Which Canon Speedlite Flash Is Right for You?

Which Canon Speedlite Flash Is Right for You?

Looking at buying a canon Speedlite flash but not sure which one is right for you? In this post Phil Steele sheds some light on the topic (PS: if there’s anyone in our readership who’d like to do a similar post on other brands we’d be interested in publishing it).

Investing in a hot-shoe flash can be an intimidating step for many photographers. No one wants to suffer the buyer’s remorse that comes from spending hundreds of dollars only to discover that you made the wrong choice.

To help you avoid this “newbie tax,” I’d like to offer some guidance in discovering which Canon flash is right for you.


As of this writing in 2010, the Canon Speedlite flash lineup consists of three options: the 270EX, the 430EX II, and the 580EX II. (We won’t consider the specialized macro flashes here).

Canon 270EX Speedlite

Starting with the least expensive model, the 270EX is a small, pocket-sized hot-shoe flash powered by two AA batteries. It costs approximately $150. In my opinion this flash is only a marginal improvement over the pop-up flash found on most Canon SLR cameras, and therefore does not make economic sense for most photographers.


Unlike its larger brethren, it cannot be swiveled from side to side, and its angled bounce head, which allows you to bounce light off a ceiling, is pretty wimpy compared to the full-size flashes. Despite a price that is more than half that of the larger 430EX II, it lacks many useful features such as the infrared beam to help you focus in the dark, and the ability to act as a remote slave in multi-flash setups. And of course, it just doesn’t pack the power of the larger flashes.

However, there are a few cases where this little flash makes sense. The 270EX may right for you if:

  1. You really need a tiny, lightweight, or inconspicuous flash with more power than your camera’s pop-up flash.
  2. You are shooting with a Canon Powershot G11 or similar hot-shoe-equipped pocket camera that would be absurdly overwhelmed by the weight of a full-size flash.
  3. You are shooting with one of the Canon professional cameras (such as the 1D or 5D) that lacks a built-in pop-up flash, and you want a small, lightweight device to create on-camera fill flash.

Outside of these conditions (and for anyone shooting with a Canon SLR equipped with a pop-up flash) I don’t recommend the 270EX. If your camera has a pop-up flash, you can emulate the bounce ability of the 270EX with an accessory like the Lightscoop for a small fraction of the price.

Canon 430EX II Speedlite


Moving up to the Speedlite 430EX II, we step into the realm of Canon’s full-size hot-shoe flashes. Powered by 4 AA batteries, the 430EX II sells for about $250 and offers all the features you’d expect in a full-size flash, including the ability to swivel in any direction, to bounce off walls or ceilings, and to help you focus in the dark with an infrared assist beam. This last can be a real life-saver in low-light situations where you can’t get a focus lock with ambient light.

The 430EX II is my preferred flash for most event-photography situations where I am shooting with the flash on the camera. Even though I could use the more powerful 580EX II, I find I usually prefer the lighter weight and smaller size of the 430 when I’m going to be carrying the camera for hours and sometimes shooting one-handed. The larger 580 starts to seem monstrous by comparison.

Canon 580EX II Speedlite


As versatile as the 430EX II is, however, it lacks one crucial feature that may steer you to the larger Speedlite 580EX II, despite the roughly $450 price tag. The 580EX II is the only Canon flash that can act as a Master in multi-flash setups. If you want to experiment with off-camera flash using the built-in Canon wireless flash system (and who doesn’t?), then you will eventually need a 580 as your master control unit.

In the bargain the 580 also offers more power than the 430, and other slightly enhanced capabilities. But the real deciding factor for the 580 is the master control function. So if your only goal is to shoot with the flash mounted on the camera, and if you never intend to do off-camera, multi-flash setups, then I would not suggest spending the extra $200 for the 580EX II. In my opinion, the additional power is not worth the extra cost.

Also note that the both the 430EX II and the 580EX II can serve as remote slaves in multi-flash wireless setups. So I would argue that you never need more than one 580EX II flash. Invest in that mothership one time to get your master unit, and then for any additional slave flashes, I would simply buy the less expensive 430EX II.

So, in summary, I recommend:

(links point to Amazon where you can get a price)

  • 270EX – Only if your camera lacks a pop-up flash, or you really need a tiny, pocket-sized flash despite the limitations.
  • 430EX II – As your first flash for on-camera use, or as a remote slave.
  • 580EX II – As a master control unit when you are ready to try wireless, multi-flash setups.

I hope this helps with your flash purchase decisions.

philsteele.jpgAbout the Author: Phil Steele is the founder of SteeleTraining.com where you’ll find free photography tutorials and training.

If you are interested in off-camera flash with Canon Speedlites you may want to check out his online course “How to Shoot Professional-Looking Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes.”

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Some Older Comments

  • Phil Steele April 27, 2013 08:37 am

    Kevin, I have an updated, video version of this on my website (SteeleTraining dot com) where I discuss all these plus the newer flashes like 320EX and 600EX-RT etc. Feel free to check it out!

  • Kevin April 26, 2013 12:33 pm

    this is still an awesome article ... Wonder how new equipment that has just come out figures in .. Ie 60D can be used as master , but I understand some aspects are not as good .. Also would love to know how the 600EX-Rt compares to 550 Ect

  • Waseem November 26, 2012 11:26 pm

    Great article. i am going to buy Canon 430EX II Speedlite.

  • DanielCC April 25, 2012 07:49 am

    Hi, so I have my t3i, it is supossed to come with the master flash feature included, do I still need to get the 580?? I really am loooking forward to get my first camera flash I intend to do both on and off camera flash

  • msgill January 10, 2012 02:22 am

    Very informatory posts. I read in different forums and specially flicker negative reports of ettl canon system & user has to set over under exposure on flashes. In the past i used Minolta 7Xi with wirless flash system which impressed me a lot by getting excellent results and in a post the posters said it was really ttl flash system. Is canon wireless system is ettl but afraid to say read somewhere it is auto. Few months back i picked eos 5dmk1 but after reading different negative posts of ettl i did not pick any ex flash. I used YN 468 and old 540EZ but results are so so and when used Metz 45CT4 with SCA 380 in green mode results much better.Canon own flash system is very expensive and cannot take risk due to inconsistency of ettl described by posters in different forums. I have Lumix LX2 which is giving me better results with flash as compared to f/f gear and even TZ1 a 4 MP camera. I will appreciate if my colleagues help me to guide me in the right direction. Sometime i used 5d with manual adapters and results with metz combination deliver better results. But in dark location manual focus become miserable due to aging eyes so seeking help. My YN 468 dies after three hundred click and 540 EZ is not giving me better stuff although doing AF in manual mode.

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain February 15, 2011 11:09 pm

    I am a hobbyist nature photographer. I own the Canon Speedlite 270EX and love it. Why? The reasons are:

    a. I shoot indoor family/friends events may be twice a year just for fun.
    b. For such irregular casual use; it provides enough power
    c In a rare situation like capturing a group photo of 50 friends; it was able to get the shot clearly at night with its highest power enabled both from itself and the camera.
    d. Needs 2 batteries only.

    What I do rest of the year? It's there at the beginning - shooting landscape and wildlife.

  • Lindsay November 4, 2010 02:05 am

    I just came across this post when I was looking on info about the 430ex II. I just purchased one last week to use with my Canon Rebel T1i. I take pictures as a hobby but am trying to learn everything I can about photography. So keep this in mind when answering...I know VERY very little about photography and even using my camera (only had it a few months).. but I am in desperate need of help on how to work my new flash, so if anyone is willing to help please let me know! Thanks

  • Brethers August 4, 2010 11:56 pm

    Excellent review, short and sweet and to the point. I have been dithering about which flash unit to buy and this has helped me decide that I don't really need the 580 so it's the 430 for me.

  • Phil B July 30, 2010 08:47 am

    Excellent review. This article has been really useful. I'm on the lookout for a flash unit for my 5D. Great insights from all the readers too. Thanks.

  • Richard Taylor July 27, 2010 03:28 pm

    It appears this Blog has duplicated this article.

  • Dean S July 25, 2010 12:45 am

    @Paul - Actually you're wrong... In the camera's menu, try setting the "Flash Mode" from "ETTL" to "Manual". Once you do that, you have full independent manual control of all three flash groups from 1/128 all the way up to 1/1 power (but I think 430's will only go down to 1/64). There are no ratio's about it when the system is set to manual mode.

    Keep in mind, I'm not sure when Canon added this extra functionality to the "in camera" menus because both my 50D and 7D have this very flexible control built in but my old 30D did not. I had to do all those setting in the 580 itself... Which itself allowed you the same independent control of the flash groups when it's set to "Manual Mode". I like Canon's system for outdoor shooting where AC power isn't available.

    As for hunting around through the menus, I just registered "Flash Control" in the "My Menu" section of my cameras so it's only a couple clicks away.

    And just a note for some of the beginners out there that might be confused about what me and Paul are talking about... What Paul is meaning is when the Canon system is left in ETTL Mode (automatic mode) you can set to output of each flash to be a certain ratio to each other. For example, if two flash units are used, you can set the ratio between the flash units to lets say 2:1... Meaning flash unit "A" will fire twice as bright as flash unit "B". But the over all output of the flash units as a whole is determined by the ETTL system in the camera.

    But when you set the system to "manual mode", the photographer is responsible for setting the output of each flash unit (or group)... there is no automatic about it. But what this does is give the photographer full control of each flash unit regardless of what the other flash units are doing. And the output fractions I was referring to (1/128 ~ 1/1) are the output capabilities of the flash units themselves. Meaning 1/1 is 100% full power output of that flash unit and 1/128 is well, 1/128 of full power output.

    I hope this clears up some confusion. ;-)

  • Paul July 24, 2010 10:48 pm

    Canon's wireless system only gives you ratio control over the three zones. This means you can set your A:B to 2:1 or 3:1, then adjust the overall lighting through the flash compensation. That's about it. If you "buy into" the PocketWizard ControlTL system, you can do so much more...

    Each FlexTT5 can be set for one of three zones (A, B, and C).. The AC3 Zone Controller can set the overall power of that zone, independently of the others. Want to strobe your background at 2 stops over to blow it out (e.g. high key portrait)? Just crank zone C up from the AC3 and shoot. Even cooler is that PW is now making remotes for the Alien Bees, White Lightning, and Elinchrom RX heads that allow the AC3 to adjust their power.

    Now I have one system that can control both my Speedlights and my studio strobes, and the whole thing works off of three little dials on my camera plus the flash compensation dial for overall adjustments. How cool is that? Yes, it costs a bit more. But if it saves me time in that I don't have to hunt through menus on the camera, and it gives me a huge amount of flexibility without running from strobe to strobe, I'll make the money back in no time.

  • Phil Steele July 21, 2010 02:07 am

    @rikka @Dean @Shawn - Thanks all for sharing your thoughts, and Rikka thanks for the PW support response.
    All - It's my understanding that the 270EX would not work well with traditional PW Plus II triggers because you can't manually control the power on the flash. It would always fire at full power. However, it sounds like with the Mini/Flex TTL system you could use the 270EX as a cheap little remote because the PW system would control the power. (However, I'm still not sure a 270 would make more sense than buying a cheap third-party flash which would have more power and capability. But if you already had a 270 lying around, or needed to pack very light, it sounds like the 270 could be viable with the Mini/Flex system). Am I reading you all correctly on this?

  • Dean S July 21, 2010 01:35 am

    I feel slightly vindicated because they basically confirmed most of the points I made. Although I don't recall seeing the option to put the remote flash units in manual mode through the software... But to be honest, I was more concerned with and spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get control back from the system as a whole. In a nut shell, I basically feel like I gained the advantage of RF reliability but lost a whole lot of control in trade.

    And what I meant by the "gimmick to sell more pocket wizards" statement was this... Before I bought the system, I assumed it was transparent to the camera and flash. And that I would still be able to use my 580 (attached to a Flex off camera) as a master flash to control other flash units through Canon's IR system... But you can't because the Mini / Flex disables Canon's IR (or at least I couldn't figure out how to get that functionality back... maybe it was another option in the software that I missed). So my point is, because you lose the ability to still use IR to command other flash units, you're forced to buy more Flex units to command more flash units.

    Now why would I want to use both RF and IR in the same setup? Simple, to get my 580 OFF my camera but still be able to use it as my master commander for other flash units. As I said in a previous post, the 7D's built in speedlite commander is lacking in ability and the ST-E2 is lacking in functionality. Where as the 580 has enough power and functionality to use the Canon's IR system easily and reliably. So I wanted to attach my 580 to a Flex and still be able to control it AND other flash units through that camera's menu system... I could not achieve that through the Mini / Flex system.

    So I am still using my 580 as a very big and very expensive commander as it's my only viable option for what I want to do.

  • riikka July 20, 2010 06:16 am

    There was somewhere in the middle of this thread such disappointed comments by @dean s of the Pocket Wizards remote radio triggers (which I perhaps some day would like to use), that I asked PW's response on dean s's report. With their consent, the response email is copied below. Most problems should have/get solutions thus.
    PocketWizard Support wrote:

    I'd have to agree with you that this user's comments are a bit unflattering to our products. However, it appears that he spent a very short amount of time learning how the system performs before returning them, and thus may not have gotten fully comfortable with the system's many strengths.

    I'll try to address the concerns listed in the order that they're presented, but I'll start first with the comment made about the difference between the Canon optical system of transmitting data, and our extension of that with radio signals. This is a very large advantage to the PocketWizard system, in that it greatly increases the working distance available to photographers when compared against optical triggering methods, especially outdoors, in bright sunlight, and anywhere else that infrared light signals don't carry well. By moving to a radio transmission system, the reliability of the system also increases significantly - where something interrupting the line of sight of the optical system can wreak havoc on reliability, radio signals have much more chance of getting a successful transmission across.

    PocketWizards using ControlTL technology built into the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units recreate the functionality of Canon's optical triggering system, but in a much different way. We're not actually "transparent" to the camera / flash combination; instead we've reverse-engineered Canon's communication protocols, and use those to communicate information to the remote flashes From a remote flash unit's perspective, our FlexTT5 actually looks like a camera in terms of the data that is being communicated to the flash - our ControlTL technology is what goes between the transmitter and the receiver to tell the remote flashes what functions need to be performed, and when.

    The in-camera TTL menus that this user is speaking of is something that we are quite aware of, and we'd like to incorporate the use of those menus to control remote units at some point in the future. We don't currently have any timeframe for that to occur, but we are quite aware of the desire for this functionality.

    This user is correct in that, when using a MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 as a transmitter with no commanding unit on the top shoe, that the remote units will be treated as one continuous zone of TTL light, which can be controlled by the Flash Exposure Compensation setting of your camera. By adding another master flash unit, or our soon to be released AC3 ZoneController (which you can read about here http://www.pocketwizard.com/products/transmitter_receiver/36/AC3/overview/ ), you gain the ability of power control over individual zones of remote flash units.

    Out of the box, the radios are configured to operate in TTL modes, and in that configuration will not allow the remote units to be set manually. By connecting the units to the PocketWizard utility, you can change many of these default values to suit your needs, including disabling the default setting that forces the remote flashes into TTL mode. Here's a link to our tutorial that covers a number of the functions that are provided by the utility: http://www.pocketwizard.com/inspirations/tutorials/pocketwizard_utility/

    The last point the user makes about needing a receiving unit to pair with each individual flash is an interesting one. I can assure you we're not using any sort of gimmick to try and get customers to buy more of our products - as with any other transmitter/receiver system in the world, in order for remote functionality to work, there must be a receiver attached to every device that's intended to be affected by a data transmission. This is true for cellphones, satellites, GPS systems - anything that transmits data wirelessly.

    I'll be the first to admit that our system is not perfect - no system is - but bound by the constraints placed on our products by the laws of physics, and of regulatory agencies, I believe that we offer one of the most feature complete wireless triggering systems for remote flashes on the market today.

    I hope I've clarified the way that our system works for you, and I'd love to answer any other questions you have regarding the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 remotes, or any other PocketWizard radios for that matter. (-)

    PocketWizard Support

  • riikka July 19, 2010 04:53 pm

    @Shawn: Many thanks for your encouraging comments on 270/430 + Pocket Wizards, for me that will probably be the way to go.

    @73Rocks: The 2nd curtain syncronization is not special to 430 and 580, but a rather standard feature. The 270 EX has this also, and at least my 500D's on-camera flash also.

  • 73Rocks July 19, 2010 12:39 am

    And lets not foret the neat little feature of the 430 & 580 called 1st and 2nd curtain sync.

    Just a little description . . . 1st curtain sync is when the shutter button is pressed the shutter opens, the flash fires, and then the shutter stays open for the set shutter time. For 2nd curtain sync when the shutter button is pressed the shutter opens and stays open for the set amount of time and then just before the shutter closes the flash fires.

    A couple of examples of 2nd curtain sync . . .

  • Shawn July 19, 2010 12:30 am

    I own the 580EX2 and 420EX, first of all great write up.

    Grow Features
    I purchased the 420EX since money was a factor for me when I got the Canon (10D). Big limitations for me were the flash range, recycle times moving to the 580EX2, and being able to add the Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack to the mix. The edge in shooting kids/adult events is that I was able to throw the light quite a bit further than and didn't have to switch batteries as much that I would the 420. I can shoot about 450-500 shots on one pack when that runs low I flip to a backup pack. That is a core feature of the 580 that wasn't mentioned but may be important to some.

    Off camera comments
    I recently purchased the Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 and 2 Flex TT5 one word of warning if you're off camera stuff with the built in IR it has some limitations, these are all described on the Strobist web site so I'll refrain from going on about that here. There are will documented issues with Radio Frequency (RF) noise and the 580EX2, the 430EX doesn't have RF noise issues. Yes this is an expensive setup but if you don't need the external battery, the 430/270 will work well in off camera radio applications. I chose Mini TT1/FlexTT because I wanted ETTL if you don't need this you can use the 430/270 and the Pocket Wizard Plus with great results. The downside is you'll need to use the spot meter more often depending on your application.

    Great site Great Community

  • Eugene July 18, 2010 02:27 pm

    Good writeup. One thing no one has mentioned is that the 430 doesn't recycle as fast as the 580. I shoot with multiple flashes, master is a 580 with a pair of 580s & 430s via RadioPoppers. The 430s can't keep up and I've to pace my shooting otherwise I'll have some exposure issues. So, if you need to cover some fast moving events, it might be worth it to spend a bit more for the 580. The 580 also has the option to speed up the recycling time with the add-on battery pack.
    The 430 is still useful for slave and for me sometimes riskier places like sides of a boat or a moving truck.

  • riikka July 17, 2010 10:51 pm

    @tom kirby - thanks for the comment. I have a 270 EX, and of course I would like to use it, if I ever get remote radio systems for the flashes. I would think that you can control the 270 EX (or several of them) from the camera menus. If there are many, they should then have the same power, though. This together with another flash that you can control from the flash could work. -- Better try with my existing equipment, though, before investing in any other flashes.

  • Tom Kirby July 17, 2010 10:28 pm

    @Phil Steele - Thats PERFECT! exactly what i was looking for! and to hear that its previously been done(and by the sounds of it, a lot of people are doing it) proves its a reliable solution.


    Im based in the UK, so if anyone has any link to a local company selling them, otherwise i will buy oversea's if i have to :)

    @riikka - Although(as Phil mentioned above) you can attach most hotshoe Flash's to a PW, it will only really be benificial if you have a flash where you are able to control flash power, what the 270 does not have...

  • riikka July 17, 2010 04:23 pm

    In some of their marketing videos, the Pocket Wizard guys say that you could even use the cheapest flashes, in this case 270 EX, together with PWs. This would of course be very attractive to a casual amateur user, lowering costs in set-ups with multiple flashes.

    Anyone any idea on how sensible this suggestion is?

  • Phil Steele July 17, 2010 10:07 am

    @Tom kirby - I use this hot-shoe adapter from Flash Zebra to connect my Canon flashes, both 580 and 430, to Pocket Wizards:


    Works great.

  • Dean S July 17, 2010 08:35 am


  • Dean S July 17, 2010 08:34 am

    @Tom Kirby - Yes the 580 has a PC sync socket where the 430 does not. But there are two options, you can either get the very expensive Pocket Wizard Flex that does have a hot-shoe and it will work with any Pocket Wizard transmitter or the cheapest way to use a 430 with a Pocket Wizard (or any other wireless RF system) is to just get a PC sync to hot-shoe adapter.

  • frank ingram July 17, 2010 08:04 am

    I think it's the first time in my life where the person didn't say you have to buy the most expensive item. It was refreshing in a way. Thank YOu

  • Tom Kirby July 16, 2010 11:51 pm

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the 580 II also has a PC Sync socket, what is useful (not as useful as 3.5mm jack) for connecting to PW(Pocket Wizard) equipment.

    I might of read/thinking about it wrongly, but PW don't have a hot shoe, their-fore, to get proper wireless long distance/non line of sight (not IR) you need to connect it via PC sync cords, what only the 580 II has?

    Can someone please confirm/correct this, because if I am able to use a 430 II with a PW, then I will do that instead!

  • Rick July 16, 2010 11:16 pm

    I enjoyed the write up on the speedlites. I recently purchased an older 420EX for my XSI and even though it was not mentioned it was a lower price point (used) with the advantages of the 430EX. For those watching $ in these time, buying used is an alternative choice.
    Cheers, happy shooting.

  • Gaurav Prabhu July 16, 2010 04:43 pm

    Nicely explained. Now I know which flash to go for with my future DSLR. Thanks.

  • Sacramento Wedding Photographers July 16, 2010 03:29 pm

    Call me a little biased, but I think the 580 or 580 EX II is well worth the additional money considering how much more output you get. The bigger display + more information is super useful too. When shooting off camera flash and multi flash setups you'll really appreciate having the extra features and power. Spend a little more now and not regret later!

  • Phil Steele July 16, 2010 03:13 pm

    @Dean S - Thanks for the first-hand report on the PW Mini and Flex. I've been tempted to buy that system to upgrade from the PW Plus II's I'm currently using, but buggy user reports have made it sound like the system was not ready for prime time. Your report highlights other disadvantages. I think I'll hold off a bit longer.

    Has anyone tried the new TTL system from Pixel yet? Looks to be a lower-priced Chinese compeitor with full wireless TTL metering.

  • Dean S July 16, 2010 02:55 pm

    @paul ~ Not really on the Pocket Wizard Mini and Flex. I bought both thinking they were transparent to the camera and flash and that the TTL information would be communicated between the flash and camera as if the flash was attached... They don't! The first thing you should know is that as soon as the Mini is attached to the camera, you lose all ability to control any flash from within the camera's menus. The second thing you should know is that when *just* the mini is attached, your only option is full auto TTL metering and the only thing you can adjust (in camera) is the flash compensation. In fact the flex even locks you out of manual control of your remote flash too. And third, the ONLY way you can have control of you remote flash units through the mini/flex system is if you attach a 580EX to the top of the mini. Then you can use the 580's controls to set the output of up to 3 groups that the mini will then transmit to the remote flex units. And the kicker is, every single remote flash has to be attached to it's own Flex unit. And yes, you did read me right, (and I'll repeat) the only way to take manual control of your remote flash units is to attach a 580 to the top of the mini! I found the system to be ridiculously complicated (and stupid) so I returned then the very next day. In my opinion because of the fact that you need a Flex unit for every single flash and because they lock you out of manual control in the camera and on the remote flash units, the whole system is nothing more than a gimmick to try and sell you more Pocket Wizard stuff.

    The Canon system of wireless flash is much easier and better to use with the ONLY disadvantage being it's line-of-sight. In my opinion there is no advantages to the Mini / Flex system other than the fact that it's radio and not line-of-sight.

  • Tony Page July 16, 2010 11:32 am

    Interesting to read about the Canon equivalent to the SB-400. As a professional travel photographer I find the SB-400 invaluable for on-camera fill, and the ability to alter the angle of attack is an added plus. One problem with using a pop-up flash for fill, even with a diffuser, is that with some lenses/lens hoods you can get the dreaded shadow semicircle at the bottom of the frame; using a smaller mounted flash like the SB-400 can help with this without adding appreciably to bulk.

    In passing, in the course of my work I've had to lump around too many heavy cameras, strobes etc., and I don't know one professional who wouldn't trade his right arm (OK, left) to be able to get his results with lighter gear. Unless I'm mistaken, most people here aren't photographing for a living, so please don't fall for this macho (expletive deleted) about having to carry a load of equipment to be considered "serious" about your hobby. If you choose to use certain equipment, that's your business, but to suggest that people who choose not to (or physically cannot) lump around the heavy stuff cannot be "serious" is both patronising and simply wrong.

    Tony Page

  • Paul July 16, 2010 11:28 am

    One thing to keep in mind regarding the master/slave issue: If you use the newer (and more expensive) PocketWizard Mini and Flex, you get full TTL with any of Canon's flashes. A Mini mounted in the camera's hot shoe acts as the master and will even pass the signals through to a flash mounted on the Mini. You could save a few dollars and buy 430s instead of 580s.

  • Scott Shelton July 16, 2010 05:12 am

    This is MOST helpful and timely, as I am in the market for a Canon flash. You made up my mind for me! (Can I borrow some cash?)

  • Sam Cox July 16, 2010 04:00 am

    The 580EX II can be powered from an external battery pack for extending the flash count and reducing the flash cycle time.

  • Jason Yeung July 16, 2010 01:36 am

    I am still very amateur in photography and is still doing some research in getting a flash.
    After reading this post, I am leaning towards the 430 :P

    What do you guys compare it to the Nissin Di866 Professional? From my memory, this japanese flash cheaper compared to the Canon 430? (I really like the LED screen on the back)

    What you guys think? :)

  • Dean S July 15, 2010 11:48 pm

    I'm reading a lot of people complaining about the size and weight of the 430 and 580... But seriously? Come on... One, they aren't that heavy and two, if you want something light weight and easy to use, stick with a point & shoot. I mean why would anyone buy a DSLR and then complain about how inconvenient it is. My simple philosophy is, my photography comes first, my comfort comes second. I regularly shoot live events and during those shoots I'm usually running around with my 50D + 70-200L lens hanging off one shoulder, my 7D + 17-55 lens + 580EXII hanging off the other shoulder and my 430EXII in my back pocket. Am I comfortable running around with all that gear hanging off me? No... But I usually get my shot. And if I wanted to be comfortable, I'd run around and *try* to get good shots with my G10.

    Am I trying to criticize anyone? Not really, but the way I see it, if you're complaining about the size and weight of a little ol' 430 then I doubt you're very serious about photography. Just my opinion at least. ;-)

  • Leslie July 15, 2010 10:22 pm

    Thanks for all your help to everyone that responded. I apologize for the stupid question but I honestly have never used a flash for anything more than snapping it on and shooting. And I haven't had time to read about doing anything other than that. I appreciate all the suggestions (& will definitely try the DIY method) and advice!

  • Nancy Nally July 15, 2010 01:45 pm

    I have to agree with riikka about the 270ex. I have a Canon XS that I use for personal photography and as the editor of an online scrapbook trade journal at trade shows. I tried renting a 430ex - my neck and shoulders were killing me after carrying it all day and it was more power than I needed. But the onboard flash wasn't enough. I was thrilled when the 270ex came out and snapped one up. It is perfect! I can carry it all day, and it is just enough power for what I need. Yes, it doesn't swivel like the 430 does, but giving that up is a small price to pay for not having to haul that monster 430 all day!

  • Martin July 15, 2010 12:50 pm

    @Leslie, alternatively, get a cheap TTL cable, and you'll be able to use your 430EX off-camera, and still keep ETTL.

  • ketchup July 15, 2010 10:00 am

    I have 430EX II and I love it. I use it on a Canon Rebel T1i. I'm just a hobbyist, not really professional and I don't really know how to do those off-cam flash photography stuff so I don't think I'm gonna need the 580EX II anytime soon. I'm good with my 430EX II =)

  • Phil Steele July 15, 2010 09:04 am

    Thanks all of you for the great feedback.

    @rikka - That is a great tip about the 270EX and high-speed sync. That's a significant benefit I was unaware of.

    @Darren C - I'm with you on the value of Strobist.com. David Hobby is the god of off-camera flash! Highly recommended.

    @Leslie - Your 430EX may be usable off camera if you have a Canon 7D. Otherwise you can get a cheap radio trigger (see my site for info) to use with it (but you won't have TTL metering).

    @Martin - You're exactly right about the 7D and ST-E2 as further options for off-camera flash. (I just didn't want to open that can of worms in a brief comparison of the 3 flashes). I personally choose to use the 580 as a master, or radio triggers, but I know some who swear by the ST-E2.

    @Dean - Thank for explaining why you use the heavy flash on-camera as the master despite other lightweight options. Useful insight!

    Thanks all!

  • John K July 15, 2010 06:48 am

    @Leslie - - You can make your own light sphere and save a hundred bucks.


    But if you still want a GF go with the collapsible one. It is much more practical.

    An even cheaper DIY is to use a white lunch bag over the flash. Believe it or not I grabbed a couple of barf bags the last time I was on an airplane and the are the perfect size. The wire closure attached to the bags make for a reasonably secure fit.

    You don't need to always buy something from the camera store to solve your photographic challenge.

  • Otto Focus July 15, 2010 06:42 am

    so, would I be safe to assume that tomorrow or later today there will be a similar version of this with the 3 main Nikon flashes, the SB 400, 600, and 900. Although many folks shoot Canon, some of us could benefit with a Nikon comparison as well


  • John K July 15, 2010 06:36 am

    @leslie -- Surely you jest. But in case not, you can absolutely get your 430 off your camera without a 580.

    Try (1) an off camera flash cord http://www.adorama.com/FAOCSCCAN.html or (2) an optical slave http://www.adorama.com/FASE.html or (3) radio trigger http://www.adorama.com/PAINT492.html.

    Thought he first maintains full TTL, the latter two do not. But you will learn much more about flash and have better control if you shoot manual flash anyway.

    Of course there are more expensive solutions that are still less than a 580. Plus, you will still have the 580 on your camera. I personally would go with a radio trigger to get all flashes off the camera

  • Leslie July 15, 2010 06:31 am

    I can't find the link at the moment but I'm trying to figure out how to do what is shown in the demo video of how to use a lightsphere on a flash from garyfong.com. He turns the flash sideways, then tips it so the flash will bounce up instead of sideways. Makes sense?

  • Misha July 15, 2010 06:23 am

    One thing that no one pointed about 580 that I think is even more important for some people is its power. In bright sun 580 is pretty much the only flash in Canon's hot-shoe flash lineup that can overpower the sun. By overpower I mean that the sun will no longer be the mail light on the subject, instead it will be flash. Since in bright sun we are usually shooting at around f/8 f/11 at max sync speed, your flash will need to deliver quite a bit of light to at least match the power of sunlight. If you are shooting outdoors in daytime 580 is the only viable option for you. I personally would pick either 580 or a used 550ex. The latter can be found for around $200 and is still quite nice for most of the work. It doesn't support E-TTL II, but most people don't need that.

    @Dean S, I think what @leslie mean is to use bounce flash for portraits. Straight flash for portraits in most situations is horrible.

  • Dean S July 15, 2010 06:10 am

    @leslie ~ Swivel it for portrait shots???

  • Oliver July 15, 2010 05:11 am

    What are your thoughts on the SIGMA DG 530 Super? will this compare to the 580 from Canon?

  • Leslie July 15, 2010 04:56 am

    Dagnabit. I just bought the 430 yesterday. I didn't know I couldn't use it off camera without the 580 :( Now if I can just figure out how to swivel it for portrait shots . . .

  • John K July 15, 2010 04:34 am

    Nice summary. I use the 430 EX II. I agree with your analysis and recommendations.

    One thing you neglected to point out with regard to master/slave operation is that if you are lucky enough to have a 7D (which I have) you can set the 7D to act as a master to any number of slave flashes. You can also set up the slaves into three groups and remotely control the power settings from the camera. This is very useful especially if you have a flash in a remote location.

  • David July 15, 2010 03:06 am

    I agree with most of what you're saying here, except that you don't need the 580EX II with the 7D.
    The 7D is the only Canon camera that can serve as a master, so you'll only need one or more 430EX II's.
    You could even use the very cheap "300W Studio Photographic Strobe/Flash Light" ($70 on Amazon), since they can fire on the second flash.

  • darren_c July 15, 2010 02:41 am

    For those of you interested learning more about off camera flash, especially those who are new to off camera flash, you might want to check out the Strobist blog by David Hobby. Here's a link to his Lighting 101 section in which he goes over all the basics for off camera wired and wireless flash.

    His site is fairly brand neutral and the techniques can work with many models. This is great site to bookmark and return to on a regular basis.




  • Aric July 15, 2010 02:23 am

    Forgot to mention that the 430 is not a full 360 in it's swivel which is a MAJOR disadvantage.

  • VPF July 15, 2010 02:01 am

    Just a notice, but I think that you can use Canon MR-14 EX and MT-24 EX as a master units as well... I know they are specialized macrophotography flashes but still, it's nice to know as you have the option for additional slave units in your macrowork if needed...

  • Vladimir Krzalic July 15, 2010 01:47 am

    With affordable wireless radio triggers (not to mention Pocket Wizards), it is possible to do off-camera flash photography from both flashes, but in this case you loose TTL features so one must be more cautious with flash settings.
    Other way of working with off camera flashes and not looising EX580II's power and features just to use it as a commander, is TTL extension cord. In that case the distance and possible cable-trippings are the biggest issues.

    I thought that it is worth of metnioning for other people reading the article...

  • Zack Jones July 15, 2010 01:43 am

    Nice summary. I bought the 580 EXII when Canon was offering a good rebate on it. Even though it's way more flash than I need at this point I figure I'll grow into it eventually. I'm using it mostly for birding and get extra reach from the flash using a Better Beemer.

  • riikka July 15, 2010 01:30 am

    I am an amateur photographer, taking photos for fun and documenting my life and my kids growing. My camera is Canon 500D.

    I have had a 430 EX II flash for about half a year, which I am happy with. I recently bought an additional 270 EX flash, however, to carry everywhere. For me, 430 EX II is too bulky to carry always with me, and the pop-up flash cannot do what I want it to do.

    The significant advantage of the 270 EX flash over the pop-up flash, which no-one seems to find relevant to mention (I had to find this in the manual) but for me is absolutely essential, is that it can do high-speed synchronization (the pop-up thus cannot). This means that you can use largest apertures in sunlight, taking portraits back-lighting with sun and getting correct exposure/filling shadows in the face with the fill-in flash, with blurred background. Try to do this with the pop-up fash, you get over-exposure, since you need fast speed (1/2000 seconds or so).

    This capability of high-speed synchronization, together with the low weight and small size, may for some be the most important properties.

  • Dean S July 15, 2010 12:55 am

    I have both the 580EXII and the 430EXII and I use then both for off camera flash all the time and I love it. The way I usually use them is I have the 580 attached to my camera (either my 50D or 7D) and in the camera I have the flash settings set to "Wireless Flash: Enabled, Master Flash: Disabled". Then I hand-hold the 430 (that's set to slave) anywhere I want the light to fall on my subjects (usually high left). What the setting "Master Flash: Disabled" does is it turns the 580 into a remote commander only and disables its own flash so it doesn't contribute to the lighting of the photo... The 430 is doing all the lighting. If you were to watch me taking crowd photos at a live event, I almost look like one of those old time photographers with the large format camera and my left arm holding a tray full of aluminum powder high left. But the photos I get are much better than any on-camera flash can give me so I'll live with the extra effort involved. In fact, my biggest problem is I get a few people that don't understand what I'm doing and for some reason they think they have to look at the flash in my left hand and not the camera. So I've gotten used to telling people to "look at me, not my flash". ;-)

    Now some may wonder why I'm using the 580 as a commander instead of an ST-E2 or the 7D's built in commander. It's simple, the 580 gives me the ability to make any adjustments to the flash (master or slave) from within the camera AND it gives me the auto-focus assist beams for low light. The ST-E2 has auto-focus assist beams but I loss the ability to make adjustments in camera. With the 7D, I can make adjustments in camera but I loss the auto-focus assist beams. The 7D's on camera flash does do that strobing thing to help auto-focusing but when I turn that on, my subjects usually end up squinting (which is not good).

  • go15 July 15, 2010 12:46 am

    wow!...thanks for the tip..I am planning to buy speedlight next month, but I don't know much about the function and stuff....and this helped me a lot....=)

  • Jones July 15, 2010 12:46 am

    Great tips---but I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for nikon users. I have the beginner D40 like everyone else and I've been thinking about upgrading my flash because my indoor photography isn't so hot. Any suggestions?

  • Al July 15, 2010 12:40 am

    I use the 430 ex ii and love it. Though since getting a cheap nifty fifty I haven't actually used the flash much!

  • Martin July 15, 2010 12:40 am

    Good summary of the various flashes.

    I started with a 430EX, then added a couple of 580EX flashes when I started playing with off-camera flash.

    With regards to your comments about needing a 580EX if you want to use Canon's wireless flash system - you forgot about the Canon 7D's built-in master capabilities, as well as the ST-E2. Both function as a master flash controller, thus negating the need for a 580EX on the hotshoe.

  • MeiTeng July 15, 2010 12:37 am

    I bought a 580 EXII recently. I am happy with the unit. But I am not ready to explore wireless, multi-flash set-ups yet.