The flashes are very old technology. Flash started in 1864 with magnesium wires. The first electronic flash tube was created in 1931 by Harold Edgerton.
I’m talking here about pocket flashes, aka Speedlites for Canon, Speedlights for Nikon and speed lights for Sony, Olympus…
Flashes haves shrunk in size. Power has improved with new power sources like batteries. Flashes can last for years and decades. There are three major points of failure:
- The flash tube: either by reaching its end of life or being broken through shock or mistreatment.
- The batteries: in the ‘good old days’, old batteries would leak and corrode the insides of the flash. If they were improperly charged or overcharged, the batteries would bulge and break the case.
- The capacitors: it’s what collects the electricity from the battery/power, stores it and then releases it at full speed to charge the flash tube.
The Flash Tube
Many flash tubes are rated with a life span of 10,000 flashes fired 30 seconds apart.
Just do not fire too many flashes too fast to overheat the flash unit. There is not much you can do about the tube itself.
Almost all of today’s flashes can take Ni-Hm (Nickel Hydrate) batteries. These batteries use special chargers. The Ni-Hm batteries have more power and usually can be charged more times than the Ni-Cd (Nickel Cadmium) batteries.
In 2005, Sanyo introduced the Eneloop (my favorite batteries), a Ni-Hm with a very low self-discharge (about 15% for the first year) while regular batteries loose between 0.5% to 4% of their power PER DAY.
The flash is not a storage place for your batteries. If you are not going to be using the flash for weeks on end, remove the batteries from your flash.
This is the most vulnerable component in the flash. Capacitors decay with age (meaning that they hold less power with age) and eventually the capacitor will die.
The capacitor should work at least once a month:
- Turn the flash on. Do not fire the test/pilot button.
- Set the flash at full power.
- Leave it to be under charge for 5 to 10 minutes. This is for the capacitor to adjust and stabilize.
- Then fire the test/pilot button.
- Repeat a dozen times.
This should extend the life of your flash by years.