Canon’s flash evolution

When I switched to Canon cameras from Nikon in 1995 the one thing that I missed from my old F4S cameras and my old SB25 flash units was the accuracy and reliability of the Nikon TTL flash. Canon, with all of their promises for the EOS1N and Speedlite 540EZ combination just couldn’t quite match what I had left behind. I have no idea how Nikon managed to get their off-the-film-plane metering to be so good but it was very good indeed.

Coincidentally, it was about this time that I started to use high quality battery powered lights. The Lumedynes that I took delivery of in 1996 changed my professional life and TTL flash became something that I used when I absolutely had to.

Fast forward to 1998 and the arrival of the first decent digital cameras we had (the Kodak DCS520/Canon D2000) and flash took a big backward step. There was no ‘film plane’ for the cameras to meter from and we had to dig out old Vivitar and Metz flash units with old fashioned auto settings just to get somewhere near where we needed to be with our exposures. Canon introduced the 380EX flash which helped but it was basic and relatively low powered with no swivel head and working with them wasn’t a patch on shooting with the pre-digital Canons, let alone the film based Nikons.

Time passed and with every new camera and every new flash unit things got a tiny bit better but I have never felt as comfortable or as confident with TTL flash on digital Canons as I did with film Nikons. There were work-arounds – I used flash exposure compensation at the same time as reviewing the LCD screen and using some pretty good guesswork which, when used with RAW files, meant that we were always able to do the job but it was never without effort in the way that you used to be able to shoot flash with the far less forgiving transparency film.

That was until now. Strike up the band. Hang out the bunting. Canon have, in my opinion, finally done it. They have a camera and flash combination that handles TTL as well as anything that I’ve ever used professionally. A few weeks and a few jobs with the new Speedlite 600EX II RT on my EOS5D MkIV cameras have convinced me that twenty plus years of being unsure with on-camera flash are over. Congratulations to everyone at Canon involved in this evolutionary process – well done.

Footnote: I have owned and used 220EX, 380EX, 420EX, 430 EX II, 430 EX III RT, 540EZ, 550EX, 580EX II, 600 EX RT Speedlites before arriving at the 600 EX II RT. I’ve had the ST-E2 and ST-E3 RT transmitters and any number of external flash packs and light modifiers. The joys of being a photographer – no wonder so many of colleagues swear by ambient light.

17 comments

    1. Golly David – I use them in so many ways. I do a fair bit of ‘advanced bouncing’ with the speedlite in the hot shoe and I use them on stands with radio triggers to bounce too. I sometimes add a soft box or umbrella to do portraits. I use manual flash and E-TTL about 50/50 although with the new flashes that balance may shift towards the E-TTL a bit.

      To put it into perspective, I use the Elinchroms where I can and use the Canon flash units where I need to.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Neil, Interesting thoughts. My own journey was pretty similar, ending up with Pocket Wizards for off camera flash eventually but after moving to 5DMkIV they would not work and I’m told it will be a while before a software fix comes along so I bought a Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT but unfortunately I have been having intermittent issues of the ST-E3-RT not triggering the 600EX-RT. Told by David Newton (Photopositive) after he interchanged items with his kit that it was a
    camera issue – now gone back for testing to Canon via Image Supply Systems here in Ireland. Not happy at all as you can imagine! The loan 5D4 I got is working like a dream with the flash – Canon have it right. Now hopefully I will have my new but not working 5D back in 2017.
    Happy Christmas to you and yours, Tomas

    Like

    1. Definitely worth changing your flash an transmitter IDs away from 0000 to something random (they both need to be the same as each other) so that interference from other Canon users is all but ruled out. So far I have four RT compatible speedlites and I’m having great success with the set up and the new cameras.

      Like

  2. Is it that good ? I have hired the 5D4 and used my flashes for one job and then hired the 600EX 11 RT and used with my 5D3 and didn’t see the difference, so I should try the 5D4, 600 EX 11 RT and I will be blown away by the difference
    ?

    Like

    1. That’s why I called it “evolution”. Every step has been small and I guess that from personal experience this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and gave me what I have been looking for since 1995.

      Like

  3. I’ve had the same experiences of TTL since digital too and really miss the old Metz/Vivitar flashes with a simple thyristor; it just seemed to work!

    I can’t quite stretch to replacing my 5DIIIs with IVs and my 600EX RTs with MKII versions, so for those jobs where I’m capturing guests networking over nibbles at corporate events (lots of white faces and dark suits) I use the 1/4 power, f/5.6 and consistent distance method. It works incredibly well and I spend far less time chimping to check TTL hasn’t let me down. It’s cheaper too 😉

    As for portable lights, I’ve now got a couple of the large Godox heads. They’re very chunky, but so far been solid as anything and the batteries have proved their longevity.

    Like

  4. Can it really be true? ……. Those Nikon SB24’s and SB25’s were totally mega …….. I coldn’t even tell u the name of all the Canon flash guns Ive owned since i moved to Canon in these days of digital…… but they were all totally junk …… I carry a 580EX in the bag ….. just had to look at it to see what it was ….. I virtually never use it….. it can hardly ever actually sync with the camera never mind deliver the right amount of flash I use it on manual like the other guys who work with me in NYC because thats the only way to get a consistant amount of power …… its junker…… God if after20 years they finally have a flash gun like nikons SB24 …… its 2017 its all going to be different…… I could cry……. hehehehehe……… :-)))) XXXX

    Like

      1. Ah……. perfect I was just about to ask you about that…… Im here in Bangkok with Marc …… but unfortunatly one of my original 5D mk11’s has just packed in ……. so I am actively considering buying a couple of the new ones ……… are u using them now ? :-)) XX

        Like

      2. Yes. Three months now and they are the best camera that I’ve ever used. Lots of great features including built in FTP transmitters and amazing flicker control. Brilliant.

        Like

      3. Gosh sounds great ……. have u ever used those mega 50 meg file size thingies the EOS 5DS and R ? What do u think of them?

        Like

      4. They are great but not right for the work that I do. You also need to be careful which lenses you use with them because the chip can resolve more detail than a lot of lenses.

        Like

  5. Can it really be true? ……. Those Nikon SB24’s and SB25’s were totally mega …….. I coldn’t even tell u the name of all the Canon flash guns Ive owned since i moved to Canon in these days of digital…… but they were all totally junk …… I carry a 580EX in the bag ….. just had to look at it to see what it was ….. I virtually never use it….. it can hardly ever actually sync with the camera never mind deliver the right amount of flash I use it on manual like the other guys who work with me in NYC because thats the only way to get a consistant amount of power …… its junker…… God if after20 years they finally have a flash gun like nikons SB24 …… its 2017 its all going to be different…… I could cry……. hehehehehe……… Cheers Bro Happy New Year Jez XXXX :-)))) XXXX

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s