Many newbie photographers tend to look for a solid on-camera/detachable camera flash following their first DSLR purchase. The allure of a sweet third-party flash deal is hard to pass up, especially for fledgling photographers who might want to practice with a cost-efficient flash over an expensive name brand. Regardless of your skill level or budget, third-party on-camera flashes have a lot to offer, and we are going to highlight a couple that are worth checking out.
LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II
Kicking off our list we have the delightfully compact and lightweight FlashQ Q20II from LightPix Labs. This on-camera strobe is a manual-exposure lighting solution with triggering and control features not unlike its name-brand counterparts. Featuring a slim rectangular form, the Q20II includes gel filters and can tilt in 0-, 45-, 60-, 75-, and 90-degree click stops, making it useful for directing light in unique ways. Better still, the Q20II is battery powered and doubles as a detachable camera flash that can be triggered wirelessly via the packaged remote.
Mount this little guy on a tripod and you've got a solid, cost-efficient strobe that works in a variety of settings. It is important to note that, for its small size, the Q20II works best with smaller cameras. Recycle time ranges from 6 to 7 seconds depending on the battery, and we recommend purchasing a set of rechargeable batteries for additional convenience.
GVM TTL Li-Ion Camera Flash for Canon and Nikon
Continuing on, we have the Y1, a TTL Li-Ion camera flash from GVM. Compatible with Canon and Nikon cameras, this strobe’s round head provides wide coverage with soft, gradual falloff that is perfect for portrait photography. Like the Q20II, this flash can support color gel filters for fun lighting experiments, although they are not included with the light itself. The Y1 is powered by a 2000mAh lithium-ion battery and boasts a recycle time of 2.1 seconds at full power, doubling as a detachable camera flash just like the LightPix Labs option.
This unit is a great alternative to other pricier third-party flashes like the V1 from Godox or the A10 from Profoto. While it closely resembles both flashes in form and function, the Y1 is available for significantly less than the second-cheapest V1. If you have a Canon or Nikon, this is worth checking out.
Sunpak DF3600U Flash for Canon and Nikon
When we talk about conventional third-party flashes, the DF3600U Flash from Sunpak comes to mind as a handy, all-purpose strobe that is fully compatible with Canon E-TTL / E-TTL II and Nikon i-TTL automatic exposure systems. Offering a zoom range of 18-180mm, this flash tilts and rotates for bounce flash and casts a wide-angle light via the built-in diffuser panel. Like our earlier picks, the DF3600U can be used as a detachable camera flash and set up as a wireless slave.
For its price, it does the trick as a manual flash with full TTL/i-TTL functionality, high speed sync, as well as a battery and PC port. This is a solid, modest flash that works well for indoor work and will deliver performance closely resembling name-brand flashes. It is most comparable to the previously mentioned Q20II in terms of shape, uses, and performance, but is a bigger size intended to be used on larger cameras.
Bolt VD-420 Wireless Manual Flash
With a price tag that encourages multiple flash purchases, the all-manual VD-420 is compatible with any standard hot shoe, offering impressive 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 and can diffuse and bounce light like the DF3600U but is notably equipped with two optical modes for unique flash triggering. It works as a powerful detachable camera flash and comes with its own transmitter and tripod mount, making it an ideal addition in multi-flash setups. Sturdy, minimalist, and capable, this flash is simple to use and beginner friendly—a great piece for any kit, with a plethora of practical applications.
Yongnuo YN-568EX III Speedlite for Nikon Cameras
If you are looking for the best third-party flashes to rival the high-end features offered by other counterparts, Yongnuo is a great brand to check out. Its YN-568EX III Speedlite closely resembles the SB-5000 from Nikon in terms of overall build and features, but at a much lower price point. It is directly compatible with Nikon's i-TTL system and will work as an optical TTL slave for Nikon and Canon cameras. Recycling is a fast 2 seconds at full power, and the flash can be triggered wirelessly by optical pulse.
With a guide number of 190' at the 105mm setting on its zooming bounce/swivel flash head, the YN-568EX III will cover 24-105mm lenses. The controls on the strobe are excellent, giving you the ability to tune the power of your flashes via intuitive dials that display on an easy-to-read screen. This flash will work as a detachable camera flash for your kit and comes with its own stand. If you are looking for a strobe that is a cut above the rest while still being budget-friendly, this is a solid one to consider.
Nissin i40 Compact Flash for Nikon Cameras
Wrapping up our rundown we have the Nissin i40, a compact little strobe that will work for Nikon, Canon, FUJIFILM, Sony, and Four Thirds TTL cameras. This small-profile flash features a tilting/swiveling/ zooming head that covers 24-105mm focal lengths. While slightly pricier than our other picks thus far, you get what you pay for—an included mini softbox, soft case, and flash stand for detachable camera-flash applications. The i40 notably includes a built-in daylight LED light with 9 output levels for up to 3.5 hours of video shooting, making this flash an extremely flexible option if you are also looking to get into video.
For those who detest digital menu complexity or time-wasting toggling, the manual dials for mode and power adjustments on the i40 are very well designed, although they do not illuminate in the dark like control screens do. The flash packs a mighty punch despite its size, with an impressive guide number of 131' at ISO 100 and the 105mm setting. With high-speed synchronization, a built-in diffuser and reflector, and the ability to achieve between 220 and 1,700 flashes on a single set of 4 AA batteries, you will be hard-pressed to find a better third-party flash for smaller mirrorless or DSLR cameras.
Bonus: Godox Lux Senior Retro Camera Flash
If you are looking for a strobe with a bit of vintage flair, the Lux Senior Retro Camera Flash from Godox is a really unique third-party option that will add untold panache to your next shoot, party, or outing. Fully kitted out with dials, knobs, and an unfolding flash parabola, this surprisingly diminutive strobe is small enough to keep comfortably mounted on any camera with a standard hot shoe. Correlate your ISO with apertures, power levels, and shooting distances via the dials, or opt for Auto Mode that defaults to f/2.8 at ISO 100.
With a recycle time around just under 3 seconds and capable of delivering 150 flashes at full power, this USB-C-chargeable retro flash is a neat gadget that delivers a harsher light well-suited for fashion photography. It is worth noting that the Lux Senior tends to shoot a bit cold if you favor auto white balance, so we recommend either adjusting to Flash White Balance or tacking on some gels to achieve your desired color temperature. While the Lux Senior is not a detachable strobe, and definitely not for beginners, we found it very interesting and worth considering if you want to try your hand at old-school shooting. You are sure to turn heads toting it, so be prepared for a lot of questions including, "will you take my picture?"
Have we left out your favorite third-party flashes? What are some features you consider to be must-haves when you are shopping for an on-camera flash? Let us know in the Comments section, below.