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The camera already has a hot shoe that will accommodate a Sony flash unit or a third-party flash unit designed for Sony cameras. You don't need anything else (other than the camera and the flash unit, of course).
There is no single "best" setting, that's why the camera provides so many. It depends too much on the particular setting, the effect you're going for, and other factors.
If you're seeing undesired movement, that's an indication that the shutter speed is too slow. Using either Manual or Shutter-priority mode, set the shutter speed faster (being careful not to go faster than the maximum sync speed).
I have notice a similar problem when using my 3100Z. I have found if I use Shutter priority mode and set the shutter speed to 1/60th to 1/125th that the problem is corrected. There are several reasons you are seeing motion blur. Most 35mm would set the shutter to 1/60th or higher for flash sync speed. The 3100Z at wide angle in Auto mode will set the shutter speed to 1/30th even when the flash is on and 1/90th at telephoto. Also I notice 2 things when comparing my 3100Z to my Epson 850Z. The shutter release on the 3100Z presses harder thus causing my wrist to want to straighten as the muscles connected to my index finger tighten. This causes the camera to rotate clockwise slightly. Also the shutter release on the 850Z is raised up higher than the 3100Z which means the index finger doesn't need to be bent as much to press it. Less of a bend means less muscle tension in the wrist. This all gets worse with action shots, like candid photos of people, since the tendency to "jerk" the trigger instead of "squeezing" it to catch just the right shot will make it harder to avoid the slight rotation of the camera.
Along with trying a higher shutter speed I would also suggest practicing with the optical viewfinder. Your wrist will be in the straight position and you will notice moving the camera during the shot much more. If you use the LCD viewfinder it is easy to treat a digital camera like a video camera. Since we are used to seeing things move on a TV screen you are less likely to realize you are not holding the camera steady. I noticed I was doing this after a few months of using my Epson 750Z. I used the optical viewfinder for awhile to break myself of the habit.
The last thing I can think of is I always try to press the shutter release halfway down, wait till it is done focussing, then press the shutter release all the way down to take the shot. When I don't want to wait that long and press the shutter release all the way down right away I tend to get more blurry shots. I am not sure if this is because I have "jerked" the trigger so the camera can't focus while it is being moved or it is motion blur and not a focus issue or if the camera fires even if it hasn't found a good focus when it hasn't been given a chance to pre-focus.
re you sure the out of focus condition is due to the actually focus or do to motion blur? I think the 3100Z in auto and flash on will set the shutter speed fairly low like 1/30th of a second for wide angle and 1/90th for full telephoto. This may not be fast enough to avoid motion blur. I would suggest using manual mode and shutter priority and set the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second. This won't effect the flash output but will reduce the amount of ambient light being captured which could cause long range shots to become darker in the distance. Name of the game, don't be afraid to take it off auto mode and experiment with manual setting.
I have a 3100z and you are right that alkaline batteries do not last long. The thing to do is buy a couple of sets of NiMH rechargable batteries and they last much longer. I,ve just been on holiday and had no problems at all with the batteries. (Although the camera does not give much warning when they need replacing).
The aperature error is due to the fact that the lens in not a constant aperature design. The settings on the LCD are assuming you are at full wide angle setting. As this lens moves towards telephoto, the aperature changes about 2/3 of an f-stop due to the mechanical movement of the lens elements. So a manual setting of f4.0 at full telephoto will be more llike f5.0 in reality. It is too bad Epson could not make the mechanical aperature adjust to compensate, but every nice feature costs something.
I have not had any issue with the shutter speed changing. One guess is that the camera has shutter speed/aperature combinations that it can't achieve due to mechanical limitations, so it chooses the available combination. Another is that it wasn't in manual mode, but rather aperature priority mode and the final adjustments changed the speed.
You also may have a faulty hot shoe adapter or pc cord. Check them with an ohm meter, or with an old 35 mm camera. Or just short out the hot shoe contacts with a piece of metal and see if the strobes flash.