Nigel Atkinson Photography

Equipment review: Canon Speedlight 550EX


Before reading this review please read my general introduction to reviews here

Iím a great fan of natural light, but there are times when flash is a necessity. As the 5D doesnít have built-in flash thereís a need to use an external gun and at the time I bought it the 550 EX was the best that Canon offered. That said it is a big thing to cart around so I have to be very sure I need it for it to go in my bag. I get great results from the 5D up to ISO 800, and the 350D up to ISO 400, so flash is less of a necessity than in the film days.

Putting a 550EX on the camera gives a large amount of flash power. It also sits high enough above the lens red eyes can be avoided most of the time and the lens doesn't get in the way (unlike the built-in flash on the 350D).

In a normal room with a neutral ceiling, a Stofen Omni Bounce gives fantastic lighting if the camera is held horizontal but there tend to be distracting shadows if the camera is vertical. As I often want to shoot verticals I have bought a Stroboframe Press T flash bracket to get around the problem. I also use the 550ís wireless flash capability to use a second flash high above the camera as a main light with lower power fill on the camera.

The Stroboframe Press T is described as a smaller bracket than the standard offering to make it more suitable for photographers working from bags. This may well be true but the bracket is still large and an odd shape so should only be bought if you really really need it. Using the bracket with EOS3, booster and 28-70mm f2.8 made the combination both heavy and unwieldy so I prefer to fit whatever prime seems most appropriate at the time. Iíd suggest buying the off-camera cord and trying to hold the flash loose first of all Ė you have to buy this to use with the bracket anyway. I

Iíve found the wireless flash very useful though not without its pitfalls. I certainly donít think it can replace a studio lighting system. However, placing one 550EX high in the room on a tripod/ stand and then using the on-camera unit as a fill can give great results. The only area to watch is the relative distances of the flash units to the subject. Though you can set a ratio between master and slave this is a power ratio rather than a lighting ratio at the subject. I use the Canon Compact Battery pack E to reduce recycle times of the flash and it works really well. My unit uses 6 AA batteries whereas the newest unit uses 8 and I guess speeds recharging even more. 

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