Getting Started with Speedlites

Getting Started with Speedlites

This section of the website has been written to help make you aware of some of the main functions that many of the speedlites offer. This site is not really aimed at teaching you to take better photos (subject, composition, creativity etc.), rather it’s aimed at briefly explaining the main functions of the speedlite so that when you read the speedlite reviews you’ll have a better understanding of what I’m taking about and are more familiar with many of the technical terms used. Whether you need all of these functions is entirely up to you and will depend upon the type and style of image that you are trying to produce. If you are looking to build a small home studio or portable studio then you might only want to buy a couple of the most basic manual flash speedlites such as the AmazonBasics Flash (made by Godox) or the Yongnuo YN560 III. When you only need to use manual power these budget speedlites are almost as good as some of the top of the range ones that can cost ten times the price.

If you are new to flash photography and are thinking about buying a new speedlite then I’m sure you’ll find the following pages very useful. If you already have a speedlite and you’re either not confident in using it or you just want a bit of a refresher course then please read on. I’ll start with the very basics but it’ll soon get a bit more complicated and I’m sure even more advanced photographers will find something new.


Most speedlites accept 4x AA batteries. You can use standard alkaline batteries or rechargeable NiMH (Nickel-metal hydride) batteries. Most speedlite manufacturers advise you not to use the AA sized lithium batteries (such as the Energizer Ultimate Lithium). Lithium batteries do a great job at holding their charge for a long time and can deliver a high power output but they can also result in the speedlite overheating during continuous use and even result in melting the flashgun entirely.

Alkaline Batteries.

Recommended alkaline batteries include Duracell Ultra Power, Duracell Power Plus, GP Ultra, Energizer Alkaline, AmazonBasics Performance etc.

NiMH Batteries.

If you use your speedlite a lot or have several speedlites then you’ll soon get tired of constantly buying alkaline batteries. A great option, and one that’s better for the environment, is to buy rechargeable NiMH batteries. Your flash recycling time will be around 25% quicker with NiMH batteries compared to alkalines. I would recommend buying batteries with a rating 2500mAh and above.

One of the best brands of NiMH battery is Panasonic Eneloop Pro 2500mAh which can be charged up to 500 times and they are stated to hold 85% of their power after 1 year. But they are expensive. Also recommended are Duracell Recharge Ultra 2500mAh which can be recharged up to 400 times and AmazonBasics High Capacity 2500mAh batteries (up to 500 charges)

Panasonic Eneloop Pro are one of the best NiMH rechargeable batteries for flash but they are expensive.

NiMH batteries and “memory effect”.

Voltage depression (often mistakenly attributed to the memory effect) from repeated partial discharge can occur, but is reversible with a few full discharge/charge cycles from time to time.

Charging Your Batteries.

How you charge your rechargeable batteries is just as important as the batteries you use. The standard 4 battery charger that is often sold together with a set of 4 AA batteries is ok but usually the charger stops charging as soon as the first battery reaches full charge. This becomes a greater problem with time or if you mix the batteries. If you put a set of unevenly charged batteries into a speedlite it will continue to function until the first of the batteries falls below a certain voltage. To avoid this problem you should put the batteries in other devices and run them all down completely from time to time (this isn’t the same as memory effect). Even better is to buy a battery recharger that charges each battery separately. When the first battery reaches full charge the others will continue to charge until they all reach full power. The Maha Powerex MH-C800S 8-Cell Smart Charger is highly recommended and allows you to charge 8 AA batteries at a time (NiMH or NiCD). Be careful not to charge alkaline batteries by accident as they will leak acid and damage your charger.

Maha MH-C800S smart charger

When not in use for long periods of time always take the batteries out and store them separately.

Li-ion Batteries.

A few speedlites use their own Li-ion polymer battery instead of 4 x AA batteries an example being the Godox V860II-C Speedlite This provides faster recharge times of less than 1.5 seconds and approximately 650 full-power flashes. The Godox Witstro AD range are also powered by Li-ion polymer batteries for high output, fast recycle and extended number of flashes.

Fixing the speedlite to your camera.

When you are fixing your speedlite on top of your camera the speedlite foot slides into the camera’s hotshoe. The speedlite’s LCD control panel should be facing towards you so that you can hold the camera and make adjustments to the settings as necessary. Most manufacturers recommend that you turn both your camera and speedlite off before connecting them.

Typically there are 2 types of locking mechanism: the locking wheel and the lever lock. Both mechanisms secure the speedlite by driving a small metal pin into a hole on the camera’s hotshoe. If using the locking wheel always unscrew the wheel completely to disengage the pin before removing it. When looking at the camera and speedlite from above you need to turn the wheel anti-clockwise to loosen the thread and clockwise to tighten it. It sounds obvious but on many occasions I have forgotten and over-tightened the wheel by accident and then couldn’t remove the speedlite by hand. The lever lock mechanism is much easier and quicker and is usually found on the more expensive models.

Canon 600EX II-RT on a Canon EOS-1D with a CP-E4N battery pack

Turning the speedlite on

Move the switch from OFF to ON …. durrr. Unless of course it’s a push button start up where you have to hold the on/off button down until the speedlite turns on. durrr again. I promise it’ll get more interesting from now on.

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