The 7 Best Camera Flashes to Buy in 2017 for DSLR

You won't be left in the dark with these top camera flashes

Whole treatises can be written about the complicated interactions between light and photography. It is a world not enough appreciated by novice or hobbyist shooters, who may be used to relying on natural light to illuminate their sensors. But once you begin constructing your own lighting environments, you start to understand that flash photography is an art in and of itself. We can’t begin to account for the myriad purposes of flashes in this guide, but we can point you in the right direction. Here is a guide to some of the best flashes by camera type and level of expertise.

As you can tell from the hefty price tag, this flash isn’t for beginners. (See Best Flash for Beginners below if you’re just starting out.) But for photographers who need the very best when it comes to flash, the Speedlite 600EX II-RT delivers. It tops Canon’s E-TTL / E-TTL II compatible flash lineup with a powerful 197ft/60m guide number and, compared to the Speedlite 600EX-RT, ups continuous flash performance by 1.1-1.5x, or 2x if used with the compact battery pack option.

It offers 20mm to 200mm coverage and comes complete with built-in radio and optical transmission functionality for better range. It can control up to five groups of compatible flash units by communicating on 2.4 GHz frequencies, which means it doesn’t have the same directional constraints as traditional wireless optical transmitters. The head can rotate 180 degress left and right, angle 90 degrees up and 7 degrees down to capture tougher angles. It’s truly an amazing flash, and one Amazon reviewer went as far as admitting, “I’m not sure how I lived without it.”

If you’re just dipping your toes into the waters of flash photography, you likely want to buy a modestly priced flash with pretty basic features. That’s what makes the AmazonBasics Electronic Flash such a good buy.

Compatible with Canon and Nikon DSLRs, it offers three camera modes: M, S1 and S2. Manual, (M) is activated by setting the flash on your camera’s hot shoe and pressing the camera’s shutter. Slave 1 (S1) is an off-camera option in which the flash fires simultaneously with the master flash, as if using a radio trigger. Slave 2 (S2) works best in TLL (Through The Lens) flash environments and fires at the same time as the master flash’s second flash. You can also easily adjust the brightness level from 1/128 power to 1/1 power in 1 F-stop increments and an automatic saving feature retains current flash settings.

This flash lacks TLL metering and the flash is triggered optically, so there’s no radio wireless control, but that’s pretty standard at such a low price point. But overall, this powerful AmazonBasics flash is unbeatable for the money.

Because flashes constitute a very deliberate aspect of photography, those who are willing to spend upwards of $300 on a flash should really know what they’re doing. Whether for portraits, weddings or darkly lit environments, the proper use of a flash is something only professionals seem to get. If you’re a Canon shooter with need for a bright, versatile hot-shoe flash that will work well in most environments and conditions, you should check out the Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash. Speedlite is Canon’s proprietary line of EOS (DSLR) flashes, and it is home to pretty much all the best flashes in the category. The Speedlite 430EX is a compact zoom flash covering a range of 24-105mm, with a maximum guide number of 141ft./43m at ISO 100. It’s compact, lightweight and (relatively) easy to use if you’re a novice. As we mentioned in the introduction, flash photography is very camera- and user-specific, but it’s safe to assume that this one will satisfy any Canon shooter in need of a go-to flash.

If you’re somewhat new to flash photography and are on a tight budget, then the YONGNUO YN560-TX is probably worth looking into. Some shooters still prefer the proprietary realm of flash technology, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to spend a lot more money on those devices. For basic functionality—not to mention, wider compatibility—there’s the YONGNUO YN560 IV Wireless Flash. For less than $70, this package includes a built-in wireless trigger system, which allows you to use it as a flash speed light, as well as a flash controller transmitter. It’s relatively compact and lightweight, well built, versatile and rugged. It’s also pretty darn fast. Some users have complained about long-term reliability, and the lack of TTL (automatic, “through the lens”) may be a bit of a turn-off, but all that’s sort of something you have to expect for the budget price range.

If you’re a serious photographer but prefer Nikon’s line of camera gear, you may want to take a look at the SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash. Like the Canon 430EX, the SB-700 is quite pricey; it is not something you should pick up if you don’t know a whole lot about photography. But if you do, this thing is thoroughly next-gen. It’s compact, versatile and compatible with a wide range of Nikon DSLRs. It features Nikon’s Precision i-TTL flash control technology, wireless operation and flash control, 360° rotation (as well as 90° tilting), three light distribution patterns, streamlined controls and a number of other useful features.

Sony (rightfully so) has its fair share of brand-loyal diehards. If you’re an Alpha or NEX shooter looking to balance out some light with a Sony-specific flash, look to the HVLF43M. It’s got a “Quick Shift Bounce" system that allows the flash to rotate 90 degrees left or right. This allows you to maintain horizontal light distribution even when shooting vertically. It’s also got an effective range of over 30 feet, Wireless Ratio Control of up to three groups of flashes and a built-in, pull-out wide angle diffuser and white bounce card. User reviews compliment the flash for its ruggedness and durability, as well as its powerful illumination.

Sometimes simple is better. The Neewer TT560 is a perfect example of a flash without all the frills—a basic speedlite that can be found for less than $35 and which is compatible with both Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The features are pretty limited: It comes with a built-in bounce card and a wide angle diffuser, and it offers eight steps of manual brightness control. It rotates 270 degrees and tilts 90 degrees, and it has some pretty simple controls that any novice can get a handle on fairly quickly. Probably the best feature of this flash, considering the price, is the slave mode, which allows you to set the flash to automatically fire when it senses light from another speedlight. This isn’t a highly common feature on super cheap flashes, but here it is. That alone will seal the deal for many budget-conscious shooters.


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