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I have a Nikon D3200.

With the camera on Auto Focus, the lens on Auto, and Flash on, I can take several pictures in a row with no problem. But after say a dozen or so pictures right after the other in a short amount of time, the shutter will stop releasing. I'll get the auto-focus beep, but no picture.

I notice that when this happens, the Flash icon in the lower right of the viewport goes away. If I wait a bit -- maybe 5-10 seconds -- the flash icon will reappear and then I can take pictures again.

If I turn flash off, I do not experience this problem.

It's been this way since I got the camera a few years ago. I can reproduce this behavior every single time. It's almost as if the Flash has to re-warm-up, or gets overheated, or something.

Is this expected behavior?

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Yes, this is expected behavior. The flash is a xenon tube which requires a high voltage burst. This is supplied by a capacitor. If you deplete the capacitor by taking several flash pictures in quick succession, you will have to wait for the capacitor — and therefore the flash — to recharge.

In addition to the recharge time, heat is also an issue — each flash releases quite a bit of energy in that form, and it builds up. Even when you have enough power, most flashes will cut off after a bit to protect themselves from damage — or, you know, to keep from starting fires.

All of this applies to both external flashes and the built-in flash. When flashes communicate with the camera — and of course the built-in one does — the camera can know that the flash isn't ready and refuse to release the shutter. With a manual external flash, you're likely to just get underexposure.

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    PS: Thanks for asking an exemplary troubleshooting question, with a full description of the problem, what you're doing when it occurs, and when it doesn't. – mattdm Dec 26 '16 at 16:43
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    In the old days, with external flash units, you got ONE flash then had to wait for the capacitor to recharge. It's amazing what the budget Nikons will do. But unlimited successive flashes is asking too much. There's also the possibility that the memory card can't keep up with too many rapidly successive saves. But it doesn't sound as if that's the problem here. – Laurence Payne Dec 26 '16 at 21:59
  • Nikon external flashes will likely do more flashes before their cycle time goes up, and at higher power too. But they are expensive. – James Youngman Dec 27 '16 at 10:16
  • @mattdm Your last comment should probably be appended tot he answer. – Michael C Dec 27 '16 at 20:01
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The internal flash has a temperature sensor, and the camera manuals say "The shutter release may be briefly disabled to protect the flash after it has been used for several consecutive shots. The flash can be used again after a short pause."

Most hot shoe flashes are not protected this way, and overheating can do serious damage requiring repair or replacement.

  • Most older hot shoe flashes may not have thermal protection, but a LOT of newer external flash units certainly do. – Michael C Dec 27 '16 at 20:02
  • Some new ones do, but I meant to include third party flashes too. – WayneF Dec 27 '16 at 20:04
  • If my cheap Yongnuos have thermal protection, then I'm not sure that most third party flashes don't... – Michael C Dec 27 '16 at 20:20

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