictures even at shutter speeds equal to 1 \ 8000 seconds. But not a single built-in flash can work at shutter speeds shorter than 1 \ 500 second. This is a very significant drawback of built-in flashes. Sync with short shutter speed very very useful when photographing with flash during the day. In fact, flash is sometimes more important during the day than in low light conditions. You can find out about using the flash during the day and about fast synchronization. here.
  • External flash may use additional special color filters with automatic recognition. This allows you to achieve the right white balance, create an interesting color tone in the photo and much more. You can read more about filters here.
  • External flash for more control light filling. For example, lighting patterns CW, STD, EVEN are responsible for this in the Nikon flash. An external flash may have special modes for backlight shooting, such as BL mode for Nikon.
  • Many professional cameras are simply not have built-in flash, there it’s not cool, but you have to use an external flash. If you do not believe that expensive cameras do not have a built-in flash, you can look at the reviews Nikon D1x, D2x, D3sCanon 5D etc.
  • When using the built-in flash with super wide-angle lenses, a shadow from the lens appears in photos. With external flash the shadow from the lens appears much less often.
  • External flash for macro photography Can be attached directly to the lens and illuminate small objects as closely as possible. An example of such a flash is Meike Led Macro Ring Flash FC 100.
  • Some advanced external flash units, such as Nissin MG8000 Extreme have an extra small flash (extra flash on an external flash). Such a flash is useful in many specific cases, avoiding unwanted shadows.
  • Some external flash units may use additional battery packs that prevent the flash from being recharged for a very long time.
  • The external flash has shorter pulse duration at minimum power than the built-in. It is important for freezing shooting objects.
  • Some external flashes can be used cross-systemically, for example Nikon flash on Canon cameras.
  • Some external flash units can operate in stroboscope mode, for more information see 'RPT mode'.
  • Some flashes have a built-in radio synchronizer to control other external flashes (for example, YN560 IV). The built-in flash does not have this ability.
  • Some flashes have additional lamps to illuminate the scene with constant light, this is important, for example, during movie shooting.
  • A good external flash usually has more million very fine settings and features. These include work with studio synchronizers, indication of the working distance, fine tuning of the power of the test pulse, a smaller and more accurate step of changing the power, etc. In this article, I simply physically cannot post all the features of an external flash.
An ordinary card is an example of use. Image from instructions for SB-910

A conventional flash diffuser on an external flash is an example of use. Picture from the instructions for SB-910

Disadvantages of an external flash:

  1. Good external flash it's expensive. Usually, the functional / price ratio for all flashes is very well traced.
  2. The external flash has big weight. For example, mine SB-900 with batteries weighs more than 500 grams. Hands when working with a camera on which an external flash is mounted get tired faster. External flash requires a lot of effort during transportation, takes place in a case.
  3. The external flash also breaks. This mainly concerns the mechanical parts of the flash, the flash lamp, and the hot shoe. During my practice, on many flashes, the battery compartment covers broke off, the lamps burned, the glass melted, and the zoom wedges.
  4. Some external flashes are very noisy due to the zoom adjustment. For example, my flash SB-900 It makes a lot of noise when turned on, initialized, and when zooming.

 Personal experience

Personally, I can not imagine my work as a photographer without an external flash. When I started taking pictures, from a professional technique, I had only my flash SB-900Everything else was amateur and I am very glad that I spent money for a good external flash. For me, in an external flash, the ability to reflect light from the ceiling, tremendous power, fast recharge, additional focus lighting, and, of course, the remote control system are very important. Usually they write only about the advantage of an external flash in terms of light reflection, but there are a lot of advantages of an external flash over an internal flash, some are described in this article. In fact, the difference between the built-in and external flash can be understood only with the direct use of the first and second. By the way, in the instructions for the flash you can find all the necessary information on setting up and shooting, for example, I just took the black and white pictures for this article from the instructions for my Nikon SB-910. Also, I do not recommend paying much attention when choosing a flash. flash power.

From personal experience, I’ll add that you need to get used to the work of an external flash, with its help it is not immediately possible to get masterpiece photos. If the quality of photos with the built-in flash is fine, then it’s too early to buy an external flash. By the way, external flashes are very different in their functionality and to choose the right option, too, you need to work hard. My recommendations for choosing an external flash for modern cameras Nikon will find here. If it’s still difficult to understand whether you need an external flash, I advise you to take it from your friends, or find a person who can borrow a flash for a couple of days.

Comments on this post do not require registration. Anyone can leave a comment. Many different photographic equipment can be found on AliExpress.

Creative lighting system from several external flashes controlled by an external flash on the camera. Image from instructions for SB-910

Creative lighting system from several external flashes controlled by an external flash on the camera. Image from instructions for SB-910


Someone wrote on my blog that you first need to decide on the light, or at least with an external flash, and then choose a camera and lenses - this is a pretty good approach for serious work. An external flash is very useful tool for the photographer. But if there is no strong need for an external flash, for example, for amateur shooting, then You can do with the built-in flash.

Material prepared Arkady Shapoval. Training/Consultations | Youtube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Telegram

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Comments: 161, on the topic: Why do I need an external flash?

  • Stas

    I fully support this article, an external flash is a thing that helps us in our favorite business!

  • Maksim

    cool !!! thanks for the article Arkady, very useful.

  • Oleg Leonov

    Hello Arkady! I tried to use the SB-910 as a slave, it does not always work correctly because either interfering light sources or interference on the way from the carcass to the flash, or just the distance, interfere, so I came to the conclusion that you need a synchronizer. I would like to support TTL and several remote flashes. Question: I still have an old SB-27 (it does not support TTL on digital cameras), will it support TTL as a slave with a synchronizer? Thanks in advance!!

    • Arkady Shapoval

      I did not work with Sb-27, it is difficult for me to answer this question.

    • Liliyafreedom

      Arkady tell me pliiz on Nikon 5100 olympus FL-36 flash is suitable? thanks)))

      • Arkady Shapoval

        As far as I know, this flash is not designed to work with Nikon cameras.

      • Artur

        Na Nikon vspishka ot Olympus? -Zapusk vozmozhen no tolko v ruchnom mode.

  • Edo

    “… The built-in flash only supports homemade attachments…” Is it here: https://radojuva.com.ua/2012/12/rasseivateli-vstroennuyu-vspyshku/ described homemade nozzle?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      The nozzle is described not self-made, but it has no native analogues, that is, by default the built-in flash is not designed by the manufacturer to work with such devices.

  • Dima

    Hi, could you do a mini review / training on using 2 flashes at home to create a mini photo studio. I would be very grateful.

    • Alexander

      I will support the request, if not difficult, Arkady, it would be interesting to read your thoughts on this subject

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Oh, I’ll try.

  • Andrei

    Good afternoon, Arkady. I took Nikon d5100, by the way, thanks to you, I’m very pleased, and now I’m thinking about an external flash, I’m leaning towards the Sat-700, I would like to receive the advice of a pro. Thank you for your articles, I read it with great pleasure))

    • Arkady Shapoval

      For fans I recommend Sb-400 \ 600 \ 700 in order of increasing priority.

  • Taras

    May SB-700, there are one of the shortest (non-stationary) sleeps on the planet. Everyone who fixes the Rajah with a handful of sleeps and then thinks about "Oktivi." With light, the brightness of the fold changes to a different plane (IMHO).

    • Vadim

      You are carrying some kind of heresy) a flash by beginners is in demand much less than lenses.

      • Taras

        If people become tolerant ..? Bazhaєte zaprechit ..? So and say: “On my thought, blah blah blah blah ..” I don’t bear anything, I don’t impose on anyone! Bachite, I specified there: "on my modestly perekonannya".

        • Arkady Shapoval

          I still hope that it will :)

    • Stas

      Let's who of what nationality will write in their own language))) it will turn out to be a kampot (Tatar, German, Kazakh, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Uighur, Bashkir, etc.) write as the author of his reference point. Thank you Arkady for your efforts ... I have kids 9 and 11 years old, so they have a laptop on their table so your site does not close, they read it in length and across)) they study everything ... thanks.

      • Arkady Shapoval

        For me this is unexpected :)

  • Andrшi bulai

    Who has Sigma SD cameras ... has no right not to have an external flash

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Sigma takes away human rights :)

  • Arkady Shapoval

    For amateur shooting SB-400 \ 600 will be just right. If you have finances, then 700tk is good for your money.

  • Sergei

    I would be grateful if you can compare the Yongnuo YN-468 mark II for Nikon (~ 80 c.u.) with the top Nikon puffs and (or) with other manufacturers. I have been using the last one for about a year and would like to see the difference. Thank you in advance.
    ZY In fact, I did not find a single normal comparative review. There are no comparative photos, some performance characteristics - but these are words :).

    • Arkady Shapoval

      More than sure that the top native Nikon flashes are much more convenient for the Yongnuo YN-468 mark II, which is only worth the method of mounting on the camera.

      • Sergei

        However, there are no problems with the mount and the pictures are taken and the TTL works. But it’s interesting to see the difference between the pictures, and then again the words.

        • Arkady Shapoval

          I mean that with frequent shooting and constant installation / removal of a flash with a washer mount, extra time / nerves are wasted. I had several outbreaks with such a mount, it really complicates the use of outbreaks, in the same way I am very skeptical about the very issue of comparing my flagship flash and some kind of cheap counterpart. This article indicates a number of specific functions that advanced flashes have, whether Yongnuo YN-468 mark II has them, if not, then this flash costs exactly as much as it costs.

          • Sergei

            In general, it was not the flash mount that was interested in, but its work. Well, okay, since there is nothing to say….

            “… This article indicates a number of specific functions that have advanced flashes…” which increase the quality of photos by 10%, use them 2-3%, the demand is when buying 1 time (out of interest) and when writing an article 1 time, and the cost differs more than 5 times.
            After the purchase, he compared both, and the owner of 900 was surprised and puzzled. Pictures were not saved, tested on the owner’s camera 900. :) Sorry, this was partly a provocation for adequacy.
            I'm not trying to claim that it is suitable for reporting or weddings, but for shooting in ordinary life it is quite suitable and the required functionality is quite adequate.

          • Arkady Shapoval

            Bright thoughts are not for provocation.

  • Siberian

    "My SB-900 can zoom from 10mm to 200mm."
    From 17 to 200? With diffuser from 14.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      No. When using the SB-900 on DX cameras and an extended diffuser, the flash zoom reaches 10mm.

  • Gennady

    Thank you very much for the interesting information and schematics)

  • Ruslan

    Acquired Metz af 52, what can you say about its quality and productivity? Do I supposedly believe German quality because I chose between Canon 430 ex2 and Metz af52! Flash in conjunction with 1100d kenon will working with mets be worse than with kenon?

  • Maksim

    Thank you Arkady for your work, I read all the articles with pleasure.
    I would like to see material on shooting video on the camera, and the camera settings when recording, few people know that even exposure plays a role (and it would seem ..) in this.

  • Eugene

    Today I found in the closet a flash of SEF-3m from Zenith. Is there any way to sync it with the Nikon D5100?

  • newmaster

    I have a nikon d3100Viltrox and a JY620 Flash Speedlight. How does the zoom work and how do I adjust the zoom?

  • Sergei

    It turns out the light traps of the flashes are triggered by a conventional remote television remote control! In how. And I could not understand what caused the spontaneous tripping. Thanks to Yaroslav for the bright thought.

  • Leonid

    Arkady good afternoon! Have you ever worked with Sigma? I'd love to see a review of the Sigma 610SU.

  • Novel

    Arkady, good evening! Like everyone, I thank you for the comprehensive and very accessible information about the outbreaks!
    I am new to photography, just starting to learn. The goal is personal self-satisfaction, not making a profit.
    Recently I realized that an external flash is my absolute must. But, unfortunately, I'm not ready yet for a hobby to allocate another 150-300 dollars for the flash. I found a tempting option at a flea market: a used flash from a film camera. Nikon SB-24 flash. I am interested in your opinion as an experienced photographer and, for sure, overlapped with this device. Do you think I should take it? How will it be difficult to work with her? Ilm wait for now and then buy a normal flash. I plan to use it with my Nikon D60 camera. I liked this option, because the owner of the flash asks for only $ 30. Yes, in the future I will probably get a more worthy flash, but for now this question is of interest. Thanks in advance.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      It didn’t work with the SB-24, as far as I know, the TTL mode on the D60 will not work, you will have to use the manual mode. In more detail, it is difficult for me to answer this question. I think other readers of Radozhiva will add more comprehensive information here.

  • Alexey

    Arkady, good afternoon!
    I am interested in portrait shooting, with little experience, I have a Nikon D7000, a whale lens 18-105, the question is: to get more experience in portrait shooting, it is better to buy a flash (SB-910) or a fast lens (NIKON Nikkor AF-S 50mm F1.4G)? Thanks for the answer.

  • Boris

    Arkady, good afternoon! I, like Alexei, are worried about a similar question - what is more appropriate for amateur photography to initially purchase a flash, or a fast lens? There is a NIKON D3200 with a lens 18-105. At the cost of the purchase costs are approximately the same (meaning Nikon SB- 700 and a NIKON AF-S 35mmF 1.8G lens), but which option is better to stop? I wanted to invest money properly to produce high-quality images. Thank you for the answer.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      The question is complex. I would take a lens and then a flash.

  • Anatoly

    My Nikon D-40 internal flash does not work. Worn in two workshops, could not be repaired. What advise in this case?

  • Alex

    SW Arkady, I'm a beginner and I was intrigued by the low price of the NISSIN Di466 flash. The description says the following:
    “The NISSIN Di466 is designed for DSLR cameras using the latest TTL technology. It is I-TTL compatible for Nikon digital cameras. The Di466 has many useful features, it can be used wirelessly, the flash head can be tilted 90 degrees, extended TTL, auto zoom and much more. Flash control system: I-TTL (for Nikon) Automatic shutdown after 30 minutes. Guide number: 33m (ISO 100). Dimensions 67x100x105mm Weight: 230g without batteries ”.
    What do you think with what original Nikon flash it can be compared? And what are her pros / cons.
    Thank you.

  • Alex

    I bought an SB-700, and somehow it was not interesting to wait for an answer to my question.

  • anonym


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English-version of this article https://radojuva.com/en/2013/02/flash-external-for-what/comment-page-1/

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