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Best Sony flashguns in 2021: dedicated flashguns for Sony cameras

Included in this guide:

Best Sony flashguns in 2020
(Image credit: Sony)

If you're looking for the best Sony flashgun, we've got them all right here. From the newest and most sophisticated units, to older flashguns that can still be picked up for a bargain price, the best Sony flashguns cover a range of sizes and price points.

Flashguns are often the first step photographers take into the world of controlling their own lighting. Able to deliver a quick, powerful burst of illumination to any shooting situation, flashguns are the perfect way to freeze action, light up a dark interior, smooth out the shadows of a portrait, or do much more besides.

Which of Sony's flashguns you choose will depend on what you need! Sony's naming scheme for its flashguns uses the Guide Number as part of the name, so the Sony HVL-F20M, for instance, has a Guide Number of 20.

You could be forgiven for not having a blessed clue what this means. Guide Number (Gn) basically represents the maximum power output of a flashgun, and is expressed in metres at the sensitivity setting of ISO 100. To work out the effective range you're working with, divide the Gn by the aperture you're using – so, if you're using a Gn 60 power output and shooting at f/4, you'll have an effective reach of 15m. The higher the Gn, the more powerful a flash you're working with – but this also tends to mean a more costly unit.

The Gn (Guide number) represents the maximum power output of a flashgun, quoted in meters (or feet) at a sensitivity setting of ISO 100

Greater flash power is not only useful for firing at your subject, but also means a flash is more effective at being diffused or bounced off another surface, which generally opens up your options and makes a flashgun more useful for portraiture, where harsh light on a subject's face is undesirable. Some of the less expensive flashes have only rudimentary bounce mechanisms, while the more sophisticated ones will have heads that can swivel horizontally for maximum versatility. 

You can also boost your power by changing the effective focal length of a flash so that it only illuminates the part of the scene you want the light one. This is what's being referred to when people talk about whether a flash can "zoom"; again, you'll find that the cheaper flashes offer very basic functionality in this regard, allowing the user to select between maybe two settings (the entry-level HVL-F20M has a basic push-pull mechanism which changes the beam angle to correspond with 27mm or 50mm focal lengths). More expensive flashguns, however, will have motorised zoom mechanisms that can interface with a zoom lens and adjust according to the zoom setting. The HVL-F60RM, currently top of the range, has a class-leading 20-200mm motorized zoom function.

So, there's lots to consider! Let’s take a closer look at what all the models have to offer, so you pick your ideal Sony flashgun.

• Read more: How to use flash for your photography

Best Sony flashguns in 2021

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony HVL-F20M

A remarkably slim-line, pocketable flashgun

Gn (ISO 100, meters): Gn 20
Bounce / swivel: 0/75 degrees, no swivel
Zoom range: 27/50mm (manual)
Wireless master/slave: Master IR (no slave)
Dimensions (WxL): 62x114x24mm
Weight: 105g
Reasons to buy
+Super-slim and lightweight+Simple to use
Reasons to avoid
-Basic feature set-A little lacking in power

First the good news. The HVL-F20M makes a great travel companion, as it’s small and slim enough to fit in a spare pocket and runs on just two AAA batteries. It’s not massively powerful but can provide sufficient illumination for most eventualities, especially if you don’t mind bumping up your camera’s ISO setting a bit. It has a rudimentary bounce 0/75-degree facility but no swivel, and a similarly basic 27/50mm manual zoom mechanism. However, there’s no high-speed sync option, which limits you to the maximum shutter sync speed of your camera. This can be awkward when using the flashgun to fill in the shadows under direct sunlight, where you might prefer to use a faster shutter speed, especially if you also want to use a wide aperture to shrink the depth of field. 

There are no onboard controls nor an LCD information screen, so all adjustments need to be carried out via camera menus, which can be more laborious. Back on the plus side, the flashgun can work as an infrared wireless master to trigger other Sony flashguns but, strangely, there’s no wireless slave mode.

Best Sony flashguns

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony HVL-F28RM

A compact flash unit that can use face-detection for better portraits

Gn (ISO 100, meters): Gn 28
Bounce / swivel: 0/120 degrees, no swivel
Zoom range: 24/50mm (manual)
Wireless master/slave: Master/slave IR/RF
Dimensions (WxL): 65.1x83.5x91.4 mm
Weight: 219g
Reasons to buy
+Great for portraits+Weatherproof
Reasons to avoid
-No swivel mechanism-New, so still pricey

Launched alongside the lightweight Alpha 7C, the Sony HVL-F28RM is a light and nippy flashgun that nonetheless packs in the latest features and functionality. Top of the headline specs is its ability to work with a camera's face detection for perfectly balanced portraits, balancing its light output with the ambient lighting of a scene. Another handy feature is the extensive weather-sealing, which allows it to be used in all conditions, for location shoots outdoors. It's a fairly light flashgun, designed not only for the A7C but also the a6000 cameras with APS-C sensors. It's smaller and lighter than the HVL-F32M (see more on which below), though not quite as comprehensively specced, so weigh up the two before deciding which is right for you. 

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony HVL-F32M

Affordable but sturdy and robust, with useful features

Gn (ISO 100, meters): Gn 32
Bounce / swivel: -8-90 / 90-180 degrees
Zoom range: 24-105mm
Wireless master/slave: Master/slave IR
Dimensions (WxL): 66x119x82mm
Weight: 235g
Reasons to buy
+Packs a lot into a small build+Weather-sealed construction
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks secondary LED light-No RF transceiver

Despite its competitive selling price, the HVL-32M shoehorns some impressive features and useful power into its diminutive yet tough, weather-sealed build. The Gn 32 power rating is significantly higher than in the entry-level HVL-F20M, despite the more up-market model still running on only two batteries. This time they’re AA instead of AAA. Along with extra power, there’s greater versatility enabled by the bounce and swivel head. Indeed, there’s -8 to 90 degrees of bounce on offer, with 90 degrees swivel to the left and a full 180 degrees to the right. Motorized zoom is also featured, with a range of 24-105mm in full-frame terms. 

Other bonuses include onboard controls and an LCD status screen, so you can make quick and easy adjustments without resorting to in-camera menus. The HVL-32M also adds a high-speed sync mode, so you can shoot with flash up to and including your camera’s maximum shutter speed, albeit with reduced maximum power output. And this time, there’s slave as well as master wireless infrared connectivity.

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony HVL-F45RM

High-end performance with a reasonable price tag

Gn (ISO 100, meters): Gn 45
Bounce / swivel: -8-150 / 180-180 degrees
Zoom range: 24-105mm
Wireless master/slave: Master/slave IR/RF
Dimensions (WxL): 69x114x88mm
Weight: 317g
Reasons to buy
+Useful LED light for autofocus+Generous bounce/tilt
Reasons to avoid
-Not the brightest-Quite chunky

A properly grown-up flashgun, the HVL-F45RM is relatively chunky, runs on four AA batteries and packs some seriously high-end features. Unlike the less pricey flashguns in Sony’s range, this one has an additional LED lamp which can be useful for close-range stills and is even better suited to movie capture. It’s not overly bright, however, only supplying sufficient illumination for shooting at a distance of one meter, using a sensitivity setting of ISO 3200 and an aperture of f/5.6. Another bonus is that the LED light can supply illumination to assist autofocus in dark scenes.

There’s certainly no shortage of power from the main flash tube, which has a Gn 45 rating and a motorized zoom range of 24-105mm, plus a generous -8 to 150 degrees of bounce and full 180-degree swivel to both the left and right. Another enhancement over the lower-end Sony flashguns is that this one features RF (Radio Frequency) wireless master and slave functions as well as infrared. The RF mode boosts the connectivity range from five to 30 meters, and doesn’t require direct ‘line of sight’ between master and slave flashguns.

(Image credit: Sony)

5. Sony HVL-F60RM

Sony’s range-topping flashgun is a bit of a beast

Gn (ISO 100, meters): Gn 60
Bounce / swivel: -8-150 / 90-90 degrees
Zoom range: 20-200mm
Wireless master/slave: Master/slave IR/RF
Dimensions (WxL): 78x140x105mm
Weight: 449g
Reasons to buy
+Huge Gn 60 power rating+High-end features and build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Only 90-degree swivel to left and right-50 per cent heavier and twice the price of the HVL-F45RM

If you want to come all flashguns blazing, the HVL-60RM is a real quick-shooter. Even at the top of its mighty Gn 60 power scale, it has a recycle speed of just 1.7 seconds on NiMH AA batteries, accelerating to an amazing 0.6 seconds when using Sony’s optional external batter pack. As you’d expect from a range-topping flashgun, it’s not short on features either. There’s a monster 20-200mm zoom range (full-frame) and a -8 to 150-degree bounce facility. However, the unconventional swivel mechanism is less generous, limiting movement to just 90 degrees to the left and right. On the plus side, it unusually enables use of the pull-out reflector card when bouncing the flash off the ceiling in portrait orientation shooting.

Like in the HVL-F45RM, there’s both infrared and RF (Radio Frequency) connectivity, enabling master and slave linking for up to five and 30 meters respectively. And whereas an infrared link can’t ‘see’ through obstacles in its path, that’s no problem for RF. The LED constant lamp is also brighter than in the HVL-F45RM, doubling the range at ISO 3200, f/5.6 from one to two meters. Fully pro-grade build quality includes weather-seals and an optional rain cover is also available.

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Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 

His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 

In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.