I just bought a EOS 6D and I want to get a flash. I've been a bit out of touch with photography for many years and I finally decided on a camera. Now I need some help with which flash to get. Any recommendations for my camera? I'm not a professional photographer - I am getting back into doing artwork. So I don't need to buy the best of the best, but I do think I should get a Canon Speedlite. I think I would mainly use the flash for indoor shots, portraits, shots of my friends, maybe some action shots of volleyball in darker gyms. But I'm not a big fan of images made with flash. I do recall bouncing the flash off of the ceiling in the past to get a better light/image quality, so I would probably take the same approach. Which flash would be a decent purchase? Just for reference, my last camera was a Canon A-1, which I bought back in 1984... : )
The latest Canon flash is the 600EX RT which can be remote controlled by either optical or radio frequency. The only drawback is that it's expensive. Its predecessor, the 580EXII is the one that I'd recommend for something like the 6D. Since many upgraded to the 600, the 580 can be purchased second-hand at very reasonable price ($300-$350). The only thing it doesn't have is the radio frequency, other than that it is top of the line, professional grade. The one below that is the 430EXII flash.
I own both the 580EXII and the 430EXII and I can tell you that besides having less power and no master capability, the 430EXII is not performing to the same level as the 580EXII when it comes to accurately measure and deliver the required light in ETTL. I had the 430EXII first and flash pictures was OK until I got the 580EXII and noticed a huge improvement...let's just say I achieved professional results versus snapshot type flash shots. The 430EXII now serves as a slave fill light as it should be. I cannot recommend the 430 knowing what I know now with the 580. If you want off-brand, try one of the Youngnuo's. I heard they are really good for the price. I've made a decision to use nothing but Canon so I wouldn't know first hand.
Regarding flash pictures, I always bounce and recently after getting a flash controller ST-E2, I use my flashes off camera and that is the preferred way, no question about it. At times when it's too unwieldy to deal with off camera flash, I use a Gary Fong clear diffuser with the 580EX mouted on camera with the white card popped up to concentrate the light forward...works very well as the pictures don't have the harsh look of on-camera flash pictures.
Just this year, Canon has started introducing radio technology into their flash units. Currently the only flash that has the radio is the new 600EX-RT -- but that's also the flashship flash (about $500). I own two of these and I will say they are fantastic and a joy to use.
I also own a 580EX II, a 430EX II, and a 270EX II. The 430EX II can function as a wireless "slave" flash (if there's a "master" flash on the camera then the 430 can fire when the master flash fires.) the 580EX II is no longer marketed and can be a master or a slave (the 600 replaced the 580). However... everything prior to the 600 radio system uses "optical" communication. There's a window on the front of the 430 and 580 units. That window must be able to "see" the master flash. The heads of the flash tilt and swivel so it's possible to place the flash so it's "window" faces your master flash, but the flash head points where you need the light.
The 430EX II is a great work-horse and extremely reliable. I think it's actually possibly more reliable than the 580 (even though the 580 is a more full-featured flash.)
If you ignore the trailing "0" in the model number, the leading digits indicate the "guide numbrer" of the flash, in meters. The guide number is the distance that the flash can carry to illuminate a subject for a correct exposure IF the camera is set to ISO 100 and the f-stop is set to f/1.0. You don't have f/1.0 but the baseline is used because you can find the actual distance by dividing the "guide number" by the f-stop you're actually shooting. e.g. if you're using f/5.6, divide the "guide number" by 5.6 and that's your max distance (at ISO 100... you could increase the ISO to get more distance.)
While the 430EX II's 43 meter (141 feet) distance seems huge, once you divide by 5.6 you get 25 feet. Many light modifiers (soft boxes and other shoot-through diffusers) tend to eat about 1 flll stop of light. If you bounce the flash off the ceiling, that'll also eat some light. So it's nice to have the power to spare for bouncing and light modifiers.
Let size, weight and price be your guide.
There are some good third party flashes, but even though they might cost a bit more Canon Speedlites generally give you the most camera-flash functionality and ease of use.
The 430EX II is a bit smaller, lighter and less powerful than the 580EX/600EX, yet is likely powerful enough for most peoples' occasional use.
If you really need the most powerful, then step up to either 580EX II or the 600EX. Note: The latter is actually available in either an RT version with radio-based communication, or a non-RT version that's a little cheaper and relies upon optical/line-of-sight triggering... these triggering technologies really only matter if using the flash off-camera wirelessly, often in multi-flash setups.
The Canon 320EX has an added lamp for video.
The Canon 270EX is the smallest, tends to be more auto-only than the others.
All these are a far cry from the flashes you used with your A-1! Today's flashes have far more features and are able to do much more automatically. If I recall correctly, the A-1 had a flash sync speed of 1/60. Your 6D has a much higher sync speed of 1/180.... but the flashes also can do High Speed Sync well beyond that (tho it seriously limits the reach of the flash). ETTL is easy to use and pretty darned good. You might end up really enjoying flash, with modern technology.
You also may want to consider a flash bracket and an off-camera shoe cord. This allows you to move the flash further away from the lens axis, reducing the chance of redeye and improving shadows in a lot of situations. The longer the lens focal length, the further off-camera you might need to move the flash. Canon doesn't make a flash bracket (there are many to choose among, at all price ranges)... but they do make an off camera shoe cord.
An added benefit of using a flash bracket, if the flash gets a hard bump it might get damaged, but the camera will still be okay. I've had flashes rip the hot shoe right off a camera, when twisted or bumped, such as when carrying the gear in a crowd.
I believe all the above flashes support bounced flash, but that can cost a lot of light, the ceiling distance and color can come into play. You also can get diffusion panels/soft boxes to modify direct for a bit less harsh lighting effect. Many of the flashes have a built-in wide angle diffusion panel that can be used to similar effect.
The 600EX (non "-RT") is only available in some countries. Perhaps a Canon rep can chime in, but from what I can tell, only the "RT" version is marketed in the US.
The 430EX II is adequate for _most_ uses of single-light flash. It can be an optically triggered slave flash if, at some point in the future you decide to buy a 2nd flash. It cannot be a "commander"/"master" flash. If you buy multiple speedlites to use with the 430, then one of the other flashes must be able to operate as a commander.
Thanks for all of this advice - much appreciated! I think I've decided to go with the 430EX II. If I find that the flash is not strong enough for bouncing, I might consider upgrading down the road and use it as a slave. But I have a feeling this flash will suit me just fine. I think weight and size also played a role in my decision, plus I didn't really want to buy a used flash (e.g. 580EX II).
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