The best flashgun for your camera will put the built-in pop-up unit to shame. An external flash, or speedlight, gives you so much mor power and lighting control, with the ability to be used off camera or chained together with other flash units. It's not just about giving a burst of light – a good flashgun can also freeze action, provide a flattering light for a portrait subject, and much more besides.
So, which to choose? Camera manufacturers tend to make their own flashguns, and these are often the most tempting choice if you use that particular brand. However, there are lots of third-party options that tend to come at a cheaper asking price, so are well worth considering. Just remember that you need to get the version that's compatible with your make of camera – the product listing should specify whether it's compatible with Canon, Nikon, Sony or whatever else.
In this guide, we've split our picks into three sections. We've got the best flashguns for Canon (both EOS and EOS R), the best for Nikon cameras (including Nikon Z mirrorless), and then we've got a dedicated section for the best third-party flashguns, which tend to be compatible with a broader range of brands.
Remember, portable flashguns like these are not the only way to illuminate your subjects. You may want to consider the best LED panels (opens in new tab) too; these don't quite match the raw power of a flashgun, but they do provide continuous what-you-see-is-what-you-get-lighting, which is ideal for lighting beginners, and essential for video. At the other end of the scale, you may need more flash power than any of these flashguns can provide, and this will mean you need to look at some of the best lighting kits for professional studio or location photography (opens in new tab).
But for now, we're talking flashguns. Let's crack straight into the best ones you can buy.
- How to use flash for your photography (opens in new tab)
So what features do you need? TTL (Through The Lens) flash metering enables easy use in all sorts of conditions, while bounce and swivel heads give you the option of reflecting light off ceilings and walls for a softer effect. Motorised zooms automatically track the focal length of your lens to extend your flash's reach when shooting at longer focal lengths. To varying extents, the flashguns here also offer wireless connectivity, simplifying off-camera flash. Different photographers will have different needs, and a flashgun that doesn't do something you don't need it do may well be cheaper than one that does.
We've divided our list into brand sections: Canon users should check out the Canon flashguns, Nikon users the Nikon models, and users of any brand at all should scroll down to the third-party section, where there are makes and models to suit every shooter.
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The Speedlite EL-1 is Canon's flagship flashgun and has been designed specifically for high-end professional use. As such, it's the first Speedlite to carry the famous Canon ‘red ring’, normally only seen on L-series lenses. The EL-1 is built for endurance and dependability, with a weather-resistant design that uses sealing similar to that on top Canon cameras.
As we said in our review, if money is no object, this is a dream flashgun. Canon has has paid special attention to the EL-1’s battery life, recycle times and continuous operation performance. It’s powered by a new lithium-ion LP-EL battery pack which offers approximately 335 flashes at full power and recycle times as short as 0.1-0.9sec.
The Speedlite EL-1 has its own internal cooling system with a fan to allow up to 170 full power shots in quick succession without overheating, while a new Xenon flash tube increases durability, accuracy and consistency, offering manual power settings down to 1/8192 power.
The Speedlite EL-1 is without doubt Canon's best-ever flashgun – as long as you're a pro shooter who needs this level of dependability and can justify the price. If not, scroll on for some more affordable options.(opens in new tab)
The Canon EX600 II RT doesn't just have a GN (Guide number) 60 rating, but also boasts advanced features inside its weather-sealed construction. One crucial advantage over the 430EX III-RT (our next pick at #3) is the inclusion of wireless master facilities, both in infrared and RF modes; RF has a 30m range that can work around corners or through obstacles.
The motorised zoom has a range of 20-200mm and there’s full 180-degree swivel in both directions, while a programmable strobe/repeat mode is also on hand. Compared with the original Speedlite 600EX-RT, the Mark II runs cooler, enabling up to 50% more flashes in continuous shooting. Maximum output is a powerful GN 60m, while recycling speeds are rapid when using alkaline as well as NiMH batteries. TTL accuracy is also excellent. Overall, the 600EX II-RT combines spectacular performance with intuitive ease of use; see our full Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT review (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
The Mark III edition of Canon’s Speedlite 430EX inherits a respectable maximum power rating of GN 43m (at ISO 100) and a motorised 24-105mm zoom head with 150 and 180 degrees of swivel, to the left and right, respectively. On-board controls are now more intuitive, and build quality is very good, albeit without the pro-grade finish of the 600EX II-RT. High-speed sync and rear-curtain flash modes are supported, but there’s no stroboscopic repeat mode.
Along with simplified controls and a cleaner layout, the Mark III also adds RF (Radio Frequency) triggering that was lacking in the previous iteration. You can use the flashgun as a wireless master or slave with other Canon RF-compatible flashguns, but it lacks an infrared wireless master mode. Further bonuses of RF linking are that the off-camera range is boosted from 10m to 30m, and triggering is more reliable in bright daylight. TTL flash metering accuracy is spot-on, recycling speeds are fast, and maximum output is pretty good.(opens in new tab)
The Canon Speedlite 470EX AI takes automation to a new level, with a motorized bounce and swivel head controlled by artificial intelligence. In fully automatic AI Bounce mode, the Speedlite fires a pre-flash pulse at the subject, then tilts vertically upwards and fires a second pre-flash pulse at the ceiling. It then calculates and sets the optimum bounce angle. If you’d rather bounce the flash off a white wall rather than a ceiling, or even fire it at a reflector panel, there’s also a semi-automatic AI Bounce mode.
One disappointment is that fully automatic AI Bounce mode is unavailable when using some cameras, including all Canon DSLRs launched before the second half of 2014. In other respects, the 470EX-AI is quite basic. It lacks RF (Radio Frequency) connectivity and, for wireless off-camera flash, it can only operate as a slave, not a master. It also lacks up-market features like a programmable strobe/repeat mode and even a pull-out reflector card. Ultimately, if you don’t feel the need for automatically controlled bounce angles, it’s pretty poor value for money. Check out our full Canon Speedlite 470EX AI review (opens in new tab).
Nikon flashguns(opens in new tab)
The Nikon Speedlight SB-5000, replaces the SB-910 as the company’s flagship model. Compared with the SB-700, it adds more powerful GN of 55m (at 200mm, which changes to 34.5mm at 35mm), as well as a longer 24-200mm motorised zoom range, a programmable strobe/repeat flash mode, on-board selection of TTL and TTL-BL modes, and the option of using an external power pack. A new integral cooling system enables quick-fire shooting for 100 or more shots, even at full output power.
Nikon has taken a leaf out of Canon’s book and incorporated RF wireless communication as well as infrared into the unit, although it’s not so well implemented. Whereas the Canon 600EX II-RT features an RF transceiver, the SB-5000 only has a receiver and can’t work as a master. To use multiple flashguns with RF, you’ll need the WR-R10 transceiver, plus a WR-A10 adaptor if your camera has a 10-pin port, adding as much as £165/$200. Continuous shooting stamina aside, the main performance boost over the SB-700 is in maximum output power. TTL accuracy and recycling speeds are excellent (see our full Nikon Speedlight SB-5000 review (opens in new tab) for full details).
Read more: How to use flash for your photography (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
The Nikon Speedlight SB-700 is mid-range Nikon Speedlight that offers full master and slave wireless functions, a range of illumination patterns, downward as well as upward tilt, and full 180-degree swivel in both directions. It boasts a 24-120mm zoom range too, though wireless connectivity is limited to infrared. There’s a tempting range of supplied accessories, including a diffusion dome and color-matching filters for both tungsten and fluorescent lighting. On-board controls are easy to operate, but you can only switch between Nikon’s TTL and TTL-BL (Balanced Light) flash metering modes by changing the main exposure metering mode on the host camera body. Despite having a fairly low power rating – GN 38m at ISO 100 – the SB-700 wasn’t far below some competitors in our lab testing (see our full Nikon Speedlight SB-700 review (opens in new tab)), and it beats the rival Metz 52 AF-1 flash at the 105mm zoom setting. Recycling is fast and TTL accuracy is excellent.
Read more: How to use off-camera flash for stunning portraits (opens in new tab)
Third-party flashguns(opens in new tab)
Not too confident on which angles to use to bounce the light from your flashgun? Well, why not let the flashgun do it for you! The Kenko AB600-R AI is an extremely clever little gadget, using AI to take the guesswork out of bounce and swivel flash by calculating the angles for you.
This makes it much easier to create a three-dimensional lighting effect. The AB600-R AI isn't the first flashgun to do this sort of thing, as it takes a few cues from the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI, but it is an excellent example, and is compatible with Nikon and Sony as well as Canon.
In our review, we praised how the well the head of the AB600-R AI has been optimised to take advantage of its AI-powered features, with a generous bounce range and a full 180 degrees swivel to both left and right. The power is impressive too, with a Gn of 60 at the full extent of the zoom range.
This flashgun is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony, and it's got power where it counts. It's sold as either the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on III R2 TTL or Godox VING V860III, depending on where you are, but it's the exact same unit either way. In our review of the flashgun, we were hugely impressed with the number of operating modes it offers, with high-speed sync and programmable stroboscopic output among them.
The generous motorised zoom range of 20-200mm gives you plenty of versatility, and the rechargeable Li-Ion battery is nice too. This version also adds a constant LED modelling lamp, and the build quality feels generally solid – though it's worth being aware that there isn't any weather sealing. We also have to be honest and say that the interface, with its mono LCD screen and four context-sensitive pushbuttons, feels a little dated, streets behind some of the more sophisticated own-brand flashguns further up this list.
Still, the fundamentals of this flashgun really are solid. It'll do what you need it to, and comes at a fair price as well.
The Hähnel Modus 600RT flashgun matches or beats the features of camera manufacturers’ own-brand flagship models, but at a fraction of the price. Three different options are available, so you can buy the flashgun on its own, or as a wireless kit that includes a hotshoe mounting Viper RF (Radio Frequency) transmitter. There’s also a pro kit that comprises two flashguns and a Viper trigger, enabling the versatility of dual-flash lighting setups. Advanced flash modes include high-speed sync and programmable repeat (stroboscopic) options, and wireless RF master/slave operation has a massive range of up to 100m.
Another boost is that the flashgun is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery pack, instead of the usual four AA batteries (and this can be charged in the unit via USB). This gives far greater stamina, of up to 550 full-power flashes between recharging, along with very fast recycling speeds of 1.5 seconds after a full-power flash and just 0.7 seconds after a half-power flash. The only catch is that additional batteries (should you want any) cost around $60/£50.(opens in new tab)
At nearly double the price of some ultra-budget strobes from brands like Neewer, Yongnuo’s flash isn't the very cheapest flash you can buy. It also doesn’t offer fancy features like TTL metering or High Speed Sync, and there’s only a single hot shoe contact, indicating this is a fully manual flashgun. But there are hidden depths. The head can zoom froom 20-199mm, and while you need to set this manually, it’s only a button-press away. The large backlit LCD screen is another welcome feature. Then there’s the built-in radio frequency receiver that allows the flash to be used as a slave, triggered by a second YN-660 or a YN-560 flashgun. This provides a 100-metre wireless range (far superior to more basic, optically-triggered slave modes) and can trigger up to 6 groups of flashguns. The YN-660 certainly isn’t short on flash power, either, boasting a huge GN66 rating at ISO100/200mm.(opens in new tab)
The disarmingly simple on-board interface of the Nissin Di700A (opens in new tab) is based on a solitary Set button and a surrounding control wheel, both of which sit below a colour screen. Operating modes include fully automatic, TTL, manual and no fewer than three wireless modes. Anything beyond rudimentary settings, like TTL exposure bias, requires the use of on-camera menus. These include rear-curtain sync, high-speed sync and manual zoom of the motorised 24-200mm head. Wireless slave mode via infrared is available with the assignment of three independent groups, and there’s also a digital optical slave mode, which ignores the pre-flash pulses of master flashguns, plus a film slave mode, which triggers on the first pulse of light. Both modes require manual power settings. Recycling speed is very fast, despite a high maximum power output. The bundled Air 1 Commander slots into a hotshoe and enables advanced RF control and triggering of compatible Nissin flashguns in wireless slave mode.(opens in new tab)
This hugely popular flashgun certainly ticks the budget box, yet with a power rating of GN38, it matches the brightness of the much pricier GN40-rated Nissin i40 (opens in new tab) (below). Power is adjustable in eight steps and flash coverage is fairly even, with only a hint of corner vignetting, though as you’d expect at this price, the head won’t zoom to match your lens's focal length. It does however sport 0-90 degrees tilt and 270 degrees of rotation, and conceals a typical bounce card and diffuser panel. You get essential extras like S1 and S2 slave modes, with the latter being useful if your master flash emits pre-flash strobing. In S2 mode, the TT560 ignores the pre-flashes and only fires in sync with the main flash burst. Both modes work well, although as with any optically-triggered system, don’t expect perfect reliability outdoors. Controls are very simple, with power and mode controls, and a test fire button. Being a completely manual flashgun, though, there’s no TTL exposure control, and the basic (yet metal) hot shoe has a single contact so will work in any standard camera hotshoe.(opens in new tab)
The i40 is Nissin’s attempt at making a compact flashgun that doesn’t sacrifice any performance. Unlike some slimmed-down speedlights, the i40 is powered by 4 AA batteries, not just 2, so you can expect at least 220 flashes per set/charge, as well as fast recycle times. We found flash power to be consistent with Nissin’s GN40 rating. With the auto-zoom head set at 50mm to match our test lens, we noticed some minor vignetting, but no more so than with other zoom flashguns. Rather than trying to cram in an LCD display and buttons on the rear panel, Nissin has kept things simple and there are just two dials. One sets the flash mode (TTL, manual, TTL slave and manual slave options are available), the other dial adjusts flash power (or exposure compensation when in TTL mode). It’s a refreshingly simple and direct control system that works well, although we did encounter a couple of crashes that required the battery compartment to be opened and closed before the i40 would respond again. Otherwise, the build quality feels excellent. The head boasts a full range of articulation, there’s High Speed Sync capability, and even a useful LED video light with 9 levels of brightness adjustment and a 3.5-hour runtime. Check out our full Nissin i40 review (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
Available in Canon, Nikon and Sony options, the Phottix Mitros+ TTL is a seriously pro-grade flashgun. It offers a full range of high-speed sync, rear-curtain and programmable strobe/repeat flash modes, a generous GN 58m (at 105mm, ISO 100) power rating and an excellent build quality to boot. There’s an external power pack socket and, like the Canon 600EX II-RT, the Phottix has a weather-sealed mounting foot to shroud the camera’s hotshoe. Also like the flagship Canon, the Phottix includes an RF transceiver. This puts it ahead of the Nikon Speedlight SB-5000, because you can use the Phottix as a wireless RF master as well as a slave unit in multi-flashgun setups, without having to buy an additional RF transmitter or transceiver. Even so, the flashgun is also compatible with Phottix Odin and Strato radio triggers. TTL flash is a bit on the bright side, but at least it’s consistent. The maximum output lags a little behind the most powerful flashguns on the market, but overall, the Phottix is a feature-rich and a solid performer.
How we test flashguns
At DCW, our in-house team of experts are well-versed in testing cameras, lenses and accessories. We review equipment such as flashguns using a combination of real-world and lab testing, rating the power output of the flash, its versatility, its key features and its ease of use. We use our findings from reviews to inform our comments in buying guides. For more, see our guide to how we test and review at Digital Camera World (opens in new tab).
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