What Is a Hot Shoe Flash?

Learn to Make the Most of Your Camera's Hot Shoe

Close up of a hot shoe mount of a camera

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A hot shoe is a connector on a digital camera where the photographer can connect a variety of devices, such as an external flash unit, an electronic viewfinder, or a geotagger/GPS receiver unit. You can think of a hot shoe flash as a device that gives the advanced digital camera quite a few additional features, flexibility, and power.

Most beginner-level digital cameras do not have hot shoe units, which usually are only available on DSLR models or mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Some advanced fixed lens cameras also contain a hot shoe.

The hot shoe connector usually is in the middle of the top panel of the digital camera, and using it as a hot shoe flash connection is the most common reason to use it.

Finding the Hot Shoe

The hot shoe flash unit is the square unit on the top of the camera. It has two lipped silver areas on the left and the right of the unit. When attaching a flash unit or GPS unit to the hot shoe, the unit will have a square bracket on the bottom. The edges of the bracket slide under the silver lipped areas of the hot shoe. The silver brackets help to hold the attached unit in place 

Between the silver brackets, you'll see a small circle. This is the most important area of the hot shoe, as it contains all of the connectors that allow a device to make a connection to the camera. Attaching a hot shoe flash or a GPS unit or an electronic viewfinder to your camera when these small connectors are damaged will leave the camera and unit unable to communicate with each other, basically rendering these units useless. Make sure there's no grime around the hot shoe, which could block the connectors. Some camera makers will include a plastic guard that slides under the silver brackets and protects the hot shoe connectors when you don't have a unit attached.

A Key Advantage of a Hot Shoe

One way you can extend the life of an older advanced camera is to make good use of the hot shoe, adding units that give the camera more power. And the great thing is nearly any device that you can attach to a hot shoe on one camera can be attached to a hot shoe on another camera. The hot shoe is a universally designed device from camera to camera, which means you often can keep your hot shoe flash unit or any other such device when you switch to a newer camera.

If you want to know what types of extra devices your camera's hot shoe can accept, visit the camera maker's Web site. A list of potential hot shoe connection accessories should be listed, along with a list of the camera modes with which they'll work.