I have a Sony a580 and I'm thinking about purchasing a flash.

I'd like to use the flash for indoor photography: portraits, group photos and candid shots.

It looks like there are a number of options out there with wildly different prices (from $100 up to $500). With those price differences you have to ask if it would be better to purchase multiple cheaper flashes than one of the high end units.

What factors should I consider when making this decision?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Its very hard if not impossible to use a flash for candid shots. The reason some prefer candid shots is how natural it looks, and flash does not really add to the naturalness of the shot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gapton flash can look quite natural in skilled hands, take a look at Matt Grum's examples (except the first one, which is meant to be a counter-example) \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know, I read many books about how to use a flash to produce natural lighting. However I was referring to the fact that such setup can hardly be used for a candid shot, you usually don't have time for candid shots, even if you do, you expose yourself to the subject after the first shot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 3:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gapton there's some good advice on staying off radar in "How to keep flash from disrupting the scene?". A tilt+swivel TTL flash indoors with a bounceable surface nearby takes less than a second to set up for a shot. FWIW, at least the dancer and huggers in Matt's examples seem to be candid. There are many wedding photogs working at least partially in candid style, and fast glass alone won't suffice indoors. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 4:36

3 Answers 3


Probably the first important decision is whether you need the convenience (and working speed) of TTL metering with a flash, or are you going to set up your shots in a more crafty way and so a (significantly cheaper) manual flash would suffice.

You can probably get away with a manual one for portraits and group shots (actually, it would be better to have at least two, so you'd have a key light for lighting the scene and a fill light to reduce shadows from the other side). Opportunities for candid shots, however, may come unplanned, and TTL would be of great help for making sure the flash gives the right amount of pop in hurry. Perhaps one TTL flash and one manual flash to help in off-camera work would be a good starting setup for you.

Note that Sony/Minolta hot-shoes are different from ISO 518 standard hot shoe that the rest of manufacturers use, so you'll need an adapter for most manual flashes if you want to use them on-camera.

Further factors to consider, no matter if you want the TTL or not, are still the same as when choosing a manual flash.

You'll probably also need some accessories for your flash - see "What's a decent lighting kit for getting started with portraits?".


Once you have made up your mind do you need multiple flashes, then the rest is quite easy.

If you shoot alone, its pretty rare that you will use more than one flash. You may use more than one flash in your studio for portrait or group shots, but you can hardly carry two flashes outside alone. To use multiple flashes outdoor, you do need some light stands, and most likely a person who can hold a flash or a reflector for you.

If you have a studio, however, or a place/room where you can setup your lights, then it's great to have multiple flashes.

  • Look at the photos you take, how much time you spent on setting up the shot?

If you shoot with a model, its fine to spend some time setting up the shots. In other situations, you may not want to ask your friends and family stand still for 2 minutes while you set up the flashes and everything.

If you prefer working quickly instead of doing "setup shots" , then you will need a TTL flash. Wireless function is also a good choice since off camera flash is invaluable. Or you can get a flash cable.

Maximum power (GN, or guide number) and recycling time are important too.

  • Having a high GN gives ease of working in sunlight, and in a bigger rooms. If you have a weak flash, you may not be able to light the entire room for wide angle shots. If the ceiling is very high, you may not be able to bounce light off it, too.

  • Recycling time means how fast can the flash fires in succession. If there is any subject that you only get to shoot once in a dim environment, recycling time becomes extremely important. For photographers shooting fashion show, or celebrity, they must use a flash that allows them to shoot 10 fps. They would go so far to say that "I'd prefer burning the flash then missing a shot" when complaining that they cannot turn off the overheat protection function and shoot until the flash got smoked.

You may not be shooting celebrities but if you want to shoot something in a dark environment and you do not want to miss a shot, consider getting a flash with a fast recycling time.

Cheap manual flashes are good when you:

  • want to do static shots at home/studio, like macro or close ups
  • have the option to retake the shot in case of failure

In fact, some are so cheap ($25) that I just bought one as tool I can use at home when I do some macro.


My approach has been:

  • Invest in a Sony-branded flash. I got the HVL-42AM but I'd recommend the newer HVL-43 as it doesn't have the same issues when used off-camera (the 42 first needs to be "activated" by mounting it on a camera -- annoying).

    This will probably give you 90% of what you need, at least for a good while: TTL (so you don't need to manually set the flash power), automatic zooming (i.e., as you zoom in, the flashhead also zooms), and the ability to use the Sony wireless system off-camera. It allows you to bounce it off a ceiling/wall, or you could mount a softbox on it. And there's nothing to stop you moving on to controlling the flash manually. Coupled with a cheap reflector and you'll be set.

  • For fancier flash setups, it's cheaper to go for a set of wireless triggers (I use Pixel 373 Soldiers) and some third-party or second-hand Minolta flashes (I use 2xMinolta 5400xi's) -- all for less than the cost of the one Sony flash above. Most triggers allow you to use a Sony/Minolta trigger and a Canon/Nikon receiver so it can be a good way to buy cheap flashes. The disadvantage of this system is that it's not as fast or as easy to get to grips with as the Sony flash.

The reason I recommend getting a single Sony flash first is it provides the most versatility and will serve you well as you begin to explore flash photography.

This is a very useful site for understanding Sony/Minolta flash compatibility


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