Guide Number? Tilt? Zoom? Common Flash Features

Common Flash Features Explained

Are all flashes the same? What are their functions and features? Which features do you need? Keep reading to learn more.

If you have made up your mind and want to add a flash to your photography kit, you may find yourself looking at different models, each one with a different set of features that you may not be familiar with. That’s why I decided to break down some of the most common and, in my opinion, most useful features.

Power

The first feature that may be evident while you examine a flash in your hands is its power source. Based on this category you may find the following options:

Flashes that are powered through the camera, like the Fujifilm EF-X8, which comes bundled with many Fujifilm cameras, like the X-T2, X-T3 and X-E3. With these flashes you don’t need to worry about getting batteries, but they are usually not very powerful and can only be used on compatible camera bodies.

The most common power option is to use AA batteries. This is the case with the Godox TT350, TT600, and TT685, but it also applies to pretty much all flashes from the main camera brands like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic. The main advantage of using AA batteries is that you can find that kind of batteries almost anywhere.

There are many flashes nowadays that use proprietary, rechargeable batteries, which give you more shots per charge and they recycle (get the flash ready for the next shot) quicker than using AAs. However, you need to consider another charger in your workflow.

Tilt

Tilting is the capacity of the flash head to point to the front or up, and some steps in between. This allows you to direct the light in a direction other than straight to your subject, making the light slightly more pleasing. Tilting also allows you to bounce the light off a ceiling or wall.

Swivel

Tilting is the capacity of the flash head to rotate left, right, and some steps in between. Just like tilting, swiveling allows you to direct the light in a direction other than straight to your subject, making the light slightly more pleasing. It also allows you to bounce the light off a ceiling or wall.

I personally look for flashes that have tilt and swivel heads, because they are usually more versatile. There are some exceptions to this rule, but my recommendation is to look for a flash with both movements.

Zoom

Zooming the flash is the capacity to control how narrow or how wide the light beam will be, matching it with our lens’ viewing angle. It makes the light more uniform and efficient, but can also be used for creative purposes. Is it a must have? Not in my opinion.

Controls/Interface

Most flashes can be controlled using a screen, buttons, dials and switches on the back panel. That’s where you can make adjustments to the zoom, power settings and more. Some flashes have touch screens, like the Metz Mecablitz 52 AF and 63 AF. 

There are some other flashes that don’t have a screen, and can only be adjusted using the camera menu system. They are convenient because the menu system is usually presented in a larger screen, but they can only work on compatible cameras. Some examples of these flashes are the Fujifilm EF-X8, Canon 270EX, Canon 320EX and others.

Guide Number

The most important feature that you need to know in a flash is its Guide Number (GN). It is a measure of how powerful it is, and it’s usually expressed as a distance. This is the coverage distance of the flash under specific conditions, which usually are ISO 100, maximum zoom, maximum power, and shooting with a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.0.

The most common GN number range is between 58 and 60m (190-196 ft), but you can also find flashes with GN of 43m (141 ft), 35m (115 ft) and so on.

If you choose a flash with a high GN, you’ll have more range to operate the flash. If you go with a flash with a low GN, you’ll always need to be close to your subject.

As you can see, there are many features in a flash, so I listed some of the most important to me.

Do you have a flash? What is the feature you like the most? Please leave a comment below.

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