Greetings, you’re listening to the Liam Photography Podcast, I’m your host Liam Douglas and this is Episode 241. Today we are talking about the hotshoe port on the top of your camera, what it’s used for and we’ll also be talking about Speedlite recommendations.
The hotshoe adapter is a great item that adds functionality to your camera and your photography in general. Some people think it is only for Speedlites also known as flashes, but this is far from the reality.
So What Exactly is a Hotshoe?
A hotshoe is the place to attach accessories to your camera for photography and videography and most mid-to-high end DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras have them. It is a bracket that is square in shape and metal in construction and your accessory slips into it and locks down either by a flip lock on some of the newer Speedlites or the item might have a thumb wheel screw that tightens it down as well. You must make sure that the accessory is locked down tight to the body so it doesn’t slide off.
Some analogue cameras have a similar port and we will talk more about the differences between them in a bit. The hotshoe is an extremely handy place to mount attachments as it is out of the way of the Eyepiece and allows easy access to any buttons and switches as well. If it’s an item with a readout, such as many of the modern Speedlites it makes it easier to use as well for checking settings. The mount is usually centered on the top of the camera so as to keep the entire set-up balanced out when shooting.
Cold vs Hot Shoe Adapters
If you look closely at the mount, you will see metal pins or disks. These electronic points allow cameras and the attached accessories to communicate. For instance, you trigger the flash when you press the shutter button. You may even have a flash with TTL (Through the Lens). Your flash uses the camera’s metering and figures out how powerful it needs to be. It is a kind of ‘auto’ mode for your flash.
Hot shoes are not universal. The contact point is unique to each manufacturer. The attached accessory must be made to work with the specific contact point. This is why a Nikon flash will not work on a Canon. You can mount the speed light. But there will be no communication between the camera and the accessory.
A cold shoe is an accessory mount without the communication system. The accessory may connect another way, but not through the mount. For instance, remote triggers may communicate through a cable.
This is the technical definition of hot and cold shoes. But most photographers refer to the accessory mount on top of their camera as a ‘hot shoe’. It does not matter whether the accessory is communicating through the mount or not.
Compatible Hot Shoe Accessories
Consider buying a hot shoe cover. These slip into the mounting brackets. They protect the electronics from moisture and dirt. The product is inexpensive and blends into your camera’s body. But you can buy ones that include a bubble spirit level or add a designer element to your body. For my own covers, I prefer to print my own since I have a 3-D printer and I can print them in my own colors and in sizes for any camera. To print my own, I had to hire someone who knows how to design the 3-D CAD file in the format that my printer uses, but that was a one-time cost and now I can print as many of them as I want and they all have Liam Photography printed on the top of them in the font that I bought to use for my business.
Each manufacturer makes its own external flash unit or Speedlite. There are also off-brand flashes, so make sure to buy the right one for your model. Canon, Nikon Fujifilm and Sony all make their own Speedlites, and in the third-party realm you have Yongnuo, Godox and Meike all make them as well, just make sure when ordering them you get the model specific to your camera platform. Usually when looking at them online they will have a designation next to the name to denote if it’s made for a specific camera. Godox, for example will have a model name like V860 II C, N, F, S, to indicate Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm or Sony. You have to make sure and get the correct Speedlite because each camera maker’s hotshoe mounts are proprietary, so if you use say a Canon Speedlite on a Nikon it will mount, but the TTL or Through The Lens functionality will not work. For many photographers this won’t matter as much as they don’t like using the more automatic TTL or E-TTL modes anyway.
Flash remote triggers like PocketWizards activate studio speed lights. These are specific to both your camera’s model and lighting company.
Remote triggers like the Pluto Trigger control your shutter and allow you to take long exposures.
I had the Pocket Wizards at one time, but have since switched to using the flash triggers made by Godox since I am using their Speedlites. I currently have the Paul C Buff D800 DigiBee monolights, but I have been looking at the possibility of switching to the Godox AD200 models as they are more convenient for using on location as they have their own built-in re-chargable Lithium-Ion batteries, where with my DigiBees I have to carry a large satchel that contains the portable battery pack and 110volt outlets to power them.
As far as remote shutter releases, I have the Pluto triggers and absolutely LOVE them! They are so handy and do a variety of functions from Stills, to Timelapse, Startrail, HDR, Video, Sound, Laser, Lightning, Proximity, Droplet, Shake, Smile, and Motion detection. It’s a wonderful smart controller and has a great app for either iOS or Android smartphones. The Pluto also supports ALL major camera brands as well, just make sure when ordering you get the proper interface cable for your exact camera maker and model.
Constant lights like the Neewer video light direct a steady stream of light on your subject. They are not the only ones, Lubecube, Lytra torches and many other lights can mount in the hotshoe as well.
If you take many videos, an external microphone like the Tascam TM-2X Stereo X-Y Microphone or a Rode Video Mic Pro or Pro+ are excellent options for fantastic audio and plug right into the microphone port on the side of your camera. Another really popular item for videographers and especially YouTubers is the Atomos Ninja line of external video recorders that allow you to record what is normally seen in the camera’s viewfinder.
Wireless tethering like the Air Direct system lets you send images to a laptop or tablet. The larger screen helps you see detail as well as allowing your client to immediately see the results of each frame as you shoot them.
Not all cameras collect location information. GPS receivers add coordinates to the EXIF data of the image, so that later when editing in Lightroom or CaptureOne Pro you can review exactly where you captured each image. Make sure you get the correct accessory for your model, Canon offers the GP-E1 GPS unit and Nikon offers the GP-1 unit, which does the same thing. Sony and Fujifilm do not offer their own GPS units for attachment to their cameras, but many of the Sony models have a GPS chip inside them as do the Canon and Nikon cameras. Fujifilm seems to be the only “odd duck” as they refused to add GPS chips or even the software stack to allow use of a third-party GPS unit that plugs into the data port on the side of the camera.
Mounting a light meter onto an older film camera can be a handy thing to have and there is currently a new unit called the Lime One light meter on Kickstarter. But keep in mind that Kickstarter is NOT an on-line store and any money you pledge to back a project on there you do run the risk of losing your money.
There are many types of brackets available. Some allow you to mount multiple devices like a constant light and a microphone for video shooting. Handy are brackets for mounting smartphones or other devices like the Ulanzi SST-06 smartphone tripod.
Canon, for their part, more recently introduced a new Multi-Function Shoe on the top of the EOS R3. This is Canon’s only camera to come with an actual hotshoe cover included. This new port allows you to use external microphones and other items that get their power and communicate through this new port, making it easy to use those items without needed to use cables that can get caught on objects or get in your way.
So, in conclusion, the hotshoe is way more than just a mounting bracket, it allows you to connect many external accessories that can greatly expand your camera’’s functionality.
Ok, that wraps up this week’s discussion on the camera hotshoe and Speedlites in general, hopefully this information will allow you to get more from your photography and videography going forward.
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