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When recycling, some flashes make a whistling sound, going from low to high frequency for a few seconds. After a more intensive flash, the sound is more intense as well.

What is the source of this whistling?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The whistling noise always reminds me of "Doh... Ray... Egon..." from Ghostbusters as they power on their protopacks, and thus always makes me smile :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Drew
    Jan 28, 2012 at 5:17

2 Answers 2

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There's an oscillator that creates AC current from the DC supplied by the batteries. The AC is needed to step the voltage up to the 300 or so volts that the flash tube needs, and that voltage is rectified back to DC and used to charge the capacitor (which can deliver a lot of DC current in a very short time). The sound you hear is mechanical vibrations caused in the transformer as the voltage is stepped up -- the transformer converts the low-voltage AC from the oscillator to changing magnetic fields, which, in turn, induce higher-voltage AC current in a second coil of wires on the transformer. The changing magnetic fields distort the transformer very slightly, and those mechanical distortions are what you are hearing. As for the changing frequency, that has to do with the amount of voltage (think of it as "electrical pressure") the oscillator is working against, which changes the operating conditions of the oscillator circuit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ rogers: I think your answer is basically correct, but the details of the circuitry are not quite accurate. Modern cameras charge flash capacitors using what's called a "boost DC-DC converter." The circuit consists of an inductor, a diode, and a transistor switching on and off around 5-15 kHz. The whining you hear is the mechanical vibration of circuit elements, but there are no transformers involved any more, because they're big and heavy. More info on boost converters: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boost_converter \$\endgroup\$
    – pingswept
    Dec 19, 2010 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Its basically doing this : youtube.com/watch?v=cz3DEP2LC_w . Unintentional in your case, intentional in the video. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tejas Kale
    Jul 11, 2016 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pingswept Indeed -- in this case the vibrating element is rather the inductor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ale
    Sep 8, 2020 at 12:27
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If you get a new high-end flash, such as the Canon EX 550 II, there will no longer be that whistling sound.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The sound is not a problem for me. I was just wondering what is the source of this sound, and the answer by Stan Rogers explains it very well. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2010 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was surprised when I got a nice new Metz flash, and no longer had that sound to indicate when the flash was done recycling. Now I have to look for the "ready" light. (Oh, the humanity.) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 19, 2010 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the sound is cool! \$\endgroup\$
    – Zabba
    Dec 19, 2010 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zabba - you can always buy an CP-E4 if you want to hear the whistle again. It has a nice comfortingly loud one. I too enjoy the sound of it charging.:) \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Apr 1, 2013 at 19:30

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