5 Best Small (Pocket) Camera Flashes for On Location Shoots (Updated)
When first stepping into the world of flash photography, it can be a daunting and overwhelming experience. Understanding what your budget is, how much power you need, and which brand to choose… these are just a few of the most commonly asked questions we receive from first-time flash users. It’s a large part of the reason we got into making photography & lighting tutorials – to help the everyday professional figure out what flash they need and how to use it. To help you make your purchasing decision, here are the 5 best speedlights, i.e. small flashes, for photography.
This article was originally written in 2021 and updated in 2023.
What Flash is Right For You?
We wanted to help you make a more educated decision based on how much power you need, what brand of flash you already own, and what budget you are working with. We are all about offering options based on positive results and luckily we’ve gone through months and years of testing some of these lights to give you the best of the best photography lighting equipment for every budget. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you purchase your first camera flash:
- How much power do I need?
- What is my budget?
- How often do I use flash?
- Do I need a constant light?
- Do I need more than one?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you should have a pretty clear indication of the purpose behind your purchase. It is so common to simply buy gear for the sake of it. So, for example, if you are more of an all-around photographer and only use flash for portraits and events every once in a while, then you should honestly spend more money on your lenses, and get one of the more affordable flashes!
The Best Camera Flashes
Most photographers start with one compact flash, on-camera. Almost all modern-day mirrorless and DSLR cameras come with a hot-shoe mount for this very reason and are also why our Lighting 101 course only discusses how to use your on-camera flash to create flattering and dynamic images. Once you’ve developed enough comfortability using an on-camera flash, then it’s time to move on to a more complex set-up and dive into off-camera flash photography.
With that being said, these are our top contenders for off-camera flash equipment in the 50-75Ws range:
Canon 430EX III-RT
The Canon 430EX III-RT is priced at just under $300. That’s a big deal, because its predecessor, the Canon 600EX-RT, debuted at $600. And yet, the Canon 430EX III-RT is almost as robust and powerful, at half the price!
This flash basically has everything that you’d want in a flash. Compared to most third-party options, the Canon has two advantages. In our opinion, it’s totally worth the price tag.
Firstly, since this is a Canon flash on a Canon device, you are going to get better operative features, like the autofocus assist in low light situations. Third-party flashes don’t always work perfectly with every autofocus mode and option that every Canon camera has. If you’re doing a lot of professional work, then it may be worthwhile to spend the money on the Canon 430EX III-RT, simply because everything works.
The other advantage of the 430EX III-RT is that it’s a little bit more refined in its menu system and controls. Third-party flashes are often confusing and even downright cumbersome to setup or use. Other options have admittedly come a long way in recent years, but still, one thing Canon has always done well is create a user-friendly, intuitive interface. And now, having Canon’s reliable, durable quality in such a compact, affordable package is an obvious winner. (For you Nikon and Sony users out there, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Read on…)
Other Favorite(Small) Best Camera Flash
- Profoto A10 (Adorama | B&H | Amazon)
At $1,195, the Profoto A10 is a high-end professional tool, indeed. The quality, reliability, and performance are only worth it if you’re heavily relying on your flashes to pay the bills.
- Godox Zoom Li-on R2 VING V860II (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji) (Adorama | B&H | Amazon)
For $248 in a kit with the XPro TTL trigger, this flash has it all: a proprietary lithium-ion battery, a built-in flash head zoom range of 20-200mm.
- Yongnuo YN600EX-RTII (Adorama | B&H | Amazon)
For just $138, this flash offers quite a lot, including 5 wireless groupings and 15 channels Unfortunately, it’s only available for Canon, and it likely won’t be compatible with the newest Canon mirrorless cameras.
- Godox V1 (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax) (Adorama | B&H | Amazon)
At $259 for just the flash or $328 with the Xpro trigger, it’s a bit more expensive than the V860, but this compact hotshoe flash offers a circular strobe, and the optional accessory kit of fitted filters, making it perfect for wedding photojournalism.
These flashes are compatible with on-camera flash photography and off-camera flash photography which is why they make our list. When we look for flashes we focus on versatility, weight, performance, and quality over time.
Godox TT685S II Flash (Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic)
The Godox TT685S II Flash is a great “brand agnostic” on-camera and off-camera flash. It is a full-feature flash, including a built-in radio system, TTL compatibility, and high-speed sync! (HSS) At $129, it’s far less expensive than any name-brand equivalent, of course.
The Godox TT685S II has all the features – TTL, front/rear curtain sync, high-speed sync, and a built-in radio system. It has four wireless groupings and 32 channels; basically everything you could need!
It has a good recycle time and a good wireless range. It has external power input, and a metal hotshoe. The recycle time is a mere 0.1 seconds at the lowest power, and 2.6 sec at the highest power.
This flash certainly “has it all”, so, the only downside with the Godox TT685S II is something that all third-party flashes may encounter, espeically lately: Canon, Nikon, and Sony may change their electronic hotshoe communication with newer cameras. Thus a third-party option may become either completely incompatible, or just lose HSS/TTL function.
Therefore, we do highly recommend making sure this flash is compatible, especially if you get one of the latest mirrorless cameras such as the Canon EOS R8.
2. Yongnuo YN560 IV Wireless Flash Speedlite
The Yongnuo YN560 IV is our most affordable, basic recommendation for aspiring or part-time professional photographers, or hobbyists who are on a very tight budget. Priced at a mere $85 per flash, you can purchase two or three flashes and still come out ahead of just one of some other flashes!
Having said that, its functions are truly basic. There is no TTL and no HSS, just manual flash power. This is perfect for those who are just getting started, of course, because of its simplicity, and you quickly learn the very important skill of manual flash power control.
It is all manual, no-frills, and extremely affordable. This is the perfect flash for you if you prefer simple tools and want to use manual control. Maybe you’re a serious portrait photographer who does photo shoots once in a while, and you need 2-3 basic strobes for on and/or off-camera work. Maybe you’re an aspiring professional, and your startup budget is constrained.
As full-time wedding photographers, our studio has plenty of team members who have used these flashes. Simply put, if you take good care of them, they’ll last long enough to help you make enough money to afford a better quality, more advanced flagship model, if that’s what you ultimately decide you need.
We’ll start the same way: It’s an all-manual flash, so if you’re looking for an advanced high-end unit with all the bells and whistles, this is the opposite. Having said that, we actually consider this a pro, for those who are, in fact, looking for manual control. The Yongnuo 560 IV is just delightfully simple and easy to use.
NOTE: The Yongnuo 560 series of flashes, including the Yongnuo 560 III, are so simple that they may even work cross-platform. For example, I can use a Canon-compatible Yongnuo on my Sony and Nikon mirrorless cameras!
The real drawback is the simple fact that any sub-$100 flash is going to have sub-par build quality, of course. If you drop one of these things, there’s a good chance you’ll destroy it. I’ve dropped mine plenty of times, and sometimes they survive, but other times they’re toast. This is true of all flashes, of course. But when you break one of these, the price tag of $85 usually means you simply toss it and buy another one. This is just not a good practice in the long run, both for your wallet and for the environment. They’re still an excellent value, and they make great backup units if you eventually do upgrade to something else.
If you want to learn more about lighting, be sure to check out our Lighting 101 and Lighting 201 courses. Both are accessible as a Premium Member. For more information on why we love these flashes and how we use them for wedding and portrait photography, stream our full library of lighting courses in SLR Lounge Premium!