It does everything you expect from an accessory flash: you get a very good range and it works in all camera modes with all shutter speeds your camera offers. Canon’s ETTL(II) flash exposure protocol adjusts everything automatic: flash strength and flash reflector zoom.
One thing, however, does not work with a traditional speedlite: lighting in video mode. A flash needs to recycle between the shots and therefore can’t keep up with the 30 frames per second needed for video.
If this is important to you have a look at the new Canon 320EX, the first speedlite combining a flash tube and LED-based video light.
Compared to the more expensive professional 580EX II speedlite flash, a couple of features were left out on the 430EX II: a PC sync port for example, and the external power supply. There’s also no wireless commander mode, and the guide number is a bit lower. The average photographer won’t miss any of this, most probably.
If the $270 investment for the 430EX II seems too much, have a look at these other ETTL (II) flashes as an alternative: the Nissin Di622 Mark II has also a wireless slave mode, a high guide number, auto zoom reflector and a manual mode but costs around $100 less. Yongnuo’s YN565 comes with a PC sync port and external power option, and has a wireless slave mode with Canon-Nikon double compatibility.
The Yongnuo YN-468 is even cheaper (cost is around $100 only) and comes with a basic set of features. Other alternatives would be the Vivitar DF-383 and the Sunpak PZ42X, both also with the automatic ETTL(II) and a usable manual mode. And certainly Metz, esp. the 50 AF-1 / 48 AF-1 models.
But this is the review of the Canon 430EX-II so let’s get back on topic.
Canon 430EX II Highlights
- very powerful flash, almost reaching professional guide number level in testing (measured GN 34)
- support of all the latest Canon flash features including high speed sync, sensor size zoom
- improved build quality vs precursor 430EX, control through the camera menu system
- wireless TTL slave mode with 3 groups and 4 channels
- compatible with all Canon digital SLR models
Canon 430-EX II Review Contents
Canon Camera Compatibility
Intro: Flash Modes and Wireless Flash
Build Quality & Features
430EX II Build Quality
Flash Head Features
Operation & Ease of Use
Test: Flash Recycling Times
Test: Guide Number
Speedlights.net Power Index
Test: Flash Duration
430EX II Specifications
Tech Specs Table
Where To Buy
Compatible Canon Camera Bodies
The 430EX II can be used with all digital SLR cameras from Canon in ETTL mode for first gen camera bodies and ETTL(II) with current models. The latest generations of film-based EOS bodies is also ETTL compatible, and for the really old analog cameras there’s even a conventional TTL mode (without pre-flashes) available on the 430EX-II.
Intro: Flash Modes and Wireless Flash
The flash under review supports two types of flash modes: first, there are 3 types of TTL mode for automatic exposure control with different generations of camera bodies, plus there is the important manual mode for wireless flash and “strobist” photography.
ETTL / ETTL II / TTL Exposure Control
Automatic exposure control through the camera’s metering system is the default mode for the 430EX Mark II: simply attach the flash to the camera hot shoe, power it on, and let your camera do the thinking: the camera determines the necessary zoom reflector setting, the amount of light needed for a correct exposure of the subject, and makes the decision whether to fire a flash or not.
Depending on the camera model, the flash switches automatically into the correct mode: a film-based TTL mode for old analog bodies, ETTL (with pre-flash for exposure metering) for newer analog bodies and the older digital cameras, and ETTL II for the latest models (taking subject distance into account).
The ETTL label in the upper right corner of the LCD screen is to confirm the mode, but there’s no extra “ETTL II” icon.
Manual Flash Mode M
A manual flash mode is useful for keeping the level of flash illumination locked over a series of shots in the camera hot shoe, or to enable wireless flash operation with normal radio triggers such as Yongnuo RF-602 or Cactus triggers.
Manual mode is shown with an “M” icon. In manual mode, 7 different power levels can be set, ranging from 1/1 down to 1/64 with all third stops in between. The series of full stops is: 1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64.
What’s missing compared to the flagship model 580EX II is an “auto” mode where the speedlite regulates light output itself through a light sensor. There’s also no multi or stroboscopic mode available (except in wireless TTL). This is no shortcoming really – nobody needs these 2 modes anyways.
Canon 430EX II as Wireless Flash
Owners of a 7D, 600D (Rebel T3i), and 60D can use the built in flash on the camera body to control the 430EX II in remote slave mode – no other accessories are needed. This is the easiest way to get started with wireless lighting and a fantastic upgrade to Canon’s latest camera models! The speedlite’s light sensor reads the optical trigger signal from the camera flash and fires the 430 in automatic (TTL) or manual mode.
For owners of earlier cameras or pro-bodies without built in flash a couple of other options exist: use of the wireless commander ST-E2 (the original from Canon or the ST-E2 from Yongnuo), or use of a master-enabled speedlite such as a 580EX II – check the “flash for Canon” page for a full list of Canon and third party master flashes.
The other option are radio triggers. There are costly TTL-enabled radio triggers on the market, and the more wide spread non-TTL ones such as the Cactus V4 / V5 or the Yongnuo RF-602 and new RF-603. What’s not available on the 430EX II is a PC port for cable based triggers, and there are also no (non-TTL) optical slave modes built in.
|Supported Canon flash modes||M, TTL, ETTL, ETTL II|
|Canon wireless TTL slave / master||yes / no|
|Manual power settings (on the flash)||1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64|
The 430EX comes in a small cardboard box, packed in the padded soft bag. Inside the packaging you find the following items:
- 430EX II speedlite with GN 31 (GN 34 in testing)
- blue Canon warranty card (“USA only”)
- instruction manual
- mini stand
- soft bag
The blue Canon US / international warranty card covers the buyer for 1 year against material or manufacturing defects. It lists the serial number of the flash, and is only valid in conjunction with a proof of purchase.
The instruction booklet is pretty comprehensive with 39 pages for the English version. It can also be obtained as a PDF from the Canon USA website using this link (as of March 2011).
The mini stand is made in Japan (the speedlite itself is made in China). It has a nice smooth surface, the same as the flash itself. The thread is made of plastic, no metal insert unfortunately.
The soft bag is a high quality product, basically just a smaller version of the 580EX II bag. It’s made of heavy duty nylon and comes with an internal pocket for the mini stand, but there is no belt loop on the back. The flash fits in pretty easily, the bag is not as tight as the 580EX II version and you can store the 430 with the foot or the flash head first, just as you like.
From its dimensions it is a typical mid-sized flash, clearly smaller than the 580EX II.
I think a smaller package is always preferable since it doesn’t shift the center of gravity for the camera flash combo too much and makes the whole package less bulky, especially when used with a pro zoom lens.
The overall build quality is OK but not on par with the Canon 580. Looking closely you get the impression that there is more manufacturing tolerance allowed on this speedlite model.
Some elements are really nice: the flash head lock is very smooth and so is the flash foot locking lever. Some other details such as the battery compartment door fall behind however. Its basic construction is good, but it’s not as tight as you’d expect it to be due to the above mentioned manufacturing tolerances. The same is true for the bracket mount thread and its very loose cover on the left side.
The flash foot construction is using now a metal base plate, which is one of the main upgrades from the 430EX. The two back corners are bevelled which helps with easy hot-shoe attachment.
The locking mechanism not only actuates the spring loaded safety pin in the base plate but it also pushes down a special plastic plate built into the flash base that squeezes the flash against the 2 hot shoe side rails.
This construction detail really helps with better and tighter hot shoe fit. The flash can be rotated by a couple of degrees when intentionally moved around with your hand, but there is no movement whatsoever in the other 2 axes.
The flash base is its own part and secured with 4 screws; it can be exchanged if this should be ever necessary after an accident.
As is typical for a mid-range speedlite there’s n sync port built into the 430EX II, and you don’t find an external power connector either. In the new Canon lineup 270EX II – 320EX – 430EX II and 580EX II, only the 580 does have the professional features.
Use eneloops (or other NiMH batteries) instead of slow alkaline batteries to shorten the flash recycle time, and mount your (radio) triggers on the flash foot – this should be sufficient for most of us.
The Canon speedlite features an adjustable flash head with the typical mid-range flash dimensions and front screen size. In the photo you can see the 430EX II together with some of its competitors such as Nissin Di622 Mark II, Yongnuo YN-468 (left), and the Metz 48 AF-1 (right; has the same dimensions as the current 50 AF-1).
Push on the large flash head release button to move it out of the unflattering frontal position and point it at a wall or ceiling for non-direct flash. Adjustment is possible between zero and 90 degrees in the vertical axis, and -90 to +180 degrees for horizontal adjustment.
This is enough adjustment for most situations. An additional -7 degree close-up position and a full 360 degree swivel range are found on the flagship model 580EX II only.
Wide-panel, no Bounce Card
Built into the flash head is a wide angle diffuser that can be pulled out from where the bump on the flash head is seen. With that diffuser in place, the flash provides coverage for a 14mm lens on a full frame EOS body, or as little as 9mm for the Rebel series of DSLR’s.
Keep in mind that coverage doesn’t mean perfectly even illumination, so expect a significant light falloff towards the frame borders with ultra wide angle lenses, despite the panel. Indirect flash is clearly the better way for vignetting-free lighting in a wide angle scene.
There’s is no additional bounce card built in on this flash – this is reserved to the 580 series for now.
Expect to see an integrated bounce / reflector card on the list of standard features for the successor model of the current 430EX II. The new 320EX, in comparison, is lacking both pull-out features: there’s neither a bounce card nor a wide panel.
Wide Angle Coverage Test
For the vignetting test, the Canon flash was used on the standard vignetting test camera (a Nikon D90 “DX” camera body with a 1.5x crop) with a 12-24mm wide angle zoom in 12mm position.
The flash produces significant vignetting as can be seen from the test shot, but so do all other speedlites tested to date in the same setup. The Canon 430EX II performance is actually above average, which means the light falloff is a bit smaller.
There are also no pronounced hot spots or other irregularities in the frame which would be visible in real life photography.
The zoom reflector in the flash head adjusts automatically to provide proper coverage for the focal length set on the lens. The adjustment range extends from 24mm (full frame) to a maximum setting of 105mm.
For crop cameras, e.g. the Rebel series DSLR bodies, there’s a special “auto zoom for sensor size feature” implemented. It’s custom function 9 and enabled by default.
With this ‘sensor size zoom’ the speedlite receives crop information from the camera body. For EF-S with its factor of 1.6, the speedlite uses a more narrow zoom position on the flash than what you’ve set on the lens. With a 50mm lens, the flash moves into the 80mm position. Since 50 * 1.6 = 80, this zoom reflector position still gives you proper coverage on a Rebel camera body.
The advantage is that the more focused flash beam is wasting less light, and therefore less energy is needed which leads to faster recycle and lower battery drain.
In case that auto zoom is not desired or not available, e.g. when the speedlite is used wireless, there’s the option to set a manual zoom position.
Push on the “ZOOM” button, then use the 2 controller keys for zooming up or down. In manual zoom the sensor size zoom icon disappears obviously.
The flash is controlled with 9 buttons on the back side, underneath the LCD panel. In addition, most features can be set through the camera menu (this was not possible with the 430EX, and this is the second major upgrade on the new Mark II model).
On/Off is a simple sliding switch on the lower right. By default the power saving mode will kick in after some minutes in idle state but this can be deactivated with custom function C.Fn-01 (change the setting from “0″ to “1″.).
On the bottom left is the test flash button / indicator LED labeled “PILOT“. Via custom function 02 it can be re-programmed to trigger the modeling light instead of working as a normal test flash. This custom function allows using the modeling light even on camera bodies (such as the T1i used for testing) without depth-of-field preview.
The other LED is a flash exposure confirmation light: “green” means the exposure was good, “no light” means an incorrect exposure. It’s actually not very useful to have this light on the flash. The information should be displayed in the camera viewfinder instead.
The leftmost button in the upper row switches the display light on – the illumination is not activated through half pressing the shutter release (on the T1i at least). You have to use the nail of a finger for this annoyingly tiny button, otherwise it can’t be pushed down far enough to make contact. Keep pressing for about 2 seconds to enter the custom menu of the flash (C.Fn).
The next button is labeled “MODE“. Keep pressing to toggle between the two flash modes, ETTL (II) and manual mode “M”. There’s no way for the user to set film-based TTL, or to switch from ETTL to ETTL II – the camera-flash combination is setting this automatically.
Button number 3 is for the flash sync mode: keep pressing to set normal sync, rear sync or high-speed sync. There is no dedicated “slow sync” mode on the 430EX II itself; for slow sync flash you need to select yourself a slow shutter speed in camera mode “Av”.
The rightmost “ZOOM/flash icon” button provides access to 2 important features: a short press give access to the manual zoom mode, needed for off-camera flash. A long press activates the wireless TTL mode for use with a master flash unit such as the ST-E2, the 580EX II, or the built-in flash of 7D, 60D, or 600D / T3i.
The last control element is the 2-way +/- controller with embedded “SEL/SET”. It’s used to browse through the custom features, for example, or set a certain channel and group for wireless mode, or a flash exposure compensation.
The narrow shape, combined with the fact that these controls are recessed, makes them really difficult to use … even with small hands like mine. You have to push them with the nail of a finger, similar to the light switch.
I don’t know why Canon came up with this layout – this is unnecessarily difficult to use, and really a bit annoying. The 580EX II does not have this problem, nor do most other speedlites I tested to date (except the Vivitar DF-383 maybe).
One alternative you have is setting the flash through the camera menu system. In theory, this is not the faster approach. But given the small buttons it might work better for you, and there are also some additional settings you can’t access on the speedlite itself, e.g. switching the ETTL II between “evaluative” and “average” sub-mode.
The display is rather small by today’s standard but the space is used efficiently, and the font size is good. The display light is bright and very even, despite the fact it seems to come solely from one side.
Canon is using a conventional segment type screen, not a fancy dot matrix display nor color screen such as the Di866 from Nissin. This more traditional approach still gives the best contrast so I have really no complaints.
Settings and Customization
The 430EX II allows fine tuning through the settings in the flash custom feature menu. If you want to do this (there’s no need to), you better have the instruction manual handy, otherwise you won’t understand the cryptic language – the display only shows number codes for both features and settings (Nikon has an easier to understand approach here).
It’s much easier to tweak the custom settings through the camera menu system. Not only is the browsing through the functions much better, but there are also explanations provided so that you know which settings do what, and what your options are.
The 2 screen shots above display the same flash custom function of the 430EX II: it’s the custom settings for the AF assist beam behavior.
Power Supply: 4 x AA
The battery compartment is found on the right side of the flash body, easily accessible under a large hatch that’s opening wide. It would be the perfect design if it was spring loaded but it’s only a regular hinge.
To open, simply slide down the battery compartment cover and swing open. In contrast to the bigger brother 580EX II there’s no additional safety slider for the door but this is unnecessary anyway. The door closes firmly, and I don’t see any risk for accidental opening.
Useful details include a divider in the battery compartment to keep the batteries in place, and the large and easy to read polarity sticker – this is something Nikon should have taken over from the Canon design on the new SB-700, Nikon’s counterpart to the 430EX II flash.
Test: Flash Recycling Times
Modern flashes have full-power recycle times between 2 and 6 seconds, depending on their maximum power and battery type. Speedlights.net recycle times are tested according to ISO 2827; see details.
Alkaline and NiMH Results
Canon’s 430EX Mark II achieves an excellent result in the 2 different flash recycle tests: the curve for conventional alkaline batteries is not too steep and stays close to the 3 seconds mark.
The outcome for NiMH batteries is even better: not only is the recycle time really short, but there’s also hardly any increase over time. The video shows the flash recycle test for the 430EX II with Sanyo eneloop NiMH batteries.
The Canon 430EX II has a built-in overheating protection that kicks in when temperature levels inside the flash reach critical values. In that case, flash recycling times get slowed down to intervals of around 5 seconds. High temperatures with delayed recycling did not occur on the test sample, nor does it seem to be a problem in real life photography.
Guide Number Test Results
The guide number (GN) of an electronic flash is a measure of the maximum light output – visit the test details page to learn more.
With a guide number of 43 at 105mm and an official full power recycle time of 3 sec with alkaline batteries or 2 sec with NiMH the Canon is one of the more powerful offerings among middle class speedlites, and this won’t change with the introduction of the 320EX: the new LED-hybrid flash has only GN 32 (slightly faster recycle of 2.3 seconds is just a consequence).
Official Specification: GN 43 / GN 31
Canon speedlites carry the metric guide number in the model name: the Canon 430 Mark II has a GN of 43, the same as its precursor 430. The professional 580EX comes with GN 58, and the small 270EX has guide number 27.
In order to make their speedlites appear stronger, Canon uses the guide number at maximum zoom for their specs, a practice now also used by other brands. The GN 43 is only true for 105mm zoom reflector position.
What’s more relevant than the 105mm setting is the wide angle zone – where most photos are taken in real life. At the 35mm setting used here for benchmarking the official guide number is 31 (in meters, ISO 100).
As a comparison: the Metz 48 AF-1 & 50 AF-1 have GN 29 at 35mm, the Yongnuo 468 has GN 33, and the Nissin Di622 Mark II comes with GN 32.
Flash Meter Results
All flashes are tested using the same standardized method using a Sekonic flash meter in a controlled environment. Speedlites are never tested alone, but always together with re-tests of other models to guarantee consistent results between sessions.
|Model||Light meter reading|
|Nissin Di866||f22 +7/10|
|Canon 580EX II||f22 +6/10|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||f22 +4/10|
|Vivitar DF-383||f22 +3/10|
|Canon 430EX II||f22 +2/10|
|Metz 48 AF-1||f22 +1/10|
|Yongnuo YN-465||f16 +5/10|
|Yongnuo YN-468||f11 +7/10|
Canon’s 430EX II achieves f22 plus 2 tenths of a stop (which equals f24.3 – keep in mind f stops are not decimal). With this result its well positioned between other mid-range flashes, and in the expected range: pretty strong for a non-professional flash, but a bit behind the values achieved with the flagship models Nissin Di866 and Canon 580EX II.
430EX II is a “485.5EX II” – Guide Number Table
The calculated guide number is obtained by adding exactly 1 f-stop to the flash meter test results. Learn more about this method on the test details page.
f22 +2/10 translates into a calculated GN of 34.3 using the standard method: the flash under test is about 10% more powerful than the specs of GN 31 at 35mm let expect! At the 105mm setting where GN should be 43, the test results show even GN 48.5.
Apart from using the zoom there’s another method to increase the effective guide number: if the ambient light allows it, you can simply dial up the ISO on your camera – this works with any flash (or other light source).
At ISO 400, the guide numbers is 2x the ISO-100 value; at ISO 1600, your effective GN is multiplied with 4: GN 34.3 becomes GN 68.6 at ISO 400, and even GN 137.2 at ISO 1600.
Speedlights Power Index
The light blue bar in the Speedlights.net Power Index shows the official 35mm-GN, and the dark blue bar indicates the test results. Go to the test details page for more information on the Speedlights.net Power Index.
You find the 430EX II in the middle of the ranking, and clearly above the Nikon counterpart speedlight SB-700 (and the SB-600 precursor).
Test: Effective Output Range
Between the full power ’1/1′ setting and the minimum 1/64 power step there’s a 6 stop range of possible output levels. As shown above, the test gives f22 +2/10 for full power flash.
|Canon 430EX II output range spec||Output range from tests|
|6 stops||5.9 stops|
At the minimum setting of 1/64, the flash meter reads f2.8 plus 3 tenths. This gives an effective range of 5.9 stops – a good result.
Continuous Shooting Output
The normal guide number test process requires a a 60 seconds waiting time between the shots, which is certainly not how you’re using the flash.
To test the continuous shooting power a rapid series of full power flashes gets fired. For this minimum recycle time scenario the guide number is then determined. Here’s the result:
|Model||Calc. guide number at 60 sec wait||Calc. guide number at continuous fire||Difference in f-stops|
|Canon 580EX II||39.4||34.3||-4/10|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||36.8||32.0||-4/10|
|Canon 430EX II||34.3||26.0||-8/10|
All speedlites lose some power in rapid fire. Powerful flashes tend to lose more, while weaker flashes like the YN-468 have a smaller decrease in total numbers. The Canon 430EX II loses eight tenths of a stop, which is slightly more than average.
Flash duration is the time between the beginning of the flash and the end of the light emission. Go to the speedlite test methodology page for information on t0.5 versus t0.1 flash durations and the method used here on the site.
430EX II Flash Duration Compared
There’s a loose correlation between the flash duration time and guide number: stronger flashes have a longer flash duration while less powerful flashes burn faster. But flash duration for the 430EX II model is rather short with 1/350 seconds, which is good.
|Model||t0.1 flash duration metering at 1/1|
|Canon 580EX II||1/285|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||1/375|
|Canon 430EX II||1/350|
|Metz 48 AF-1||1/230|
t0.1 Flash Duration Times
The next table shows flash duration times for all partial output levels of the 430EX Mark II. Reason for the empty “manufacturer” column is that Canon does not give out any specs for their flash; that’s why the metering results are the only available data.
|Output level||Manufacturer spec||t0.1 metering|
Canon 430EX II Tech Specs Table
The tech specs table sums up the results of the 430EX II performance tests, and complements these with some other data.
|Guide number spec
(35mm, ISO 100, in meters)
|Guide number test result||34|
|Manual power settings||1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64|
|Flash duration (full power)||unspecified|
|Recycle time spec
(at full power)
|3.0 sec alkaline, 2.0 sec NiMH|
|Recycle time test result||3.3 sec alkaline, 2.0 sec NiMH|
|Flash foot material, type||metal, standard ISO (Canon)|
|PC Sync Port||no|
|Other Trigger||wireless TTL slave mode|
|Trigger Voltage||4.5 V (measured)|
|Standby Mode||can be deactivated|
|Flash Head Features|
|Swivel||-180 to +90 degrees|
|Tilt||0 to +90 degrees|
|Manual Zoom Head||(14) 24 – 105|
|Auto Zoom||(14) 24 – 105|
|Bounce card / 2nd reflector||no / no|
|Batteries Used||4 x AA|
|External Power Source||no|
|CLS Wireless Slave||na|
|CLS Wireless Master||na|
|E-TTL(II) wireless slave||yes|
|E-TTL(II) wireless master||no|
|Other Flash Modes|
|Stroboscopic Mode||no (only in wireless slave mode)|
|AF Assist Light||yes (dual beam LED)|
|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|
Where to buy the 430EX II
Check also the prices on eBay where you don’t only find the current 430EX Mark II but also the ‘original’ 430EX in used condition.