Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash Review

Canon speedlite 580EX II mounted on Rebel T1i speedlights.netThe 580EX II is the latest generation flagship model speedlite from Canon. While aiming at the needs of professional photographers it’s certainly compatible with any Canon DSLR, including the entry-level Rebel series bodies.

This flash under review is the unofficial “L” series flash in the Canon speedlite range consisting of the 3 other models 270EX II, 320EX, 430EX II. It’s the most powerful and advanced flash in their lineup and comes with the highest build quality.

The only feature where another Canon flash can trump is the built-in video light on the new “hybrid flash” 320EX – a video light is not available on the 580EX II.

Compared to the middle class model 430EX II it adds features such as a PC sync port, external power pack connector and a wireless master mode just to name the most significant ones. The speedlite 580EX II has also more power with a flash guide number of 36 (and 39 in the speedlights.net test), but the 430EX II is in no way underpowered itself with a guide number of 31 (and GN 34 as test result). Keep in mind that for most of us the maximum output won’t make or break a shot – ever.

If the investment north of $400 seems too high but you’re looking for a professional ETTL flash, here are the alternatives: first, there is the precursor model Canon 580EX. It’s only available as a used flash but similar in specs to the successor ‘Mark II’.

The closest 3rd party competitors are the Metz 58 AF-2 or the precursor 58 AF-1. These flashes have basically all the features found on the Canon, plus add some goodies such as a second fill reflector on the front.

Another real choice is the Di866 from Nissin. It’s also very powerful, and has the most innovative user interface among today’s flashes with a color LCD and fully menu-based control. It’s even cheaper than the top flashes from Metz, but also misses the last 5% of features, e.g. by not supporting HSS in wireless mode, or not supporting the sensor size zoom mode for EF-S camera bodies.

580EX II 430EX II Nissin Di866 Di622 Mark II

A last alternative are the “Super” variants of the EF-610 or EF-530 speedlites from Sigma. Theses flashes usually receive less positive reviews for various reasons, mainly due to some issues with ease of use and build quality as it seems.

 

580EX II Highlights

  • most powerful speedlite in the Canon lineup (GN 36 on paper, GN 39 in testing)
  • the only flash from Canon with a wireless master mode to control other remote flashes in wireless ETTL (II)
  • highest build quality, best user interface and controls among Canon flashes
  • pro features such as PC sync port, “auto” mode, battery pack connector
  • water-resistant

 

Compatible Canon Camera Bodies

This flash can be used with all digital SLR cameras from Canon – it automatically selects ETTL for first gen camera bodies and ETTL(II) for the current models. The latest generation 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. With its “auto” mode, you could use the 580EX II even on a Nikon body.

Flash Modes

You have the full range of flash modes available on the 580EX II, from TTL and “auto” as just described to manual and multi mode.

ETTL / ETTL II / TTL Exposure Control

Canon 480EX II auto exposure ETTLETTL is the automatic mode where the camera controls the flash and decides whether to fire or not. Features include use of the triple-beam AF assist light, zoom reflector adjustment, flash level output control, and automatic white balance setting.

The difference between ETTL and ETTL II is not a feature of the speedlite, but depends on the camera used. Therefore, you can’t switch between the 2 generations of ETTL on the flash. The innovation with ETTL II is the inclusion of subject distance information into the lighting equation to improve the accuracy of flash exposure control.

Manual Flash Mode M

Canon 580EX II manual mode METTL is great if there’s no time to think and you need to crank out shot after shot. In other, more controlled situations, a manual flash mode will be the better choice. The Canon 580EX II offers a wide range from full power flash (1/1 setting) down to 1/128 giving very fine control over your light.

And with manual flash the light stays consistent from shot to shot eliminating the variances introduced by the flash exposure recalculation for every photo in ETTL. It’s also the way to go with lower cost wireless triggers such as Yongnuo RF-602 / RF-603 for example.

Multi Mode (stroboscopic flash)

Canon 580EX II strobo flash modeMulti mode aka stroboscopic flash allows multiple flash exposures within one photo. You have probably seen these photos of skateboarders or dancers freezed in multiple stages of action during a jump for example. For anything real multi flash is completely useless but the 580EX II allows you to do it in case you want to play.

In multi flash mode 3 variables can be set: first and most obviously, you set the number of flashes per photo (expressed in Hertz / Hz). The second setting is for the total number of flashes in one shot, and finally you have to set the flash output level – this mode does not allow automatic flash exposure control.

”Auto” Mode

Set auto mode on Canon 580EX IIAuto mode relies on the speedlite’s own metering system to determine the amount of flash needed for a correct exposure in the scene. To meter its own light, the flash has a built-in light sensor on the front. With this closed system no camera is needed to tell the flash when it’s enough, it works totally independently. The only command given by the camera body is the triggering signal.

With the auto mode, you could use the 580EX II on a completely manual camera, on an old film-based Canon body, and even on a Nikon DSLR. One use case for auto mode are situations when you’re unsatisfied with ETTL … every digital TTL metering system has its weaknesses.

Here’s another use case for auto mode as pointed out by Benjamin Green in the comments below (thank you for the contribution!):

Since there is no pre-flash in Auto mode, this is a very easy way to use simple, “non-digital” optical slaves to trigger off camera flashes while having automated flash exposure for your on-camera flash. For example, if you are shooting using a monolight in a corner for general background fill light while using a 580EXII on-camera to light the faces of people in front of you. That the 580EXII automatically communicates changes in aperture and iso settings from camera to flash makes this a very automated, hassle-free way to shoot.

 

Wireless Master Flash

For wireless use, a flash can either be the master / commander and triggering the other flashes used in the setup, or it can be the remote flash or “slave”, which means it follows a master flash’s command. With such a wireless setup you can create multiple-light settings e.g. with a wireless slave flash as main light and the master for fill.

The 580 can control up to 3 different groups of remote flashes (e.g. 430EX II flashes, or the new 320EX or 270EX II speedlites, or also other 580EX II units).

Set 580EX II to master mode ETTLIn the fully automatic wireless flash mode all flashes fire with the same flash output – this is usually undesired. A better way is the flash ratio mode where you can set lighting ratios for 2 or 3 groups of remote lights. Option three is to set a manual output level for all flashes in the setup (wireless flash in mode “M”).

In any of the above settings, the master can be set to fire with the slave flashes or be deactivated with the “master flash on/off” setting.

What you can’t do, however, is mix different flash modes on master and slaves like in the Nikon system where it’s possible for example to use group A in TTL mode and group B in manual mode “M” at 1/32 power.

Among the current speedlites from Canon, the 580EX II is the only model with master capabilities, with the dedicated commander unit ST-E2 being the alternative (but it’s not a flash, only a commander). See the “flash for Canon” page for a list of master-enabled 3rd parties flashes and past models from Canon with master mode.

Wireless Slave Mode

Set 580EX II to wireless slave modeThe 580EX II can also be used as a slave flash. In that case, you only need to set a channel and assign it to a group through the menu system. Using the light sensor on the front side, the flash will pick up the encoded master light signals and fire accordingly. As a slave flash, it behaves just like a (slightly more powerful) 430EX II.

Another way is to use the 580EX II with radio triggers. While there a problems with some TTL radio trigger systems (e.g. from Pocket Wizard), the 580EX II works perfectly fine with the usual non-TTL radio triggers such as Cactus V4 / V5 or the Yongnuo RF-602 or the new 603. This topic will be covered in detail on the upcoming wireless flash review page.

 

Basic information
Brand Canon
Model 580EX II
Class professional
Cost (USD) 460
First introduction 2008
Successor none yet
Canon compatibility
Supported Canon flash modes M, TTL, ETTL, ETTL II, Multi, A
Canon wireless TTL slave / master yes / yes
Manual mode
Manual power settings (on the flash) 1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128

 

Supplied Accessories

The picture below shows only a part of the standard accessories since I don’t have a complete box for my test unit. Normally, the flash comes with the normal set of standard accessories included (watch an unboxing video here).

580EX II with standard accessories mini stand and soft case

Compared to the latest Nikon flashes (e.g. the SB-700), a snap-on diffuser and the color filters are missing and must be bought extra if needed. Here’s what you will find in the box:

  • 580EX II speedlite with GN 36 at 35mm (GN 39 in testing)
  • warranty card
  • instruction manual
  • mini stand
  • soft bag

The instruction manual can be found on this Canon page as a PDF version to download.

The mini stand is identical to the one that comes with the 430EX Mark II and made in Japan like the 580 flash, while the 430EX II is manufactured in China. Despite being plastic, the stand is pretty heavy and feels well made, but the thread at the bottom is also plastic, so no metal insert unfortunately.

The soft bag is also high quality: made of Nylon with PU padding providing a good amount of shock resistance. There’s an internal pocket for the mini stand but no belt loop on the back. Getting the speedlite into the soft bag can be a bit tricky with the mini stand in it, but it works OK if the flash is tilted up the full 90 degrees position where it seems to bow back.

Build Quality

The 580EX II is a large flash. Due to its volume and weight it’s not the kind of flash you always leave in the accessory shoe whether you need it or not. As can be seen in the photo it makes a Rebel T1i with kit lens look small, and it’s also considerable larger than the 430EX II in the hot shoe, and 85 grams heavier.

Canon 430EX II on Rebel T1i with 580EX II

But that’s the price you pay for the power, and other speedlites in that class – such as the Di866 from Nissin – have the same size, or they are even bigger such as the SB-900 from Nikon (picture right).

Nissin Di866 front screen large

Casing

The professional 580EX II speedlite is a high quality product. Everything is solid, from the battery compartment and door mechanism over the flash head release and adjustment, the thick rubber covers for the external interfaces on the left side, to the pull-put wide angle adapter and catchlight panel.

Canon 580EX II battery compartment cover vs 430EX IIIn this photo, the battery compartment covers of 430EX II (left) and 580EX II (right) can be seen in comparison. On the 430EX II the door is a little bit askew whereas on the 580EX II everything fits 100% together without any gaps.

Everything is tight on the 580EX II casing, nothing squeaks, the buttons have well defined pressure points and no wobbling whatsoever. This is how a professional flash should feel like: robust, dependable, well made, with a very nice finish on the surfaces despite the 100% plastic construction (that all flashes share, there is none with a metal case on the market).

Flash foot

As one of the main upgrades from the 580EX, there’s a metal plate used on the flash foot now. Metal flash feet have one potential downside – which is the removal of a predetermined breaking point from the construction.

580EX II Flash Foot with water guard and ETTL contactsWhen a camera with mounted flash falls, it’s often the least expensive repair to install a new plastic foot on the flash.

Repairs to the camera hot shoe cost more, in addition to the time your camera body spends in the repair shop.

But there are also clear advantages: a metal foot tends to glide more easily in the camera hot shoe and radio triggers. And it’s simply more rigid and solid, which helps preventing damage from overtightened screw lock accessory shoes.

On the flash foot of the speedlite 580EX II you find the usual 5 pins for Canon: there’s the center X-sync pin, and behind that – in a square shape – you can see the additional ETTL contacts.

Near the front of the foot is the safety pin which is actuated by the foot locking lever. The lever has an additional small safety button but still can be operated with one hand – a good construction!

Canon 580EX II Flash Foot Quick Locking Lever

The lever not only pushes the pin into the pin hole but it also lowers a plastic plate to provide an additional pressure against the side rails of the mounting shoe. On the 580EX II, and in contrast to the 430EX II, there is a rubber seal built into that to work as a water guard. With this and other measures the whole flash is water-resistant – the only accessory flash on the market making that claim to date, as far as I know.

External interfaces

The external interfaces are located on the left side of the flash body, protected by thick rubber caps. The rectangle shape jack with the 3 pins visible inside is the external power pack connector to connect a battery pack such as the Canon CP-E4, or a compatible third party pack with Canon type plug.

Canon 580EX II with PC Sync Port, battery pack, bracket mount

Visible at the bottom is the PC sync port to connect trigger cables. The Canon 580EX II is the first and only flash from Canon offering this type of connector. The thread on the right allows mounting of a flash bracket.

Operation

The flash has a total of 8 controls: 6 buttons, one power switch and the command dial. If mounted on a compatible camera body, it can also be fully controlled through the camera menu system – this was not possible with the precursor model 580EX yet.

Controls

All the buttons have a good size, well defined pressure points, and the speedlite is very responsive. That’s why changing settings on the flash is faster than going through the camera menu system, with the custom settings being the exception (see further below for “settings and customization”).

Control Display on Canon 580EX IIThe On/Off switch is a simple rotating switch, but half recessed in the surface and providing a good amount of resistance against unwanted activation.

Bottom left is the test flash button, which also serves as the flash-ready indicator. “Red” means the flash has fully recycled and it can be fired again. Before turning red, the pilot lamp shows green to signal firing readiness for the Canon-exclusive quick flash mode, but with fast / fully charged NiMH batteries such as Sanyo eneloops the light goes from “off” directly to “red”.

Underneath the pilot button is the flash exposure indicator. It lights up green if flash exposure was right, and remains idle to show insufficient exposure. This is useful information, but it would be better shown in the camera viewfinder than on the flash since you must take your eye of the subject to check proper flash exposure. On the T1i, there’s no viewfinder feedback for correct or incorrect flash exposure, unfortunately.

The first button from the left in the top row activates the display light when pressed briefly, and gives access to the custom functions menu after a 2 second long press. On the 580EX II, the button has the same good size as the other buttons and is easy to press, whereas the display light button is really tiny on the mid-range 430EX II flash from Canon.

The next button allows setting the flash modes: simply keep pressing to cycle through the modes “ETTL”, “M” and “Multi”. Exception is the auto mode “A” which can only be set through the flash menu system with custom function 05 in position “2″ or “3″. There’s no way to manually switch between ETTL and ETTL II, this depends solely on the camera body and is detected automatically without override. For film-based camera bodies, there’s the option to manually select the “old” TTL mode through custom function 05 (set it to “1″ in that case).

The third one in the upper row is the flash sync mode button: keep pressing to cycle through the default normal sync position, then rear sync and finally high-speed sync (with the “H” and the lightning bolt icon). There is no dedicated “slow sync” mode on the 580EX II itself; slow sync is achieved by switching the camera to mode “Av” and setting slow shutter speeds by hand.

Top right is the “ZOOM/wireless” button which gives access to 2 important features: a short press starts the zoom mode setup screen where you can set a manual zoom reflector position, which is needed for off-camera flash for example. A long press activates the wireless TTL mode. Here, you can perform the setup for master or slave mode and its customization.

Bottom row center is the control dial. Again, the dial is firm and tight, with a nice resistance, and the embedded “select” button is as good as the other controls.

580EX II could be easier to use sometimes

While the controls are very good and easy to operate, the usage concept is complicated sometimes and requires a LOT of steps.

Example: setting wireless slave mode

First, if the ambient light level is low, you have to press the “display light” button. Second, press the “ZOOM/wireless” button for 2 seconds. Third, turn the command wheel to the right until “slave” starts lighting up. Step 4 is pushing 2 times on the “ZOOM/wireless” button until “CH” starts flashing. Now you can select a channel with the command wheel, and confirm with “sel/set” again. The next step requires again pushing 2 times on the “ZOOM/wireless” button to activate the “group” setting sub-menu. Finally, you can select now a group with the command wheel and confirm.

In total, this requires 8 button pushes and 3 command dial actions = 11 steps in total.

Other flashes automatically switch the light on when any button is pressed, and have a direct “slave” position marked on the “on/off switch” itself. The channel is then set by pressing on a “Sel” button and turning the wheel. Push on “Sel” again which highlights the group, and simply dial again on the command wheel to change between “A”, “B” or “C”. In total, 5 actions are needed: 1 on/off switch, 2 button presses, and 2 command dial settings.

This little example is intended to illustrate that using the 580EX II could be easier. Don’t get me wrong: once you get used to it the flash is still easy to use, and also rather quick. But for the occasional photographer the menu system can be a bit overwhelming, and it’s sometimes not clear which button needs to be pressed when, and how long.

A:B Master ratio on T1i set with 580EX IIAs mentioned above: one alternative is to set the flash through the camera menu system, but for the above “slave” mode this does not work obviously – wireless slave flash in the camera hot shoe doesn’t make sense.

For the other settings, the camera menu is a serious alternative. The screen here shows setting master mode with A:B ratio.

LCD Display

The LCD panel used is the traditional segment matrix type, not a dot matrix screen as used on the latest flashes from Nikon or the top models from Nissin and Metz. The 580EX II display has a good size, and thanks to the ‘conventional’ technology a very good contrast and great legibility, also because of the large fonts that are used.

Segment Type LCD on 580EX II

The display lights up in green when the “light” button gets pressed, however there is no automatic ambient light detection, nor does it light up when the camera shutter is half pressed; the light is coming from the left side of the screen, but the illumination is even and very bright.

green display light on 580EX II

Custom Settings

To customize the speedlites’ behavior and tweak its settings, a total of 14 custom functions are available on the 580EX Mark II. Use them to deactivate the standby mode, or to switch between sensor size detection on and off, or the to configure the modeling light.

One way to change custom settings is through the custom functions menu on the speedlite itself.

This is the hard way.

Without the table on page 27 of the English instruction manual you’re lost – the on-screen menu system only uses numbers and codes so there’s no way to see what “C.Fn-08″ actually does.

Custom function 08 on 580EX II Canon

So – what is custom function 08 doing again?

Here’s the easier way: You can look it up on your camera screen, under the “external flash function settings” sub-menu. There, you find all the explanations you need:

Rebel T1i menu screen C.Fn-08

Now it’s clear: C.Fn-08 lets you decide between using the AF assist beam, or deactivating the red AF assist light. Much simpler.

Power Supply

The Canon 580EX II offers 2 options for power supply: it runs on 4 AA batteries, or you can use an external battery pack as shown and briefly discussed above.

Battery Handling

The battery compartment door has an additional safety as can be seen in the photo below. Opening requires moving the safety slider to the left, and then sliding the whole battery compartment door down.

How to open battery compartment on Canon 580EX II

The door then opens upwards, supported by a spring that also keeps it wide open. Access to the batteries is super easy.

580EX II Inside the battery compartmentLarge, easy to read polarity icons, and a divider in the center of the battery compartment are also well thought out details.

This flash provides the best battery handling of any flash tested to date, across all brands.

The mechanism combines safety with great ease of use – it can be easily operated with one hand, even ‘in the heat of the battle’.

Flash Head

The flash head of the 580EX II pretty big but the speedlite is still easy to handle. You can see it in the photo below together with the much smaller Canon 430EX II on the left, and the 2 Nissin flashes Di 622 Mark II (a 430EX competitor) and the professional class Di866 on the right.

580EX II review flash head vs 430EX II and Nissin Di866 plus Di622 Mark II

Flash Head Adjustment

The 580EX II is the only Canon flash that allows a full 360 degrees rotation. It can be adjusted from minus 180 degrees to plus 180 degrees. In the vertical axis, the head can be adjusted in several steps between zero and plus 90 degrees, plus it can be tilted downward into a minus 7 degree position for close-up shooting. The position is also useful when the Canon flash is mounted on a light stand and used with a soft box or umbrella, as it points the beam more at the center of the light modifier. To move the flash head out of the center position, press on the flash head release lock on the right side.

Reflector card and Wide Flash Panel

Built into the flash head are 2 modifiers to change the output characteristic of the light. First, there is a hard plastic panel used to spread out the light when using super wide angle lenses. The standard coverage of the flash head is sufficient for a 24mm lens on a full frame camera, or a 15mm lens with an EF-S camera body such as the Rebel series.

When used with anything below, let’s say a 10mm lens, there will be strong vignetting in the picture. This can be acceptable, even unnoticeable, e.g. when shooting in front of a dark background with nothing at the frame border. If an even coverage is needed, however, the wide flash panel helps. Just pull it out, and flip it over the front screen of the flash lens, to give coverage for 14mm full frame or 9mm EF-S.

430EX II with wide panel but no bounce card and 580EX II with both

The second modifier is a thin white plastic card called a ‘bounce card’ or ‘catchlight panel‘ in Canon’s terms. This little thing is useful for bounced flash applications. When you take photos of a person with flash head pointed straight up to the ceiling, you can avoid the typical frontal-flash look with harsh shadows.

This, however, comes at the price of dark shadows around the eyes, and the lack of a highlight or catch light in the eye. When the bounce card is used, a part of the light from the flash is sent right to the face, without hitting the ceiling first – this creates the desired catch light effect.

Wide angle coverage

To test the light falloff / vignetting produced by the flash lens and reflector construction, each speedlite is tested under identical conditions with a 12mm DX (Nikon) lens, which equals 18mm full frame.

Zoom reflector vignetting 580EX IIFor this test, the wide panel is used, and given the official coverage of 14mm there shouldn’t be too much vignetting in the photo.

And the result is really good. It’s not vignetting-free – no speedlite is – but the loss towards the corners is lower than with most other flashes reviewed to date.

Interestingly the vignetting is considerably lower than with the Chinese 580-clone from Yongnuo, the YN-560.

The light falloff itself is also remarkably even and free of any hot spots or other irregularities.

Auto Zoom

The flash head zooms automatically with the lens when the 580EX II is mounted on a Canon body. The adjustment range starts, as described above, at 24mm full frame and reaches 105mm in the maximum position. The flash can certainly be used with longer lenses, it’s just that the beam does not get focused any closer than for 105.

105mm maximum coverage is not a fantastic value on paper, and the successor of the 580EX II will have 200mm most probably, but there is not much additional efficiency to be gained with longer zoom heads. In all the flashes tested so far (for example the Nikon SB-900), it has shown that there’s not much light gain coming with the longest tele settings.

Canon has developed a special ‘auto zoom for sensor size” mode for their crop cameras, e.g. the Rebel series, or the 60D and 7D bodies. With the (optional) ‘sensor size zoom’ the speedlite receives that crop information from the camera body.

For EF-S with its factor of 1.6, the 580EX Mark II then sets a longer zoom reflector position than what you use on the lens. With a 50mm lens, the flash moves into the 80mm position. Since 50 * 1.6 = 80, it still gives you full coverage for the picture, and it’s using the energy more efficiently at the same time by avoiding waste of light thrown on parts of the subject outside of the frame.

Manual Zoom

The flash can also be used in manual zoom mode. Applications for this are mainly wireless flash (where the auto zoom is disabled), but it’s also a good feature in the camera hot shoe at times.

To set manual zoom, simply press the “ZOOM” button and set the desired position with the command wheel. Available zoom steps are 24 – 28 – 35 – 50 – 70 – 80 – 105mm.

Flash Output and Guide Number Testing

The guide number (GN) of an electronic flash is a measure of the maximum light output – visit the test details page to learn more.

580EX II 430EX II Nissin Di866 Di622 Mark II

Official Specification: GN 58

The speedlite under review has a guide number of 58, as indicated by the model name. Canon traditionally uses the guide number at maximum zoom in their marketing, that’s why the values are not directly comparable to other manufacturers who follow the convention of 35-mm guide number specs.

Guide number 58 (meters) is for 105mm reflector position, and this translates into a guide number of 36 for 35mm wide angle. This is a strong value, in the typical range for pro-grade speedlites, and 5 points higher than the GN 31 of the 430EX II flash.

But we’ve seen in the review that Canon’s 430EX II is even stronger than its specs suggest – let’s see if this is also the case for the 580EX Mark 2. We should expect a guide number closer to 40 in that case!

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

 

As can be seen from the table above, the 580 does not disappoint. It’s only topped by the Di866 from Nissin, which comes with an official guide number label of 40 (meters, for 35mm reflector position). But the distance is really surprisingly small with only one tenth of a stop.

Guide Number Table for 580EX II

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.

For the 35mm reflector position displayed above, the metering value translates into a guide number of 39.4, which is 3.4 points higher than the official value of 36. A similar power plus is available for other wide angle and mid range zoom positions, while official and tested guide number align for the 105mm position.

580EX II Review guide number table

This is an excellent outcome for the flash under review, and an advantage not only under lab conditions. Practical benefit of a powerful flash is the ability to shoot with lower power levels compared to a weaker flash, which helps with flash recycling times and other side effects such as potential overheating.

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.

In the power index you find the flagship model from Canon in the top 3 of speedlites tested so far. The Di866 is the only current hot-shoe flash with TTL with more bang for the buck (but some other downsides as can be seen from the Di866 review). The SB-800 from Nikon is incompatible with Canon’s ETTL flash exposure protocol, and discontinued.

Speedlights.net digital TTL flash power index

Effective Output Range

As shown above, the flash meter reads f22 plus 6/10 for a full power shot, so you would expect f2 plus 6/10 to come out at the theoretical 7 stop range from 1/1 down to 1/128.

 

Canon 580EX II output range spec Output range from tests
7.0 stops 7.2 stops

 

In the testing, the range is even a bit larger: for 1/128, the meter reads f2 plus 4 tenths, which gives a resulting range of 7.2 stops. Again, an excellent outcome (most other flashes don’t quite achieve their specified range).

Continuous Shooting Output

The normal guide number test process requires 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
Nissin Di866 40.8 34.3 -5/10
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
Canon 320EX 27.9 23.4 -5/10
Yongnuo YN-468 20.4 19.0 -2/10

 

All flashes lose some power in rapid fire, this is just due to the laws of physics. In general, powerful flashes tend to lose more while weaker flashes like the YN-468 have a smaller decrease in total numbers. Good news here is that the loss for the 580EX II is slightly below average.

580EX II Flash Recycle 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.

Canon 580EX II recycling test alkaline and NiMH eneloop

Canon’s marketing material states 5 seconds as the official flash recycling time, and that is also about the value achieved for alkaline batteries. As can be seen from the graph below, recycle time increases shot over shot: with fresh Duracell alkaline batteries (charged with 1.614 volts) it starts at below 4 seconds, but it reaches almost 6 seconds for the 10th consecutive full power shot.

Canon 580EX II Review Flash Recycle Times with NiMH and alkaline batteries

With NiMH batteries such as Sanyo eneloops the the situation is dramatically better: flash recycling time always stays close to the 2-second mark, and it’s more than 50% better on average in the ISO metering result: the NiMH average is 2.4 sec, whereas the average for alkaline is 5.5 seconds.

Flash Duration

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.

Canon 580EX II Flash Duration Compared

Flash durations tend to vary much less than what differences in published specifications suggest. This is explained by varying measurement standards used on the manufacturer side, especially with regards to using t0.5 or t0.1 times.
 

Model t0.1 flash duration metering at 1/1
Nissin Di866 1/200
Canon 580EX II 1/285
Nissin Di622 Mark II 1/375
Canon 430EX II 1/350
Metz 48 AF-1 1/230
Yongnuo YN-468 1/405

 
From the table above you can see that typical full-power flash durations are in the range of 1/200 to 1/400 seconds, and the 580EX II is right within that area with 1/285 sec.

t0.1 Flash Duration Times

The last test results table displays flash durations for all partial output levels, as far down as the Broncolor FCC which is being used can go; the measurement limit is 1/8000 seconds, shorter flash durations can’t be taken unfortunately.
 

Output level Manufacturer spec t0.1 metering
1/1 1/833 1/285
1/2 na 1/1400
1/4 na 1/2800
1/8 na 1/4600
1/16 na 1/6500
1/32 na 1/7500
1/64 na <1/8000
1/128 na <1/8000

 
Canon itself only specifies the full-power flash duration as “1.2 ms”, which translates into 1/833 seconds. As you can see there’s quite a discrepancy between the official and the metered value which leads to the conclusion that Canon uses the t0.5 specification (which is also used by Nikon, by the way).

All in all, the 580EX II gives an excellent performance in the tests, achieving or exceeding its specs in most disciplines!

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

 

Where to buy the Canon 580EX II

Get your new Canon 580EX Mark 2 from amazon or Adorama. It helps maintaining and expanding this website if you buy through these links. Thank you.

Check also the prices on eBay where you don’t only find the current 580EX Mark II but also the ‘original’ 580EX in used condition.

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9 Responses to Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash Review

  1. Benjamin Green says:

    Hi,

    I think you missed an important benefit of the Auto mode which makes it rather useful. Since there is no pre-flash in Auto mode, this is a very easy way to use simple, “non-digital” optical slaves to trigger off camera flashes while having automated flash exposure for your on-camera flash. For example, if you are shooting using a monolight in a corner for general background fill light while using a 580EXII on-camera to light the faces of people in front of you. That the 580EXII automatically communicates changes in aperture and iso settings from camera to flash makes this a very automated, hassle-free way to shoot.

  2. Zia says:

    Great….I’m also using canon 580exll.its a awesome…and your information helps me to use it properly… Thank you.

  3. Yepram Avakian says:

    Hi,i have a Canon 60D & i want to buy a flashgun can you help me about these types:
    Metz 58-AF1 NISSIN DI866
    which one is better

    • fransener says:

      Hi Yepram – tough one; I don’t know the 58 AF-1 from direct experience, but I think it’s really 100% compatible with the 60D while the Di866 gives you more like 95%, e.g. missing out on HSS in wireless mode, or lacking sensor size detection zoom (a small feature admittedly). But the Nissin is easier to use I would say and has 2 optical slave mode settings. I think you can get very happy with both, don’t think that either of the 2 is really a bad choice.

  4. Yepram Avakian says:

    thanks for your direction fransener

  5. sependi says:

    Hi,

    Need your advice, do you think HSS is really useful? From your experience, do you use HSS often?

    Thanks.

    • fransener says:

      Hi sependi

      HSS is a useful feature for outdoor shooting when there’s lots of sunlight around you. Without HSS you can still take a photo but you’re more limited in terms of the aperture that you can use – you must use f16 for example without HSS, but with HSS you can use any aperture value; so it’s not about whether you can take the picture or not, but about what depth-of-field effects you can achieve. Keep in mind that HSS comes with dramatically lower guide number – your usable range is down to 3 or 4 meters only. Myself I use HSS in maybe 3 – 5% of my photos, but for these shots I’m glad to have it.

      Frank

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