Canon Speedlite 470EX-A1
Michael Topham reviews a new motorised flashgun
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.
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 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 www.canon.co.uk/pro/news/ 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