Reader Question: How to buy an Off Camera Flash

Flashes. Many photographers say that they’ll never need one or want one. I was one of them. Then I bought one as my wedding, event and portrait photography business grew, and it changed the way I photographed completely. It is quite possibly the most unappreciated consumer photography accessory. We recently received a question about it from HoMan, one of our readers.

Here’s his question:

“Hi there, i’m a casual photographer using a Panasonic G1 with a 14-45 and a 45-200 lens, while i do love the camera in outdoor or well lit indoor areas it suffers when lighting starts to dim and the G1s flash is extremely weak i find.

I was wondering if you could give a guide and tips on using flash photography in compact point and shoots to hot shoe flashes and what to look for and avoid when buying hot shoe flashes.

Thanks, love your phoblographer (possibly one of the hardest titles to pronounce but still excellent name)

HoMan Cheung”

Thanks for the question HoMan. I’m going to handle the second part of your question: what to look for and avoid when buying hot shoe flashes. Vincent will handle your other question at another time. In general though, you really want to avoid on-camera flash.

However, there are loads of things to look for when buying a hot shoe flash. Since you’re a casual photographer with a G1, we’ll look for a more casual flash for you. You’re going to need one with TTL metering, better known as “through the lens” metering. Also, because you’re shooting indoors, you’ll want to get something with a tiltable or rotatable head of some sort.

A commonly used tactic is to just point it at the ceiling and allow the light to illuminate the subject when bounced from up top. I prefer using diffusers like the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible. You can click that link if you’d like to find out more about it.

Another feature that you should look for in a new flash is if it will meter with your system. The Panasonic G1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera and as it stands, the system does not have any advanced flash systems at the time of writing this. Perhaps you may consider the Nissin Di466 flash for Four Thirds as it will work on Micro Four Thirds (I tested this recently at B&H.) It comes in white too.

According to Olympus’s website, the FL-36R flash is as an accessory for the EP-1. Judging from this, it’s reasonable to conclude that the models will meter with Micro Four Thirds. Though it is a bit more expensive, it will be very worth it for you in the long run. In addition, it also seems to have wireless capabilities, though I’m fairly confident that no Micro Four Thirds bodies do. Your accessories (lenses, flashes etc.) will always outlive your camera body. Amazon also has the Olympus FL-36R available for purchase.

Now since you’re not going to shoot anything like weddings or doing photoshoots, you won’t really need off-camera wireless capabilities so we can keep it cheaper.

Other than this, flashes at the lower end of the game are not very complicated and this is all you’ll need. Be sure to pick up some double A batteries, too.

What would you recommend to HoMan?

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