Today’s Question: All other things being equal (which I realize isn’t actually the case), would you recommend opting for a camera with a built-in flash? Or do you think it is always better to use a separate flash?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Recognizing that “all other things being equal” is not so easy in the real world, I do think it is nice to have a built-in flash to use for supplemental light on occasion.
More Detail: To be sure, whenever using artificial light, it is generally best to get that light at least some distance from the lens. This will help prevent red eye when you are photographing people, and it can also help prevent the odd “dark halo” effect that can occur when the flash is close to the lens and you are photographing subjects relatively close to the lens.
In a studio environment, of course, you would likely have multiple strobes or other lights that would be positioned strategically around your subject. In other environment you might use one or more external flash units. Even if a flash is mounted on the hot shoe of the camera, that would still get the flash further away from the lens than a built-in flash would be. Even that small difference can make a big difference for your photos.
That said, I certainly find myself in situations where I don’t have a flash unit with me, and in those cases I appreciate having a built-in flash on the camera. To help compensate for the issues of having a flash that is so close to the lens, I will more often than not reduce the strength of that flash so it is contributing light that supplements (rather than overpowers) the ambient light.
So, given the choice, I certainly prefer to opt for a camera that has a built-in flash, just so it is available when other flash units are not available. I wouldn’t consider a built-in flash to be a “must have” feature, but it is certainly a “nice to have” feature I would prefer to have, as long as all of the other specifications were comparable for the camera models I was considering.