Canon Speedlights, Which One to Choose?

This week I am writing on the topic of Canon Speedlites, I apologize for not covering Nikon as well but I only use Canon as I am a Canon shooter.

As a new photographer, there are literally tons of equipment you will be buying as you work on your degree at AIOPD. Cameras, backdrops, lighting, both strobes and continuous, meters, graycards, the list goes on and on.

When it comes to lighting and especially strobes, which are one of the most popular lighting choices for photographers, you not only have regular strobes like AlienBee, but also their smaller cousin, the Speedlite.

Regular strobes are nice but expensive, especially if you need portability, as you have to buy models that can take battery packs and then the battery packs are not cheap either. The cheaper alternative is Speedlites. A Speedlite, external flash is basically the same thing as a strobe but in a smaller, cheaper package and more portable.

Speedlites, like strobes, come in different models and have different power levels and capabilities. Today, I will be talking about the three most common models of Canon Speedlites, the 270EX, 430EX II and the 580EX II.

Canon Speedlights

The 270EX is Canon’s smallest external, hotshoe mounted flash. You can pick up the 270EX on Amazon used for around $50 or new for around $200. The 270EX is handy as it’s small and it for when you need a discrete flash and your camera either doesn’t have pop-up flash or you need more power. The 270EX is handy for those situations, but other than that, not really worth the money and I never bothered to pick one up as it has limitations. It cannot be turned or used for bouncing and has no zoom. It is strictly a straight forward flash.

The next and best choice for a starting flash is the 430EX II. The 430 is Canon’s slave flash and is an excellent choice for a first flash whether your camera has pop-up or not. The 430EX II is a bounce, zoom flash, so when set for ETTL it will set itself for your lens focal length up to 105mm and it will show the exposure in your camera meter, with the flash factored into the equation. You can swivel the 430EX II to 180 degrees and even tilt the head for bouncing the light off the ceiling or wall behind you. This flash comes in handy for when you need the light of s strobe but don’t want that light to hit the subject head-on. You can get the 430EX II at Best Buy for around $250-$300.

The third and final flash I have here is the Canon 580EX II. This is the most expensive of the Canon Speedlite (although the 600EX RT is out now too). The reason for this is the 580EX II is the Master Speedlite. What that means is the 580EX II has special hardware inside it that let’s is act as the control flash for a multi-flash, wireless set up. You can set the 580EX II to Master mode and then it can control other 580EX IIs or the 430EX IIs as well. This comes in handy for when you need a multi-flash set up and cannot set all the Speedlites in direct, line of sight placement so that all of them flash when the primary one does and you don’t have a Pocket Wizard, or other wireless flash trigger system. The 580EX II will run you from $350-$600, depending on whether you pick up a new or a used one.

As a new photographer, I recommend the 430EX II for most people and most uses as you can pick up a good wireless trigger system for anywhere from $50 to $400 and control the flash units that way instead of buying the much more expensive 580EX II. If you have the money to spare, I recommend the 580EX II as it’s Canon’s best Speedlite, but I would not buy more than one as the 430EX II is a cheaper alternative for slave flash units.