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TTL vs. Manual Flash: Which is Better for Your Photography Needs?

Natural light photography is wonderful. But sometimes, ambient light is a bit too dark. Using an external flash is an efficient, portable, and great way to illuminate a scene! One may think that a flash that you attach to your camera is simple- just point, click, and off it fires in unison with your shutter! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Here is our guide to the two different types of flashes: TTL versus Manual flash! 

What is a Flash? 

A flash is a device used in photography that bursts a powerful bright light. This is a form of artificial light. Good control on lighting is what separates the professional photographer from the amateur one- and using flashes helps illuminate otherwise dark or shadowed areas. 

The flashes we are referring to are external flashes, not the one built into some cameras. External flashes attach to the hot shoe (the little bracket at the very top of your camera) and synchronize with your shutter. They output light when you press down to take a photograph. 

Flashes come in two types: Manual and TTL. This has to do with how the flash figures out the proper light output for a good exposure. For correct flash exposure, four variables need to be properly balanced: the lens’s aperture, the camera’s ISO, the distance from you and the subject, and the flash’s power.

What is ‘Manual’?

Much like the name implies, Manual flash is when you have to control all of the variables yourself (much like Manual mode on a camera). What this means for a flash is that you have to manually input the distance between yourself and the subject as well as the intensity (brightness or power) of the light output. 

Flashes output light in different capacities, and you can control these in Manual flashes. This allows a fully consistent output of light from the flash. 

What is ‘TTL’? 

TTL is a newer type of Flash option. TTL stands for “Through The Lens” and this type of flash is equivalent to the Automatic setting of a camera. TTL flashes calculate the distance between you and the subject as well as the required light power output based on your camera settings. Essentially, the flash figures all of your calculations for you. 

The reason TTL is called Through The Lens is because when the flash is controlled by the camera, the amount of light coming through the camera’s lens is what is being measured to determine the light output. 

Before taking a picture, the flash will emit a quick burst of light to measure what the light power should be set to. As a result, the flash knows if the subject has moved a bit closer or further from the light. This is very useful for new flash users or those working in tumultuous conditions.

Is It Possible to Have Both Manual and TTL in One Flash? 

Yes! Yes it is. Some advanced flashes allow you to switch between TTL and Manual mode. But make note that this nifty feature is reflected in a higher price tag. 

Pros and Cons of Manual Flash 

As you can imagine, both types of flashes have their pros and their cons. For Manual flash, the primary benefit is the full control over the exposure and how the final image looks. Because you control all of the variables, the creative freedom is full up to you. Much like automatic modes in cameras, flash units are not intelligent and may make mistakes if you leave it all up to them. Manual mode allows consistent exposure regardless of whether your subject moves a bit! 

The downside is the fact that calculating accurate exposure can be difficult and tends to take many years to master fully. This mode is also extremely difficult to use if you’re capturing an event such as a wedding in which the variables change constantly! 

Pros and Cons of TTL Flash

TTL takes the guesswork out of the situation, as your camera and flash work in unison to figure out the perfect light output for a good exposure. This is ideal for new flash users who are still learning how the units work! This is also key for shooting in situations in which your subject is constant moving, changing their distance, or the light keeps changing. 

The drawback, as mentioned in the Manual pros and cons- is that the camera is not perfect. There is a likelihood that the camera has mistaken the proper exposure and your shot will end up overexposed or underexposed. Something to consider! 

Which Should I Use? 

The general rule sits as such: If you are able to calculate the flash light output and need the output consistently the same, use Manual without a doubt. If you are working in tumultuous circumstances in which the conditions constantly change, use TTL because you will simply not be fast enough to make your adjustments. 


In conclusion, it does tend to be better to find a flash that has both TTL and Manual modes in it, but if cost is a factor, then you can always figure out how to work with Manual. 

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