Canon 580EX II Strobist Review

The Canon 580EX mk II is Canon’s flag ship flash unit, and as such it offers next to all the bells and whistles also a powerful manual mode. This is exactly the focus of the following review: how does it behave in a strobist setup? How easy is it to set the manual mode? Does it work with Cactus or Yongnuo radio triggers? The answers can be found here.

Canon 580EX II Frontal View

Strobist Must-Haves

  • manual mode
    • has manual mode: yes
    • minimum manual power: 1/128
    • all full stops from 1/1 to 1/128: yes
  • X contact firing: yes
  • flash standby mode: can be deactivated

Verdict: AAA-

Triggering

I tested triggering with Yongnuo RF-602 as well as Cactus V4 – and (certainly) found no problems. It’s a minor issue that the “On” switch on the 602 receiver sits in a position that is impossible to reach when the massive Canon flash is mounted – the red cover of the AF-assist light is blocking the finger. Exactly the same holds true for the Cactus V4 receiver – the flash is blocking the On/Off switch. I don’t think however that this poses a real problem, it’s more something like an inconvenience.

Canon 580EX II with Yongnuo RF-602 Trigger

There is also a PC port with a screw lock (threaded) and a nice rubber cover. If I’m not wrong, then this is the first Canon flash ever to have a synch socket (apart from the 480EG if equipped with a special synch cord). There are no simple optical slave modes that could be used together with non-ETTL flash units. But the 580EX-II is integrated into Canon’s wireless E-TTL system, and there it can be both a master or a slave flash.

Canon 580EX II View from Side with PC-Port

Its locking pin fits perfectly into the RF-602 receiver, and although it is a monster on that little thing, it makes a solid impression even when mounted on a lightweight stand (I use LumoPro LP604).

Manual Mode

The Canon 580EX II offers an 8 stop range from 1/1 down to 1/128 with all third stops in between (not like Nikon, where there are no stops between full and half power, only from 1/2 -.03 downwards). This is exactly the same range you get with the Yongnuo YN-468, but the canon model has more power – see below for output specs.

To enter manual mode, just press the “mode” button, and the 580EX-II toggles through all of its modes, which are “ETTL”, “multi” and “M” (there are more modes to select from, e.g. multi = stroboscopic mode, or an “A” auto mode, but not thru the “mode” button). To set a power level in “M” mode, just press the pretty tiny “Sel/Set” button in the middle of the control dial, and turn the wheel until you’re at the desired level. You can now press “Sel/Set” again to stop the flashing of the display and lock in the value, but it is set already before, i.e. while it still blinks.

Canon 580EX II LCD Panel

This all works well although in my opinion there are much simpler solutions out there.

Standby

Custom function 01 activates or deactivates the standby mode. To change, keep pressing the “LCD illumination/C.Fn.” button for about 3 seconds, until the display shows “Fn 01 0″. Pressing “Sel/Set” in the middle of the command dial leads to the “0″ flashing, and now you can change this into a “1″ by turning the dial. With standby active (this is setting “0″), sleep mode is entered within 1.5 to 15 minutes of inactivity according to the handbook, and the flash wakes up with a halfway press of the shutter release.

On my sample of the 580EX II, standby happened after 1:26 minutes, and this is definitely too fast for a real life photo session.

With Yongnuo RF-602 attached, standby is entered too (after 1:29 minutes), but halfway pressing the transmitter wakes up the strobe, just like halfway pressing the camera shutter release. With Cactus trigger mounted the flash falls into standby as well, but it’s not possible to wake it up again with the transmitter, so you have to press the pilot button on the flash unit itself. Or – and this is the better idea anyway – de-activate the standby mode on the 580EX II.

Flash Head

There is one release button on the right side of the flash head to enable swivel and tilting. The 580Ex II has an unusually wide swivel area as it can cover a full circle from -180 to +180 degrees. This is especially useful when mounted in the hot shoe for bounce flash.

Canon 580EX II Swivel and Tilt

Together with a light stand there are normally other options to turn your flash to one side or another. For this scenario, the -7 degree tilt is useful as it allows to aim better at the center of an umbrella, especially since the 580EX mk2 is a pretty big unit. Tilting up goes to +90 degrees.

The zoom reflector can be set automatically or by hand. The rather wide range covers 24 to 105mm, and coverage extends down to 14mm with the wide angle diffuser folded down.

If mounted on camera, the zoom head automatically takes sensor size into account and adjusts the zoom accordingly. In non-direct flash mode, the zoom reflector goes into the 35mm position and does not zoom with the lens.

Output specifications

Guide number is stated as 58m at ISO 100 but this is at the 105mm setting. Canon does not tell us what the guide number is at the 35mm focal length used here on this site for comparison. photonotes.org lists the guide number as 36 at 35mm. Nikon SB-800 is a bit higher with 38, Nikon SB-900 is a bit lower with 34 (all in meters).

I measured 3.0 seconds with 4 eneloop NiMH batteries, and 3.8 seconds with fresh Duracell AA alkaline batteries. This is faster than what’s stated in the handbook, where you find 5 seconds recycle time with alkalines.

Power Supply

Apart from being powered by the 4 internal batteries, there is also an external power pack available: the CP-E4 holds 8 alkaline, NiMH or lithium batteries, and like the flash itself it is dust and weather sealed.

History

The 580EX II is the current top-of-the-line flash unit in the Canon lineup. The mid range unit is the 430EX II, and the 270EX serves as the entry level model. I used the Canon 580EX II to compare with the Yongnuo 468 E-TTL and manual flash, and it certainly offers a plethora of features the Chines can’t compete with yet, and it also has a lot more power to offer: guide number 36 versus 26 is definitely a difference. But there is also a big difference in price: while you have to invest almost 400$ to get a Canon 580EX II, you can get a YN-468 for only around 110$ on eBay.

Full Tech Specs

Model Information
Brand Canon
Model 580EX II
First introduction 2008
Successor none yet
Output Specs
Guide number spec
(35mm, ISO 100, in meters)
36
Guide number test result 39
Manual power settings 1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128
Flash duration (full power) 1/833
Recycle time spec
(at full power)
5.0 sec alkaline
Recycle time test result 3.8 sec alkaline, 3.0 sec NiMH
Triggering
Flash foot material, type metal, standard ISO (Canon)
PC Sync Port yes
Optical Slave no
Other Trigger wireless TTL slave mode
Trigger Voltage 4.49 V
Standby Mode can be deactivated
Flash Head Features
Swivel -180 to +180 degrees
Tilt -7 to +90 degrees
Manual Zoom Head (14) 24-105
Auto Zoom (14) 24-105
Bounce card / 2nd reflector yes / no
LCD Display yes
Power Supply
Batteries Used 4 x AA
External Power Source Battery Pack CP-E4
Nikon TTL
D-TTL na
i-TTL na
CLS Wireless Slave na
CLS Wireless Master na
Canon TTL
E-TTL(II) yes
E-TTL(II) wireless slave yes
E-TTL(II) wireless master yes
Other Flash Modes
Stroboscopic Mode yes
Auto Mode yes
TTL Features
AF Assist Light yes (triple beam)
Exposure Compensation in TTL Mode on the Flash unit -3 to +3 EV
Rear Curtain Synchronization yes
High Speed Synchronization yes
Sensor Size Detection (DX, FX, etc) yes
Modeling Light yes
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7 Responses to Canon 580EX II Strobist Review

  1. valvunski says:

    thank you so much for your updates =)

  2. Joao Pelica says:

    Very useful. Thanks

  3. Diane says:

    I read this with interest, as I am having some issues with my Canon 580EX MkII and Yongnuo RF-602 trigger.

    I also have a Yongnuo YN467 and do not have any problem using that with the Yongnuo RF-602 trigger. However, with the Canon flash/Yongnuo trigger combination I cannot get properly exposed images. The flash works fine on-camera, but when I move it off-camera (using the same settings and at the same distance from subject) the image is totally blown-out. Absolutely white with no details whatsoever.

    I’m using ETTL mode with no flash compensation. As I say, the YN467 works the same whether on- or off-camera (TTL mode). The only way I can get a well exposed image with Canon flash/YN trigger is to use M mode and use compensation of 1/64 or 1/128.

    What am I doing wrong, if anything?

    • fransener says:

      Hi Diane

      You are making everything right – the RF-602 always requires you to use the flash in manual mode, so switch the flashgun from “TTL” to “M” and do the output level compensation. The 580 has more juice than the 467, so it will result in total overexposure if fired at 1/1, while the YN467 is weaker and images at full power still look better.

  4. Laura says:

    Using a 580ex ii + cactus v4 .. In Multi mode, the flash will only fire one time. ( I know how to set the frequency on the flash unit and know those settings are correct.) Stroboscopic works when connected directly on the hot shoe or by cord, but has never worked with any wireless transmitters. Any suggestions?

    • fransener says:

      I guess the flash refuses to actually fire in multi mode since it doesn’t get any info from the camera, e.g. re shutter speed used and how that fits together with the frequency and number of flashes. If you had TTL radio triggers, it should work. But the Cactus V4 do only send the triggering signal to the speedlite.

  5. Brian says:

    Dang, I was hoping that in master mode I could use the 602 to fire the 580 in TTL mode!

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