When I first started out using speedlights for flash photography, there weren’t many options aside from Canon and Nikon. As a result, I’ve amassed a large collection of Speedlights (and Speedlites), but now that I also shoot mirrorless bodies, are my SB-700s and 600EX-RTs any good?
The answer is a definite yes, though with some caveats.
Give It a Try
If you browse the Internet trying to find an answer about flash compatibility across brands, you’ll hear horror stories of fried electronics and voltage issues. While that may be true if you’re using a decades-old flash, most modern flashes made in the last 10 years or so will probably be fine. I’m writing particularly about Nikon’s SB-700 and Canon’s 600EX-RT flashes in this post, but I’ve had more or less the same functionality I’ll describe in this post with older SB-900 and 580EX II models.
The first thing to remember is that Nikon and Canon (as well as other first-party brands such as Olympus and Panasonic) always program their flashes to work best with their own cameras. You can get fancy features such as TTL capability, high-speed synch, rear-curtain sync, and built-in radio flash capabilities in some cases. Many of these flashes also can cast infrared patterns to help assist with autofocus on the company’s DSLR systems. If you can afford to go the matching-brand route, that’s always going to be best.
Second-best is to use cross brand-triggers, such as a Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver, which can add some of this functionality across different models from different companies, though the downside of this approach is you are introducing a third brand to the mix, more batteries, and an extra piece that could potentially fail in a key shoot.
What to Do in a Pinch
What do you do if you only need to use this setup occasionally for a little extra light without the expense?
In a pinch, you won’t actually need anything, despite what internet fearmongers will tell you. You can stick that Nikon flash right onto the hotshoe of your Fujifilm X-T3, and you’ll be just fine. Likewise, that Canon won’t fry your Olympus E-M10 Mark II (see above, the camera’s fine, I swear). The only major catch is you won’t be able to shoot the flash in TTL mode (essentially, automatic). You’ll have to take manual control, but that’s something that’s not a bad practice anyway when shooting portraits. You’ll also have to be mindful of the maximum sync speed on your camera. You won’t be able to shoot faster than that, and so, while you may be able to work within that limitation indoors, you will likely need neutral density filters or shaded areas to compensate for the lack of higher shutter speeds to use with your light when outdoors.
In the case of this image of my daughter, my maximum sync speed of my Fujifilm X-T1 is 1/180 (as denoted by the “x” next to that number on the dial). By adjusting the power of the flashes, I was able to dial in the right settings to get the picture I wanted. As a bonus, by using Nikon SB-700 flashes, I was able to turn the flashes into optically triggered remote flashes, meaning I was able to stash one behind the chair to light the background, and it was triggered by the hotshoe-mounted flash on the camera. Nikon offers the ability to do this by setting the flash to “SU-4” mode in the remote menu, but unfortunately, Canon’s flashes are locked to Canon’s proprietary system when it comes to any sort of remote capability. Some companies have created triggers that can essentially hack it, but again, this adds complexity. Optical triggering needs line-of-sight, but doesn’t require extra tools at least.
Summing it all up: Most flashes will work with most systems, as long as they have the same basic hotshoe design. You’ll just have to adjust power manually and work within the maximum sync speed limits of your camera.
If you have a mirrorless camera and want to dip your toe into the waters of speedlighting, use what you’ve already got. You’ll get the job done.