Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flash Series - Part 1: Canon Speedlites Chat (580EX II vs 580EX vs 430EX)

Left: 580EX, Right: 580EX II

This post is the first in a series of posts where I will be talking a lot about flashes and their accessories, if all goes as planned I will post about the following:
  • Canon Speedlites Overview (430EX, 580EX, 580EX II)
  • DIY Gels
  • Rogue Grid for Speedlites
  • Built-In Wireless Flash Commander Limitations + Ebay triggers
  • Lumiquest SB III
  • Cheap Chinese Studio Strobes
  • Directional Popup Flash Followup

Today I am going to talk a bit about my Canon speedlites, it will not be a purely technical post but rather my story and experience with them, I also made a measly effort at a comparison video, so we'll see how will the viewers respond. Click through for the full story.


If you want detailed and technical comparisons I suggest you read these articles which are very well written and helped me decide to purchase the 580EX II.


$20 Chinese Flash with Wireless Hotshoe Trigger and No Power Control

When I first bought my Canon G11 and started learning about lighting from David Hobby, I decided to get myself some flashes, and being new to expensive cameras and lighting gear (only bought P&S before) I hesitated a lot to buy a speedlite (which is Canon's name for a hotshoe flash BTW), so I went to the camera store and decided to find manual flashes like the SB-28. I wanted something portable which can work outdoors without power cables, but since they only had new speedlites (read: expensive) and my budget was very limited, the shop keeper convinced me to buy a couple of AC powered (cheap Chinese) studio strobes, one you can see in the picture above, it has no power control but comes with a hotshoe wireless trigger, I would then use this strobe to trigger the other one via it's built-in optical slave, the other strobe is a 100 watt second strobe and has variable power control.


As you can imagine I was not totally satisfied with these strobes that require AC power and lack fine power controls, so after a while I saved up some money and decided to buy a brand new 580EX II and I went to the camera shop again, as luck had it, I found a brand new 430EX (not the II version, the old one) and a used 580EX (again, not the II version) in a very good shape, and what's more, both flashes cost the same as the new 580EX II I intended to buy. Talk about being lucky.

Now I had two flashes instead of one, and I bought a couple of cheap ebay triggers for them, but of course they only worked in manual mode, no ETTL. I was happy with my combo and never considered the updated versions of my flashes until I sold my G11 and got the 550D, according to my knowledge back then, I should be able to control all the flash settings and custom functions from my camera's LCD, when I wasn't able to do that in the G11 I assumed it didn't support that function, but when I discovered I couldn't control them even with my 550D I started searching and found out that I had to have the updated version of the flash to be able to control it through the camera's menus.


From that moment, I knew that one day I will have to get the updated version of the flash, so when my trip to Malaysia approached, I decided that I will sell the 430EX and get the 580EX II, I got a very good price for the 430EX and bought the 580EX II, but after a first failed attempt at selling it (buyer though it was the 430EX II version) I decided to keep it since it is more valuable for me this way, so why did I get the 580EX II?
  • I needed two powerful flashes where both can act as master or slave, with the 430EX and 580EX combo, the 580EX was always on the camera with it's output disabled and the 430EX acting as the key light, however with my recent purchase of the 60D this was solved somehow since the camera's popup flash can act as a wireless master (more on that in another post).
  • I wanted to be able to control the flash settings and its custom functions from the camera directly, this post written by Syl Arena made me feel it's the most important thing in the world.
  • The updated version has 20% faster recycling time, which is incredibly important for me since I usually chase my daughter around trying to get her to stay still for just one second, but as you can imagine I usually fail, so I use my camera with bounce flash in machine gun mode to get the perfect moment.
  • Silent charging, you have to watch the video below for this one, the old flashes have an awesome charging sound after they pop (feels like you are using a laser gun) and a continuous beep to let you know they are charged and ready (similar to studio strobes), but sometimes they get in the way when you want to be discreet, so now I have both options.
  • Weather proofing, the 580EX II is the only speedlite (to my knowledge) which is completely weather proof, not that I will use it in rain, I have yet to buy weather proof lenses.
  • Much better battery door, in the old 580EX I feel like I am going to break the battery door every time I open it, the 580EX II completely fixed this issue, I have to say the 430EX had a much better battery door as well, the 430EX feels like it is the 580EX II cousin more than the 580EX, they have the same padded nylon casing, better battery door and the same updated back light.
  • Metal Foot & Sync Port, I don't really care about these features, they are nice to have however.


No, I really miss the direct switch to change between wireless off, master and slave modes on the 580EX, on the 580EX II you have to long press the zoom button and use the dial wheel to set the required mode, one more thing I miss is the better looking back light on the old 580EX. Maybe they could make the charging sound a setting that you can turn on and off?

Syl Arena has compiled a very good wishlist with all the features he wants added to the Canon series of speedlites, and I can only add my voice to him.


I suck at making and editing videos, so please excuse anything you don't like about this video, and take into consideration that it is my very first attempt, I promise you that I will keep getting better and make better videos in the future.


This is a bonus since you came this far, when I attempted to create the picture you saw at the top of the article, I only had the 430EX available, so in order to light both flashes evenly I used the 430EX in a shoot through umbrella, and this is what I got:

Lighting Info: 430EX in a shoot through umbrella

It didn't look as striking as I wanted and the curtains at the back were not the best background, so I used the 430EX with the Lumiquest SBIII (article coming soon) and some white card boards as reflectors to light both flashes evenly, I also used a black backdrop to hide the curtains because although I was using low power, some light spilled to the curtains. It is not the best product picture but it will do for me, below you can see the pull back picture and the final result.


  1. That was your first video? I think we have an emmy winner in the making :)
    As a Nikon user I found this very informative. It's nice to see the similarities and differences in the Canon flashes compared to Nikons.

    The control from the camera certainly sounds useful. Now that i'm exploring triggering options I see how that featuure makes using a long TTL cord much more practical, and a great alternative to optical-only or radio-based setups.

    Best regards,

  2. Thank you Mic, yes the menu is in fact very good for control using optical or TTL cord setups, one more thing I just discovered is that you can have different groups of flashes and set the power outputs from the camera, but you can also use any number of flashes set into manual power (from the flash), not assigned to any of the groups and they will fire wirelessly with the other flashes on the set power level.


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