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I am embarking on a course and part of the kit required is an external flash. The tutor has said to get something for a Canon - this was the recommended Nikon one (as she has a Nikon).

  • Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS)

I don't really know where to start and am looking at some pointers. Is there somewhere I can read about this or get some help?

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    Ask your tutor to make a recommendation for Canon. If they can't, get a better tutor because they're not very good. – Philip Kendall Aug 8 '16 at 12:33
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    More seriously, voting to close as "too broad". Depending on the requirements of your course, you may be able to make do with the cheapest manual-only flash, or you may need something significantly more expensive with TTL, HSS and all sorts of other things. Only your tutor can tell you what you need. – Philip Kendall Aug 8 '16 at 12:35
  • Are these really all the instructions you got on what to buy? – null Aug 8 '16 at 12:45
  • Nikon CLS is not a flash. It is a wireless system that all Nikon flashes (except one I think) use to communicate with the camera. If the tutor mentioned it, it's likely you need off-camera flash. Is that correct? – MikeW Aug 8 '16 at 18:58
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Wow. Completely unhelpful advice from your tutor there. You probably need a better tutor. But, Canon does have an equivalent to CLS. I just wouldn't call it a must-have feature on a flash.

Main factors to consider:

  1. Budget. Obviously, you only have so much money to spend. So, how much you can afford is going to limit your choices, just as budget probably limited your camera and lens choices.

  2. Features. How you plan to use the flash will determine what features you want. This can greatly affect the price tag. There are two main patterns of usage:

    1. On-Camera. This is where you use a battery powered speedlight (hotshoe flash) attached to the camera's flash hotshoe. It's most common to use this type of arrangement for run'n'gun event or social shooting, when you need to be light and portable, and bouncing is the most typical technique. If this is your usage scenario, a more expensive flash with Canon's eTTL II capability, and 360º swivel will be very nice to have.

    2. Off-Camera. This is where you are using any type of flash/strobe (battery powered, mains powered, studio strobe (monoblock or pack & heads), bare bulb, or speedlight) mounted off the camera, typically on a light stand. This is most typically used for studio-style lighting setups. You can go anywhere from super-cheap (manual speedlight) to astronomically expensive (TTL/HSS capable studio strobe) here.

      Tripping the flash remotely from the camera may require sync cables, or radio triggers. With this type of flash, manual power control is mandatory, and how the flash can be remotely triggered/controlled is more important. eTTL may be less useful, as automated power control for speed isn't of the essence in a studio setting, but it can give you more control over remote lights (if they're speedlights). Power, however, is going to be the main concern, here. Think of power on the flash like maximum aperture on a lens. The more you have, the more situations you can handle, but the bigger and more expensive the gear gets.

Starting out with a Canon dRebel, for a first flash, I'd recommend getting an eTTL/HSS capable speedlight. This way, you have a light that you can use both on and off-camera. Your budget should probably be at least US$200 (if you're in the US), although you can spend less if you're willing to go with cheaper Chinese brands and their possible issues. You don't have to get the most expensive, latest and greatest Canon flashes (600EX-RTII or 430EXIII-RT), you can look for their predecessors used (600EX-RT, 580EXII, 580EX, 430EXII, etc.) Or at third party flashes from Phottix, Godox, Sigma, Metz, Yongnuo, etc. Just be sure they're for the Canon hotshoe system, and 3rd party makers will also make Nikon, Pentax, Four-thirds, Fuji X, and Sony flashes.

If it were me starting out all over again, this week :), I'd probably go for a Godox Ving V860II if I had the budget, a TT685 if I didn't, and be looking at the Godox X1 system, because of the expansion/integrated triggering system. But I shoot off-camera and multiple systems. You're not me. So, do some research to see what's going to fit you, your budget, and how/what you shoot. (And if you're not the OP, and found this answer by googling; check the date, and realize specific model advice on Chinese flashes passes its sell by date really fast, as in weeks/months).

Flashhavoc is a great resource for researching what's out there right now. And the POTN board's lighting forum is full of folks with experience in this arena.

See also:

  • Also Strobist has good info. strobist.blogspot.com – MirekE Aug 9 '16 at 23:33
  • @MirekE, only problem with Strobist for gear-recommendation for a flash newb is the assumption that usage is all going to be off-camera, and to (mostly) dismiss TTL. When Strobist was started as a blog in 2006, Hobby wrote it for other pro PJ's, whom he assumed already knew about on-camera TTL/bouncing and wanted to move past that for a more polished look on editorial work. I tend to say Neil van Niekerk's Tangents is a better starting point for a complete newb, and to hit Strobist afterwards. – inkista Aug 10 '16 at 0:51

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