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How to make mixed-brand speedlights work together

Peter Fenech
Before: With only a single off-camera flash it can be difficult to control shadows and add secondary lighting effects (Image credit: Future)

It is often the case in photography that we end up building a system of flash equipment that uses just one brand. We might start with a single flashgun, and because camera manufacturers often advocate the use of their own-brand flashes, we continue to amass kit belonging to that same system. This can then become an issue if we swap camera systems, though. 

Some photographers start with a more affordable third-party flash, but as they start to shoot more advanced scenes and invest in a couple of propitiatory units, they end up with a seemingly incompatible mix. 

Speedlights are easy to collect over the years, and given their cost, it can be hugely beneficial to employ different brands together as part of a single lighting system. 

By using non-specific triggers and carefully arranging the setup, it is possible to reliably use a mixed system of flashes, playing to the main advantages of each type and brand for a system with increased versatility. This will also help to get the most value out of speedlights you might otherwise consign to a back shelf.

Let’s take a look at how to get speedlights from different brands to work together. 

01. Work out the output

An issue with mixing flash models is that variable output can complicate the process of calculating lighting ratios. If one speedlight is more powerful than its neighbours, it must be factored in when assigning output.

Peter Fenech

(Image credit: Future)

02. Attach universal triggers

The main way we can integrate multiple brands is to make each unit wireless with a universal radio or IR trigger. These mean you don’t have to rely on intra-brand compatibility and can arrange lights as required.

Peter Fenech

(Image credit: Future)

03. Group lights by power

While it is tempting to group flashes based on brand, arranging them according to power output will makes it easier to create the desired lighting balance. Assign units with similar power to the same group/channel to streamline calculations.

Peter Fenech

(Image credit: Future)

04. Position for controllability

Place your least customisable (often cheaper) flashes further from your camera and preset the output. Since you often can’t wirelessly control power from universal triggers, it’s best to keep customisable units within reach.

Peter Fenech

(Image credit: Future)

05. Pair matching flashguns

If you have two flashes of the same model it can be useful to use these to light the subject. Since their output is identical, it is easier to balance light on the key areas, leaving ‘orphaned’ units as background lights.

Peter Fenech

(Image credit: Future)

06. Stagger the testing

With a multi-light setup where each type of flash is on a different channel, run through each in turn to check that all flashes are firing correctly and with the desired output. Take a shot with each group in isolation to check the balance.

Peter Fenech

(Image credit: Future)

Final image

Peter Fenech

After: By using universal radio triggers and thoughtful assignment, a multi-flash setup with several brands is possible, offering full lighting control and special effects possibilities (Image credit: Future)