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Compact cameras and DSLRs have built in flashes. And DSLRs have external flashes that you can attach.

How do I know how long the bulb in the compact camera flash will last? (e.g. how many more flashes before the bulb requires replacement?)

Also, how long will the bulb in a DSLR external flash last?

I notice that the manual (esp. for the compact camera) does not state how many flashes it can take?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

The "bulb" of a camera flash is not a bulb in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a high-discharge flash tube, which is a type of arc lamp. This makes them more similar to streetlamps or neon lamps, rather than traditional filaments that can burn out.

A properly designed and manufactured flash tube can last for millions of cycles, much longer than you will keep the camera, as shutters are rated to last only 100,000 - 300,000 cycles. Degradation of the flash tube - through ablation and sputter - is usually slow and minor.

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+1, but rapid heat cycling and poor heat management (let's face it, built-in and hot shoe flashes are tiny for their output, are relatively rigidly mounted, and don't have active, or even much in the way of passive, cooling) can significantly reduce the life of the tube (the actual glass or crystal, as opposed to the electrodes). Slow recycles mean that's not often a problem with compacts, but with hot shoe flashes used as a replacement for studio flash can run into cracking/leakage problems in thousands, rather than millions, of flashes. – user2719 Feb 25 '13 at 11:02
@StanRogers: This is further confirmed by the warnings found in most flash manuals about enforcing a cooling off period after the high power, high framerate duty which is realistically possible with external inverters – Ryccardo Mar 20 '13 at 22:19

according to this post on strobist flash tubes are usually rated between 1000 and 5000 pops.

This is 1000-5000 full power consecutive pops until the tube starts to lose power.

If you don't use full power the tube will last longer, if you don't subject your flash to consecutive pops the tube will last longer, if you don't let it heat up it will last longer, etc. - and when the tube starts to fail it loses power slowly so it's still useable (but not as good) long after it "failed".

So, in real world usage the flash tube is usually going to last longer than the flash/camera it's in (this is more true for compact cameras that are replaced often and less for pro flashes that photographers keep using for years and years) - but if you abuse your flash it will start to degrade after just a few thousand flashes.

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I read the article recently, then remembered seeing this question and thought it would be approriate, but you've beaten me to it! – Matt Grum Mar 20 '13 at 14:45

I have not seen any specifications that state a number of flashes, but I would expect with good care you would get tens of thousands of flashes, and the flash would last about as long as the camera.

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