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A Review of the Canon Speedlite 430EXII

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Most of my professional photography work doesn’t require a flash.  A flash (on or off camera) just tends to look horrible with the kind of macro product photography I do of watches.  With all the shiny, reflective surfaces of the case and crystal, constant, diffused lighting is preferred.  As a result, I’ve really not needed to develop my knowledge and skills in flash photography.  A few years ago I was asked to shoot a wedding or two, and did end up purchasing a Canon Speedlite 580EX.  At the time, the 580EX was Canon’s top-of-the-line pro flash gun – far more firepower than I needed to be sure.  I break it out 5 or 6 times a year – usually when I travel to events or shoot “people shots” indoors.

A couple of years ago my buddy and fellow Canon shooter John Rigano bought the new-at-the-time Canon 430EX II.  It was smaller and lighter than my 580EX (a not insignificant consideration when traveling) and had a few upgraded features.  Over the next couple of years I found myself envying John’s 430EXII, and even found myself leaving the 580EX at home a few times due to the size of it and weight it added to an already hefty camera backpack.  If you’ve ever spent a day schlepping around with a fully loaded backpack of camera gear, you’ll look for any way possible to reduce the amount and size of your gear.  I spent a few days with John photographing in New York, and was again reminded about the benefits of the 430EXII and decided to purchase one before heading to my next travel assignment.

Canon Speedlite 430EXII

Other than being smaller and lighter than the 580EX, the 430EXII has a few other notable differences.  The controls are laid out somewhat differently on the back, and both the hot shoe locking mechanism and the battery cover are much improved over the older 580EX.

The Back of the Canon Speedlite 430EXII

Here’s a photo of the larger, heavier 580EX next to the smaller, lighter 430EXII.  Now I have absolutely no excuse to not travel with a flash gun:

The 580EX Compared To The 430EXII

While the 430EXII is smaller, lighter, and less expensive than the 580EX, it’s also less powerful.  The 580EX has a maximum effective range of 58 meters vs. 43 meters for the 430EXII.  The 580EX also has superior weather sealing as compared to the 430EXII, and the 430EXII also lacks some of the 580EX’s flexibility in head rotation, as well as the degree of control in head tilt.  The 580EX was designed to be paired with Canon’s professional DSLR bodies, and has pro-level features the 430EXII lacks (power output, weather sealing, etc.).  But for my applications, the comparative limitations of the 430EXII are acceptable trade-offs for the reduced size and weight.  About the only feature on the 580EX that I find painfully missing on the 430EXIIis the built-in bounce card on the 580EX:

Integrated Bounce Card on the 580EX

I’ve found this feature really improves my people photos, as you can angle the head upward, and bounce the flash back at them – in a nice, diffuse spread.  In an attempt to replicate this effect, I’ve purchased an inexpensive diffuser for the 430EXII – it’s just a frosted plastic cover that slips snugly over the flash head.  My buddy John uses a similar diffuser on his 430EXII with good results:

430EXII With Plastic Diffuser Cover

When I need a flash, having an off-camera flash gun is an absolute necessity for me – I hate using the integrated flash on most cameras…most pro-level Canon bodies don’t even have an integrated flash.  So having one I can more easily travel with makes it well-worth the price of admission – about $250.00 US  if you search around the usual suspects.  Will I sell my 580EX?  I don’t think so.  Canon replaced it not too long ago with the even larger and more powerful 580EXII.  If anything, I’d think about trading up.  I’m going to experiment with using off-camera remote flash activations and see if I can’t use both my 580EX and 430EXII has strobes.  I even bought a pair of these Opteka soft-box style diffusers to see if I can make use of them in my watch photography:

Opteka Soft-Box Diffuser - Front

Opteka Soft-Box Diffuser - Back

I’m looking forward to learning more about flash photography, and will be sure to share the results with you here on ThruMyLens!  If you’re looking for an article which not only compares some different flashes, but also goes over some important flash photography fundamentals of the Canon flash system, check out this article.

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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