Canon Speedlite 320EX
Friday, 09 March 2012
I used to be a great fan of flash photography as I used to take lots of pictures of bands. It was a bit of an art, with those old film cameras.
More out of interest than anything else, I was very keen to test a dedicated Canon flash on a sophisticated camera, so I asked Canon for a unit for a couple of weeks to see how it performed on a 5D MkII.
The 320EX is considered an entry-level Speedlite (released this February 2012) and it’s small – some flash units do rather tower over your camera and add lots of weight. This doesn’t – it only weighs 275 grams plus batteries. Despite that, the head swivels horizontally for angled light and for bouncing off walls, and also tilts back 90° for bouncing off the ceiling.
It also has the pop-out light unit so that it extends slightly for shooting with a telephoto lens, for anything over 50mm. When you extend the flash head (it pops out about 8mm), an orange light appears on the back beside the red Ready (charged) light. This is a useful reminder, but I found it a little offputting, actually – I just wish it wasn’t so bright.
It doesn’t have an LCD display on the back like some sophisticated flash units, but I usually find these fiddly and hard to see in some conditions, so I consider this a bonus for being easy to use and for probably extending battery life.
Perhaps best of all, the 320EX has a fixed movie light on it, so you can shoot video in low light, too.
The Movie Light
This LED light is a constant light source designed for use as a video fill light. It can also be used as a modelling light or as an AF assist beam during Live View shooting.
It’s not blindingly bright from a couple of metres away, but it definitely helps with closer subjects – up to about 4 metres away, in fact. It has two modes, manual and auto, switched via a button just underneath the rear-mounted LED on-button (assuming the flash itself is turned on). In manual mode, the button above the switch controls LED on/off.
In Auto mode, the flash LED is used for AF assist in low light conditions. To use the LED light manually, move the switch on the back from Auto to Manual with the switch in the lower right, then press the LED Light button.
The LED lights a full frame 50mm angle of view and should last about three and-a-half hours. I found this incredibly useful, as I had strongly considered getting a standalone movie light since the 5D MkII shoot high-def video – but this on-board light is also handy for seeing what your flash is going to do, directionally, in the real world for light, and checking reflections and shadows.
This light pulses regularly when the 320EX is in wireless slave mode; note that the main flash will not fire if the LED light is on.
With a Guide Number of 32 at ISO100, it belts out a surprisingly powerful flash that I tested outdoors. You get a spread and depth of about 8 metres with it.
One problem with flash units is proximity – anything too close tends to get blasted out of range. Faces go all white, for example – but the 320EX can do a preliminary exposure and calculate from that for an almost perfect exposure in all sorts of conditions.
Close-up of flowers shot at night
Some of Canon’s EOS DSLRs (the Canon EOS 7D and the two following DSLR models, plus the Canon EOS 60D and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i / 600D) have integrated Speedlite controllers. For the other cameras, accessory Speedlite controllers include the Canon 580EX II Flash and Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter; remember this if you go in for complicated multi-flash setups as the 320EX has a wireless slave ability. A standard Canon stand with hot shoe comes with the 320EX, and tucks into a small pocket in the also-included padded nylon pouch for storage and transport.
The 320EX can’t be used as a master, though, only as a slave. On the right cameras (any Canon that accepts the RC-1 remote controller) the flash can even be used to fire the camera when it’s set to self timer, using the right-side remote trigger button.
But I didn’t get to test this slave capability as I didn’t have the gear for it, but it can use any of four channels, available from a 4-position slider on the back, too.
Generally, this sophisticated, albeit easy-to-use unit is miles better than the little built-in flash of some Canon EOS models (the 5D MkII I used doesn’t have a built-in flash for comparison). The 320EX certainly has far more range and coverage than any built-in flash. It's an easy way to add considerable sophistication to your low-light photography.
Oh, darn, I’m going to have to buy it.
What’s great —
Small and handy yet surprisingly versatile; movie light is a great feature. I also appreciate the physical buttons on the back.
What’s not — I wish my Canon supported the slave functions. A Test Flash button would be good for critical situations, although the metering works very well.
Needs — Anyone with a Canon DSLR who wants a better flash without paying loads of money.
Also, it seems particularly useful for anyone with a more sophisticated flash already who wants a handy and useful slave unit that also doubles as a good, smaller standalone flash.
What — Canon 320EX Speedlite, RRP NZ$393
System — Guide Number of 32 (ISO100) with bounce, swivel and zoom flash head that can be raised by 90 degrees and rotated left and right. Angle of illumination may be zoomed to match the angle of view of a 24 or 50mm lens. Integrated LED continuous LED light source with Wireless Slave functionality and Remote Release button. Four AA batteries power the Speedlite 320EX, enabling it to recycle silently after a full-power discharge in 2.3 seconds.
Available from — camera shops.