photography phil.uk.net

 

Phil.UK.Net   >   Phil.UK.Net Site Map   >   Photography   >   Canon 550EX Speedlite Flash

Canon 550EX Speedlite Flash

 

Canon EF Lenses

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L

Canon EF 40mm STM f/2.8 pancake

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro

Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L

Canon EF-S Lenses

Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5

Canon EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS II

Canon EF-M Lenses

Canon EF-M 22mm f/2.0

Canon EF-M 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS

Canon Lens Extenders, Extension Tubes, Adapters

Canon EF 1.4x II Extender

Canon Extension Tubes

Canon EF-EOS M Mount Adapter

Lighting

Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter

Canon 90EX Speedlite Flash

Canon 430EX II Speedlite Flash

Electra Studio Lighting

Support

Giottos MM 9550 Monopod

Markins Q3 Ball head

Gitzo GT2541EX Tripod

Cameras

Canon PowerShot S90

Canon EOS M

Accessories

Electra Colour Balance Panel

Sekonic L-308S Flashmate

Canon 550EX Speedlite Flash

Canon 550EX Speedlite Flash

Canon 550EX Speedlite Flash

A selection of photos taken with my Canon 550EX flash.

Clicking on the thumbnail images will open a larger image in a pop-up window.

Blue-winged Pitta - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L
ISO: 400
Aperture: f/6.3
Shutter speed: 1/250
Focal length: 400mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 190 KB
Blue whistling thrush, Krabi, Thailand - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L
ISO: 800
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter speed: 1/100
Focal length: 400mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Krabi, Thailand
File Size: 151 KB
Crowd in the dark - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/4.0
Shutter speed: 1/100
Exposure Program: Manual
Focal length: 70mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 205 KB
Distant crow - Click for larger image Camera: 10D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/4.0
Shutter speed: 1/200
Exposure Program: Manual
Focal length: 200mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Penang, Malaysia
File Size: 104 KB
Mermaid at sunset - Click for larger image Camera: 10D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/8.0
Shutter speed: 1/30
Exposure Program: AV
Focal length: 24mm
EC +/-: -2/3
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Songkhla, Thailand
File Size: 191 KB
Boys fishing - Click for larger image Camera: 10D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/8.0
Shutter speed: 1/80
Exposure Program: AV
Focal length: 17mm
EC +/-: -2/3
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Songkhla, Thailand
File Size: 144 KB
Chinese vegetarian festival - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter speed: 1/125
Exposure Program: Program
Focal length: 40mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 170 KB
Chinese vegetarian festival - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter speed: 1/100
Exposure Program: AV
Focal length: 38mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 150 KB
Chinese vegetarian festival - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/6.3
Shutter speed: 1/100
Exposure Program: Program
Focal length: 40mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 158 KB
Chinese vegetarian festival - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L
ISO: 200
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter speed: 1/125
Exposure Program: AV
Focal length: 40mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: Canon 550EX
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 168 KB
Floating market, Songkhla province, Thailand - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-f/4.5
ISO: 100
Aperture: f/4.5
Shutter speed: 1/80
Focal length: 15mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: 550EX (+ built-in diffuser)
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 246 KB
Floating market, Songkhla province, Thailand - Click for larger image Camera: 40D
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-f/4.5
ISO: 100
Aperture: f/4.5
Shutter speed: 1/160
Focal length: 22mm
EC +/-: 0
Monopod/Tripod: No
Flash: 550EX (+ built-in diffuser)
Extender: No
Location: Hat Yai, Thailand
File Size: 279 KB
Amazon UK Amazon US

Overview

The 550EX was Canon's top-of-the-range flash unit prior to the 580EX. If you are investigating it now, the reason is probably because you are considering buying a used unit. The 580EX (and subsequently the 580EX II) were improved over the 550EX so is it worth buying a used 550EX or should you simply buy a new 580EX II?

The 580EX II improvements sound great on paper - it's smaller, lighter, more powerful, looks better, has more features - but I suspect that in actual usage you probably wouldn't notice a huge difference compared to the 550EX.

As I read on one site, knowing how your camera and flash system works will make a much bigger difference to your photos than whether you use a 550EX or 580EX II flash.

The 580EX II is undoubtedly a better unit but it won't necessarily make your photos any better.

The 580EX II can detect camera sensor size and zooms accordingly to allow for the crop factor. The 550EX can't do this. It doesn't affect the image quality but if you are using a 1.3x or 1.6x crop factor camera it means that with the 550EX your flash coverage is a lot wider than it needs to be. This results in wasted power and therefore a shorter battery life.

Return to top of page

Terminology

I realise that some people object to the terms 'Master' and 'Slave' but these are the standard industry terms so I will use them.

Return to top of page

Off-camera usage

The 550EX can be set for normal usage mounted on the hot shoe of your camera. Alternatively, it can act as a 'Master', whereby it will act as a normal camera and it will also trigger 'Slave' flashes. Or it can be used as a 'Slave' off camera. In 'Slave' mode the unit can be triggered by another flash in 'Master' mode (provided the flash unit has this capability) or by using the Canon ST-E2 Speedlite transmitter.

With the Canon 7D, Canon added an in-built Speedlite transmitter thus doing away with the need to use an ST-E2. I believe that Nikon has incorporated this feature in its cameras for a while and I hope that Canon start to do this with all new models.

For off-camera usage the flash unit comes with a little plastic foot which has a tripod socket in the bottom. Using this foot the flash unit can be free-standing or it can be mounted on a light stand.

The light stand can take an umbrella if required. It's mobile, flexible and can be used for portraits of even macro work in the field. The problem with buying everything separately is the expense.

If you decide to build a complete Canon Speedlite wireless system it will be very mobile but quite expensive and not that powerful. An alternative might be to invest in some studio lighting, such as a budget Electra studio lighting kit.

Return to top of page

Bounce flash

Direct flash with the flash on the same axis as the camera lens tends to make subjects look flat and it can also cause harsh shadows.

There are various ways to avoid this but the easiest is to bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling. To facilitate this, the 550EX flash head can be tilted up and down, and also rotated.

The ability to rotate the flash head is also useful when using a Canon ST-E2 or other 'Master' device to trigger the flash remotely. The flash head can be pointed in the correctly direction, while the sensor faces the 'Master'.

Return to top of page

AF Assist Beam

You may wish to use the flash in very low light conditions, in which case the camera AF may not function. In such situations, the 550EX has a built-in AF assist beam which can help.

It works with lenses that have a focal length greater than 28mm and is effective from 0.6m to 10m in the centre of the image, and 0.6m to 5m at the periphery.

Return to top of page

Stroboscopic Flash

I've never used this, and if I did it would only be out of curiosity rather than for a real purpose. It could make some interesting photos, though.

The 550EX can fire a rapid succession of flashes - up to one hundred. The faster it fires flashes, the shorter each one is and thus there is less power.

Experimenting with this feature is something I may try if I'm bored on a rainy day.

Return to top of page

High Speed Sync Flash

The maximum flash sync speed you can use depends on your camera model. My Canon 40D has a maximum flash sync speed of 1/250 second.

This is due to the way camera shutters work, and the fact that above a certain shutter speed the entire sensor will not be exposed when the flash unit fires its solitary burst of light.

With high speed sync flash, instead of firing one burst of light the flash unit fires a burst of light pulses at a very high frequency. The pulses are so fast that to the naked eye this would probably appear to be a constant burst of light. This enables you to use flash at any shutter speed.

The downside is that the faster your shutter speed, the less powerful the flash output. For example, if you are using a 17mm lens (on a full frame camera) you will get an effective range of 10.6m when using a shutter speed of 1/125. If you use a shutter speed of 1/8000, that distance decreases to just 1.3m.

The system has its limitations but it can also be quite useful in certain situations.

Return to top of page

Flash Metering

In the old days, the calculations for flash usage were quite complicated. You either needed to measure distance and understand guide numbers, etc., or you could use a hand-held flash exposure meter. With film cameras there was no instant feedback so you needed to make sure your exposure was right.

Flash units pumped out a fixed amount of light and there were no dedicated systems to help you.

With dedicated flash systems the camera/flash system started to measure and control the light from the flash automatically. This was done in various ways (sometimes using a pre-flash), and the sensor was either inside the camera or on the flash unit.

Canon has referred to its systems over time as TTL, A-TTL, E-TTL and E-TTL II. There is an enormous amount of information on-line regarding the technicalities written by people who have far more knowledge than me so I won't copy what I've read elsewhere.

As a user, my only real concern is how to set the camera and flash up to get the best photos.

Return to top of page

Using the 550EX

Underexposed - Click for larger image This quick snapshot is the first ever photo I took with my 550EX. It was taken in the camera shop in Penang, Malaysia where I bought it. Not very good, is it?

I think the camera was in Shutter Speed Priority mode. When I first looked at the image I didn't think the flash had fired, but it had.

When the camera is in Shutter Speed or Aperture Priority mode and you use a flash, the system will attempt to give a balanced fill flash. The E-TTL system also links exposure to a focus point, which E-TTL II doesn't do.

Outdoor macro lighting setup - Click for larger image The E-TTL system is quite complicated, and often very clever, but in certain situations with the camera in a certain mode you won't get the results you want.

Getting the right exposure with flash isn't always easy. Are you attempting to light the whole scene or trying to balance the subject with the naturally exposed background using fill-flash?

It's not often that I try to light the whole scene. More often than not, I only use flash to brighten a foreground subject. This can even be the case in very bright conditions where you might never consider using a flash.

Using the 550EX off-camera - Click for larger image With fill-flash you need to consider two exposures. Ignoring ISO, the exposure of everything not illuminated by the flash is governed by the shutter speed and aperture. The exposure of everything illuminated by the flash is governed by the aperture and the amount of light pumped out by the flash.

You might think that with clever systems such as Canon's E-TTL, you could put the camera in any mode and get perfectly exposed shots whenever the flash was mounted. I did. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.

Sometimes everything works how you want it to, but sometimes the system seems to try to be too clever and the result is an underexposed subject.

Using the 550EX off-camera - Click for larger image I am far from being an expert but through trial and (lots of) error, I have found that the most consistent results for fill flash are achieved when the camera is in manual exposure mode.

With this method, be careful not to select a shutter speed faster than the camera's maximum flash synch speed. If you do, your photos will end up with overexposed backgrounds.

Use the camera's metering system to obtain an aperture and shutter speed that is suitable for the background. Put the camera into manual mode and set it at these readings. Mount the flash and switch it on.

These settings will ensure that the background is properly exposed and the flash will automatically pump out enough light to correctly illuminate the foreground. I have found that this method works well most of the time.

If you find that the foreground subject is too light or too dark, adjust the flash exposure compensation (FEC) accordingly.

In fast-changing conditions you don't always time to go through this procedure. At times like this I have got good results in Program or even fully automatic green-box mode. In Program mode, the flash acts as the main light source rather than a fill-flash.

Return to top of page

Myths about flash

Using flash outdoors in bright sunlight - Click for larger image Over the years I have read many disparaging comments about flash, especially using flash units mounted on the camera hot shoe. Some people seem to regard themselves as 'purists' and go through their photographic lives only ever using the 'purest of natural light'.

Others maintain that strobe light should always be 'off-camera' and never on the same axis as the lens.

Using flash outdoors in bright sunlight - Click for larger image These views are rubbish.

There are many situations where flash is essential. In these situations, it may not be possible or convenient to mount the flash off-camera and anyway, using it on the hot shoe gives perfectly good results.

If you have a reflector - and an assistant to hold the reflector in position - that is an alternative, but photographic assistants are a luxury that not many of us have. You can try to correct underexposed faces in post-processing (for example, using Photoshop's 'Highlights and Shadows'), but the results never look quite right.

The example I'm going to give is taking portraits of vendors working at a Thai floating market. These floating markets in Thailand are simply tourist attractions (not real markets) but they are colourful and provide some good photo opportunities.

Using flash outdoors in bright sunlight - Click for larger image When I've been, I have seen a number of people with SLRs who are obviously keen on photography, but not one has used a flash. This is crazy because all the vendors wear wide-brimmed hats for protection against the sun, and without using a flash their faces will be horribly underexposed.

This is what I do for the type of shots here.

First, I use the camera's metering system to meter around the scene to get an average reading. I make a note of the reading. Make sure that the shutter speed doesn't exceed the maximum flash synch speed, and also that it isn't too low in order to avoid camera shake.

To increase the 'bokeh' effect with a narrow depth of field, aim for a fairly big aperture (low f/stop number). With digital cameras, you also have the ability to adjust the ISO setting in this process.

Using flash outdoors in bright sunlight - Click for larger image Then I put the exposure mode into 'Manual', set the exposure to the previously metered readings, and turn the flash on.

This method seems to work well in ensuring that the overall scene is exposed correctly; that the vendors' faces are also exposed correctly underneath their hats with flash-fill; and that the lighting across the whole scene is balanced.

Using flash outdoors in bright sunlight - Click for larger image You can use a semi-automatic metering mode (AV or TV), but if you are shooting lots of differently lit scenes one more piece of advice is to turn on the camera's "Safety Shift" feature to prevent under or over-exposure.

By doing this, the camera will override your setting if it is physically impossible to expose correctly. This feature was one I first saw on my old 35mm Canon T90, possibly the finest manual-focus camera ever made.

A flash unit isn't a devil to be avoided, or something for beginners who "haven't mastered proper lighting technique". It's a very useful tool, especially in bright daylight when you need fill-flash for shadow detail.

When you watch photo journalists and wedding photographers at work, you will see on-camera flashes popping all the time.

Return to top of page

Specifications and 580EX II comparison

  550EX 580EX II
Type TTL | E-TTL TTL | E-TTL | E-TTL II
Guide number 55 58
Flash range (with 50mm F/1.4, ISO 100) Normal flash: 0.5 - 30m
Quick flash: Min. 0.5 - 7.5m Max 0.5 - 21m
High speed synch: 0.5 - 15 m
Normal flash: 0.5 - 30m
Quick flash: Min. 0.5 - 7.5m Max 0.5 - 21m
High speed synch: 0.5 - 15 m
Flash coverage Auto zoom head covers 24mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 70mm 80mm 105mm automatically 24mm - 105mm flash coverage set automatically for lens focal length and sensor size crop factor
Widest coverage 17mm with built-in wide panel
(no obvious problems with EF-S 10-22mm lens which is equivalent to a 16mm lens on a 1.6x crop body)
14mm with built-in wide panel
Batteries 4 x AA 4 x AA

Return to top of page

 

Recommend this on Google