Notes on the Canon Speedlite
430EZ Flash Unit.
© 2000 NK Guy
Some notes on
my Canon Speedlite 430EZ dedicated flash. This is a long-discontinued external
flash unit thats compatible with all Canon EOS film cameras, though
in TTL and A-TTL modes only. The EOS cameras that cant use this flash
in an automated fashion are all the post-DCS digital EOS cameras, which lack TTL flash sensors and
thus require E-TTL flash units and the EF-M, which is barely an EOS camera
and which did not include autofocus or TTL flash circuitry. For more details please consult
my flash article.
The 430EZ is
a pretty solid and sturdy unit that worked quite well for me when I was still
regularly shooting film. Top of the line
when it was introduced back in 1989. Like most external flash units it uses
four AA batteries and fastens to the cameras hotshoe. Its probably
the cheapest Canon flash unit you can find that has a tilt and swivel head
and handles flash exposure compensation. And even though Im shooting
mostly digital now, Ive still had use for this flash - I set it to its
lowest manual output and used it to trigger studio flash units from my digital
EOS 10D camera.
reading this because youre thinking of buying one you should probably
take a look at Dave Herzsteins EOS
flash comparison table, which compares the various models Canon has introduced
over the years. Or look at PhotoZones Canon
Note that much
of the information here also applies to this flash units predecessor,
the Speedlite 420EZ. (though not the 420EX) However, the 420EZ has
slightly different specs and certain features - most notably flash exposure
compensation - are missing. One or two buttons are labelled differently as
well. If you have a 540EZ you may want to consult Jim Strutzs manual.
For more information
about using flash gear with EOS cameras I encourage you to have a look at
my Flash Photography with
Canon EOS article. It goes into considerable detail and explains a lot
of things that I briefly mention in this review.
Stuff I like
about the 430EZ.
- Its got
decent power output for a portable unit. Not quite as much power as the 540EZ
and the 550EX of course, but a guide number of 43 (metres, not feet) is reasonable
for most stuff.
But note that the 540EZ and 550EX have a guide number of 50 at 80mm, which
is the maximum range of the 430EZ. So they arent that much more
powerful than the 430EZ when youre shooting with short focal lengths,
since the apparent power difference is largely a result of the greater zoom
range of the newer flashes and not due to a massively more powerful flash
- It has a nice
crisp backlit LCD. All the useful information is displayed on a screen with
optional electroluminescent lighting for night operation. Sure wish my damned
cameras also had backlit LCDs so I could operate them without fumbling with
- It has full
tilt and swivel on the flash head. You can tilt from 0° (straight on)
to 90°. Left swivel goes from 0° to 180° - facing all the way
backwards. Right swivel only goes from 0° to 90°. Unlike the 540EZ
and 550EX it has no downwards tilt for macro shots.
- It has flash
exposure compensation (FEC), from -3 to +3 stops, in 1/3 stop increments.
(the 540EZ and the 550EX also have FEC, but this feature is sadly lacking
in the 420EZ, which is why I wouldnt recommend the 420EZ) FEC lets you
dial increased or decreased flash energy to your subject as you like. The
compensation amount is displayed on the flash units LCD.
These manual FEC controls are important. Certain cameras either lack FEC controls
altogether (eg: 10/10s) or have FEC controls which affect the built-in flash
only and do not affect external flash units (the Elan/100). Such cameras require
FEC adjustments to be done via controls on the flash unit itself. Many flash
units lack such manual FEC controls, but luckily the 430EZ has pushbuttons
on the back of the unit for this. Newer midrange and pro Canon bodies dont
have this limitation - they can instruct most external flash units to apply
FEC whether or not the flash unit has FEC buttons.
- Flash zoom
is controllable manually as well as automatically. So you could narrow the
zoom down to get a spotlight effect with wide angle lenses or adjust the zoom
distance when using manual lenses.
- It has second-curtain
sync which can be engaged by pushing the + and - buttons simultaneously. In
second-curtain sync mode a little arrow symbol appears in the flash units
LCD. I dont know if newer model Canon bodies can instruct this older
flash to use first or second curtain sync - I suspect not, as no EOS camera
had such a custom function when the 430EZ was released.
Such manual controls allow you to enable second-curtain sync on all Canons
except the EOS 750 and 850 and not just those models which have a second-curtain
sync custom function. So even if you have an old EOS Rebel/1000, say, you
can still use second-curtain sync with this external flash.
- Sto-Fen sell
an Omnibounce flash diffuser that fits the 430EZ. This is just a hugely overpriced
but nonetheless useful chunk of moulded milky-white plastic that fits over
the flash head and diffuses the light from the unit. The result is much smoother
lighting - it reduces the usual rabbit-in-the-headlights look of flash photography.
The drawbacks are that it costs a couple stops of light output, so its
not very good if you need full-on range, and it doesnt really do anything
outdoors or in locations with dark walls or high ceilings, since it relies
on light bouncing off white walls.
Note that Sto-Fen have a Web site with
online ordering, but it might be cheaper and quicker for you to buy your diffuser
from a local retailer or somewhere. That was my experience, anyway. Worth
checking it out.
- It has a strobe
mode, up to 10 Hz. (10 flashes per second) So you can do fun tricks like this
photo here. The 540EZ can strobe up to 100 Hz, but frankly I dont
really feel any need for such high-frequency strobing. The 420EZ can only
strobe at 5 Hz.
- It has a power
jack for an external battery pack, unlike the 420EZ. Sadly, external battery
packs are all big and monstrously expensive, but there you go. Also, the flashs
rapid-fire option doesnt work with external batteries, unlike like later
Canon flash units.
- It has a red
autofocus (AF) assist light, though the light is subject to the limitations
noted below. (note particularly the flash mounting bracket problem)
quiet - just the usual whining noise when powering up. The 540EZ and 550EX
make a lot of noise when idle, but the 430EZ is nearly silent. The zoom motor
does make a buzzing noise when adjusting settings, however.
- Fully compatible
with Canons off-camera
shoe cord, which can preserve all flash metering functions. The cord is
expensive as hell, though.
Stuff I dont
like about the 430EZ.
- The 430EZ uses
A-TTL (Canons advanced through-the-lens flash metering system)
in bounce mode, unlike the 540EZ which only works in TTL mode when bouncing.
When used in straight-on mode the 430EZ emits an A-TTL pre-flash using the
near-infrared emitter on the front. (This isnt the same as the AF assist
light - its a lamp located above it.) But when used in bounce mode the
430EZ emits a pre-flash using the main flash tube set at reduced output. This
blinding flash of white light during the metering phase is really annoying
to human subjects. It also makes them think youve taken a photo when
in fact you havent.
The 540EZ only uses A-TTL flash metering for the P mode and the idiot (PIC)
modes. The 430EZ, however, uses A-TTL metering for Av and Tv modes as well,
which is quite useless since the whole point of the preflash is to set a small
aperture to ensure depth of field (pointless, especially in Av mode) and to
test for the out of range confirmation light (a feature found only on the
EOS 630, RT and 1 cameras - no others). Consult my flash
photography document for more details about this.
- Its pretty
big and heavy and inconvenient. When its installed on the camera you
cant wear the camera easily around your neck anymore, unless you have
a big pro camera like the 1, 1N or 1V, or unless you have a gigantic lens
on your camera. The centre of gravity gets shifted way up and the whole thing
flips down. The flash also looks pretty daunting to a lot of subjects. This
is the case with all of Canons larger flash units, of course.
- No flash exposure
confirmation lamp. The 540EZ and nearly all EX flash units have an LED on
the back that lights up to confirm adequate flash output for your foreground
subject. This light should be in the damned viewfinder of the camera, so you
dont have to lift your head up and look at the back, but apparently
Canon doesnt support such a feature for patent reasons.
- It lacks E-TTL
(evaluative through-the-lens) flash metering and related Canon flash technologies
such as FP (focal plane) high-speed flash sync and flash exposure lock. Neither
does it have a modelling light option or wireless capabilities. Of course,
it lacks these features for the simple reason that none of them existed when
the 430EZ was released. So if you have a type A camera body (one which supports
E-TTL) or are thinking of upgrading to a type A body at some point I dont
recommend this flash. Buy an EX series Speedlite so you wont be stuck
with old flash technology. TTL flash is okay but easily fooled and A-TTL flash
is pretty well useless. E-TTL is a much better automated flash technology.
- When the batteries
run low my 430EZ tends to start behaving erratically. Itll fire the
flash at random, buzz the zoom motor. Very disconcerting. It stops misbehaving
when you put new batteries in.
- It lacks downwards
tilt. The 540EZ and 550EX can tilt downwards 7 degrees for macro photography.
This is less of an issue if you use a diffuser, of course.
- This is more
an observation than a complaint, since the problem stems from basic geometry.
But if you mount the flash on a flash bracket like a Stroboframe youll
find that the AF assist light no longer lines up properly with the centre
focus point, rendering it useless. If you have a camera with more than three
focusing points you can probably compensate for this by choosing an upper
focus point, but this isnt an option for me - my Elan has only a centre
If you have an adjustable bracket you can adjust the tilt angle so the AF
light is more or less correctly aligned for near or far distances. But not
both, since you cant adjust the angle of the AF LED itself relative
to the flash body. Just something to keep in mind - ditch the bracket if youre
doing low-light shooting. Rely on bounce flash or a diffuser to cut ugly shadowing
- Its zoom motor
cant go wider than 24mm. The 540EZ and 550EX have a wide-angle adapter
panel, which flips down to widen the range a bit. Or you can just buy an Omnibounce
(see above) or something. Note that using the plain flash set to 24mm with
a wider-angle lens is a bad idea, as youll get vignetting - darkened
edges of the picture that arent illuminated.
- Its zoom motor
cant go narrower than 80mm. The 540EZ and 550EX can go to 105mm, which
would be very convenient for me since I have a 28-105 lens. Note that unlike
the wide angle problem you can still use longer lenses at an 80mm flash zoom
setting - having zoom flashes which concentrate the beam down further simply
means you get increased range.
- You cant
switch between imperial and metric units for the rear-panel display of coupling
range distance in manual and stroboscopic mode. There were two versions of
the 430EZ sold - one for the US market that measures distances in feet, and
one for every other country in the world that measures distances in metres.
I can think OK in metres, and so my Canadian-bought flash is fine for me,
but it could be a problem for some people. The 540EZ and 550EX have a better
solution - theres a small switch tucked away inside the battery compartment
that lets you switch between the two measuring systems.
- It takes a
few seconds to recycle between flashes if youre going for reasonable
output. Oh well. Basic physics. Not much you can do about this from 4 AA batteries,
though NiCads are faster than alkalines are recycling - they just have shorter
- If you have
a camera with multiple focusing points then the 540EZ is better since its
got a wider AF assist light beam compared to the 430EZ, which can only cover
the central AF point. Note: this does not apply to the EOS 5/A2(E)
and to the EOS 10/10s,
since those cameras will not ever activate the AF assist light on a flash
unit because of a huge lack of foresight on Canons part.
- Manual flash
setting goes down only to 1/32 (6 levels), not 1/128 (8 levels) like the 540EZ.
In practice I dont find this a huge problem. Mainly because I dont
really use flash in manual mode much anyway - except for firing studio strobes,
as mentioned above. In this case I point the flash head away from the subject,
so it doesnt contribute much light.
you cant use lithium AA cells with the 430EZ, but you can with the newer
models. Something to do with the output levels not matching or something like
that. As noted above you can use NiCad AAs with the 430EZ which offer faster
recycle time than regular alkaline AAs, because NiCads have lower internal
resistance. However NiCads also dont last very long so you have to replace
batteries a lot more often.
- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.
is copyright © 2000-2017 NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org. This information is provided with neither warranties nor claims of accuracy or completeness of any sort. Use this information at your own risk. All trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.
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