The Best On-Camera Flash

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The Best On-Camera Flash

The best on-camera flash is more powerful, offers greater control, and facilitates more artistic and creative approaches to lighting than your standard built-in camera flash. No wonder the on-camera flash, or strobe, is one of the most indispensable accessories a photographer can buy.

But how do you know which flash is right for you? If you own a camera from a big-name manufacturer (e.g., Canon or Nikon), should you buy a flash from them? What about an inexpensive third-party on-camera flash? The appeal of a cost-efficient flash is certainly tough to ignore, especially for fledgling photographers or anyone on a budget. And what about those "high-end" third-party options? Is it smart to pony up such a sizable amount of cash for a strobe that wasn't made by your camera's manufacturer?

To help you choose the best on-camera flash for all your lighting needs, we've put together a list of some of our favorites. Regardless of gear, skill level, or budget, we've got a model that's right for you.

– Best On-Camera Flash for Canon: Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT
– Best On-Camera Flash for Nikon: Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight
– Best On-Camera Flash for Sony: Sony HVL-F32M External Flash
– Best Overall Third-Party On-Camera Flash: Westcott FJ80 II Speedlight
– Best Budget Third-Party On-Camera Flash: Bolt VD-420 Manual Flash
– Best Compact Third-Party On-Camera Flash: LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II

Best On-Camera Flash for Canon: Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Kicking off our list we have Canon’s Speedlite 430EX III-RT. This flash has seen many iterations over the years, but Canon seems to have hit a sweet spot with its radio flash capabilities, overall power, and price.

Like its predecessor, this E-TTL / E-TTL II unit has a guide number of 141' at ISO 100 and 105mm. While its auto zoom range is 24-105mm, users can extend their reach to 14mm with the handy slide-out wide-angle diffuser. It boasts a fast recycle time of 0.1 to 3.5 seconds that can be shortened to 2.5 seconds with Quick Mode. Fans of older models will recognize and appreciate the wider LCD screen, improved on-board controls, and broader rotation adjustments in the 430EX III.

Upgrades aside, this flash’s most notable characteristic is its RF wireless connectivity. The 430EX III enjoys spectacular off-camera range without being tethered to line-of-sight requirements, making it a great addition to multi-light RF configurations and a game-changer in event photography. This flash will also work as either a slave or a master, depending on the type of transmission. Photographers looking to utilize the older 430EX and 430EX II models can add the 430EX III to the mix as an optical slave.

Of course, Canon has kitted this bad boy with several useful accessories, including a mini stand, a diffusion dome, and a color balance filter that is useful when shooting indoors. Offering fantastic functionality, impressive speed, and a variety of custom functions, the 430EX III could very well become your favorite Canon camera flash.

Best On-Camera Flash for Nikon: Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight

Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight

If you are a Nikon user seeking an everyday flash, you might consider the SB-700 AF Speedlight. This well-made flash is packed with useful features and accessories to cover all the bases of a professional photographer.

This i-TTL flash has a guide number of 92' at ISO 100 and 35mm. While its auto zoom range is 24-120mm, users can extend their reach to 12mm with the built-in wide-angle diffusion panel. It also features generous swivel and bounce adjustments, allowing users to tilt down to -7° and up to 90°, as well as rotate left or right 180°, for complete 360° coverage. Powered by four AA batteries, the SB-700 recycles between 2.5-3.5 seconds, depending on the type of battery.

We like this Nikon speedlight because of its speed, customization opportunities, and practicality. It can be configured as a remote to control additional Nikon flashes, making it a favorable addition in multi-flash setups.

Creatives are afforded eleven custom settings and can choose from a variety of sync modes and illumination patterns to achieve the desired lighting effect. Nikon also provides accessories like a diffusion dome, a speedlight stand, and incandescent and fluorescent filters to get the ball rolling.

With solid overall performance, great build quality, and a variety of useful accessories to choose from, the SB-700 is a great one-stop-shop option for Nikon users.

Best On-Camera Flash for Sony: Sony HVL-F32M External Flash

Sony HVL-F32M External Flash

Sony camera users might consider the HVL-F32M. Compact and mighty, this external flash is well suited for use on mirrorless cameras and smaller DSLRs.

This TTL flash has a guide number of 105' at ISO 100 and 105mm. While its auto zoom range is 24-105mm on full-frame cameras, users can extend their reach to 15mm with the built-in wide-angle panel. It also features swivel and bounce adjustments, with the ability to tilt upward 90°, rotate 180° to the right and 90° to the left. Powered by two AA batteries, this light has a recycle time of 0.1–5 seconds.

The HVL-F32M is a great Sony camera flash because it is incredibly easy to use and flexible in a pinch. Operation is essentially plug-and-play, with a reliable auto white balance that will require little to no adjusting. Its small stature doesn’t preclude this little guy from the features of a high-quality flash, including a comprehensive LCD panel, fast sync, and ADI flash metering, among others. It is also rugged against the elements, with dust and water resistance when shooting outdoors.

It is worth noting that the HVL-F32M is not natively compatible with auto-lock accessory shoes, so users with older Sony cameras will need to purchase an adapter. With straightforward operation and compact form factor, this flash is a great option for Sony shooters to always keep on hand.

Best Overall Third-Party On-Camera Flash: Westcott FJ80 II Speedlight

Westcott FJ80 II Speedlight

If you are looking for a powerful, easy-to-use light, Westcott’s FJ80 II Speedlight is a great option. This universal flash packs a punch with great output, battery life, and speed.

This 80W round head TTL flash offers a 9-stop power range in 0.1-stop and 1-stop increments. Equipped with a rechargeable battery, it has a fast 0.05 to 1.5 second recycle time with continuous capture up to 20 FPS. It also provides full 360° horizontal and 90° vertical pivot ranges for a flexible shooting experience.

The FJ80 II is a sensible flash for any photographer working with multiple cameras. While you will need an adapter for Sony cameras, this flash has broad compatibility across most systems. Additionally, its wireless communication is powerful against interference, making the FJ80 II a desirable option for event photography. It even doubles as a transmitter that can be used with other FJ flashes. Of course, the generous LCD touchscreen and USB-C port don’t hurt when it comes to the light’s overall usability.

Combine these qualities with stellar color temperature stability and the essential shooting and sync modes, and you have a flash that’s ready for action.

Best Budget Third-Party On-Camera Flash: Bolt VD-420 Manual Flash

Bolt VD-420 Manual Flash

With a price tag that encourages multiple flash purchases, the all-manual VD-420 is compatible with any standard hot shoe, offering solid power output control starting from 1/128 to full power in eight full-stop increments. Recycle times range from 0.1 to 5 seconds, depending on the power level—either via 4 easy-to-find AA batteries or an external battery pack that will shorten the recycle time.

The VD-420 works as an optical slave but is notably equipped with two optical modes for unique flash triggering. It works as a powerful on-camera flash and comes with its own transmitter and tripod mount, making it an ideal addition in multi-flash setups. Sturdy, basic, and capable, this camera flash is simple to use and beginner friendly—a great piece for any kit with a ton of practical applications.

Best Compact Third-Party On-Camera Flash: LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II

LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II

If you are looking for a compact lighting solution, you won’t find much smaller than LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II. This teeny rectangular flash weighs just 4 oz and measures 3.9 x 2.3 a 1.1", easily squeezing into tight places where larger units can't go.

The FlashQ Q20II is a manual-exposure flash with power selection from 1/64 to full power. It has recycle times between 6–7 seconds depending on the power source—either two alkaline or rechargeable Ni-MH batteries. While it has limited adjustments with tilting only in 0-, 45-, 60-, 75-, and 90-degree click stops, this little guy makes up for it with a gel kit and the ability to do double duty as a video light. Mount this flash on your camera with the included shoe-mount FlashQ transmitter or detach it to activate wireless mode. It can be affixed easily to a light stand and will communicate with the on-camera transmitter up to 33 feet away. Overall, this is a well-designed little flash that you might consider for casual outings or street photography. When attached to a low-profile camera, it will add the necessary fill light to make those candid shots really pop.

What to Look for in an On-Camera Flash

Shopping for a new on-camera flash? Before your purchase, be sure to consider the following:

  • Compatibility: Many big-name manufacturers design external flashes for their own cameras. Likewise, third-party manufacturers design flashes for specific brands, as well as universal flashes that will work with most cameras. When purchasing a new flash, be sure to examine its specs to see if it will work with your camera.

  • Size: When shopping for a flash, be sure to consider its size and weight. Smaller cameras like mirrorless and DSLRs can’t accommodate hefty flashes and will become very top-heavy. Conversely, a tiny flash won’t have the same impact when equipped with a large camera.

  • Guide Number: The guide number quantifies the power of a flash based on the light reach with your camera’s basic settings. In general, a higher guide number indicates a more powerful flash. This metric is useful when trying to find the best flash for your specific needs. If you already know you will be photographing large spaces, for example, begin your flash search with a higher guide number.

  • Sync Speed: The fastest shutter speed your camera can use flash with is called sync speed. It is important that your sync speed and flash align to avoid capturing partially blacked out images. It is also important for stop-action photography, where you will need especially high sync speeds.

  • TTL Flash Metering: Individual camera manufacturers have their own TTL systems with specific TTL flashes. To make full use of your camera’s TTL, it needs to essentially speak the same language as your flash. Make note of your camera’s TTL system to ensure you get a flash that will support it.

  • Wireless Capabilities: Many flashes have wireless capabilities, using infrared, optical, or radio frequencies to communicate. Depending on your application, one form of wireless communication might be more useful than another.

  • Recycling Speed: Recycling speed indicates how long your flash takes to power up and fire again. If you are working in fast-paced events, quick recycling speed is advisable to execute many flashes in a short amount of time and capture the action.

  • Tilting: While on camera, it is important for your flash to have flexible adjustments to bounce and direct light the way you want. You should look for a flash with generous tilting and rotation to avoid limitations while shooting.

We are just scratching the surface of things to consider before purchasing a flash, so feel free to check out our more comprehensive guide for more information. Have we left out your favorite strobe? What are some must-have features you look for in a flash? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

2 Comments

So happy you mentioned the lux senior from Godox!!! I recently got one for an anniversary gifty and even thoguh i was a little intimidated (ive NEVER used anything like this), i totally fell in love with it. Definitely requires you to work around the scope of the lights capabilities, but man is it fun to use. 

KB W., what a thoughtful anniversary gift to receive from a loved one. We hope this flash improves the quality of light in your photographs, and we're pleased to read that you are up to the challenge of the learning curve. We hope you continue to enjoy using the Lux Senior, and thank you for taking the time to post your comment.