I have very little knowledge of electronics, although I enjoy tinkering with basic electronics from time to time. If I have a battery of known voltage and I want it to light up a small 3mm led, I know I can use $V = IR$ to find out what kind of resistor. If my voltage is given, and I know what I want my current draw to be, I can simply solve for $R$ to find the resistor I would need.

I'm having trouble applying this to a hot shoe (the connections to a camera flash). I wanted to connect an led to the hot shoe and activate the flash for fun, like making my own diy flash. I looked up the power supply of a hot shoe so I can find the appropriate resistor, but it doesn't seem to have a single voltage. All I could find is "be careful not to let the circuit voltage over x amount" as if the hot shoe voltage can be changed the same way I can manipulate the current draw in my first example. So this leaves me confused at what to do. I know the resistance influences the voltage, but how can I manipulate the system to both a desired voltage and current draw?


The hot-shoe contact on older cameras was just a mechanical switch contact. These are designed to trigger a flash gun. The contact in its normal use would switch a fraction of a milliamp from the flash trigger. It wouldn't be a good idea to use it to switch more than that.

"All I could find is "be careful not to let the circuit voltage over x amount ..."

This refers to replacement of the mechanical switches with electronic switches. The xenon flash guns required a high-voltage to ignite the tube and on some devices a high voltage appeared across the flash contacts. This would be enough to destroy the electronic hot-shoe switch on a newer camera. You have to mix and match flash and cameras carefully.

enter image description here

Figure 1. An exploded Nikon F3. The flash contact is in there somewhere. Source: PetaPixel

Notice that there is no big battery amongst the electronics and that many of these older mechanical cameras could work in manual mode without even the meter battery. The flash contact was purely passive.


simulate this circuit – Schematic created using CircuitLab

Figure 2. A circuit for your flash.

  • Select a battery voltage > 3 V.
  • Set R1 to limit the current to about 20 mA in your LED.
  • Set R2 to limit the current through your flash contact to < 0.5 mA.
  • Keep the battery ground isolated from your camera to prevent any short circuits.

This topic has been discussed on Photography.StackExchange. See https://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/27283/how-to-use-old-flash-units-with-digital-slr, for example. It references the Wein Safe-Synch Hot Shoe which will trigger a high voltage flash from a low-voltage DSLR.

enter image description here

The Wein Safe-Sync Hot Shoe to Hot Shoe regulates and reduces the flash sync voltage of the flash from up to 400V to less than 6V. This is especially important for current automated SLRs or digital cameras when used with older flashes or lighting systems. [Emphasis mine.]

This model mounts directly to a camera's hot shoe and provides a hot shoe on top and a PC female flash connection on the side. You can have a flash connected to the hot shoe and a flash being triggered by the PC female connection-and unlike so many other offerings of this type, both will fire simultaneously from the same signal. The exception to this rule pertains when using 1 or 2 flashes that are already under 5V sync voltage. In this case, the flash or flashes will not fire.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the glorious almost irrelevant exploded image :-). \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon
    Oct 8 '17 at 11:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.