Canon pioneered truly wireless automatic flash back in 1997, with the launch of the EOS-3 film SLR and its companion flash, the venerable Speedlite 550EX. For the first time, users could have the benefits of automatic flash exposure, along with truly innovative ratio control among up to three flash groups, all in a compact and easy-to-transport system. Over the years, Wireless E-TTL has been embraced by many advanced enthusiasts and pros for its quick and easy operation, and its ability to instantly turn a snapshot into a photograph.
But until now, wireless E-TTL required one or more fairly advanced (and expensive) Canon Speedlites. For working pros, this may not have posed a major problem. But for many amateurs and advanced amateurs, it required a substantial investment, that some found difficult to make. Until now, wireless E-TTL required either Canon's top-of-the-line Speedlite (currently, the 580EX II), or the advanced intermediate model (the 430EX II), which were the only Canon flashes capable of "slave unit" operation off-camera.
Canon's latest Speedlites change this, and open a whole new realm of still imaging possibilities to the enthusiast who wants to break away from simple flash-on-camera photography. With the launch of the Speedlite 270EX II, and the Speedlite 320EX, every shoe-mount Canon Speedlite now has the ability to be used off-camera as a wireless "slave unit". And at their affordable prices, these two new Speedlites will no doubt find their way into the camera bags of many EOS shooters who up to now may have felt a bit left out when the topic of wireless E-TTL photography came up.
This new ultra-compact Speedlite replaces the previous Speedlite 270EX, and adds two primary new features – its Remote Control Function (discussed separately), and Wireless E-TTL capability as a "slave unit". The new Speedlite 270EX II is compatible with any EOS camera, film or digital, for on-camera as well as wireless E-TTL operation, and will initially sell for an anticipated street price of approximately $169 (US).
Here is a totally new Canon Speedlite, which does not replace any existing Speedlite model. It adds to the line-up a very cost-effective flash with good power and full bounce/swivel capability, along with the ability to cover lenses as wide as 24mm (full-frame camera) or 15mm (APS-C camera, such as EOS 7D, EOS 60D, or EOS Rebel). And, as we're highlighting here, it offers full Wireless E-TTL "slave unit" capability as well, at a general street price of roughly $250 (US), well below that of the popular Speedlite 430EX II.
Either of these new Speedlites now can be used off-camera, alone or in combination with other slave-compatible EOS Speedlites, for wireless E-TTL flash. And, this can be done with any EOS digital SLR camera, as well as any 35mm film EOS SLR with E-TTL compatibility.
When an EOS Speedlite is set for "slave" operation, it's positioned off-camera to provide lighting from a different direction. It can be aimed directly at a subject, from above, to one side, or even from behind. Or, it can be bounced off a ceiling, wall, or any reflective surface, to provide softer lighting than you'd get aiming it directly. Furthermore, it can be positioned so that it fires through a translucent surface, again providing softer lighting effects.
Setting either of the new Canon Speedlites to operate off-camera with wireless flash is easy: The Speedlite's main on-off switch, on the back of the flash, is a 3-position switch: Off, Slave and On. Simply slide it to the middle position anytime you want to take either the 270EX II or 320EX off-camera and use it as a "slave unit". For ordinary flash-on-camera shooting, it should be set to the ON position.
As with Canon's two premium-grade EOS Speedlites, performing Wireless E-TTL requires some method of triggering and controlling the off-camera flashes. Currently, there are three possibilities for EOS users — any of which can be used:
- Optional Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 mounted on-camera
- Speedlite 580EX II mounted on-camera, and set to its "Master" flash mode
(previous Canon Speedlite 580EX and 550EX can also be used in this manner)
- Integrated Speedlite Transmitter: EOS 7D, EOS 60D, and EOS Rebel T3i only *
The built-in flash on these cameras can be set to act as an on-camera "master" unit, via commands on the camera's built-in flash settings menu.
* As of February, 2011
Like the current Speedlite 430EX II and Speedlite 580EX II, the new Speedlite 320EX lets the user set a channel, 1 through 4, so that his or her Speedlites can be isolated from those of other Canon EOS shooters if two or more people are using wireless flash in the same area. And, the 320EX also allows users to easily select a Speedlite group – A, B or C – if ratio shooting is desired. Again, the 320EX can be combined with any other "slave-compatible" Canon Speedlites. There's no need or requirement to isolate 320EX's into one group if mixing with other Speedlite models.
When set as a "slave unit", the Speedlite 320EX always operates in E-TTL mode. Unlike the higher-end 430EX II and 580EX II, there's no separate Mode switch to change this, nor is there a specialized Independent Slave Manual mode. (Note that if used conventionally on-camera, manual flash mode can be set, using the external flash menu of compatible EOS cameras, and manual power is then adjustable from full 1/1 power down to 1/64th power.)
The new super-compact Speedlite 270EX II, however, is a little different. Keeping its operation as simple as possible, it operates with the following limitations when set to its "slave" mode:
- It's compatible with ALL Canon channels, 1 through 4, and they cannot be pre-set individually on the flash. No issue if a photographer is working alone using wireless E-TTL, but just be aware that if you are in an area with more than one Canon EOS shooter using wireless flash, the 270EX II can be set-off by any photographer's "master" unit if they're nearby.
- The 270EX II is always part of Group A — no exceptions. There's no way to set this or override it. When shooting with a single off-camera Speedlite, this obviously presents no issue. Likewise, if shooting with more than one "slave unit" off-camera, if all are firing at even power (no ratio is set), this again is of no concern to the photographer. But if you are working with an A:B or A:B C ratio, understand that any 270EX II Speedlites will automatically join the "A" group. (You can freely set A, B and C groups to other Speedlite models being used in a wireless E-TTL set-up along with one or more 270EX IIs; just remember that the 270s will always be part of Group A.)
- Like the new 320EX, the 270EX II cannot be set to Manual flash mode when it's set as a "slave unit". Again, manual flash exposure control is possible when the 270EX II is used on-camera, via the external flash menu of compatible Canon EOS SLRs.
Almost endless. The major point we can get across here is that using Wireless E-TTL, even when simply taking one single flash off-camera and positioning it elsewhere, can suddenly change the entire look of your photographs. Wireless flash isn't something only the pros can benefit from. With these two new affordable Speedlites, truly interesting lighting of even the most basic subjects is now at the fingertips of nearly any Canon EOS shooter. Simply using creative bounce lighting off of nearby walls or typical household ceilings can completely change the look and feel of your images.
Entire books have been written on the topic of wireless flash with digital SLRs, and these two new compact and affordable Speedlites have opened a new chapter in what's possible for Canon EOS shooters of all experience levels.
The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.
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