If you recently purchased a DSLR or mirrorless camera from one of the top brands such as Canon, Nikon, or Sony, you’ve probably also gone looking for an external flash (aka a speedlite, flashgun, or hot shoe flash) to provide extra illumination for portraits and event photography. And, understandably, you’ve likely tried to match the flash brand to the camera: Nikon flash with Nikon camera, Canon flash with Canon camera etc.
What likely came next is also not much of a surprise: sticker shock.
Yes, a Canon Speedlite flash for your new Canon R6 camera is a solid choice but it doesn’t come cheap. The good news is there are more affordable alternatives to brand-specific flashes from so-called third-party flash manufacturers.
While there was a time when buying off-brand photo gear could be risky, that’s largely passed if you know what to look for. Along with being more competitive on price, third-party photo manufacturers often offer additional unique and handy features in their products because they have more freedom to do so. In this guide to the best budget flashes, we pick our three favorite third-party flashes in our Good, Better, Best format.
Editor’s Note: Good, Better, Best is a new product guide series on Digital Photo where we suggest three buying options for our favorite photo gear. A product qualifies as “Good,” if it’s affordable yet still offers decent quality for the price. “Better” means it’s a solid medium-tier choice that we think will appeal to most photographers both on features and price. “Best” are top-tier photography products that offer the pinnacle in quality but also the highest price.
See our recent Good, Better, Best guide to the top three ring lights here.
GOOD: Yongnuo YN568EX III
The Yongnuo YN568EX III has a surprising number of features for a flash that retails for just over $100. Available in Canon and Nikon versions that are directly compatible with those companies’ respective TTL (Through the Lens) and E-TTL (Evaluative TTL) systems, the Yongnuo YN568EX III ($108) is simple to use, thanks to its automatic exposure capabilities and high-speed sync option. Just set it and forget it, as they say. (For a good explainer on the basics of TTL in flashes, click here.) The Yongnuo YN568EX III can also operate as an optical TTL slave (aka receiver) flash for either Canon or Nikon systems. The YN568EX III is fairly powerful, with a rated guide number of 190 feet at ISO 100 and 105mm. Flash recycle time is relatively quick: just two seconds to recycle after a full flash burst. You can tilt the flash head from -7 to 90 degrees and rotate it 270 degrees, to shoot light from a range of angles. The YN568EX III has an AF-assist beam emitter, that allows you to focus more easily in dark environments. It has a 2.5mm sync port and a USB interface for firmware updates.
BETTER: Nissin i60A
The Nissin i60A ($279) is a compact yet powerful flash that has a built-in wireless NAS (Nissin Air System) receiver, making it great for creative off-camera lighting set-ups. In particular, we like using it for outdoor portraits: just place the Nissin i60A off camera as side lighting on your subject and fire away with the (optional) Nissin Air 1 ($79) commander on your camera’s hotshoe. The result will be a gorgeous portrait free of unflattering shadows. The Nissin i60A has a rated guide number of 197 feet at ISO 100 and 200mm, and a zoom range of 24-20mm, so it offers more than enough light for a variety of shoots. Recycle time ranges from 0.1-5.5 seconds. Available in versions that are compatible with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm and Micro Four Thirds TTL systems, Nissin i60A weighs just 11 ounces and fits in a small case so is perfect for travel. For bouncing your flash, the i60A tilts 90 degrees up and 180 degrees to the left or right. When shooting video, just turn on the i60A’s built-in LED light for constant illumination. Learn more about the Nissin i60A flash on Nissan’s website.
BEST: Metz mecablitz 64 AF-1
The cream of the crop in third-party flashes, the Metz mecablitz 64 AF-1 ($459) offers everything you could want from a speedlite and more. Available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony TTL versions along with one that works with Olympus/Panasonic/Leica TTL systems, the Metz mecablitz 64 AF-1 blends versatility with raw lighting power. With a rated guide number of 210 feet at ISO 100 and 200mm, the Metz 64 AF-1 has an automatic zoom range of 24-200mm. Meanwhile, a built-in wide-angle diffuser extends the range to 12mm. There’s also a built-in white reflector card; a modeling light option for previewing your lighting; a USB port for updating the flashes’ firmware; high-speed first and second curtain sync options; and automatic fill-in flash, rapid, strobe, and servo flash with learning curve modes to get you started. We also love the Metz 64 AF-1’s color touchscreen display on back of the flash, which lets you quickly view and change settings. The flash head can tilt from -9 to +90 degrees and rotate 300 degrees for a variety of shooting scenarios.