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What Is a Hot Shoe on a Camera? Photography Basics Explained

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Hot Shoe camera

When you’re first diving into photography, it can seem like there are thousands of things that you need to learn about. While most of the time, you can figure out what someone is talking about with context clues, one thing that doesn’t give you much to go off of is the hot shoe. 

So, what is the hot shoe, how did it get its name, and does every camera have one? We break that all down for you here.

shutter camera divider 2

What Is a Hot Shoe on a Camera?

The camera’s hot shoe refers to the area above the lens at the top of the camera body where you can put attachments, like a flash. The hot shoe usually looks like angled metal brackets that the attachments can easily slide into.

The hot shoe also has electrical contacts that connect to the various attachments to power them. This allows attachments, like a flash, to get power without another external power supply being required. You simply slide the attachment into place, and it works!

Hot Shoe camera close
Image Credit: Jirawong Wongdokpuang, Shutterstock

Why Is It Called a Hot Shoe?

The old name for a hot shoe was an “accessory shoe,” but over time, the component has evolved.

When the accessory shoe first came out, there were no power contacts. When newer models started to include power contacts, there needed a way to differentiate between accessory shoes that had the power contacts and those that didn’t.

Since a “hot” line is something that has power, it made sense to start referring to an accessory shoe with contacts as a “hot shoe.” From there, it was only a matter of time until the “accessory” was dropped, and people just started calling the model without the battery contacts a “cold” shoe.

How to Tell If Your Camera Has a Hot Shoe

While most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a hot shoe, not each one does, so you don’t want to just assume that your camera has it and then buy a bunch of accessories that might not work.

The easiest way to tell if your camera has a hot shoe is to look at the top of it. If your camera has a top-mounted flash installed, see if you can remove it. If you can, your camera has a hot shoe.

If there is no top-mounted flash on your camera, you’re looking for a square plate with metal contacts in the middle or around the edge. If you see something that resembles this, your camera has a hot shoe.

Besides flash, there are other types of attachments that you use with a hot shoe, depending on the type of photography that you’re into.

ISO camera setting
Image Credit: ShareGrid, Unsplash

Are All Camera Hot Shoes the Same?

No. While each camera’s hot shoe works off the same basic principles, each manufacturer decides where it wants to put the contact plates.

Therefore, you’ll need to double-check the fitment of any accessory that you purchase for your camera. If it doesn’t say that it’ll work with the camera that you’re using, chances are that it won’t.

Will Any Flash Work With a Hot Shoe?

No, different flashes can use different voltages. The problem with this is not only will it not work, but the difference in voltages can also damage both the flash and your camera.

Since the wrong connection can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage depending on your camera, it’s extremely important to ensure that everything is compatible before attaching it and hoping for the best.shutter camera divider 2

Final Thoughts

While the hot shoe might not be the component that photography experts talk about much, it’s an important component to understand. Since it’s so versatile, you can get multiple attachments for it and completely transform your camera’s capabilities without spending that much money.

Just know that they aren’t all the same, so when you’re looking for attachments, always check for compatibility before you end up with an expensive attachment that you can’t use!

Featured Image Credit: Sergey Ryzhov, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.