A hot shoe is a small, often overlooked component of a camera that can make a big difference in your photography.
Despite its simple appearance, the hot shoe can be a powerful tool for attaching a variety of accessories to your camera, from external flashes to microphones, GPS units, and more.
In this guide, we’ll be diving into everything you need to know about hot shoes in photography.
What is a Hot Shoe?
The hot shoe is a connector slot usually fitted to the top of your digital or analog camera. You will mainly use this to connect various devices that work with your camera.
Your camera will also have different features depending on your hot shoe’s contact. As an example, metal contacts allow devices to communicate with your camera.
You will usually find your hot shoe on the top of your camera. Nikon and Canon DSLRs will most likely have their hot-shoe above the pop-up flash and right in the center of your camera.
A hot shoe can also be equipped with external flashes, such as the Canon Speedlite. Hot shoe photography can be accomplished by attaching an external flash.
Since the hot shoe holds it in place, it is basically TTL shooting, which means through the lens.
The hot shoe from most manufacturers allows two-way communication between your camera and flash, you can use this to adjust the power and settings of the flash.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you can also use hot shoe flashes that can be triggered by radio slaves (PocketWizards, etc.) or external cables.
The aforementioned cables effectively simulate the camera’s hot shoe to trigger flash bursts.
Despite the cables disabling the two-way communication, at least it triggers the flash when off-camera.
How to Use a Hot Shoe?
The hot shoe on a camera can be used to attach various accessories and can be used for various reasons:
1. External Flash Unit
To use an external flash unit with a hot shoe, first attach the flash to the camera’s hot shoe by sliding it into place and tightening the locking mechanism.
Next, power on the flash and set it to the desired mode, such as TTL (through-the-lens) or manual.
When taking a photo, the flash will automatically fire when needed based on the camera’s settings and the ambient lighting conditions.
We’ll touch more on this later.
2. External Microphone for Audio
To use an external microphone with a hot shoe, first ensure that the microphone is compatible with the camera and has the appropriate connector, such as a 3.5mm jack or XLR plug.
Next, attach the microphone to the camera’s hot shoe by sliding it into place and tightening the locking mechanism. Power on the microphone and adjust its settings as necessary, such as the sensitivity or directional pattern.
When recording audio, the microphone will capture the sound and transmit it to the camera for recording. Using an external microphone can significantly improve the audio quality of recordings, especially in noisy or crowded environments.
3. Remote Trigger
A remote trigger can be mounted on the camera’s hot shoe to wirelessly trigger the camera’s shutter from a distance.
The remote trigger can communicate with the camera through radio signals or infrared signals, allowing the photographer to take photos without touching the camera, which is useful in situations where camera shake should be minimized, such as long exposures or when using slow shutter speeds.
4. GPS Unit
A GPS unit can be attached to the camera’s hot shoe to add geotagging information to the photos taken with the camera.
The GPS unit will record the location and time data, which can then be embedded into the image metadata.
This allows the photographer to keep track of where each photo was taken, which can be useful for organization and for sharing the location information with others.
To further explore the topic of hot shoes, check out this in-depth video by Mike Smith:
Why is it Called a Hot Shoe?
The hot shoe definition at its core is a U-shaped bracket at the top of your camera, with electronic contacts.
Back in the old days, hot shoes did not exist and were actually called cold shoes.
A cold shoe or accessory shoe was referring to a U-shaped bracket that did not use electronic contacts. Instead, it used a wire to connect the camera to the flash socket.
Electronic contacts evolved the once cold shoe into the hot one we all know and love.
Interestingly, every hot shoe from a manufacturer is specifically designed for its own brand.
Most likely to boost their profits, provide full functionality, and also compatibility. Despite this fact, you can still slap a Nikon Speedlight on a Canon DSLR.
Just do not expect the Speedlight to perform at its fullest potential in fact you will need to get a remote trigger.
Luckily, there are also various third-party flashes available in the market. At a much more affordable price point.
Speaking about affordable items that bring a lot of advantages, allow me to mention hot shoe covers.
What Does a Hot Shoe Adapter Do?
Hot shoe adapters are commonly used for mounting points on your camera.
By using these adapters, you can easily stop your camera from affixing flash units or other compatible camera peripherals.
Hot shoes have these similar to a square-shaped, inverted, and metallic “U.” In the center of the “U” section, you will see a metallic contact point.
The point itself is capable of synchronizing standards akin to non-third-party (brand-independent) flash units.
Most of the time, the metallic part of the adapter and the metallic part of a contact point are separated from each other. They are only brought together when they are intended to be operated.
By shorting them with each other, a circuit is created between the adapter and flash unit. This will allow you to use the flash function at its best capacity.
Some photographers would recommend you use Hot shoe adapters from a reputable brand such as Canon, Nikon, or Kalt.
But feel free to experiment with third-party hot shoes. But read the brand’s cautionary notes.
Camera manufacturers do not really recommend their cameras be paired with flashes from other brands.
You can call this a marketing trick, but it also makes sure that you get full use of your external flash.
What is a Hot Shoe Cover?
One accessory that you must have is a hot shoe cover.
Despite its minuscule figure, it works wonders in maintaining the longevity of your hot shoe.
As the name suggests, a hot shoe cover covers the hot shoe. Fit it properly and it will defend your hot shoe from dust and moisture, which can lead to corrosion.
Aside from those elements, the cover will also protect the hot shoe from scratches. Even better, the cover also prevents the hot shoe frame from bending from sudden contact with a solid object.
In short, please buy and use them effectively.
What is an External Hot Shoe?
After hours of sleuthing around google, I have not been able to find information about the external hot shoe.
I do have some of my own interpretations of it, it will either be referencing external flashes that are placed on top of your hot shoe or another name for the hot shoe adapter.
Using External Flash with Hot Shoe
External flashes are most commonly placed on top of your hot shoe, giving them the (I suppose) name of External Hot Shoe.
These flashes are better than your regular built-in flash for several reasons:
1. Light Intensity
The external flash/hot shoe has higher light intensity, it can easily light up a whole room. The lens you use will not be a concern anymore since the range is pretty wide too, unlike the built-in flashes.
To compare both flash abilities, the flash-to-subject distance of a built-in flash is around 1 to 3 meters at an ISO of 100. On the other hand, the external flash can reach a flash-to-subject distance of 10 meters.
Using an external flash will make your subject well-lit, even at a distance.
2. Light Direction
By using an external hot shoe, you have now unlocked the extreme flexibility of bouncing off your flash wherever you want.
Coupled with its intense light, you can bounce your flash on far-away objects or subjects to get a more natural light setting.
Using an External hot shoe allows you to turn your creativity into reality.
The various options and flexibility of the external hot shoe open up many new possibilities in your hot shoe photography.
You should also consider the weight that you want to carry before opting for an external flash.
It is not the smallest and lightest accessory, so be prepared to add an extra bag to your trip if you decide to bring external flashes.
What is the Difference Between a Hot Shoe and Cold Shoe?
A cold shoe is basically a hot shoe, without the two-way communication feature.
The equipment will be normally connected by one or two wires. Some examples of cold shoe items are:
- Small cameras (Go Pro, etc.)
- External microphones
- Devices that help you get better pictures (e.g. MIOPS Smart Trigger)
The cold shoe is commonly used to keep the additional item close to the center of the camera’s gravitational area.
Allowing the device to stand straight and not lean to a certain side. Plus, you can even use multiple items at the same time.
This allows you to be a sort of jack of all trades.
Need more lighting and audio quality while shooting a video? Then equip yourself with an external microphone and additional lights.
Different types of cold shoes require their own way of installing them. Luckily, it is quite easy to do and straightforward. You could also fit it on any camera that uses a standard hot shoe since its bracket size is universal.
Your most basic bracket can be easily slid into your hot shoe, some offer a thread mount that can be screwed onto a tripod.
The most complex designs will usually have some knobs or screws that can be adjusted. Complex cold shoe designs are safer because they lessen the probability of your gear falling off.
Every situation requires different items, but with the cold shoe, everything suddenly becomes easier.
To further explore the subject of hot shoes vs cold shoes, check out this in-depth video by Eric Rossi:
Are Nikon and Canon Hot Shoes the Same?
I apologize for being the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately, they are different.
Canon and Nikon have their pins (non-sync contacts) in different areas. This means that if you put your flash on the hot shoe, there will be no communication or electrical contact.
You can still swap either brand’s flash (Nikon or Canon) on a Nikon or Canon hot shoe. But be ready to lose some features, that may be a deal-breaker:
- Lose your access to e-TTL.
- No more high-speed sync (FP)
- No more menu commanding the flash.
- Lose access to flash exposure compensation.
- Unable to use the 2nd curtain with a Nikon flash while equipped to a Canon Hot Shoe
So, basically, you cannot use any feature that requires communication between the camera and flash, except the trigger.
You can easily understand it by looking at the respective brands hot shoe and flash foot:
All brands have the standard must-have basic sync at the same location, allowing the flash to trigger as it should.
Any sophisticated sync and metering function probably will not work, although it depends on the camera and flashes you choose.
If you use some flash controls on your camera, expect some options to be unsupported.
Let me wrap this article up:
- The hot shoe definition: a connector slot between your camera and a device (mainly SpeedLights, Flashes, etc.).
- By adding a two-way communication feature, the cold shoe has now evolved into a hot shoe.
- Hot Shoe covers are important because they prevent corrosive materials from entering the hot shoe. It can also provide protection from solid objects if fitted correctly.
- Hot Shoe adaptors are useful to prevent your camera from affixing flash units or some compatible camera peripherals.
- The external hot shoes are interchangeable with the word external flash since they are both mounted on the hot shoe. These flashes can easily help you in situations where you need more creative options and a better flash than your camera’s built-in camera.
- The main difference between a cold shoe and a hot shoe is their abilities. Cold shoes do not provide any two-way communication for your devices. Depending on your circumstances and photography niche, this feature may help you.
- Nikon and Canon hot shoes are different, using a different Nikon flash on a canon hot shoe can work. Although there are restrictions on some features (except the basic ones).
And that’s a wrap! Hot shoes are an essential part of your camera that may become handy once you learn more about it. Hot shoes are criminally underrated and are often forgotten despite their utility. Who knows, this article may inspire you to carry some cold shoes to aid your photography journey.
I hope this article helps you in understanding the camera’s hot shoe have a great day.
Jon has been a passionate photographer for 10+ years. Fun fact is that he has a collection of around 300-400 cameras that his family has collected over the years. Outside of photography, he has a Masters Degree in Engineering and has 13 years experience working in the industry across the globe.