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What is a Hot Shoe in Photography? [Breakdown]

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Put simply, a hot shoe is a more modern version of a cold shoe.

However, that isn’t helpful if you aren’t sure what a shoe is, so let’s define the term broadly and then we can hone in on the specific term.

A shoe is a bracket on top of the camera for attaching accessories like an external flash. Whereas a cold shoe is the old system that uses no electronic connectors, a hot shoe is a bracket which does rely on electronic connectors to secure the accessories in place.

All this talk of shoes and temperature can be a little confusing, especially since we’re on the topic of cameras here, not feet.

But it’s important to understand exactly what the camera shoe is, and what it does, especially if you’re an aspiring photographer.

Essentially the shoe is just a mounting point which sits on top of the camera and allows you to attach external accessories to the camera such as a flash.

Many DLSRs these days will come with the shoe already built-in to the camera body, and finding a hot shoe that uses electronic connectors is increasingly common.

Hot Shoe vs Cold Shoe

If you’re to have any chance of understanding what photographers mean when they casually refer to the shoe of their camera, you’re going to want to grasp the basic differences between hot and cold shoes.

Hot Shoe

The hot shoe is the most recent development of the mounting point, and has in many cases succeeded the cold shoe altogether.

Why?

Well, because unlike the cold shoe,  it uses electrical contact points which makes it much easier to attach an external device such as a flash or a speedlight.

The U-shaped metal bracket has opened up all kinds of possibilities for camera manufacturers, as they can now design speedlights and other accessories that are specific to the hot shoes on the DSLRs that they produce.

This means more money for camera brands, and more choice for consumers – sounds like a win-win proposition, right?

Cold Shoe

The cold shoe used to be the standard accessory shoe for cameras up until around the 1970s, at which point the hot shoe was introduced and took the camera world by storm.

While a cold shoe looks more or less exactly like a hot shoe, it’s different in that it doesn’t have electrical contact points.

What this means for the photographer is that he or she won’t be able to trigger a flashgun or external accessory through the shoe.

However, this doesn’t render the cold shoe completely useless, and some photographers would even encourage you to have one handy in your camera bag.

The advantage of a cold shoe is that they are cheap, simple, and compact.

You can also buy cold shoes that have adjustable arms which will allow you to direct your flashgun in any direction.

What Can you Connect to a Hot Shoe?

One of the primary advantages of a hot shoe is that you can use it to connect a wide variety of accessories to your camera, so you can get experimental with your photo shoots.

To give you an idea of how exactly you can make the most of a camera’s hot shoe, here are some of the most popular accessories you can use with it:

Speedlight

The speedlight is one of the first accessories that comes to mind of many photographers when you mention hot shoe to them.

This invaluable accessory allows the photographer to flood a scene with additional light as and when they need it.

As such, it’s essential for those situations in which the lighting is dim or in which he or she needs to be able to trigger another flash light for whatever reason.

You can also use flash to add something different to your photography, and the kind of external flash that speedlight allows you to mount onto your camera is far superior to any built-in camera flash.

Of course, you will need to carry this extra accessory in your camera bag if you want to benefit from it though, so that’s something to consider.

GPS Receiver

If you’ve ever wanted access to real-time geotagging and GPS location data, then you’d love the external GPS receiver accessory that’s compatible with a camera’s hot shoe.

While this is by no means an essential accessory, it can be a fun extra feature to add to your photography sessions.

Spirit Level

Spirit levels aren’t just meant for builders and carpenters, you can have one attached to your camera to get the perfect horizon line every time.

If you’re worried about tilted images and off-center shots, then an external spirit level is a great investment that will slot onto your camera’s hot shoe with ease.

Shotgun Microphone

Perhaps one of the more useful external camera accessories is the shotgun microphone.

A shotgun microphone is a long recording device that will mount your camera and provide crystal clear audio whenever you’re recording.

An audio recording device such as this one can really elevate your filmmaking skills to the next level and ensure that all of the video you capture has top-notch sound.

There are many shotgun microphones out there that quickly and easily attach to a DSLR camera’s hotshoe, and some of them provide crips broadcast-quality audio.

This is a much superior alternative to the built-in audio recording of most DSLR cameras, which is average at best.

So if you have aspirations of becoming a YouTuber one day, or you simply value high-quality audio, then it’s in your best interests to get your hand on a shotgun microphone.

Wireless Video Transmitter

The last accessory worth mentioning that’s compatible with a camera hot shoe is a wireless video transmitter.

With this handy little device, you will be able to broadcast the output from your camera to a base station with a live feed.

This is achieved through Wi-Fi, and it can be useful in many situations.

But Why is it a Shoe?

The answer to this question is simple, and if you’ve seen a hot or cold shoe up close you’ll probably figure it out fairly quickly.

For whatever reason, the mounting point on top of the camera usually has a distinct ‘U’ shape which resembles a horse shoe.

Yes, the reasoning behind the naming of this bracket is no more sophisticated than that, sorry to disappoint.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hot Shoes

Why is it called a hot shoe?

A hot shoe is a metal bracket that attaches to the top of a camera, though its name is curious and begs the question as to how it came to be known as such.

Simply put, this camera accessory can communicate electronically with the camera’s flash whereas the old version of the shoe simply gave photographers a place to attach a flash.

As such, the old shoe became known over time as a cold shoe and the newer version was given the name of hot shoe.

What is the difference between a hot shoe and a cold shoe?

Whereas the newer hot shoe comprises metal brackets, the older cold shoe design was merely a receptacle for a flash attachment.

Plus, while the cold shoe didn’t have electrical contacts, the hot shoe does.

This ultimately means you can have more control over the flash of your camera.

What does a hot shoe adapter do?

A hot shoe adaptor will sit atop a DSLR camera and provide the photographer with a way of fixing a flash unit to the camera.

The U-shaped adaptor will also allow you to use several other camera accessories, thus lending more versatility to the camera.

Many photographers will hook a speedlight up to their camera using the hot shoe adaptor, which allows for more control over the flash.

A Final Word From Run Gun Shoot

A hot shoe adaptor is a mounted metal bracket that will lend versatility to your camera setup and allow you to use a variety of accessories.

With a hot shoe, you can connect a speedlight to the camera and have greater control over the flash due to the electrical contact points.

Article by:

RunGunShoot Team

Our detailed review has been contributed to by multiple members of the Run Gun Shoot Review Team to ensure the best research and highest standard of quality. Have a good or a bad experience with one of the products? Please let us know, we love the feedback!

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