Even on good DSLRs, popup flash units are inadequate. Professional DSLRs do not have them at all. Mid to pro level cameras have large ISO ranges that produce little noise to compensate for low light levels, but there are many times a flash is needed to give a photo that extra love. Sometimes, the extra pop of light is absolutely necessary to capture an image, and sometimes it is used for creative purposes.

NikonI always recommend trying before buying, here in the land down under we call it camera and lighting hire while the rest of the up and coming photo lovers refer to it as “renting” Most places will ship you a rental within days let you try it and ship it right back. Perfect for making sure you don’t end up with holiday buyers remorse.

So If you have a photographer you need to get a gift for, or if you wanna play santa for yourself here are the top 5 DSLR flashes this season.

  1. Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight

This is the flagship flash unit for Nikon DSLRs. The SB-910 AF works with Nikon FX (Full frame) image sensors as well as DX (APS-C) image sensors. It utilizes information available through a Nikon DSLR by means of intelligent Through-The-Lens (i-TTL) metering to zoom the flash and set the flash strength and duration. It works on or off the camera, and it can be set to control other flash units or act as a slave unit. Multiple SB-910 flash units can be set up to light a scene using the built in wireless communication technology of the Speedlight. The flash rotates 180 degrees with up to a 90 degree vertical axis to bounce the flash.

Canon2. Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite

This is the top-of-the-line model of portable battery-powered flash units made by Canon. They use a variation in the spelling for the device calling it a “Speedlite” as opposed to Nikon's “Speedlight.” The Canon 600EX-RT is sealed to help protect against the intrusion of water and dust. It works on the DSLR hot show or can be remotely controlled and triggered singly or in groups. It has a built-in catchlight panel to produce aesthetically pleasing reflections in the eyes of portrait subjects. It also has a built-in color filter holder. The 600EX-RT can be rotated 180 degrees and positioned vertically up to 90 degrees to bounce the flash.

Profoto3. Profoto B1

This single off-camera flash unit is a favorite among professional and amateur photographers for both ownership and lighting hire. The Profoto B1 is highly versatile and very powerful. It can use TTL information from both Canon and Nikon DSLRs. It is a powerful and capable light-shaping tool that is powered by its own internal high capacity and rechargeable battery. The B1 can be handheld by an assistant or mounted to a range of tripod and stand configurations. One Profoto B1 light can make poorly lit locations as camera friendly as a studio setup. It has a maximum 500 Watt second output. The B1 works with Profot softboxes, umbrellas, grids and diffusers, and it can fire 220 full power flashes before needing a recharge.

Photojojo4. Photojojo Oh! Wow Ring Light

Cost is sometimes a major factor in what is the best equipment for a photographer on a tight budget. This sub $100 ring light flash unit is becoming a hit among amateur photographers due to its cost. This LED ring light works well for macro photography. Portrait subjects may have a problem with the continuous light output LEDs. However, a workaround is to have subjects keep their eyes closed until the photo is taken. Considering other ring lights that can create awesome specular highlights in the eyes of portrait subjects cost upward of $500, many photographers do not mind the limitations of the Oh! Wow Ring Light. Continuous lighting also makes this an option for use as video light.

Nissin5. Nissin Di866 Mark II

For budding photography enthusiasts trying to reach a balance between camera body, lens costs and accessory costs, the Nissin di866 Mark II may fit the bill. This aftermarket flash is made by Nissin of Japan. They have been providing camera gear since 1963. The Di866 Mark II works with many Canon, Nikon and Sony DSLRs. It has a color display, and that is a one up on the flagship Canon and Nikon flash heads. It also supports TTL metering and rotates 180 degrees with a 90 degree vertical tilt capability for bouncing the flash.

After the camera body is purchased, the two additional major expenses for photographers are lenses and lighting. A high-end flash unit can exceed the cost of some mid-level camera bodies. Proper lighting makes or breaks every single image, and choosing the right flash units for a photographer's particular style is important.

If you're looking to buy a real nice DSLR to accompany your flash we wrote up a product showdown between Nikon and Cannon right here.

Again, Savvy photographers will rent equipment to try it out before committing to a purchase. Happy Holidays and even happier shooting!

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