Specs & Features (4 out of 5)
Which Canon flash to add onto a beloved EOS model camera comes down the pricier 580EX or the more pocket friendly, but very capable, 430EX.
The Canon Speedlite 430EX is an external flash unit that attaches to most current Canon digital camera models. These cameras have a hot-shoe on top of the camera body that acts both as a holder for the flash and the electronic connection for setting and triggering the flash unit. When attached in this manner, the 430EX is compatible with E-TTL, E-TTL II, and TTL metering modes.
The flash itself fires through an adjustable head that both pivots up and down for bouncing the flash off of a ceiling, for example. The head also rotates around the axis of the flash body allowing for bounce-flash via walls or other reflectors, or just to give non-direct flash light on the subject.
On the back, the 430EX has an LCD panel which displays settings and readouts, as well as several buttons to configure the flash manually. However, many photographers may hardly use these buttons as the camera hot shoe automatically passes data back and forth, allowing most flash setup to take place via the camera instead.
The 430EX can be mounted on a stand, or held away from the camera. In these cases, the rear panel comes more heavily into play.
The Speedlite 430EX takes 4 regular AA batteries which is both a blessing, in that the batteries can be found nearly anywhere, and a curse, in that a specialized camera battery may have been able to last longer. Rechargeable batteries are highly recommended as the flash is a quick-drain device where batteries are concerned. As it is, an extra set of size-AA batteries and a charger should give all but the most flash-happy photographers enough power to carry them through.
Usability (4 out of 5)
Attaching the flash to the camera is a breeze. Simply slide the flash into the hot shoe facing forward from rear to front. Twist the locking ring to hold the flash on. In many hours of use over several weeks, the flash stayed put without frequent re-tightening.
The external flash has its own power button. Remembering this if you are used to using the built-in automatic flash all the time can be difficult. However, once turned on, the flash has an automatic shut off after 90 seconds and will restart automatically when the shutter button is pressed half way.
Though the 430EX has manual configuration via the buttons on the back panel, it is simpler and less error prone to do all of the settings through the camera controls. However manual settings are available ranging from 1/64 power to 1/1 full power. When the photographer just wants to boost or lower the flash output a bit for a series of shots. In this case, the +/- buttons adjust the flash exposure in 1/3 stops up to plus or minus 3 full stops.
The Speedlite also auto adjusts for focal length between 24mm and 105mm, and a built in flash covering wide panel allows for wide-angle lenses down to 14mm.
Shooting candid photography, as well as on the spot portraits, proved very smooth with the 430EX. While it lacks some of its higher-end cousin’s power and features (mostly for non-attached shooting purposes), the 430EX came through with flying colors in a wide variety of situations ranging from kids running down an unlit hallway, to a quick shot of a bride near the coat check at a rehearsal dinner. The main advantage to the 580EX demo unit I tried was faster recycling which does come in handy, but the 430EX running on fresh fully charged batteries runs quick enough for most occasions.
The 430EX is heavy. With batteries installed, it weighs nearly a pound which makes the camera not only heavier, but also very top heavy. This is especially noticeable on the XT, XTi, XS, and XSi models where the extra top weight causes hands to cramp quicker. If you plan to use a Speedlite on one of these cameras, I recommend the add-on battery which, while it increases the weight, does offer more grip spacing.
Overall Price to Value (4 out of 5)
In all, if you are holding off buying a 580EX due to budget constraints, consider picking up a 430EX instead. It is a marked improvement over the on-camera flash and provides much of the same functionality. In the end, you’ll be happier getting a Speedlite 430EX right away, rather than taking months worth of shots while you save for a 580EX.