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A good camera flash makes light of even the trickiest shooting conditions. You might think flashguns are only a ‘must have’ for shooting in dark or dull light. Yet camera flash are also handy on bright sunny days, when you can add fill-in light for portraits, so you can turn subjects away from the sun to stop them squinting and eliminate unsightly shadows.
A dedicated flashgun is tailor-made to communicate with your DSLR camera, generally reacting to the focal length of the lens and automatically zooming the flash head to maximize light output in just the area you need it, thereby extending the flashgun’s reach for more telephoto lens settings. Bounce and swivel facilities enable you to bounce light off adjacent walls or low ceilings to give softer lighting for more flattering portraits.
Best of all, advance through-the-lens (TTL) flash metering has the potential to enable consistently good flash exposures. It also helps to balance the flash with ambient lighting for the most natural looking results, complete with the ability to independently apply compensation to both flash exposure and the camera’s regular exposure setting, so you can tweak the balance to best effect.
Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flashgun
One notch down from Canon’s more pro-oriented 580EX II flashgun, the 430EX II is nevertheless a big step up from Canon’s pocket-sized 270EX.
It offers a motorized, automatic zoom head with a range of 24-105mm for full-frame cameras and automatic conversion of focal lengths for cameras with smaller sensors. It also features a bounce and swivel head, with typical 0, 45, 60, 70 and 90 degrees bounce angle and swivel between 180 degrees to the left and 90 degrees to the right.
The Guide Number, which indicates the maximum power output of the flash, is a fairly modest 43 at ISO 100 and 105mm zoom, so you get an effective reach of just over 10m when shooting at f/4 (distance multiplied by aperture). Controls are fairly basic but intuitive on the whole, apart from the Custom Settings menu for tweaking advanced options – there is no on-screen indication of what each setting is for. You can use the flashgun as a slave in a multi-flash wireless set up, but not as a master controller.
It is easy to find your way around the Canon 430EX II. The Mode button enables switching between Manual outpout and E-TTL or E-TTL II flash metering, while further controls enable switching between high-speed sync and rear-curtain flash options, as well as applying manual zoom settings.
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flashgun
Canon’s top of the range flashgun has a price tag to match – it can be the most expensive flashgun in Canon flashgun series.
It has a more powerful output than the 430EX II, with a Guide Number of 58 as opposed to 43, and it shares the same, refreshingly silent recycle system, even though it takes a little longer to recover after a full-power flash. Other noticeable differences include the provision of a built-in reflector card, in addition to the wide-angle diffuser that is featured on both Canon flashguns, plus the ability to rotate the head a full 180 degrees to the left and right.
For flash modes, it builds on the high-speed sync and rear-curtain options offered by the 430EX II, as well as enabling slow-sync flash through Canon’s tie-honored method of utilizing Tv, Av and M shooting modes in the host camera. There is also a Strobe mode for quick-firing multi-flash output within a single exposure plus full wireless control, so you can use it as a master as well as a slave in multi-flashgun set-ups.
As you would expect from a pro-level flashgun, the Canon 580EX II features additional sockets for external power and a PC terminal for wired off-camera triggering. Controls are rather more far-reaching, too – manual output is selectable down to 1/128 full power and a Selection Dial makes advanced settings quicker and easier to activate.