Canon Speedlite 470EX-A1

Michael Topham re­views a new mo­torised flash­gun

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

Michael Topham re­views a new mo­torised flash­gun

Ev­ery so of­ten a new prod­uct is re­leased like no other we’ve seen be­fore. Though you might think it’s dif­fi­cult to rein­vent the wheel of the way a flash­gun works, Canon has at­tempted to do just that by equip­ping its new 470EX-AI Speedlite with what’s called AI bounce: a new Auto In­tel­li­gent (AI) func­tion that’s de­signed to work out the op­ti­mum po­si­tion of the flash head be­fore au­to­mat­i­cally ma­noeu­vring it to create softer, more flat­ter­ing il­lu­mi­na­tion. It is new tech­nol­ogy that has great prom­ise, so how ex­actly does it work?


Be­fore study­ing the specifics of AI bounce, it’s im­por­tant to de­lin­eate where this Speedlite sits in the range. As a mid-range flash­gun, it sits just above Canon’s 430EX III- RT (£269) and be­low the more ad­vanced and more pow­er­ful Speedlite 600EX- RT (£599). In terms of power out­put, the 470EX-AI has a re­spectable guide num­ber of 47 (ISO 100) with E-TTL and man­ual modes, but un­like the two flash­guns men­tioned above, it lacks Ra­dio Fre­quency (RF) com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This means for wire­less off- cam­era flash you can’t use it as a mas­ter to con­trol other flash­guns in slave mode when it’s mounted to your cam­era via the hot­shoe. As you’d ex­pect of a mid-range Speedlite, it comes with a mo­torised zoom head that cov­ers a stan­dard range of 24-105mm and the an­gle of view of an ul­tra widean­gle lens with a fo­cal length as wide as 14mm is sup­ported by pulling out the wide panel. It’s also ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing the cam­era you’re us­ing it with, whether it be APS- C or full frame, and ad­justs the zoom head ac­cord­ingly in auto-zoom mode.

As for its main fea­ture, AI bounce, it of­fers three modes to choose from. In full-auto mode the 470EX-AI first re­quires a test flash to be taken to cal­cu­late the ideal an­gle for nat­u­ral, flat­ter­ing il­lu­mi­na­tion. This is achieved us­ing its AI. B but­ton or the depth- of-field pre­view but­ton on a com­pat­i­ble cam­era. Af­ter this, the mo­torised flash head moves into its op­ti­mal po­si­tion ready to shoot. Al­ter­na­tively, the flash­gun can be set to its semi-auto mode,

which is likely to appeal to flash-savvy users who’d pre­fer to set the an­gle and po­si­tion of the flash head them­selves. The clever thing about this mode is that the flash reg­is­ters the po­si­tion of the flash head as man­u­ally set by the photographer us­ing the An­gle/Set but­ton and read­justs based on the ori­en­ta­tion of the cam­era – tak­ing away the has­sle of do­ing it your­self, while en­sur­ing per­fect pre­ci­sion and align­ment. Some­thing the flash­gun doesn’t do is au­to­mat­i­cally ac­knowl­edge that the shoot­ing ori­en­ta­tion has changed. This means you’re re­quired to half press the shut­ter but­ton twice in quick suc­ces­sion to tell it you’ve switched from land­scape to por­trait ori­en­ta­tion or vice versa, which can take a bit of get­ting used to. For times when AI bounce isn’t prefer­able and you’d like to use it like any nor­mal Speedlite, it can be switched to man­ual from the bounce mode switch. For fine ad­just­ment, flash ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion (+/-3EV) is avail­able in 1/2 or 2/3 in­cre­ments, as well as man­ual ex­po­sure ad­just­ments from 1/1-1/128. It sup­ports high speed sync too, in ad­di­tion to sec­ond- cur­tain sync to create nat­u­ral-look­ing shots of mov­ing sub­jects in low light.

Build qual­ity

The fin­ish is of a high stan­dard. It’s com­pact, not too heavy and dis­plays its set­tings clearly on the LCD panel, which is il­lu­mi­nated green in nor­mal use and orange in wire­less re­ceiver mode. Be­ing a mid-range op­tion it lacks a few of the ad­vanced fea­tures of its 600EX- RT cousin such as a port to sup­port high-speed recharg­ing via a power pack and weather seals to pro­vide re­sis­tance against mois­ture and dust. Un­like other mid-range flash­guns from the likes of Nissin and Metz, Canon is yet to in­tro­duce a touch­screen dis­play to any of its Speedlites. This is sur­pris­ing given that Canon has im­ple­mented such ex­cel­lent touch­screen con­trol on so many of its cur­rent cam­eras.

In use

In use it took three sec­onds to re­cy­cle back to full 1/1 power us­ing a fresh set of 4 AA/LR6 Du­ra­cell Plus Power bat­ter­ies and less than two sec­onds with recharge­able NiMH bat­ter­ies. The Speedlite re­cy­cles silently and its mo­torised tilt-and-swivel move­ment in AI.B full-auto and AI.B semi-auto modes is super-smooth and won’t dis­turb those around you in quiet sur­round­ings. No dam­age was in­flicted when the flash head was moved man­u­ally in its auto or semi-auto modes, and the mo­tor of the flash head im­me­di­ately stops if it’s ob­structed or comes up against any form of re­sis­tance. While I en­joyed us­ing it in semi-auto mode, I found it a lit­tle an­noy­ing hav­ing to take my hand away from sup­port­ing the cam­era to hit the An­gle/ Set but­ton. I’d pre­fer to reg­is­ter the bounce an­gle via a custom but­ton on the cam­era. In full-auto mode it took an av­er­age of 2.3 sec­onds to de­ter­mine and move to the op­ti­mum bounce po­si­tion. An AI.B mes­sage also briefly re­placed the ex­po­sure vari­ables in the viewfinder of the EOS 6D Mark II that I used it with to sig­nal the flash head was mov­ing.


The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is com­pat­i­ble with all Canon cam­eras in­tro­duced since 2014, ex­cept the EOS 1300D, EOS 2000D, EOS 4000D, EOS M3, EOS M5, EOS M6 and EOS M50. When us­ing an EOS cam­era re­leased in or af­ter the sec­ond half of 2017 that’s not equipped with a depth of field but­ton, you can as­sign the depth of field pre­view func­tion to a but­ton from the cam­era’s cus­tomi­sa­tion fea­tures and com­mence AI.B full-auto shoot­ing by press­ing the cho­sen but­ton. For more in­for­ma­tion on the lat­est cam­eras to sup­port the AI. B full-auto func­tion visit flash­pho­tog­ra­phy-speedlite- 470ex-ai/.

The 470EX-AI de­liv­ers flat­ter­ing por­trait re­sults in its full-auto mode. This shot is straight out of cam­era

A view of the 470EX-AI’s il­lu­mi­nated LCD panel

A test shot taken us­ing the semi-auto mode

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