Choosing the right flash can be intimidating to beginning photographers. It’s easy to find lots of jargon-laden technical specifications, but hard to find a simple analysis in plain language of which flash is the best one for your needs.
I’m going to make the choice easy for you.
If you are a Canon shooter, you basically have three options at the time of this writing in 2010: the Speedlite 270EX, 430EX II, and 580EX II.
We’re going to immediately simplify it by eliminating the little 270EX right out of the gate. In my opinion it just doesn’t make economic sense.
First of all the 270EX is small. With its head so close to the lens axis, it creates light that is not much better (in terms of direction) than the built-in flash on most cameras.
Second, the 270EX lacks the infrared focus assist beam that the larger models have to help you focus in the dark.
Third, the 270EX can’t tilt or swivel to bounce off a wall or ceiling like the larger models can. Sure, you can direct it upward, but for a few dollars you can buy a reflector that directs the built-in flash on your camera upward.
I just don’t see the little 270EX as a good investment. If you’re going to spend the money on a flash, I suggest getting one of Canon’s grown-up Speedlites.
Choosing between the 430EX II and the 580EX II is a pretty simple choice. It’s not so much a matter of budget (although there is a $200 price difference) but a matter of how you intend to use the flash.
The basic difference between the two is this: the 580EX II can be used as a master control unit for multi-flash, strobist-style, off-camera lighting. The 430EX II cannot, although it can serve as a remote slave.
So, if you are buying your first flash, or your only flash, I see no good reason to spend the extra money on the 580EX. I recommend buying the less expensive 430EX II as a single flash.
Sure, the 580EX has more power, which gives you a bit more range. But frankly, I rarely find myself taxing the maximum range of my flashes. And the 580EX II has three red LED’s in its auto-assist focus beam, while the 430EX II only has two, and there are other small differences. But I don’t see these factors as being worth the $200 difference in price, if you are just going to use the flash on-camera.
In fact, the smaller size and weight of the 430EX II make it more user-friendly when loaded on a camera and carried for hours at a time, unless you absolutely need the maximum power and range of the larger flash. Even though I own both models, I typically use the 430EX II for straight-up on-camera or shoe-cord photography.
However, if you want to do off-camera-flash lighting with the built-in Canon wireless Master-Slave system, then you need a 580EX II as the master control unit.
But once you’ve got that 580EX II in your bag as a master unit, you can go back to buying the less expensive 430EX II models to use as the remotes slaves.
So here’s my recommended progression:
Your 1st Flash – 430EX II – Inexpensive and light for on-camera use
Your 2nd Flash – 580EX II – To serve as Master in multi-flash setups
You 3rd, 4th, 5th etc… 430EX II – To serve as remote slaves.
And if you’re into off-camera flash lighting, you may want to check out my course:
In there I cover all this stuff in great detail and show you these flashes in use, both with the Canon wireless setup and radio triggers, in photo shoots with live models.
Hope this helps.
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