General Question

silverfly's avatar

What are the main components to look for when buying a light system for a camera?

Asked by silverfly (4025 points ) April 13th, 2010

What are the advantages/disadvantages of a shoe-mount flash?

What are the advantages/disadvantages of a 3-point light kit?

What are the main things I need to look for in a new light system?

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13 Answers

njnyjobs's avatar

The choice for lighting equipment for your camera is as varied as the purpose of your photography. Certain lighting are best suited for portraits, other are best for fashion and glamour and another lighting system may be best suited for product photography.

The mood and theme of the photo shoot also lends some factor in choices for lighting. The subject of Photography Lighting is a broad spectrum.

grumpyfish's avatar

Main advantage of a shoe-mount flash is that it’s light and portable. Main disadvantage is that it generally makes all of your shots look like a deer in headlights. If you’re really good with them, you can get a nice fill with a flash, but it’s hard.

Main advantage of studio strobes is that they’re bright, cycle quickly, and have lots of accessories to let you control the quality of the light. Main disadvantage is that they’re (relatively) heavier, most need to be plugged in, much more expensive, and larger. is a site talking about the middle ground—using shoe-mounted flashes off-camera to get you light/cheap/portable without sacrificing good quality lighting.

If you’re looking for something with the maximum flexibility to be able to shoot non-professionally on location or in a studio, I’d look to buying several shoe-mount flashes and radio triggers (as described on strobist) to get going.

If you’re mostly going to be doing studio work, then I’d look to get a studio strobe system. I have a couple of Alien Bees, I’m a big fan of them. They’re not the highest quality lights on the market, but they output a lot of light for the money, and they’ve served me well. ( )—The B800 is a great tradeoff of brightness vs. cost.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Depends on what your subject is and what style of lighting you prefer.

Lighting is not “One size fits all”.

Tell me more about what you want to shoot. Better yet, link to some web photos that you’d like to emulate. I’ll tell you exactly what you need to duplicate the lighting.

silverfly's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I’m mostly interested in shooting subjects in low light when I don’t have a tripod (which is almost always). I would like to shoot subjects indoors as well. My website has some examples of my style:

CyanoticWasp's avatar

You don’t seem to need flash much at all, based on the photos in the link. All of those (with the possible exception of the indoor Buddha statue) seem to have been made outdoors with available light.

If your photos are going to be primarily unposed shots without studio equipment (and without an equipment carrier) I don’t see many good alternatives to the hot shoe type.

silverfly's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I agree. So, if I’m going to get the shoe mount, what specs should I look for? When I think of a new computer, I think of processor, Mhtz, Ram, etc. What would be the flash equivalent?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yes your photos are all natural light. I can’t imagine using flash for any of them. They are not indicative of the style you would be using flash for.

I imagine you would do the same with low light evening shots.

But if you just want a light to throw into the bag, then consider the best or second best flash of your specific camera manufacturer. They will be capable of shooting manual and TTL auto depending upon your desires.

Anything with a guide number of 70 or above will suit your purposes for street photo fill flash. You don’t need a lot of power. Just enough to give a squirt of light to balance the foreground with the background. More power required to fill in streaking shadows on someones face if they are in direct sunlight.

Options to consider:

You could use reflectors instead of flash. The light is more natural with reflectors, and always balanced to the color of the sun, which changes temperature throughout the day.

You seem to prefer nature. Perhaps a ring flash would suit your fancy if you purchased a macro lens too. Macro often requires ring flash. And a ring flash is very nice for portraits as well. It gives a unique specular hilight in the subjects eyes, and gives everyone that “fashion” look.

This is a new type of ring flash adapter that works on a standard hot shoe flash. The benefit is a much larger ring, and you retain the power from your shoe mount flash.

Make sure you check the list of flashes it adapts to. The one above is listed for Canon and Nikon. This one is listed for Sony/Minolta.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Well, it’s been decades since I bought a flash unit, but I guess…

1. Size and weight
2. Cycle time
3. Ability to change orientation (for bounce flash, indirect light, etc.)
4. Cost, obviously

silverfly's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Thanks! Many of my photos are in natural light because I don’t have a flash! :) But this seems like a great amount of information to at least point me in the right direction and get started. Thanks again.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The best kept secret for on camera flashes is the old reliable Sunpack 383

It is not a TTL dedicated flash for digital. It does not have a zoom.


Not only does it have full manual ratio from 1:1 to 1:16 power, but it also has bounce, swivel, and 3 auto eye settings. The auto eye is on the flash. It does not go through the lens and work with your cameras auto function.

You can also look for the Sunpack 422D, 433D, or 444D. These are the same as the 383 but they have detachable modules to dedicate them specifically to certain old film cameras. You’re not concerned with the dedication (not the same as TTL), as these probably won’t dedicate properly to new digital cameras. But they do work great, and if the foot ever breaks (they often do) then you can just order a new module.

Don’t underestimate the auto eye built in to these old flashes. They work fabulously. The newer dedicated TTL/ETTL/PreFlash/InfraRed/PulseStrobe blah blah blah is very much marketing and hype.

The secret workhorse for pros is the Sunpack 383 or the Vivitar 283/285. I like the Sunpacks because the Vivitars don’t swivel and don’t have power setting for 1/8th for some strange reason.

They are so cheap that you can get a few of them and use for studio lights too.

They accept flash diffusers like this or this, and even an assortment of these and these too. There’s lot’s more accessories (cheap) like snoots and soft box adapters.

Then you can get a set of these and trigger it all wirelessly… and still keep each Sunpack flash on Auto or set Manually power ratio.

This is old tech meets new tech. It’s really a fun and efficient, expandable kit to build and use. You can even get high powered external battery supplies and or run it all from an AC adapter.

A well kept secret of the pros.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Hey forget that other wireless receiver I linked to. They require chords. These work directly from your flashes hot foot, and have a screw thread for mounting to a light stand or flash bracket.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

And you can even hang out with hot girls if you got the new beauty dish to complete the kit.


silverfly's avatar

Hahaha! My girlfriend is hot enough and she’ll be impressed.

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