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

Add a comment:



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

  • Vik

    Very annoying phrase "you can read here"

    • Alex

      Drink sedative in this case

      How else do you see the organization of the resource? Throw everything into one endless text?
      In any camera manual, there are innumerable links to the pages of the same manual.
      You should thank Arkady for the fact that he is not too lazy to insert links to his other articles in the text. This is a separate painstaking work for your own good.

      When you read posts with indignation or dissatisfaction with the author, the indignation overwhelms him from the realization that people can be ungrateful.

    • Lynx

      thats OK for me!

  • Yeri

    Hello Arkady! you have very useful articles, creative success to you! I have one question for you about the SB-910. The fact is that when I shoot with a flash of a banquet (in a restaurant), shooting a dance (fast movement) often turns out to be at least a little, but blurry. In principle, I'm not a beginner, the Nikon D600 camera with a battery pack. During the dance, I set the shutter speed to 200-250, but despite this, some frames are blurred. Familiar photographers say that this is possible due to the setting of an external flash. What setting do you put on your flash? Thank you for your reply, waiting for your advice.

    • Lynx

      to “freeze” the dancers raise to a minimum of 1/400 and enable “high speed sync” on the flash and camera.

  • anonym

    Hello! Please tell me for Nikond3100 which external flash is suitable for professional photos. Thank you in advance.

    • Lynx


      • Nick

        Wow! )))

    • Eugene

      for "professional photos" needs more besides flash, head, hands, and maaaaaaaaaaaaaalenkaya a button on your camera called a masterpiece .... obviously you forgot to put it .... and without it PROFESSIONAL gallery alas you can not see

  • R'RёS,R ° F "RёR№

    Please tell me, I like to shoot in A priority aperture mode, I bought an external puff, put a 2,8 aperture, for example, iso auto, the camera selects shutter speed 1/10, 1/60 comes out with a stir, it’s very sad that it turns out that you need to shoot in T priority excerpts, but at the same time, the ability to control the depth of field disappears, can someone say something about this ??

    • Nick

      All this is strange .. maybe you have a zoom of 70-200 and it is far enough?

    • Igor

      With a flash, I advise you to turn off auto-ISO, set the mode to manual. Then the flash will adjust the exposure with its power. ISO, shutter speed and aperture can be shown-muted background.

  • Julia

    Arkady, good afternoon!
    I have a Nikon D90 camera, I purchased a Nissin Di866 Professional Mark II flash. Before that, I took pictures without a flash, I realized the inconsistency of this process, I want to learn how to take pictures with a flash, it was not so simple. Faced a strange phenomenon: when I switch to TTL mode, the first photo turns out to be adequately lit, and the second is very darkened. and so on time. Please tell me what it can be and how it can be fixed. thank you in advance!

    • Andrey Super

      Perhaps it does not have time to recharge. In general, they contacted the Chinese guan in vain, without any problems they had never worked!

      • NE

        Nissin is Japan. All I have from Nissin is things worthy

        • Andrey Super

          There is no need to advertise Chinese guano and deceive people!

  • Bludov

    Arkady, hello!
    Your articles are very high quality and written in an accessible language, Thank you !!!
    I emphasized a lot of useful things for myself from this resource. Now I check daily for new articles.
    Please answer, can the Sat 700 be ignited in the main fire from the built-in (d3200) in su-4 mode? If so, how do I set the flash?
    Thank you in advance!

  • Victor

    Arkady, hello!
    Please help me, there is a choice between the Canon Speedlite 430EX II and the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, use at home, sometimes weddings, family parties, taking pictures outdoors, speaking at the child’s school.
    I’ve been racking my brains for 2 months already, in the 600th it’s more powerful and dust-proof, moisture-proof, or is it not necessary to get hung up on this? Your opinion is interesting, thanks in advance

  • Dmitriy

    Hello. I have a Nikon D5100. I was going to buy a flash, but found out that there was no quick sync mode on it. I also heard that there is a way to synchronize without this function, and take pictures at short shutter speeds. Is it so? And if not, what kind of flash would you recommend?

  • Igor

    A friend asked to shoot his son’s wedding. The problem is that I have a nissin di466 flash, it’s quite enough for a house, but for such celebrations, at least there isn’t enough a swivel head for the street FP mode. For a one-time job, I would not want to buy an expensive native flash. While I see the solution:
    -Ordered an extension cord for a flash with IR illumination;
    -Instead of FP mode use a reflector.
    What do you think will help solve the problem or pampering all this?

    • Igor

      The problem disappeared, they found another.

  • alpex

    Good afternoon.
    I really like your blog, thanks for the useful information. Please help me deal with outbreaks. I have an Olympus e-620 (by the way, do you have any desire to test it? I entered your real Email, if anything - write).
    Native flashes are indecently expensive for a professional photographer. I found the PRESENTA D 930 TCA flash at a very attractive price. I know you don’t use Olympus photographic equipment, so the question is very general: how acceptable is it convenient for a layman to work with the flash in manual mode?

  • Ruslan

    I have a puff of Nikon 910. A very high-quality thing. Allows you to take pictures on any focal and in any conditions, the only minus is no turn to portrait mode as on one of Sony, I do not remember the model unfortunately. This disadvantage can be defeated by using special rails, but it is not as convenient as we would like. In general, without an external flash, indoor shooting turns into some kind of perversion. I forgot what red eyes are (if you don’t peel bluntly in the forehead), the backlight area and direction are adjusted, I use it with a small softbox.

  • Alexander

    Good day! Please tell me what settings to make so that the NIKON SPEEDLIGHT SB-800 flash turns on separately from the camera? I have a D-80. Thanks in advance.

  • Vyacheslav

    Good day !
    Which Nikon (FX) cameras can remotely set fire to external flashes without turning on the built-in?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      using the built-in, not participating in the general exposure - D700, D600, D610, D800, D800E.

  • Alexey

    A couple of little questions. 1) When trying to shoot with a series of D7100 / SB910 in high mode. sync. (1/2500) every second image is dark, apparently flash. did not work - this is because did not have time to recharge or something else? 2) The flash when working in the ceiling / wall tracks the fact of rotation itself, but does not make corrections in force. In this case, in the general case, add the flash correction within the stop yourself - is it logical?

  • Alexey

    BUT ?

  • Fox

    Hello, I have a Nikon 5100 camera, I really need your advice, because I am faced with a choice, my son will start tournaments, so I don’t know what to choose for shooting on the move and indoors, so that the photos are more vibrant and vibrant, which is better to take a 50 1.8g lens, or sb 700 flash

  • Fox

    Flash for 18-105 lens, thanks

    • Oleg

      And by the way, the rooms are different, as well as the lighting in them. If you are available to move in the hall behind your son in good light, then I would recommend poltiynik, so you will get better and sharper pictures without a flash. If you sit on benches at a great distance, then you and puff will not help and poltiynik will not remove your child close, there are only zoom glass to help you. In general, you do not have much information that is sensible to give you an answer.

  • Oleg

    you already have a lens, so it's best to have a flash too! Given that your lens is dark, then the puff will be appropriate.

  • Shamil

    What about the Raylab TTL45 flash, an inexpensive and functional flash, it works perfectly with the d 90, would you like your opinion ?? Thank you in advance!

  • Maria

    Hello, I wanted to ask. I got my hands on a Soviet flash "Photon" 220 V. I am using a Canon 50d. I did not put it on the hot shoe, but I connected it to the PC synchronization connector. It worked well. No problems, nothing burned. I checked, the instructions say that you cannot connect an external flash more than 250 V to the connector, but this is 220 V. Then I started reading and was scared. Everyone writes that the camera can burn out. Is it safe to use by attaching the "Photon" flash to the sync connector. thanks

  • Dude

    Arkady, tell me, I have a Nikon D3000 and a fix of 35 1.8 sv power, I started taking photos for money, I think I’ll upgrade a little and don’t know which is better? buy flash and glass or carcass and glass, or carcass and flash, I take pictures of weddings and portraits on a budget there are only 9 thousand UAH, Thank you in advance

    • Eugene

      If there is no puff, then it would be better to spend on puff and a carcass ... but you can hardly get into 9000 .... carcass upgrade is 15-20k and puff 6-10k….

  • Benjamin

    Arkady, I want to note some more properties of the YN565EX i-TTL flashes
    On the camera itself, there is no way to switch the standard i-TTL mode to the balanced i-TTL BL mode. However, this can be done by changing the metering mode on the camera itself.
    When spot metering is set on the camera, the flash will be in standard i-TTL mode, when the camera is set to center-weighted and matrix metering modes, the flash will be in i-TTL BL balanced mode.
    In addition, it is interesting that in the Nikon proprietary software ViewNX2 EXIF ​​defines this flash as ... SB-800.

  • Maksim

    Good afternoon Arkady. I'm interested in using flash in conjunction with the D5100. I look in the direction of the original Nikon flashes and I can not decide which one to take. If for example I take the SB-910, can I use all its potential with my camera?

    • Lynx

      Better seven hundred, nine hundred with a lump is great for younger cameras, and unnecessarily

    • Eugene

      sb700 does not overheat in general ... 910 needs a smoke ... for 700 non-stop 100+ photos were taken in a row for the test and everything is ok ...

  • Dmitriy

    Arkady, good day to you !!
    Your articles are very informative, links help a lot !!
    The question arose, I have a Nikon D7100 with a WHale lens, I want something smaller, for portraits, well, I already like to click my car)), a child was born, can you advise something from the lenses ??? maybe there is something wide-angle ??! ! (not very expensive) Thanks in advance

    • Lynx

      for a child and full-length portraits - 35 / 1,8G is the most convenient and simple.
      on the secondary 5-7 thousand rubles.

  • lech

    it’s quite possible to make such a portrait with two remote sb-700s with the cheapest Chinese grids for about 10 minutes. It is desirable that the room be dark.

    • NE

      Why so bad about the SB-700

Add a comment

Copyright © Radojuva.com. Blog author - Photographer in Kiev Arkady Shapoval. 2009-2023

English-version of this article https://radojuva.com/en/2013/02/flash-external-for-what/comment-page-2/

Versión en español de este artículo https://radojuva.com/es/2013/02/flash-external-for-what/comment-page-2/