Canon announced 2 new speedlites: the 270EX II, and the new and very interesting photo-video hybrid flash 320EX, which is the topic here.
For camcorders, there have been video lights with additional flash tube before – see the photo of Canon’s own VFL-2 further below. But for still cameras, the Canon Speedlite 320EX is the first flash with additional video light on the market (Nikon’s SB80DX had a similar looking light on the front, but that was an anti red-eye lamp).
The 320EX will be available from April 2011 on for a price of about $249 (check amazon). It’s only slightly cheaper than the 430EX II (around $265 – $280) but positioned above the entry-level Canon flash 270EX II (around $145). Here’s what differentiates this new speedlite from your usual flash:
- built-in continuous LED light (75 Lux) for video shooting
- unit can be used as a remote control for an EOS camera
- wireless slave mode – now standard for all 4 Canon speedlites
- conventional flash tube with guide number 32 at 50mm (around GN25 at 24mm)
Canon 320EX As ‘Normal’ Speedlite
As a still camera flash, the 320EX is more similar to the mid-range model 430EX II than to the entry-level class. With a guide number of 32 at the 50mm reflector position it’s close to the 430 (GN34 per the Canon specs), but there are only 2 reflector positions, and there is no auto zoom.
The other reflector position is 24mm for full frame, which means 15mm coverage for EF-S. There is no flip-down wide panel, and I don’t see any fixture for a diffuser either. This is definitely not the best flash for ultra wide angle shooting.
It’s also not the most powerful speedlite at tele settings since it can’t zoom beyond the 50mm position. The 430EX II zooms to 105mm and increases GN to 43 meters while the 320EX does not zoom and stays at GN32.
On the positive side, there’s a fully movable flash head with swivel and tilt, so bouncing works fine. Recycle time seems good with 2.3 seconds, too. The unit is a bit smaller even than the 430EX II, and a bit lighter.
But overall, from the still photography side, I don’t see what would make the 320EX better than the established 430EX II.
Wireless Slave Mode
From April 2011 on when the 2 new flashes hit the shelves, all 4 Canon speedlites will have a wireless slave mode for easy remote flash – a feature you should definitely be using. The 270EX II has a simplified slave mode, but the 320EX gives you the full flexibility with 3 groups and 4 channels to choose from.
The wireless sensor is located on the right side of the flash body which is a much better position than on the 270EX II, and also better than on the 430EX II, by the way.
Controllers can be the 580EX II, ST-E2 speedlite controller (or its clone from Yongnuo), MR-14EX, MT-24EX and the camera bodies EOS 7D, EOS 60D and EOS 600D = T3i.
Camera Remote Controller
The camera remote mode is a new speedlite feature shared with the 270EX II. The 320EX can be used to trigger a remote camera, the same way the RC-6 infrared controller works. According to Canon, it is compatible with the EOS 5D Mark II, the EOS 7D, EOS 60D and the new Rebel T3i = EOS 600D.
You’ll probably want to point the 320EX towards the camera for the best triggering signal, but there is a 2 second delay for the photo to be taken which gives you a chance to point the speedlite back to the subject.
Canon 320EX As Video Light
Now on to the big news: the additional light on the front side is an LED for video shooting and provides “up to four hours of continuous lighting with fully-charged AA batteries” according to Canon.
Together with Rebel T3 = EOS 1100D and Rebel T3i = EOS 600D, an “auto light mode” will turn the LED light on or off automatically, depending on the ambient light in the scene. This is a feature taken over from video lights like the VFL-2 – which comes from the other direction since it’s a ‘real’ video light with small auxiliary flash (GN 15 only).
The 320EX is a pretty powerful flash (GN32) with a small auxiliary video light – the continuous light output is only 75 Lux (see Canon Europe site). I don’t know how to express this as a guide number – don’t think it can be converted actually – but there is a table on the Sekonic site that converts Lux into EV, a measurement unit I’m much more familiar with.
According to that table, 75 Lux is between EV 4.5 and EV 5, which means it’s about as bright as a camp fire, or a bright street lantern, or a well lit living room at night.
Here’s another benchmark, the Opteka VL-126 video light with 126 LEDs. According to the specs on amazon, it puts out 650 Lux, which is almost 10x. It costs only $65, so this can’t be the most powerful unit itself.
Since the Canon features 1 LED only and not 126, it’s light is also harsh – not the most flattering usually. And that LED (together with the flash tube) is also used for AF assist, by the way.
With the 75 Lux output, plus the one-LED design, it seems more of a better-than-nothing approach to video lighting. At least, since the flash’s batteries are used, it should be usable in wireless mode so that the light doesn’t have to come from the front all the time.