tTL flash vs manual Flash

Are you trying to decide whether to get a speedlight with TTL flash or manual flash? If so you are in the right place. Which is better, TTL vs manual flash is a question I get so often that it is obviously a common point of indecision.

SLR Camera FX format performs romantic scene of tableware on a white background

What’s The Difference? TTL vs Manual Flash

TTL stands for Through The Lens Metering which simply means that when you use the half shutter press your camera completes the process of autofocusing while metering the scene for you. That means that TTL measures the ambient light through the internal sensor.

The sensor uses bursts of IR flashes to take these readings and the information is sent to the camera and the power to the flash is then adjusted based on the ambient light within the scene.

While this automatic process is much easier (initially at least) than making these changes manually, it generally is not as accurate as when you manually make these adjustments. When you compare images taken with a TTL and manually you will generally find that TTL images create duller color and generally less vibrant images.

TTL systems also tend to handle backgrounds much less efficiently than adjusting your flash manually. This is because TTL is designed to assess the ambient light of the subject without taking background lighting into consideration.

For this reason alone, photographers who care at all about the background of their images should steer clear of using TTL and should always make their adjustments manually.

To be fair though, an experienced photographer can get a lot out of a TTL system and their images can be comparable to a manually adjusted flash image.

Always Go With Manual

If you’ve read my beginners guide to photography you already know that I always recommend going manual as you will be a better photographer. While it may take a little more time to get the hand of all the nuances of using manual, it is well worth the effort in the long run.

Other than testing new equipment, I rarely use TTL as I know I can achieve better results manually and you will find the same is true for yourself. Manual adjustments allow for much more dynamic lighting that will make your photographs stand out against those taken with TTL.

While TTL makes it much easier to achieve consistent results, those results are by their very nature, consistently lower quality. Once you have a handle on manual settings you will be able to consistently produce better image quality.

With manual settings you can take control of shadows, ambient light, metering and so much more. This skill is one of the most important in becoming a photographer.

TTL vs Manual Pros and Cons

Pros TTL Flash

  • Flexibility in setting such as camera mode, shutter priority, scene mode, and aperture priority
  • Can be connected to your camera via hot shoe allowing flash and zoom to be set automatically
  • Some models allow manual mode to be used

Cons TLL Flash

  • Much higher cost than manual
  • Consistency is not that great
  • Using TTL off camera is not advised do to unreliable results

Pros Manual Flash

  • Very affordable compared with TTL
  • Full control of settings
  • Helps you improve your photography skills
  • Encourages a more complete understanding of lighting and it’s effects on your image quality

Cons Manual Flash

  • Longer learning curve

When To Use TTL

When I am shooting a paid session I never use TTL. But I will go with TTL when I am shooting a casual get together where the photos are not intended to be anything more than for my own memories. The issues with using TTL make it a poor choice for any paid session due to the generally lower image quality. These issue are much less noticeable in a casual setting these days. And the convenience of taking shots without worrying about my settings means I can still participate in an event while taking photos.

Another instance where TTL is a good option is when using HSS. This is because manual flash will limit your shutter speed while TTL allows you to shoot at faster speeds.

TTL vs Manual Cost

When looking at TTL cost comparisons there is a huge difference between buying a Canon or Nikon compared to a third part flash like Yongnuo. Depending on the features you want, a brand name TTL flash can cost up to five times that of a comparable third party model. This is a huge deal when planning out your photography gear budget. I always look for the best performance in my gear (this is how I earn my living) but I am always searching for the best balance between performance and cost. And saving on my flash means I am able to put more money toward my lenses and other gear which is a huge win.

There are times when paying up makes sense, and you can read my buying guides for when that is recommended but generally speaking, when looking at TTL flashes third party is often the way to go.

When looking at manual flash prices there is a much smaller price gap. Add in the fact that they are always cheaper than a TTL and offer you more room for growth as a photographer, you can see why I am such a huge fan of shooting in manual.

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