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At one time or another, every serious photographer has to face ‘the knife’ – buy a new flash to replace a broken or worn out one. A majority of photographers, however, often find this such a daunting task considering the zillions of flashes in the market today.
In the following review, I am going to be reviewing the Canon Speedlite series. Mostly because it has proven to cover almost all the essential needs of photography, ( by consensus i.e ). If anything, it cuts across all realms of users, from the beginners to the seasoned professionals.
Read on and find out which flash in the Canon Speedlite series you should go for that best matches your requirements.
SPEEDLITE 270EX II
Let’s begin by looking at the cheapest flash in the range, the Speedlite 270EX II. This flash is more like the “mini” version of the advanced flashes, and it lacks a couple of important functions. For instance, instead of having an infrared focus-assisting beam for when you want to capture photos in the dark, it has that irritating strobe thing that photographers don’t like. It also lacks the ability to turn round from left to right, as it only tilts upwards and downwards. Moreover, there is no manual power setting, which means that it is incompatible with 3rd party radio triggers.
Even with the limitations mentioned above, there are certain situations where it is recommended to use the 270EX II:
- When you want an added flash on a professional camera like the 1D or 5D that does not have an inbuilt flash, buying the 270 is the best option to replace the missing flash.
- When you are using the smaller Canon cameras like the G-series, which comes with a flash hot-shoe that would likely be overpowered by using a full-size Speedlite flash.
- The other great application of this flash would be when you want a very unobtrusive or lightweight flash.
If not, then you will be better served with the more advanced flashes in the series.
This flash has been specifically designed to offer two functions at the same time. It is a conventional flash for taking still photography and also has an innovative LED light that offers continuous light when capturing video with newer video DSLRs. Regrettably, most photographers do not find the 320EX very effective at doing both its functions. It’s flash, and video light features are quite pedestrian to be honest.
As a conventional flash, it lacks manual power setting, focus-assist and automatic zoom that is common on bigger flashes. However, you can still opt to zoom manually, but it is likely that you will forget to do so.
For the video light, the LED is limited to fairly dark conditions. It cannot offer sufficient light for overcoming even modest backlight, and is clearly not something one would consider for capturing professional video. Nevertheless, it could still offer the much-needed light in dark settings where you unexpectedly needed to capture some video.
From my experience, I have seen that when I want to shoot video, stronger lights are a must, and shooting stills requires a more advanced flash. That is why I opted to sell my 320EX and invested the money towards buying the 430EX II.
SPEEDLITE 430EX II
The 430EX II is what I consider as Canon’s core flash in its broad flash family. It is essentially a fully functional and well-priced flash that fulfils all the needs of a modern day photographer. For those looking for a capable first flash, this is the one you should get.
It features the handy focus-assist beam for focusing on your subject in dark settings. It can bounce and swivel. Furthermore, it also supports manual mode using radio triggers, which makes it great as a remote slave with either the inbuilt Canon wireless or a custom RT system.
Even though you will find that this flash is rather less powerful compared to the bigger flashes, I prefer its lighter weight and smaller size when am doing flash photography for several hours. The 430 is certainly my favourite Canon flash. I guarantee that if you continue being a Canon photographer for a long time, you will eventually end up buying lots of them as well.
SPEEDLITE 580EX II
If you are looking for something more sophisticated and also more powerful than the 430, then the 580EX II is your best bet. It is larger, heavier and more expensive, but it makes up with great functionality. The only reason you should consider spending more money to purchase this powerful flash is that it can function as a Master. This functionality would help in controlling the slave units when setting up a multi-flash environment using the inbuilt wireless triggering system.
Nevertheless, due to its considerably high price, you should just aim to have a single 580EX in your photography kit. It serves very well as a Master and also has the potential to be a great addition when using Canon’s convenient wireless triggering functionality. If you happen to have the latest cameras, such as the 600D and 7D, where the inbuilt flash can serve as the master, then you may not even need to get the 580EX at all.
The 600EX-RT has an inbuilt radio transmitter, making it the most advanced flash in the Speedlite range. This radio triggering technology will likely replace the conventional light-based system with time since the old light system has distance limitations and is less reliable as it needs a clear line-of-sight between master and slave to work.
Most professional photographers have been physically attaching custom radio triggers onto their flashes so as to achieve this new RT functionality. Canon has now made work much easier by building this RT feature into their new flash. However, this added functionality will cost you a significant sum of money.
For my part, I do not intend to get a 600EX-RT anytime soon, since I get similar functionality for a considerably lower cost through custom radio triggers with the cheaper Canon flashes, such as the 430EX. Still, if you have just started out with almost no previous investment in flashes, and you prefer the handiness of having inbuilt radio triggers, getting the 600EX-RT is probably the best option.
Besides, this flash is also best for photographers who like to use their flashes intensively, such as wedding photographers. It is a strong and powerful flash with an innovative over-heating protection feature for when it is under heavy use.
You should now be able to pick the most suitable flash from the above range of Canon Speedlite flashes based on your current photography needs. In conclusion, my recommendations would be the Speedlite 430EX II for a first-time buyer while the 600EX-RT is the perfect fit for a professional photographer.