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This post was most recently updated on June 26th, 2022

If you’re a professional photographer, chances are that you use the hot shoe on your camera.
But what is a hot shoe in photography, and how do you use it? It can be tricky to master, especially as a beginner, and leaves many of us unsure how to approach hot shoe, and end up avoiding it altogether!

In this article, we will explore the different types of hot shoe and how they work. We’ll also take a look at the differences between hot shoe and cold shoe mounts suitable for flash photography.

What’s A Hot Shoe In Photography?

The hot shoe is a term used in photography to describe the mounting point on your camera to attach a flash unit or other accessories.

The hot shoe can be attached directly to your camera or it can be mounted on an accessory shoe such as a speedlight, studio strobe, or light stand.

Most good-quality digital cameras come with an in-built hot shoe. You can find it at the top middle of your camera. It looks like a square bracket.

Camera accessories can simply be slipped onto it and then screwed down to fasten them to the camera.
Some analog cameras may also have an accessory attachment in the same place as the hot shoe.

It’s the ideal position to attach accessories because you can still access all buttons and the weight of your camera together with the accessory is balanced evenly.

Hot shoes come in many different sizes and shapes depending on what type of flash you are using.
Some hotshoes have a built-in bracket that allows you to mount the flash at any angle.

Others only allow you to attach the flash vertically or horizontally. Some flashes also include a swivel bracket that allows you to rotate the flash around 360 degrees.

Types Of Hot Shoes

Although most cameras have a standard hot shoe on top, there are also some other types of hot shoes worth knowing.
All of them work in the same ways. They are just different sizes.

What Is Hot Shoe In Photography (And How To Use It)

Standard

The most common type of hot shoe is found on DSLR cameras. They are often used for attaching external flash units.
The standard size is approximately 2 inches wide x 3 inches long.

Wide

Also known as a “speedlight” shoe. These are typically used for attaching studio lights and are about 4 inches wide x 5 inches long.

Compact

Used for attaching small flash units such as those found on compact cameras. These are about 1-inch wide x 1 inch long.

Slim

A slim hot shoe is used for attaching smaller flash units such as those used on mirrorless cameras. They are about 1/4 inch wide x 1/4 inch long.

Miniature

Miniature hot shoes are used for attaching very small flash units such as the ones used on cell phones. These are about 1/8th inch wide x 1/8th inch long.

Compact Flash

The compact flash hot shoe is also known as CF shoe. This is a much larger version of the mini shoe. It’s about 1/2 inch wide x 1/2 inch long.

Pocket Shoe

The pocket shoe is the smallest available hot shoe. It’s about half the width of the mini shoe but twice its length. It’s about 1-inch wide x 2 inches long.

What Is Hot Shoe In Photography (And How To Use It)

How Does A Hot Shoe Work?

A hot shoe works by attaching the flash or the camera accessory to the end of a rod called a “flash tube”.
This flash tube has two prongs that fit into holes in the bottom of the hot shoe.

When you press down on the top of the hot shoe, these prongs push against the inside walls of the hot shoe and lock the flash in place.

If you want to remove the flash from the hot shoe, you must first unscrew the screw holding it down. Then lift up on the base of the flash until it pops out of its housing.

You can use this method if you’re not sure how to release the flash from the hot shoe.
You can also use a tool called a “hot shoe key” which is designed specifically for removing the flash from the hot shoe.

These keys usually have a lever that pushes back the flash when you pull it out of the hot shoe.

The Difference Between Cold And Hot Shoe Adapters

Cold adapters are made for older cameras with cold shoe mounts. The term “cold” refers to the fact that they were originally designed for mounting film cameras.

They don’t have a spring-loaded mechanism so they won’t pop open when you press on them. Instead, they rely on friction to hold the flash in place.

If you ever need to take your flash off, you’ll need to turn the adapter upside-down and then slide the flash out of the mount.

Hot adapters are made for newer cameras with hot shoe mounts. They have a spring-loaded mechanism that automatically opens when you press on them, allowing you to easily attach and detach your flash.

Hot adapters are generally more expensive than cold adapters because they require more parts and assembly.
However, hot shoes are not a universal mechanism as their electrical connection is individually designed by each camera manufacturer.

The accessory you want to attach must be compatible with the particular contact point. This is the reason why a Canon hot-shoe flash accessory doesn’t work on a Nikon camera.

On the other hand, a cold shoe accessory mount is much more basic and manual as it doesn’t have an electrical communication system.

While these are the main differences, most photographers refer to the accessory mount at the top of their camera as the hot shoe.

Conclusion

There are many different types of flash accessories. Some are designed for specific brands of cameras while others are interchangeable between all models.

The hot shoe of your camera is one of the most important mounts on your camera to attach accessories, such as an external flash unit.

Hot shoes are commonly not universal and you need to know what type of flash head will best suit your camera.
Depending on your camera, it’s also important to understand the difference between hot and cold shoe mounts as well as the pros and cons of each option before making a purchase.