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Canon 220EX Speedlite
Featherweight Pocket Flash
Peter Kun Frary
Except for pro cameras such as the EOS 1D series, 1V or 3, most EOS bodies have a popup flash. So why use an external E-TTL flash? First, even the smallest external Speedlite such as the 220EX is twice as powerful as a popup. Thus, you have more power for group portraits or subjects posed against the setting sun. Second, a shoe mounted Speedlite is less prone to red eye problems because it is further from the lens axis. Third, Speedlites may be used off-camera on stands or brackets for better modeling and macro work. Fourth, light modifiers, e.g., diffusers or bounce cards, may be employed for softer light. Finally, you may use special features of E-TTL flash, e.g., high speed sync (FP Flash) not available on popups.
Balanced Fill-in Flash EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX • Auto balanced fill flash in Av mode. The 220EX works fine with newer cameras albeit without full flash menu support.
Canon 220EX Speedlite
Canon used to make three shoe mount E-TTL Speedlites: 220EX, 430EX and 580EX.† The 220EX is the baby of the bunch, an extremely compact yet powerful flash: GN 72.6 feet (22m) at ISO 100, 28mm full frame coverage (17 or 18mm APS-C), near-infrared AF assist light, flash exposure confirmation light, E-TTL, TTL, second-curtain sync, FE Lock (flash exposure lock), flash exposure compensation and FP Flash (high speed sync). You won't notice most of these features as the control panel is almost barren: on-off switch, ready light, FP Flash switch and flash exposure confirmation light. There are no manual controls or LCD. FE Lock, flash exposure compensation and second-curtain sync are controlled from the camera. Thus, to access all the flash features you need a camera with a full complement of E-TTL flash controls onboard, e.g., the EOS Elan 7 series, 3, 1V, 20D, 30D, 5D or early 1D series.
†The 220EX, 430EX and 580EX were replaced by slightly updated models in 2009: 270EX II, 430EX II and 580EX II. A 4th model, 380EX, debuted in 2011.
Canon Speedlite 220EX Shirt pocket delight
The 220EX is surprisingly petite, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It's so small you can comfortably carry it in a shirt or coat pocket. I power it with four AA lithiums to keep weight as low as possible. Despite its small size, the recycling time is amazingly fast, 0.1 to 4.5 seconds with alkaline AA batteries or 0.1 to 2.5 seconds with Ni-Cd AA batteries. That's faster than both the 420EX and the 550EX!
The shoe lock of the 220EX is especially fast and simple to use. Once mounted, you simply flip a small latch to lock it. Much more convenient than the dorky thumbwheel found on larger Speedlites.
Balanced Fill-in Flash EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX • Auto balanced fill flash in Av mode. Place the active AF point on your subject for off-center subjects. If you recompose with the point over a void you will suffer gross overexposure.
E-TTL Flash Metering
When you press the shutter button on a Type A camera, the 220EX fires a low power preflash to determine flash exposure a split second before exposure. The preflash is so near the main flash it appears to be a single flash, not two flashes. The camera's Evaluative meter, e.g., the 35-zone Evaluative meter in the Elan 7E, is used to measure both ambient light and flash. In most modes the camera balances both flash and ambient light for a natural appearance.
In bright light, EV 10 and above, the 220EX provides automatic fill-in flash in Full Auto and P modes. In dim light, below EV 10, flash is the main light in Full Auto and P modes (the background may be dark). Av, Tv and M modes deliver automatic fill-in flash in any light, even at night (slow sync). Slow sync results in a natural balance between ambient light and flash. However, you may need a tripod due to the resulting slow shutter speeds.
Balanced Fill-in Flash EOS 5D, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX • Auto balanced fill flash in Av mode.
The active focusing point is linked to metering and, thus, flash exposure. In other words, there is an exposure bias in favor of the object you focus on. This design also means you should avoid the lock-AF-recompose technique or suffer unpredictable results. Why? Flash exposure is determined at the moment of exposure (a split second before exposure for E-TTL and during exposure for TTL). If the active AF sensor is over something other than your subject--a black void--you'll get incorrect exposure. If you can't live without the lock-AF-recompose technique, Canon designed FE Lock for you (see below).
As I mentioned above, the 220EX balances flash and background light perfectly in Av, Tv and M modes. There is an automatic flash reduction of -.5 to -1.5 stops depending on the strength of the ambient light. This balance makes the subject look natural, but is too perfectly blended with the background for some tastes and purposes, especially under dim lighting conditions. When I want the subject to standout from the background, I dial in +.5 or +1.0 of flash compensation or use P mode. P mode uses the flash as the main light--full power flash--under dim conditions (EV 10 or lower). Canon should make the before mentioned flash behavior clear in the manual as it is a source of confusion for many users.
Fill-in Flash EOS 20D, EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM, 220EX, Av Mode, +2/3 FEC. Unlike the 40D/50D, the 20D always needs + flash exposure compensation.
FE Lock & Flash Exposure Compensation
FE Lock is great for off-center subjects or troublesome highlights that fool the meter. FE Lock works like a spot meter for flash. First, place the center AF sensor on your subject and press the AE/FE Lock button. The 220EX fires a low power preflash. Exposure is determined by the reflectance of the subject in the partial metering circle, so be careful what you aim at. Use a medium toned area for best results. Finally, you have 16 seconds to recompose and shoot. The flash will expose the subject correctly even with usually light or dark backgrounds or an off-center subject.
The FE Lock preflash isn't people friendly as nobody enjoys being flashed in the face once for metering and a second time for the exposure! If you frequently shoot people, you'll be more popular if you apply appropriate flash exposure compensation and forgo FE Lock.
If you intend to use FE Lock on an unusually light or dark object, e.g., a white wedding dress, apply appropriate flash exposure compensation first (it doesn't work after FE Lock): subtract 1 to 2 stops of flash compensation for dark subjects and add 1 to 2 stops of flash exposure compensation for light subjects. Why? Spot or partial meters are calibrated to read 18% gray tones. No matter where you point, the camera expects a medium tone (18% gray) and gives you the correct meter reading for this result.
Fill-in Flash EOS 20D, EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM, 220EX, Av Mode, +2/3 FEC.
FP Flash allows you to sync at any shutter speed, albeit with significant loss of power so this is best used at close distances (10 feet or less). This is great for daytime fill flash as it allows use of large apertures or fast film. However, FP Flash works best in Av, Tv and M modes where the user has control over aperture and/or shutter speed. When a Speedlite is mounted on the any EOS camera, P and DEP* modes are not shiftable making these modes almost useless for FP Flash. Moreover, P mode tends to favor smaller apertures over faster shutter speeds when a Speedlite is mounted.
AF Assist Light
Focusing in the dark is quick and discreet thanks to the near-infrared AF assist light. The AF assist light has a range of about 16 feet (5m). With the 220EX mounted, low light AF is vastly improved for cameras lacking an AF assist light. Unfortunately, the AF assist light of the 220EX only covers the center AF area. It affords no slide sensor coverage for multiple AF arrays such as the EOS Rebel XTi or 50D. However, the top, center and bottom sensors are covered by the AF assist beam. With the Elan II, Rebel G and IX, the camera's onboard AF assist light activates if you use the left or right AF sensor. With 45-sensor arrays--e.g., EOS 1V or 3--it only seems to work with the center AF sensor.
Flash Exposure Confirmation Light
The 220EX has a flash exposure confirmation light next to the Pilot Light. If the flash exposure is accurate, it glows green for 3 seconds. If it doesn't glow, move closer and try again. This is a feature many EOS shooters have waited years for. Hopefully, Canon will someday put a flash exposure confirmation light in the viewfinder of all its cameras too!
Most E-TTL capable EOS cameras are compatible with all or most of the features of the 220EX:
E-TTL Metering FEL FE Comp FP Flash 2nd Curtain Sync D30, D60, 10D, 20D, 30D, 5D x x x x x Elan 7 series x x x x x Elan II/IIE x x x x x Rebel 2000/Ti x x x Rebel D x x x 1D series x x x x x 1V x x x x x 3 x x x x x IXE/IX x x x x IX Lite x x x
The flash menu in EOS DSLRs from the 40D (2007) onwards (50D, 5DII, 7D, etc.) are not fully compatible with the 220EX. This basically means you can set flash exposure compensation via camera controls but not 2nd curtain sync or manual power.
If you have a camera without onboard flash controls, e.g., Rebel 2000, you may use the the 220EX in automatic mode, but cannot access all the special features. If you have an older Type B camera, e.g., EOS 10S, A2, Elan or 1N, you can use the flash in automatic TTL mode only. Flash Exposure Compensation is available except with the EOS Elan/100 and Rebel series. However, most E-TTL features--FP Flash, FE Lock and second-curtain sync--are unavailable. See the compatibility table at the bottom of this page for more information.
The 220EX is best suited for E-TTL capable cameras but is compatible with older A-TTL capable EOS cameras in TTL mode only. 220EX TTL mode can't be used with E-TTL capable cameras, e.g., Elan 7 series. Why? Users can't manually toggle between E-TTL and TTL. Instead, the flash senses camera model and automatically switches to appropriate flash circuitry. This is unfortunate as plain TTL is necessary for use with flash meters or optical slaves (E-TTL preflash causes metering problems and premature triggering of slaves).
Haleiwa EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX. I dial down the sky a bit to give the sign a little pop.
If you need an extremely compact flash with E-TTL features, the 220EX is a great choice. It is a perfect travel companion for smaller EOS cameras like Rebels or Elans. Moreover, EOS 3, 5D series or 1V shooters whom miss a popup flash will find it an easy addition to their camera bag or pocket. Every gram matters when you're traveling or hiking, and you'll be hard pressed to find a lighter or smaller E-TTL flash. The 220EX is a wonderful blend of simplicity, power and features in a petite package that fits in your shirt pocket.
Postscript: The 220EX was discontinued in 2009 and replaced by the 270EX. Two years later, the 270EX was tweaked and debuted as the 270EX II. The 270EX II is still a compact unit but offers full compatibility with flash menus of cameras from the EOS 40D onwards, a head with wider coverage and bounce ability and may be used as a wireless slave. Unfortunately it uses a blinding light flash pulse for AF assist so I'm sticking with my 220EX until it dies.
220EX Image Samples Click to Enlarge
- Guide Number (ISO 100): 22 m (72.6 ft) at 28mm
- Coverage: 28mm (24mm for APS)
- Recycle Time: 0.1-4.5 sec (alkaline batteries) 0.1-2.5 sec (Ni-Cd)
- Exposure Compensation: -2 to +2 in half stop increments (via on-camera controls only)
- Exposure Modes: E-TTL (Type A cameras), TTL (Type B cameras) & FE Lock (E-TTL only)
- Flash Modes: Normal, High Speed Sync, Test Firing & 2nd Curtain Sync
- Head: Fixed
- AF Assist Light: Covers only center AF sensor
- AF Assist Light Range: 5m (16 ft)
- Batteries: 4 AA Alkaline, Ni-Cd, Nickel-Hydride or Lithium
- Weight: 160g (without batteries)
- Size: 65mm (W) x 92mm (H) x 61.3mm (D)
- Accessories: pouch and instruction manual
- Street Price: $120
*Some EOS SLRs allow shiftable DEP mode, e.g., EOS A2, Elan and IX, when a Speedlite is not mounted.
If you're interested in wireless E-TTL flash, I wrote a review of the ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter and 420EX here.
3/17/2002 Revised 07/21/2011©Copyright 2002-2012 by Peter Kun Frary All Rights Reserved
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