Your tutorials are the best I have found in 12 years of using a camera! Bert Fedor - Birmingham, AL
Hi, Phil Steele here. And I am long overdue for a complete review of the Canon flash lineup because the last time I did one of these it was two years ago and Canon has released a couple of new flashes since then so it's time to revisit the whole Canon flash system and see if we can figure out which one of these flashes is right for your needs.
Now I'm going to go through the whole lineup from the low end to the high end in price and functionality. There are five flashes we're going to consider and we're going to start with the smallest one--the little 270EX2--and that's this little guy right here. As you can see, it's a very small flash. This is the most limited and lightest and least expensive of the Canon flashes. It's limited in many ways compared to the larger ones. It can bounce. By pulling out the little head you can bounce the light off a ceiling but it cannot swivel from side to side. And more importantly, to me, it lacks the infrared focus assist beam that the larger flashes have that help you focus in the dark. If you're trying to focus with this one in the dark it does the little annoying pre-flash thing that blinds your subject. That really rules it out for certain situations for me. It's also very limited in its slave kind of functionality. It can act as a slave using the light-based Canon master-slave system but it has no manual mode so it can't be used as a slave with radio triggers, which is the way I prefer to work so it's a very limited little flash.
And if you saw my previous Canon flash review you know I gave a really hard time to this little flash. But I've softened my opinion on it a little bit since then and I'll tell you three situations where I think this flash is useful.
One is what you see right here. I've got this flash mounted on my Canon 5D Mark2 because this camera doesn't have a built in popup flash.
So if you want to have the equivalent functionality, say a way to put a little fill light into a scene without having one of these monsters on there, then the little 270EX2 makes a great replacement for the popup flash if you have one of the cameras that doesn't come with one built in. I don't know why they don't put it in cameras like the 5D. You'll have to ask Canon about that.
Now the second situation where you might want to use the little 270EX2 is if you've got one of the Canon G-series cameras. These are the little pocket-sized cameras that actually have a flash hot shoe on top. Now because these cameras are so small, if you put one of these big flashes on there it's going to look ridiculous. So the little 270EX2 makes a good flash to put on the G-series cameras.
And the third situation where you might want to use this little guy is if you happen to need a very inconspicuous or smaller, lightweight flash in a certain situation where putting one of these monsters on there would cause a problem. In that case this little guy will do the job.
Now those are the only three circumstances I can really think of where you'd want the 270EX2. Otherwise I would say go up to one of the full-sized flashes.
Now let's talk about the new Canon 320EX flash. I don't have one here because I sold mine on EBay to use it to buy a 430EX and I'll tell you why. Now the 320EX is a new flash designed to serve two purposes simultaneously. It's a traditional flash for taking still photos and it also has a little white LED light to provide continuous lighting for shooting video with the new video DSLRs. But what I've found is it's not all that great as a video light and it's also not all that great as a flash for still photography. It's kind of the worst of both worlds, in a way. And I did a whole video review about the 320EX where I go into detail about this so I won't go into all those details here. You can just watch that other video. But bottom line was it didn't really meet my needs. I ended up selling it and I put the money toward another 430EX and that's what we'll talk about next.
Now the 430EX2 is what I consider the core flash of the Canon lineup. If you're only going to have one flash I would recommend it be this one. Or if you're getting a starter flash I would recommend you start with the 430EX. It's reasonably priced. It's a full-featured flash that does everything you need a flash to do. It has the infrared focus assist beam to help you focus on things in the dark. It can swivel. It can tilt to bounce off of things. It can act as a remote slave in multi-flash setups. And there's only one thing that it can't do and we'll talk about that one thing when we talk about the 580. But in general, this is a great flash and it's also fairly small and lightweight, which can be an advantage when you're carrying it on camera compared to the bigger flashes, which even though they have a little more power, they can be a little heavier to carry around. So I love the 430. I have lots of them and you'll probably end up with lots of them too if you remain a Canon shooter for very long.
Next, the 580EX2. It's kind of like the big brother of the 430EX2. It's a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit more advanced in its features, a little bit heavier, a lot more expensive. And it has one feature that the 430EX2 does not have and that is this one can act as a master in multi-flash setups using the built in Canon wireless light-based signaling system. Now why would you want to do that? Why would you want to have multi-flash setups? Well, I have an entire course on that if you're interested, called "How To Shoot Professional Looking Head Shots And Portraits On A Budget With Small Flashes" where I talk about the advantage of off camera flash photography, getting the flashes from different angles. So if you're interested in that you can check that out. But once you have one of the 580s in your kit, if you're like me you'll find one of these is enough and after that, I just keep buying 430s to use as remote slaves because there is no reason for me to spend the extra couple of hundred dollars, as far as I'm concerned, to make 580s into my remote slaves. So as far as I'm concerned, you really only need one 580 in your kit and then you can buy less expensive flashes.
Now finally, we come to the new high end entry in the Canon flash lineup--the 600EXRT--RT as in "radio transmitter." Now these flashes have radio triggering technology built into them. This is replacing the older, light-based triggering system that the 580EX could use to trigger slave flashes. And this is certainly more convenient than what a lot of us have been doing, which is using radio triggers that we attach to our flashes to get this kind of functionality. But you'll pay a very high price for it with the Canon 600EX because they're currently around $600 each and of course you need multiple flashes if you're going to take advantage of this triggering technology. Now I don't have one because I don't need one of these and maybe if you're like me, you may not need one either because I've already got a large collection of radio triggers that I use with the less expensive flashes and I even have triggers that are capable of doing through the lens metering like these advance Canon flashes are. And the whole system of triggers that I use and flashes that I use cost much less than doing the same thing with these 600EX flashes.
On the other hand, if you don't have any investment yet in a set of radio triggers and flashes that you're currently using and you're starting from scratch, you might want to spend the extra money and get these new 600EXRTs as your starting point because they are the most advanced flashes Canon has ever made and you wouldn't be sort of wasting a previous investment. And they're certainly more convenient than using separate radio triggers and combining those with your flashes. The other kind of user who might want to buy the 600EX is a professional photographer. If you're a pro who is shooting weddings where you're just bang, bang, bang on your flashes, the 600EX is a little stronger and has a little better features to help avoid overheating your flashes with heavy use. So if you really are a slavedriver on your flashes you might want to consider the 600EX for that too. But they come at a premium price and if you're like me, you may find that you can meet all your needs much less expensively with third-party radio triggers and less expensive Canon flashes.
So that's it--the whole Canon flash lineup. I hope you found this helpful and I look forward to talking with you again soon.