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Canon Speedlite 320EX - Do You Need it?

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Video Transcript

Hi, Phil Steele here. Today we're going to talk about the Canon 320EX flash. Now if you saw my previous Canon flash review, where I compared the whole Canon flash lineup you are familiar with the 580EX2, the 430EX2 and the 270EX2, which for a while now have been the Canon flash lineup. So the first question when we're faced with a new flash is "Where does it fit into the existing flash lineup?"

Now this new Canon flash slides right into the lineup between the 430EX2 and the 270EX2 and physically, it's just a little bit smaller than the 430EX2 and it's a little less powerful than the 430EX2. And in fact, it's most similar in all its features to the 430. So we can kind of set aside the 580 and the 270 for purposes of this comparison. It really comes down to a choice of whether the 320 or the 430 is going to be more in line with your needs. So let's just compare those two.

Now both the 320EX and the 430EX are similar in that they both are midrange flashes that are both fairly similarly priced, fairly similar in their power and capabilities. They both make a good first flash for use on your camera. They can both be used as off camera remote slaves.

So what's the real difference?

There is one huge difference between the two and that's the whole reason for introducing this 320EX. The 320 has a new feature. It has a bright white LED--light emitting diode--on the front of the flash that can be turned on to shine continuously while you're shooting video with one of the new Canon DSLRs that does video, like the 7D or 5D or 6DD and presumably lots more in the future. So that is the key difference between these two. The new 320EX is not just a flash. It's also a continuous light.

Now that sounds pretty cool, right? To have a continuous light added to your flash? It's all just a bonus? But there are some serious drawbacks to this flash, which we're going to cover in a moment when we compare it point by point with the 430.

But first let's talk about this little LED light itself. How useful is it?

Well, what I have found is it's not very strong, of course. You can only get so much light out of a little LED like that. So if you're going to be shooting professional quality video this little light is not going to be enough. You're still going to need big, continuous lights like the ones I'm using to light myself in this video right now, if you're going to do anything other than some sort of amateur, occasional video. The little LED light in here, for example, is not enough to overcome strong backlight like I'm doing right now with this window behind me. In fact, let's take a look at a test.

So here I am with fairly strong backlight and you can see I'm mostly just a silhouette. So let's see if turning on the little LED will provide enough front light to help overcome that backlight. So here I am with the LED light on. It looks bright as hell to me. You'd think we would be as bright as a flash but as you can see in the video it really doesn't provide enough light to overcome the backlight. Let's compare that to a photo taken with the flash and you can see the difference.

So as you can see, this little light is not going to be enough to compete with strong light in the environment. So it's really more for use in darker situations. In fact, where this flash can really be useful is if you're in a fairly dark room and you have a subject that's kind of close to the camera. In that case it can be useful.

So let's take a look at another test.

So now here I am in a fairly dark room. I'm about three feet from the little shining eye of the 320EX with its LED and you can see how much light it's casting on me. But to get this much light I had to open up my F2.8 lens all the way and I had to crank the ISO up to 800 and you can still only get this much light. But I'll turn it out so you can see what it's like without that. So as you can see, I'm pretty dark without that so under those kind of circumstances, that little light can actually make a pretty big difference.

So all right. We've established that this little light can be useful in certain situations but it's kind of wimpy. Still, all things being equal, it would be better to have a little continuous light on your flash than not have it there. But unfortunately, all things are not equal and when you compare the 320EX with the 430EX there are a lot of things that are not quite as strong as you would like in the 320EX if you're going to use it as a flash for doing regular still photography like we've traditionally used our flashes. So let's compare.

For example, the 320EX is less powerful than the 430. It's just a little bit less powerful but that still makes a difference, especially if you're trying to bounce the flash off a wall or a ceiling and you need all the power you can get. The 320EX also lacks the ability to set the power manually on the flash itself. This means you can only use it in TTL mode or changing the power through your camera body using the Canon proprietary flash system.

The downside is this means you can't use this flash with radio triggers like I'd like to do so much of the time, where I'm having my remote flashes fully manually controlled and using third-party radio triggers to trigger them. So for me, this is a huge drawback to having this flash instead of a 430 in my bag, because it effectively rules out using this one as a slave in a lot of the situations where I like to use a slave.

Now for me, another big strike against the 320 is that it lacks the little infrared focus beam that you have on the 430EX or the 580EX that comes on and shines red to help you focus in the dark.

Now on the 320EX they left that out and instead what it does is it uses the main flash head to put out some little pre-flashes--those annoying little flashes that blind your subject like a lot of the built in flashes on the cameras do--and for me, that's almost intolerable. For a lot of event shooting situations it would be totally intolerable. So again, that really restricts the uses that I would have for using the 320EX on camera in dark situations.

Next, the 320EX lacks the automatic zoom head that adjusts the spread of your flash to match the zoom range of your lens. Now on the 430EX or 580EX that all happens automatically. On the 320EX you have to zoom it manually by grabbing it with your hand and doing that. And I don't know about you but frankly, if I'm working with a zoom lens and I've got the flash on my camera, I'm just going to forget to do that. So to me, that's another big downside of the 320EX.

Now finally, the 320EX also lacks this pop-out, wide panel diffuser that you get on the 430EX and it also doesn't have the little white card that accompanies that on the 580EX that makes a nice little addition to the bounce. So that's not a big feature but it would have been nice to have it in there.

So if you need a flash that's sort of an okay video light and sort of an okay flash, all combined into one little package for convenience, this may be the right flash for you. On the other hand, if you're like me, you may find that it doesn't serve your needs very well because when I'm shooting video I need more light than this little light can provide, like the lights I'm lighting myself with right now. This wouldn't even come close. And when I'm shooting still photo with a flash, I need a more capable flash than this--one that can give me the infrared focus beam to help focus at night, one that has a little more power, one that I can use manually off camera with radio triggers--so I'm finding this little flash just falls into a gap in my needs and it doesn't really serve it very well.

So I'm probably going to end up selling this on EBay and putting the money toward another 430EX. So there you have it. I hope you found it helpful. I'll talk to you soon.