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I'm under impression that a flash (both a built-in unit and an external speedlight) uses some kind of very high power lamp which may have limited durability. So it may be that a typical camera will last much longer than its flash if the flash is used often.

How reasonable is this assumption? Do flashes wear out? Is a typical flash as durable as a typical camera?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I started to answer this, but the question really is just too vague to be meaningful. Yes, flash tubes and other flash-related components do wear out. But since the question includes built-in flashes and external flashes, gives no indication of what's meant by typical camera or typical flash, and uses imprecise terms like often and durable, it's really impossible to say something useful without adding lots of qualifications. Could you edit your question to be more specific? \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Jan 15, 2018 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ How durable is a typical automobile? I guess it all depends on whether you consider a Yugo or a Mercedes-Benz the "typical" automobile, doesn't it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 15, 2018 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark Yeap, but it's quite easy to answer a "car vs tires" question under some reasonable assumptions. \$\endgroup\$
    – sharptooth
    Jan 16, 2018 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caleb I'd be happy to be more specific but it's hardly possible IMO. Would you prefer a "model X camera vs model Y flash" question? That would be "too specific". \$\endgroup\$
    – sharptooth
    Jan 16, 2018 at 10:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sharptooth The point is, there's probably more variation from one flash tube/bulb maker to the next than there is from one automobile maker to the next. In most countries there are minimum standards auto makers must meet. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 16, 2018 at 13:29

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As others have already noted, the flash tube has a limited (albeit very long) life.

Especially if you only use flash occasionally, that may not be the limiting factor though. At least in a typical flash design, you have a fairly large capacitor. The battery charges the capacitor, then the capacitor discharges through the flash tube to provide a large amount of power in a very short time.

That's typically going to be what's called an "electrolytic capacitor". An electrolytic capacitor contains some slightly moist pasty...stuff (sorry, for the technical terminology). Although it'll normally have a plastic seal, over several year's time, the moisture in the capacitor can/will slowly evaporate, and as it does, the capacitor can't do its job as well any more. Eventually, it will need to be replaced, or the flash won't have the capacity it once did (and after long enough, may cease to work at all).

So, wearing out the flash bulb is more likely to happen to somebody like a professional who's using the flash many times a day, virtually every day. For a typical amateur who may easily go for weeks or months between using the flash, the capacitor is more likely to be the weak point.

All that said, I have my doubts about a flash having limit on its life span that's really meaningful to most people under most circumstances. Just for example, I still have a Vivitar 283 that I bought around 1988 or so. Although I don't have exact numbers (sorry, but good as Velvia and Kodachrome were, they didn't record EXIF info) I'd hazard a guess that it's been shot at least 10,000 times. I bought it used, and around July I'll have had it for 30 years. I suppose its maximum power might be slightly below spec, but it still seems to work just fine.

As for being as durable as a camera: the Maxxum 9000 I shot when I bought that flash still works fine, but is basically obsolete. So is the Maxxum 9 that replaced it, and the Minolta 7D that replaced that. I suppose you could argue about whether the Alpha 700 that replaced that is truly obsolete, but it's definitely getting pretty old, and the Alpha 900 that replaced that is too.

Bottom line: for most practical purposes, the flash has already outlived at least 4 cameras, and might easily outlive at least one more.

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A good flash tube has a life of around 5000 shots. Cheaper flash's tubes are rated at 1000 shots. http://strobist.blogspot.nl/2013/02/will-your-flash-last-forever.html

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think "around 5000 shots" is a good summary of that article, which explains that in practice (and especially when shooting at less than full power) most flashes have a life much longer than that. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 15, 2018 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Page 14 of the Paul Buff Alienbees user manual says their flashtube life is "well over 100,000 flashes", and "typically provides over 250,000 flashes". Flash tubes do change color somewhat with use though, and Nikon suggests service every couple of years. \$\endgroup\$
    – WayneF
    Jan 15, 2018 at 17:15

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