Top Tips For Buying a Flashgun
If you're taking pictures in low light, or just adding some fill-in, a dedicated flashgun will expand your range and allow you to balance even the strongest backlighting.
Many DSLRs have built-in flash units, which are adequate for general snaps, but have their limitations. If you want to get creative with flash, or just fire out more power with better light, a separate unit is essential.
Like lenses, though, you need to find a flashgun that's compatible with your camera - a Canon flashgun won't work with a Nikon camera, for example. There are also independent manufacturers who make versatile and powerful units in a variety of fits, while you may want something more specialised such as a hammerhead or ring flash.
Modern units offer tremendous automation and much of the mathematics that used to be required when using flash is now redundant. However, manual control is still useful to have for unusual situations or creative purposes.
Another advantage of a separate flash unit is that it will offer faster recycling times than on-camera units, which is useful if you're taking many photographs quickly.
There's also battery power to consider. Flash draws a lot of power, and this can seriously reduce the life of your camera battery, but a flashgun has its own batteries - usually a set of AAs.
Finally, the danger of redeye is reduced because the light is further from the lens axis.
Choosing a Flashgun
When buying a flashgun, it's worth bearing in mind that you generally get what you pay for. Cheaper flashguns are a mainly automated affair, with a few preset settings that match with the aperture that you are using. These are fine for the beginner or occasional user.
More expensive models benefit from better build quality, greater coverage and manual control, and so are more suited for professional or creative purposes. When choosing a flashgun, make sure that its coverage matches or exceeds that of any lens you envisage using it with. For home studio work, you may also benefit from wireless slave compatibility, available on certain models.
For more information on flashguns on the market, read our mid-price flashguns round-up.