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If you just want light, then the 550ex can be a good (and cheap at under £100) way to light. For the price of one of these you could get 3 550ex's and get better results, 550ex's work perfectly well in a studio setting where their clunky controls won't really bother you.
The truth is that the light from this isn't any better than any flash gun, but there are some neat features that might make it worth your money. Namely weather sealing- if you're a music photographer you don't have to worry about sweat/blood/beer ruining your flash, if you're a paparatzi photographer camping out in the rain you don't have to worry, if you're shooting a wedding in a rainy scottish town again your flashes are safe- this reason alone might be enough to justify the cost.
If you're not going to be in the rain then to be honest it's difficult to think what the advantage is- you can buy them brand new and get a warranty? They're hard wearing bits of kit, my 550ex's get daily use and they're over 10 years old- not likely to break down, and the newer 580exII has even better build quality.
What can I say other than do as I do- get a 580exII for your on camera outdoors flash as there is no better flash available today and save a bundle buy getting a few 550ex's for your slave flashes
The following review is based on my Amazon review:
The build quality of this flash is first class. It's not too heavy but it feels weighty. With batteries, it feels damn heavy especially if you take portrait photographs! I've managed to take hundreds of shots on a set of 4 AA NiMH batteries rated at 2900maH. The LCD menu screen on the back of the flash requires that you read the manual to understand the various symbols and capabilities of this flash. The flash also comes with a smart soft case. I didn't realise that this flash could perform some light tricks that would make other flash units quiver in their filaments. You can regulate the flash output and you will come to realise that you need a diffuser because the light output and range of this unit is extremely powerful and far reaching. Its recharge cycle is virtually instantaneous but don't be silly with it - it will protect itself by shutting itself down if you've really hammered within a short space of time (strobe flashes etc really tax the flash).
This flash makes such a big difference to virtually any type of flash photography. The ability to bounce light is something I now take for granted and I've discovered what such a big difference it makes to the photos I've taken. No red eye nor unwanted shadows. My friends and family have commented that it was actually a pleasure having their picture taken because the flash didn't flash straight into their eyes and that the light in the pictures looks more natural.
The 580EXII certainly makes you appreciate the importance and magic of light in photographs. I've had this flash for about a month now and I'm continuously discovering what a truly versatile and powerful tool this is. I haven't used the in-built flash on my 550D since getting the 580EXII. Yes, a good lens does help make a better picture but you need light as well (unless you're taking shots that don't need much light). Using the manual settings of your DSLR and the flash can create some unique photos that just aren't possible with a standard built-in flash. If you have the Canon 7D or a Canon wireless transmitter unit for your DSLR then this flash will operate wirelessly and it comes with a small stand.
If you're going to make an investment for your Canon DSLR, you really can't go wrong with buying this flash. It truly is worth the money. I can see myself having this for years to come whilst fighting off other jealous Canon owners who want one.
There are times when a photographer just doesn't have enough available light, and either can't ramp their ISO setting up any higher, or doesn't want to do so and have grainy images as a result. Canon DSLRs all have an inbuilt flash which is handy, but the power is very limited, and the light unflattering for portrait use.
This is where an external flash comes in, and if you're a Canon user then you don't get much better than the Speedlite 580 EX II. The flash comes with a case, small stand (perhaps of limited use) a pop-up wide angle filter and bounce card, and a ridiculous amount of modes.
First of all: attaching the flash to your camera. I was genuinely extremely impressed with the design of the flash attachment. It clips to the hot shoe on your camera, and when placed on simply needs a switch to be moved to the side to securely attach it. It is hard to explain it fully and needs to be seen in person to understand how easy this is.
As for its actual function, the flash can also be as easy to use as this if you so desire. Simply switch it to E-TTL mode and it will intelligently communicate with your camera, determining the correct exposure and power settings on the flash. To be honest, this is the only mode I have used. To use the 580 EX II to its full potential, you have to be a very advanced user. The list of different modes is extensive and although I have read through the manual twice, I am still confident in the fact I don't know everything there is to know yet, let alone know how to use everything.
The performance of the flash is fantastic. The majority of the time I either use the built in bounce card, or bounce the light off a ceiling or wall, using the fully adjustable head that can be swivelled 180 degrees side to side, and angled straight upwards if you so wish. This creates much more flattering light than straight on, and doesn't risk blinding your poor subject - the beam is very powerful when directed into your eyes. This shows in the fact that it is still amazingly effective even when bounced off the little pop-up card, to the extent that when I have shot events at night in a village hall, the resulting exposure may have led you to believe that it was in fact daytime - it would light up the entire room, not just the subject.
Other useful bonuses to the 580 EX II include a very fast recycling time which means you barely have to wait at all in between shots, a very effective autofocus assist beam, and the ability to use it in master mode and control slave lights.
Overall, this is an incredible bit of kit, but you have to pay for the priviledge of using it, and this is where it drops a star. This flash will set you back around £350 which is a lot of money for something that may only get occassional use. I was lucky and found one in absolute mint condition secondhand for £200, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to pay any more. If you want the best though and are prepared to pay for it, you can't go wrong with the 580 EX II.
The 580EX II is Canon's top-of-the-line, professional grade external flash and it is packed with features. Accessory flashes are one of the most important pieces of equipment in a photographer's tool bag. As is often the case it is not so easy using a flash gun at first and this particular model might be a bit of a challenge for those who are new to flash photography. Using a new flash apparatus always takes a bit of getting use to. That is where the digital camera has one of its main advantages over earlier film cameras: you can have a few goes until you get it right by checking it in the view finder and if the images look trashy you can just delete them.
The Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash is slightly larger than the previous models in the series and heavier at 375g. But I found the unit overall not to much of a strain to use and quite comfortable in the hand - the flash body has a nicer textured feel to it. Overall I really like the solid build quality of the 580EX II.
Compared to the earlier lenses, it has a reshaped structure and the IR wireless slave sensor is in a different place. The new power switch design now allows for rotation instead of sliding. The AF assist beam emitter is also reconfigured so that it has a small round hole containing the Auto and Manual External metering sensor. The AF Assist Beam is a very useful feature as it improves the autofocus in low light conditions. This aligns the beam to the focal point and projects itself as a red IR spot on the subject. Something which I've never seen before is a white catchlight reflector. This is situated just above the diffuser panel. This is a semi-rigid piece of white plastic that you can pul out so as to create a catchlight in your subject's eyes when using the flash in a vertical bounce position. This little device really does make a difference. The catchlight throws much more natural looking light onto your subject.
The flash has a metal foot that is attached to a plastic mount inside the flash. This metal should reduce the wear and tear of repeatedly mounting and dismounting the lens from the camera. Although I've not put it to the test the flash is also dust and water resistant. By using just one button, the Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash rotates 180 degrees to both sides as well as 90 degrees upward and 7 degrees downward. One feature that might appeal to some is that the unit can be used as a wireless E-TTL master when paired up with other Speedlite Flashes. This means that you can essentially use it in conjunction with other flashes.
I have taken some decent photographs using this flash with my Canon EOS 300D - the unit will generally support all EOS cameras. One major improvement I found with this Flash compared with results from cheaper apparatus was the lack of over exposure with backlit subjects. Overall I found this flash to be much more reliable.
According to the manufacturers the 580EX II recycles about 20% faster than the 580EX. It takes 4 normal AA batteries and the flash is ready to use straight away. I have found alkaline batteries to be the most efficient and longer lasting. I can usually get about fifty shots out of one set of batteries, you might get more depending on what settings you use. The really fast recycle time is a major plus factor with this unit. What is also apparent is the quiet battery recharging phase that always takes place after you've taken a picture. There is no whining noise as the batteries recharge. It is important to mention though that the flash is noisy on occasion because it comprises a zoom flash head that makes a bit if a buzz every time you use it.
In conclusion I would say this is a petty advanced flash unit that gives excellent results. It might be a bit too confusing if you're as beginner and it's not exactly on the cheap side. However, for those wanting to move up a grade, this flash should light up the way.
Product Description: Canon Speedlite 580EX - hot-shoe clip-on flash
Camera Flash: Hot-shoe clip-on flash
Dimensions (WxDxH): 7.5 cm x 11.4 cm x 13.4 cm
Guide Number (m / ISO 100): 58
Lens Coverage: 24mm - 105mm
Supported Exposure Control: FP Flash, TTL, E-TTL, E-TTL II
Zoom: Automatic, manual
Features: AF illuminator, illuminated LCD display, flash +/- compensation, wireless off-camera control, modelling flash capability, flash exposure bracketing
Required Battery: 4 x battery - AA type
Carrying Case: Soft case
On Amazon the flash is priced at £265.00