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Canon Speedlite 580EX

by Bob Atkins, 2004

 The new Canon Speedlite 580EX is that latest in Canon's evolution of high end, shoe mount, speedites. From the 430EZ to the 540EZ, 550EX and now the 580EX, power output and features have increased.

The new 580EX is, of course, E-TTL (and E-TTL II) compatible, and it has a guide number of 58/191 (meters/feet) at ISO 100 and 105mm focal length. It's both smaller and lighter than the 550EX which it replaces.

One major new feature for digital shooters is that the flash now knows the sensor size of the EOS 20D (and EOS 1D Mk II with firmware update), and zooms the flash head to give full coverage over only the area seen by the sensor. The 550EX did not do this, and so, for example, "wasted" energy illuminating the 24x36mm frame outside that covered by the 22x15mm sensor in the 220D.

The 580EX also communicates with the 20D and 1D Mark II to ensure better white balance. If the battery charge starts to run low, white balance is adjusted to compensate for changes in flash characteristics.

The wide angle diffuser on the 580EX now gives full flash coverage for 14mm lenses (full frame), which means that it will provide full coverage for the EF-S 10-22 lens on a 20D or 300D (equivalent to a 16mm lens on full frame).

The 580ex is expected to be available in October at a street price of around $480.

The following is the text of the Canon Press Release concerning the 580EX Speedlite:

LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y., Aug 19, 2004 - The long awaited evolution in Canon's Speedlite family of EOS system flashes is here. The Speedlite 580EX flash takes its place as Canon's new flagship Speedlite, replacing the popular Speedlite 550EX model. A more powerful flash with a maximum guide number of 58/191 at ISO 100 in meters/feet (at 105mm focal length), faster recycling, more consistent color and enhanced controls are among the improvements that all photographers, especially those who shoot digital, will find useful.


"We designed the Speedlite 580EX flash from the ground up specifically to maximize digital photography," said Yukiaki Hashimoto, senior vice president and general manager of the consumer imaging group at Canon U.S.A., Inc., a subsidiary of Canon Inc. (NYSE: CAJ). " This new flash takes the best features from existing models and adds functionality that enhances digital photography. We now offer a Speedlite that yields great performance with a more comfortable and easy to use interface, in a smaller and lighter package than its predecessors."

E-TTL II Compatibility
The Speedlite 580EX flash is compatible with Canon's E-TTL II (Evaluative Through The Lens) auto exposure technology. When combined with a compatible Canon camera, E-TTL II utilizes subject distance and other information that automatically modifies flash power, resulting in accurate flash exposure regardless of subject size, reflectance, or photographic composition. This is great news for photographers that shoot high contrast or reflective subjects, like those encountered in wedding photography. Photographers can now capture every detail from the black of tuxedoes to the white of wide smiles and wedding dresses.

Digitally Optimized
The Speedlite 580EX flash is compatible with all film and digital EOS cameras as well as G-series and Pro-1 PowerShot digital cameras. The flash includes two features especially for digital photography. EOS 20D and EOS-1D Mark II** digital SLR users will especially appreciate the Speedlite 580EX flash's ability to auto-compensate for the size of the CMOS sensor, and zoom the flash head automatically to match the effective focal length conversion. This feature allows the Speedlite 580EX flash to maximize the efficiency of its light distribution and produce more flashes from a set of batteries. When used with the EOS 20D or 1D Mark II** digital SLR cameras, the flash and camera communicate to make fine adjustments to auto white balance by electronically monitoring the charge level of the batteries and the duration of each flash burst, resulting in consistently accurate color for every shot.

Speed, Power and Flexibility
Smaller, lighter, faster and more powerful than its predecessor, the Speedlite 550EX flash, Canon has further enhanced the new model by reducing the full-power recycling time by about 25 percent, while increasing the maximum Guide Number power rating by about 50 percent. These improvements are possible because of flash head optimization, circuit resistance reductions and changes in circuit design.

The new flash unit provides photographers with intuitive controls. Mimicking the style found on Canon's line of popular EOS Digital SLRs, the 580EX model's new control dial, SET button and a high-speed sync / shutter curtain synchronization button put all major functions at the fingertips of the photographer.

The Speedlite 580EX Flash features an AF-assist beam, which is now better matched to the different focusing point arrangements of various EOS SLRs, compared to earlier models. The unit includes a swiveling flash head that turns a full 180 degrees in both directions, while a single release lock controls tilt and swivel adjustments. A wide-angle diffuser found on the Speedlite 580EX flash covers focal lengths as short as 14mm. The flash also features a new catchlight reflector for optimal lighting quality during bounce-flash photography. The Speedlite 580EX flash features a total of 14 Custom Functions that provide maximum control over various flash functions such as recycling with external power and auto-zooming to match sensor size.

New Accessories and EOS System Compatibility
To accompany the new Speedlite 580EX flash, Canon is offering a new external power pack called the Compact Battery Pack CP-E3. This battery pack reduces full power recycling time from about six to 1.7 seconds and increases the number of full-power flashes per charge from approximately 100 to 432. The Speedlite 580EX flash is also fully compatible with the E-TTL/E-TTL II Wireless Autoflash system and can be used as an on-camera controller or an off-camera remote flash.

Pricing and Availability
Canon's new Speedlite 580EX flash and Compact Battery Pack CP-E3 will be available in October for estimated selling prices of $479 and $220, respectively.

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Original text is (©) Copyright 2004   Robert M. Atkins (www.bobatkins.com)   All Rights Reserved

Readers' Comments

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Vikrant Kumar , August 31, 2004; 11:46 A.M.

With the power this flash packs and shooting at ISO 400 this flash can illuminate subjects upto ~ 232 mts ... this can be used for low light bird photography very successfully.

Bob: Just an aside, I just noticed that the header of this html page is " Canon Powershot A80 Digital Camera Review".

Peter Langfelder , August 31, 2004; 12:05 P.M.

Seems that they have fixed the "bug" in the physical construction of the 550 EX - the 550's head swiwels 180 degrees only in one direction (to the left) - but when shooting vertically in the normal position (shutter button up, top of camera to your left), you need the 180 swiwel to the right, exactly the opposite. According to the press release, the 580's head swiwels 180 degrees in both directions, yay! And for only $480! :-)

Jesper de Jong , August 31, 2004; 03:05 P.M.

Note that according to Canon's website about the 580EX the zoom with consideration to sensor size does not work on the 300D / Digital Rebel and 10D; it only works on the 20D and 1D Mark II (which needs a firmware upgrade for it to work):

"When the SPEEDLITE 580EX receives image size data from a supported EOS digital camera*, the flash head automatically zooms to match the effective angle of view. The resulting flash coverage is more accurate. When color temperature data is automatically transmitted from the SPEEDLITE 580EX to a camera*, the camera sets the color balance for the optimal flash shot.

* EOS 20D, EOS-1D Mark II (firmware update necessary) or later camera models

This is also mentioned in the quoted press release, but not at the top of the article where you mention this feature - you even mention that the 550EX didn't do this on the 10D, which suggests the 580EX would do this on the 10D, but it doesn't.

Bob Atkins , September 01, 2004; 11:22 P.M.

Thanks for pointing out the errors and omissions guys. I've made the corrections (I hope!).

Bob Atkins , September 01, 2004; 11:32 P.M.

With the power this flash packs and shooting at ISO 400 this flash can illuminate subjects upto ~ 232 mts ... this can be used for low light bird photography very successfully

Er...not quite...

The GN is 58m at ISO 100, but you have to divide GN by aperture to get shooting distance. So, for example, you'd have a range up to 14.5m with a 600/4 lens. With ISO 400 film you multiply that by a factor of 2 (not a factor of 4), so you'd have flash coverage out to 29m, not 232m! The old 550EX would give you coverage to 27.5m, not really much of a difference.

You can extend flash range for long telephotos by using a large fresnel lens in front of the flash, but that's for another discussion.

Jay Dougherty , September 02, 2004; 09:17 A.M.

Canon is doing almost everything better than Nikon--except flashes. This flash looks like a step in the right direction, but only a step. Why have Nikon's flashes not needed to know "the size of the sensor," for goodness' sake, in order to work properly on digital cameras?

Very sad to see that Canon has retained the clunky wheel used to secure the flash to the camera. Nikon's flip lock is quicker and better.

And do you still need to hold down two buttons to rotate the flash head vertically and horizontally in one motion? This was the case with the 550ex, that dinosaur of a flash unit, and it was awkward.

So Canon now has a flash that presumably works well with the Mk2 and the 20D. What about the rest of the cameras? I would expect similar inconsistent, unacceptable performance.

Bob Atkins , September 02, 2004; 01:58 P.M.

Flashes don't need to know the size of the sensor to work properly, they need it to most EFFICIENTLY select the zoom setting to match the required area of coverage.

All the EX series flashes work perfectly with the DSLR bodies, the only difference with the 580EX is that it will be more efficient, and by selecting the zoom position based on angle of coverage rather than just the focal length of the lens it will waste less flash power outside the senor coverage, thus it will recycle faster and give more flashes per battery set.

Saying "Nikon flashes don't need to do this" is rather missing the point I think. If you understood the system, you wouldn't make such comments (I hope). Canon flashes "don't need to do this" either, but the fact that they CAN do this makes them better.

Suggesting the 580EX may not work with all Canon EOS bodies is, I think irresponsible speculation, and suggests you're working in the basis of some subjective bias rather than actual facts.

Jay Dougherty , September 03, 2004; 07:23 A.M.

I've used all of Canon's flashes with all of its digital slr bodies. Let's put it this way: it's easier to get inconsistent results with the flashes than it is to get consistent results. That's not right, IMO. Nikon's flashes can be point-and-shoot simple, which is what's needed some of the time. Canon's cannot.

No, I am not a fan of Canon's flash system. I haven't seen the new one, and I hope it's good. But the ones currently on the market are inferior in every way to Nikon's, I believe. They're bigger, noisier, uglier, heavier, slower, harder to operate, and consume batteries quicker.

Nikon's recent flashes are things of beauty and operational efficiency and ease. Canon's, by comparison, look like they were developed 20 years ago.

Stephen Lutz , September 05, 2004; 07:57 P.M.

Beauty contestent

I have a 550EX (used it yesterday, as a matter of fact, for over 380 shots at a bikini contest). With my 10D I have gotten fairly consistent flash results. I usually have to drop the flash power 2/3 of a stop to get the results I want, i.e. no blow out highlights, and nothing overly "bright" in the photo. Of the 380+ I shot yesterday, one was very over exposed, and about a dozen were underexposed (perhaps from lack of a full recharge on the flash). All of the others had acceptable exposure, and required only minimal adjustment in PhotoShop CS.

My biggest gripe with Canon flashes (particularly the "pro" 550EX) is the battery door. It is too easy to accidently pop it open and spill your batteries all over a dark carpet, in a dark room, in crowded conditions... They need a more secure door.

The two button design to move the flash head didn't bother me that much, but I'm glad the 580EX is smaller and lighter. The 550EX is one big ole honking flash, and does look and feel clunky compared to Nikon flash units. I never have liked the stupid wheel to screw in to the camera either, finding the 220EX's latch much better.

Here is an example of my 550EX, -2/3, 10D, 400 ISO, with a 28-70 2.8L at f/4 from last nights bikini competition. This was from the "casual" attire portion of the program.

dan vidal , September 09, 2004; 02:15 P.M.

I can sympathize with that. I use an ST-E2 in conjunction with my 550 EX so I am constantly swapping them on and off my 10D at events I shoot, usually in dark concert halls or nightlife venues. Just a few weeks ago I lost my MAHA AA rechargables in the fashion you describe, I accidentally grabbed the battery door on the 550, and out they went, I only found two in the end.

Mike Dodd , September 16, 2004; 09:04 A.M.

I very much hope the flash will give good consistent results as my experience of taking many hundreds of macro shots with various of the modern canon flashguns is that they are extremely inconsistent. For example my mt24 twinflash often requires up to 2 stops overexposure adjustment to get a correct exposure even of 'easy' subjects, then next session it may need just 1.3 stops over, then next session it may be 2 or more stops again or (extremely rarely) it may give correct results with no exposure compensation. I note that in the canon magazine they have even suggested switching off all auto exposure and using flashes on fully manual for close-ups as the auto system is so unreliable.

Yakim Peled , March 02, 2005; 02:06 A.M.

>> The 550EX did not do this, and so, for example, "wasted" energy illuminating the 24x36mm frame outside that covered by the 22x15mm sensor in the 220D.

A small typo. Not 220D but 20D.

Happy shooting, Yakim.

kin hui , June 23, 2007; 04:20 P.M.

i've used the Canon 550, the nikon SB28, metz, and sunpack.

now, I'm having the 580EX II on my 1D mark ii. it is very nice evolution of their flashes.

these are the things i like:

o the simple layout of buttons and dial,

o the battery door is better than the old stuff,

o water resistance hot shoe and many places,

o 1 sec modeling light for upto 10 times (then rest 10 min),

o slightly faster recharge,

i don't like these:

1) this is 2007. the flash still use C.Fn "some number" to represent the words such as, "auto power on", FBE, and etc. I know with 1D markIII, some of the menu can be driven from the camera. But, I don't want to upgrade my camera just because of deficiency of the flash. Any user should be able to read from the flash to tell what they are changing instead of carrying the menu.

2) since water resistance is one of the selling point, why aren't the four buttons across the back use a plastic covered button? It is liked I don't wear a rain jacket (no water resistance on buttons), but, I do wear a rain pants (water resistance on the hot shoe and other area). So, I will soak from top, might not happen with the bottom.

3) when I use an external battery source, liked quantum, can i skip the 4 fresh AA, please?

4) when I use an external battery, can the circuit on the flash smart enough to sense the external battery and change the CF stuff by itself? It is 2007, Canon.

Now back to enjoying photography. :)

Peter Gullberg , June 25, 2007; 05:55 P.M.

Is it possible to mount the 580EX(II) in the "mini stand", and then use the internal flash from e.g. a 30D, to trigger the 580EX(II) as a remote flash?

regards \Peter

Martin Corona , July 14, 2007; 10:23 P.M.

I am new to the 580EX. Up until now I have been using a 420EX and loved it because it was so easy to change the flash power output directly from a 20D.

Is there anyway to control flash output on the 580EX from the camera? I don't like having to fumble around in the 580's menu. I shoot night club and event photography. I use the flash to capture people and shoot at slow speeds to capture ambient light.

I often shoot with the flash pointing up with an omni-bounce. I am still getting bad results with the 580 and have to go back to the 420. I spent the $$$ on the 580 and would like to use it more. Any suggestions?

Alex Leal , March 25, 2008; 01:51 P.M.

I'm thinking about geting the 580EX! I will be shooting events with a 30D! Is it a good option?

Sheafe Ewing , October 11, 2008; 11:46 A.M.

I have a Canon G9 and would like to have comments from anyone using a Canon Speedlite with the G9.

I am told the Speedlite 220EX, 430EX and 580EX will work with the G9, .....but without certain functions.... as noted in each of the manuals for the above models.

It would be nice to know BEFORE purchase of one of these flashes, which functions don't operate with the G9

Anyone with experience?

Birger Hoglund , March 02, 2009; 07:59 A.M.

I have Canon 5D and is about to buy a Canon Speedlite 580EX II

Is that a good choice and what do I have to think about some where I have red that it cooperate with 20 D Mark ?

What do I have to think about

Scrap Dog , April 06, 2010; 09:51 P.M.

The Canon 580EX II is the only flash unit I have ever owned or used.. It has become indispensable and I cannot live without it.

It took a little practice to get control of it but I now find I get very consistent results..

My only gripe is the bulk and weight of the thing and how it protrudes so high off the camera...

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