Flash photography gets a bad rap, but the technique can make for fantastic photos when used correctly. Canon’s trying to slice the learning curve to bits when it ships its newest $399 Speedlite in April. It’s called the 470EX-AI, and it’s a flash that can automatically determine the “best” spot to bounce the light off of the ceiling.
The 470EX-AI looks just like every other Canon Speedlite, but it has motors inside at the base and hinge, and a sensor in the corner of the face of the flash. When you double tap the shutter button on your camera, the flash points out at the subject, calculates the distance, then points itself at the ceiling and does the same. Right after that, the flash reorients itself one last time into what it “thinks” is the best direction to achieve the perfect bounce light for your subject.
The new flash is a delightful idea, the kind we’re actually starting to see slightly more of from Canon lately. But there are some limitations. For one thing, if you let the flash pick a spot, and then you move to recompose your photo, you have to do the whole process over again or else the light will bounce in the wrong direction. The flash can also only work its magic on ceilings — turn the camera sideways and it will still point up after it measures. There’s a 23-foot limit to the sensor, and if a ceiling is black it will just point straight up.
There is something called “semi-automatic” mode, though, and while it’s not as flashy (sorry) it might be just as, if not more, useful for semi-pros. This mode essentially lets the photographer pick whatever angle they want to point the flash, lock it in, and then every time they double tap the shutter button the flash will turn itself back to that angle.
It’s not always going to be able to get back to the same exact spot depending on exactly how photographer or the camera move between shots. But it’s the kind of thing that could save precious seconds. Say you know for sure you always want to bounce the flash off of a big white wall that’s nearby. With the 470EX-AI, you could just lock in that angle, which takes away the need to fumble with the flash every time you move the camera or yourself.
All this extra tech didn’t inflate the price too much, and it can still be used like a normal flash if you want. (Though, a word of warning, there’s no radio transmitter in the 470EX-AI.) Regardless, it’s an exciting idea from Canon, and I personally hope it’s a sign that more outside-the-box — but still helpful! — products are in the works.