Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The Speedlite 380EX is a dedicated flash for the Elan II and Elan IIe (known
outside of the USA as the Elan 50 and Elan 50e, respectively). It offers several
nice features, including a tilting head, automatic zooming between 24 and 105mm,
high speed synch all the way up to 1/4000, and auto shutoff after 90 seconds of
The rest of this article assumes that you are familiar with the Elan II
camera, considering that you'll need to get one of those to go with this
The guide number is 102 at 50mm (ISO 100), which is not too shabby. The
recycle time at full power is rather longish: even with fresh batteries (4 AA
cells) it seems to take about 20 seconds.
You get full power up to 1/125. Beyond that, it achieves sync by firing a
rapid succession of flashes as the curtain shutter moves across the film plane.
The effective guide number goes all the way down to 14 at 1/4000. But even such a
small number can be enough to stop action.
You can insert the flash on the hot shoe, turn it on, set the camera in one of
the autopilot modes, and start shooting. You'll get that deer in the headlight
look you can get with a $20 disposable, but at least you'll look professional. On
the other hand, you can also select Av (aperture priority) or Tv (shutter
priority) mode, and the flash turns into a fill-flash. The shutter speed in Av
mode (or lens aperture in Tv mode) will be set by the camera to correctly expose
the background for the lens aperture (or speed) that you selected. The flash will
fire long enough for the foreground subject to be properly exposed, and then
it'll be quenched.
The AE lock button on the back of the camera can be used to lock the flash
exposure. If you press it, a brief flash is fired, and the exposure is measured
and set for up to 16 seconds. If you wish to change the exposure for the
background, simply lock the flash exposure first, and then dial as much exposure
compensation you need to darken or lighten the background using the wheel in the
back of the camera.
It uses the second curtain flash sync feature, if it's enabled, which is nice.
The unit also has a more powerful AF assist beam, though it's only used by the
center spot. Still, it extends the reach to about 30 feet.
It has some idiot lights
There's a green light that comes on for two seconds after exposure if the
camera/flash combo decides that the exposure was correct. There's the usual red
pilot light that comes on when the flash is ready to use, which doubles as a
manual fire button. There's also a scale that indicates, with a red light, the
focal length that the flash sets itself to. There are discrete stops at 24, 28,
35, 50, 70 and 105 mm. The flash auto-sets itself to match the focal length of
the lens. If it's a zoom, it'll auto-adjust when you half-depress the shutter
release button. If the flash head is tilted at any angle other than 90 degrees,
the flash sets itself at 50mm, regardless of the focal length of the lens on the
It's not expensive
It sells for under $160. Compared to the cost of the camera and everything
else that goes along, and considering its features, I think it's a good
It actually works as advertised, more or less
After having used my 380EX for about six months, I can say that I'm pleased
with the results. The automagic metering is fairly accurate most of the time,
though if there's a single object that's much brighter than the rest of the scene
(or that can reflect more light), then the flash ends up quenching a bit too
soon, which results in an underexposed background.
For example, I recently shot a few rolls at the Mission in Carmel, CA, and in
a couple of cases some brass ornaments that were fairly well polished came out
perfectly well exposed, but the rest of the frame is pretty dark, even though the
ornaments were fairly small.
Outdoors, I used it many times to fill in shadows, pointing the flash directly
at the subject. It worked great, producing pleasing catchlights in the subject's
The user's manual claims a recycling time of up to 7.5 seconds. In my
experience, after about a dozen shots with a fresh set of batteries, the
recycling time can be as long as 20 seconds if the flash is delivering full
power. As a fill-in flash outdoors, however, it recycles very quickly, sometimes
within less than a second, even.
The tilting head feature is nice, and except when used as a fill-in flash, I
always tilt it. It seems that about 30 to 40 degrees provide the most uniform
coverage for rooms with average (about 7 feet) ceilings.
Don't get the smaller unit
A smaller unit, the 220EX, is now available. The price difference is so small
that it's not even worth considering (about $20 at B&H).