The 7 Best Camera Flashes to Buy in 2018 for DSLR

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

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The Rundown

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash

Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.3

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.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Nikon SB-5000

Nikon’s top-of-the-line, radio-controlled speed light earns top marks for nuts-and-bolts functionality as well as some cool, innovative features. In today’s market, Canon commands a lot of market share, but if you overlook Nikon's amazing entry-level DSLRs or its pro-quality accessories, then you are missing out on a lot of great products.

First off, the flash mounts right on the hot shoe of your Nikon cam as expected, and is specifically compatible with the Nikon i-TTL. You can control the light with standard optical control or their more updated radio control — the latter letting you easily pair a few SB-5000s for a more immersive remote lighting solution. It tilts from -7 all the way to 90 degrees and covers a zoom span of 24–200mm, giving you some nice versatility. But, arguably, the coolest feature is the Cooling System — which Nikon claims is the first hot shoe-mounted cooling system on the market — which allows you to snap up to 100 consecutive shots. It means you can run your shoots longer and not miss a moment.  

Best Budget Flash for All Cameras: YONGNUO YN560 IV Wireless Flash

YONGNUO YN560 IV Wireless Flash
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.

Best Flash for Nikon DSLR: Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash

Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.

Best Flash for Beginners: Neewer NW-561 Flash

Finding the best flash for your DSLR can be challenging, especially if you’re just getting started with photography. We love the Neewer NW-561 Flash for beginners because it’s much cheaper than most flash units, yet still has plenty of great features to help you figure out if you want to step up to more expensive units.

The Neewer NW-561 measures 31.5 x 90.5 x 41.3 inches and weighs 1.4 pounds. It offers a powerful flash that can recharge in less than three seconds and has eight levels of output control. The unit has a fixed zoom, with a vertical rotation angle between 7 and 90 degrees and a horizontal rotation angle between 0 and 180 degrees. It also has a power-saving mode if you have a long photo session ahead.

Customers said the Neewer NW-561 was a great value for the price, but noted that the instruction manual was unintelligible due to a bad English translation. But if you’re willing to play around with the dials and features, you’ll get up to speed quickly.

Best Budget Flash for Canon/Nikon: Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite

Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.

Best Flash for Sony DSLR: Sony HVLF32M

At an extremely affordable price point and with a carrying case and all the connection accessories you’ll need, the HVLF32M earns its spot for sheer value. First, let’s talk about the flagship aspect here: this flash is a multi-interface model, meaning you can adapt it to use with a variety of Sony options from their DSLRs all the way to their Alpha line.

They’ve included wireless remote control (as expected), high-speed shutter synchronization to match Sony’s award-winning auto-focus tracking and a proprietary Advanced Distance Integration that will temper or amplify the flash response depending on how far away the subject is. The display is small and unassuming, but it does contain most of the info you’ll want in an external flash unit. They’ve included tiltability from -8 to 90 degrees, with a 270-degree, side-to-side swivel for versatile control and unique shadow bouncing techniques. Finally, the build itself is pretty impressive as it is water and dust resistant, so shouldn’t have much of an issue braving the elements. It isn’t quite as substantial, from a brightness perspective, as the top-line Nikon or Canon options, but for a Sony-branded accessory meant to pair perfectly with your Sony camera, you really can’t ask for more.

Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best camera accessories.

Tested by

How We Tested

Our reviewers spent two hours testing a top-rated DSLR flash. To get the most comprehensive results, they used it while taking photos in different environments and analyzed its performance. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using this camera flash, from its recharge time to its size and weight. We've outlined the can’t-miss points here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a Camera Flash for DSLR

Camera system - Most flashes can be used interchangeably with different camera systems if you don’t mind setting the flash power manually. However, if you’re looking for a flash that can automatically adjust its output depending on the scene, you’ll need to make sure the unit offers TTL compatibility for your camera brand.

Flash output - How bright do you need your flash to be when shooting? Keep an eye out for a flash’s guide number which tells you how far a flash can reach. Typical budget flashes will have a guide number of around 35 to 45, meaning they can reach 35 to 45 feet at ISO 100, while more expensive and powerful flashes can easily have guide numbers that surpass 100.

Recharge time - How long will your model need to wait before you can use your flash again, or will your flash recharge fast enough for you to capture sports? Some high-end flash gear can take up to 100 photos without having to recharge, but others will need a few seconds after each shot.

Test Results: Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash (Best Overall)

4.3

What We Like

  • Improved photo quality

  • Portable

  • Retractable catch light panel

What We Don't Like

  • Tool to help camera focus in low light is distracting

  • Manual mode is very advanced

Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash
Canon Speedlite Flash
Canon 430EX III-RT Flash
Canon Flash
Canon III-RT Flash

One of our testers, who used this flash for portrait photography, reported that it “definitely improved photo quality because it provided a nice fill light.” Other pluses, according to her, were its “terrific” size and its retractable catch light panel (and included bounce adapter): “It makes the flash easier to use if shooting somewhere with high ceilings or outside,” she said. One tester, however, wasn’t a big fan of the AF-Assist Beam, a series of small flashes that help the camera focus during low light situations: “It's pretty jarring,” she explained, “and subjects can easily think that the photo has already been taken.” Overall, our reviewers felt that this flash was perfect for amateur photographers. “The fully automatic mode is pretty easy to play around with, but the manual mode is very advanced,” one person noted.