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Canon’s 580EX II and 430EX II….The flashes in my bag

Richard Charpentier Canon Cameras, Gear Review, Notes from Rich, Photography Leave a Comment

With all the storming last week I had plenty of time to experiment with my flashes (finally). The experimentation was a good deal of fun, but of course I still have a good deal more to learn. Before we get into all of that I thought I’d talk about the flashes I currently use…..

Thanks to Kebly’s Digital Photography Book Volume II and my friend Bert Gildart’s images I made the decision the other year that I needed to give flash a whirl.  As a Canon shooter I decided to go with Canon’s flash products for ease of use and integration with the cameras I was shooting with.  At the time, a 30D and a 40D.

My 580 and 430 EX II's on the cutting table here at the gallery

One thing that I knew I wanted was the ability to go wireless, so I decided on one 580EX II (which could act as a master) and the 430EX II (which can operate wirelessly in a slave mode).  My thinking was straightforward.  Why not buy a flash that could act as a wireless controller, that way I wouldn’t have to spend on other wireless control gear.

For what it’s worth, the 580 acts masterfully as a wireless controller.  Unfortunately I learned pretty quickly that I was not satisfied with the flash always acting in that roll.  What I really wanted was to have both flash units off camera often.  So while I initially thought I was saving myself a few bucks by getting the 580 to act as the controller I learned quickly in my early experimentation that I’d need another controller option down the road.

Beyond the wireless control issue, the 580 is a simple flash unit to use (once you learn about it that is).  What I really like about it and the 430 is the ability to control the flash through the camera’s menu interface.  Many of the flash settings are available “in camera.”  This makes output control, exposure balance, and the rest relatively simple to deal with.

Yes, of course you can also alter the flash settings of both units directly on the flashes themselves.  So, you have options.  Still, the fact that they integrate so easily with the camera makes life all the easier when using them.

Several friends had suggested alternate hot shoe flashes for my early experimentation.  They were much less expensive, but the integration with the camera just wasn’t there.

I will say, for my part at least, that the menu system on both flashes is not super intuitive.  Once you learn it then, as I said above, it’s easy to use.  But the initial learning curve isn’t made easy by Canon’s “manual”.  Sorry Canon, but coming from the perspective of a flash newbie I can tell you, things weren’t straightforward.  Fortunately there’s a host of great information out there to help folks learn.  In my case, the “Digital Field Guide” series has a great book on the Canon Speedlight system.  So, the book was purchased when I picked up my two flashes.  It got read last year, then like the flashes, put to the side.  But it was re-read in its entirety last week.  I can’t recommend the Digital Field Guide series enough!  Great books!

Well, enough on the first installment of my flash learning quest last week.  Tomorrow I’ll talk about using the ST-E2 as a wireless controller, and share a few “in Airstream” experiments on controlling power through the wireless interface.  It’s a lot of fun!  🙂

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