And – given the advantages this has – it won’t be the last of its kind.
In this in-depth review the Canon AF speedlite 320 EX gets the opportunity to prove its worth as a photo flash in a series of tests, e.g. for the real output / guide number, and the flash recycling time.
It’s not quite as sophisticated as the established mid-range flash 430EX II which will certainly remain in the lineup: it lacks a zooming flash head with ultra wide angle option, the red AF assist beam, there’s also no LCD screen, and it has less maximum power.
On the other side, the 320 EX still offers what the normal amateur photographer needs to produce good looking light: a tilt and swivel flash head for non-direct (not so ugly-looking) illumination, plus the wireless slave feature to use it remote, outside the camera accessory shoe. And it’s a about $50 less pricey than the rather expensive 430 Mark II.
The additional video light makes it unique among shoe-mount flashes today.
In the price range of about $250 for this new flash (May 2011, check e.g. amazon), there are a couple of alternatives to consider when shopping for an external flash. Just keep in mind that none of them has a video light. In addition to the 430EX II mentioned above you might also want to consider the entry-level 270EX II speedlite from Canon.
Then, when it comes to cheap Canon alternatives from third part brands, Metz should be mentioned with the 44 AF-1 and the 50 AF-1. Nissin has the Di622 Mark II, and you might look at their Di866 or Di466 models also. Finally, Yongnuo has a couple of options for you, e.g. the low cost flashes YN-465, YN-467 and YN-468, and especially the upcoming YN-565 which will be the first of their flashes with dedicated Canon wireless slave mode support.
Canon Speedlite 320EX Highlights
- first photo flash with additional continuous light for video shooting
- use video LED as alternative modeling light (in addition to conventional flash burst)
- fully fledged wireless slave mode with 3 groups / 4 channels
- good maximum power between 24mm and 50mm
- swivel and tilt flash head for indirect lighting
- camera remote control feature
- small and light weight
Canon 320 EX Review Contents
320EX Video LED Light
Remote Control Mode
Canon Camera Compatibility
Intro: Flash Modes and Wireless Flash
Build Quality & Features
Flash Head Features
Operation & Ease of Use
Test: Flash Recycling Times
Test: 320EX Guide Number
Speedlights.net Power Index
Test: Flash Duration
Tech Specs Table
Features Compared: 320EX vs 430EX II
Where To Buy
Compatible Canon Camera Bodies
Speedlites from Canon don’t have lots of compatibility issues – they are backward compatible with previous generation camera bodies. The 320EX is no exception here: all cameras with E-TTL (this was introduced with the last generations of film-based EOS SLRs) or E-TTL II work with this flash.
When it comes to the movie mode things are even easier. In manual LED mode you can use it with any camera out there – doesn’t even have to be a Canon! The only dedicated video feature is the “auto light” mode, which is supported by 2 camera models to date.
|Photo flash feature||Video light mode|
320EX Video LED Light
The single-LED video light does not impress necessarily from the specifications: the 75 Lux output is not a lot – according to the Sekonic conversion table this equals roughly EV 5. Which means it’s about as bright as a street lantern at night. That’s why Canon also states a usable range of only 1 meter for f5.6 and at ISO 3200 (!) on the instruction manual’s specs page.
But when you first use it you’ll find out that it’s a really cool feature, and the extra photons do have a positive impact on your video footage. There are also some other potential use cases:
The LED can be used as the main light source for taking photos, but it’s extremely underpowered compared to the flash tube: in the left picture below, the Rebel could take the shot with IS 400 and 1/200 seconds at f29 with the 320EX set to full power (in manual mode); in the right picture the video LED brought the camera to all of its limits with ISO 3200 and 1/8 seconds at f5.6.
Between IS 400 (flash) and ISO 3200 (LED), that’s already 3 stops. Then, between f29 and f5.6 that’s an additional 5 stops almost. The difference in shutter speeds used adds even more. So, unless at really close distance, the LED is not a viable photo flash replacement. But there is other stuff it is good for.
The LED is a good modeling light, better than the short 1-second strobo-based modeling flash found on regular flashes (the 320EX has that normal modeling light feature as well, it’s actually the standard option, fired with the depth-of-field preview button).
Finally, you can use it instead of a regular flash light, e.g. on your next camping trip or for searching stuff in your photo bag. There are certainly cheaper solutions for this, but a conventional flash is not able to play in that role.
Apart from the rather low output, there are 2 other limiting factors:
- there is no option to modify the output energy, e.g. to dim the light down; since this is only 1 single LED lamp the light can only be “on” or “off” completely (on larger LED panels, you can often switch off a part of the lamps to vary the output)
- due to its construction, it’s a direct light source shining from close to the optical axis and producing harsh shadows, even more so than the naked flash head itself (since the surface is even smaller than the regular flash lens)
But watch the video to see how it still improves a video scene, despite the limitations it has.
What you can see there as well is the positive effect when you take it out of the hot shoe and use hand-held at an angle – it clearly adds more depth to the scene.
Remote Control Mode
Another unique feature (actually shared with the also-new 270EX II) is the remote control shooting mode. To use it simply press on the release knob on the side of the flash – feels like pressing on a shutter release button.
Remote mode can serve two purposes:
- use it as a simple camera remote control – works with any Canon body compatible with RC-1, RC-5, RC-6 remote controls (using infrared light; receiving signal through sensor embedded in the camera body’s hand grip)
- can be used as a remote flash trigger in conjunction with a master-enabled body (60D, 600D, 7D as of April 2011) or a wireless controller in the camera hot shoe (580EX (II), 550EX, Canon ST-E2, 3rd party flashes with wireless master mode)
It’s important to note that the 320EX is not a wireless master itself. In scenario (2) it can be set to fire off as a slave together with other slave flashes when set to “SLAVE”. If you only want to use it as a trigger but not to fire then simply leave it in the “ON” position.
For the demo picture on the right, the following setup was used:
- Rebel T1i DSLR set to drive mode “Self-timer/Remote control”
- Canon Speedlite transmitter ST-E2 in the hot shoe (this works also with the Yongnuo ST-E2, btw)
- 430EX II flash in wireless slave mode
- 320EX flash in mode “Slave”
As you can see in the picture both flashes fire together after the camera was remote fired via the 320EX camera control mode.
Intro: Flash Modes and Wireless Flash
Flash mode can’t be set on the speedlite itself, but only through the camera menu system. The 320EX has ETTL (II) as its standard exposure mode but you can also use it as a manual flash together with compatible cameras or wireless controllers.
ETTL / ETTL II
ETTL (II) is Canon’s standard flash exposure protocol. It depends on the camera whether the gen 1 ETTL or the current ETTL-II gets used, this can’t be set by the user. However, you can change the characteristic of ETTL II through the camera’s external flash settings menu.
ETTL (II) provides full integration between the camera and the flash so that you don’t have to do anything yourself: the camera decides – depending on the ambient light – if additional flash is needed for proper exposure. If that is the case, it fires the flash at the appropriate output level and shutter speed / f-stop settings.
If you want some level of control you can do some adjustment yourself: there’s a flash exposure compensation to increase or decrease the level of flash, and you can change the flash sync mode from 1st or 2nd curtain sync. The high speed sync option is provided as well.
Manual Flash Mode M
Manual “M” mode can’t be set on the 320EX – there are no output level switches or indicators, there’s not even an “M” setting on the mode switch itself.
But when attached to the hot shoe of a compatible camera body, the manual mode can be accessed through the camera’s external flash function menu. The 320EX works in a range between 1/1 full power down to 1/64 with all third stops in between.
As a wireless flash it depends on the master if manual mode can be set: with my Rebel T1i and the Canon Speedlite controller ST-E2 I can’t set the manual flash mode (same for the Yongnuo ST-E2) but it should definitely work with the Canon 580EX II and other flashes with a master mode, e.g. the Nissin Di866. If you have more insight please leave me a comment!
320EX As Wireless Flash
It’s actually the easiest speedlite from Canon when it comes to setting up as a wireless slave: everything’s done with hard switches, it doesn’t get any easier – or any faster – than that. The light sensor is on the front side which is not an ideal location, but that’s where it sits on all Canon flashes traditionally.
Using the 320EX with simple radio based flash triggers such as Yongnuo RF-602, RF-602 or the V3 or V5 triggers from Cactus does not make much sense: due to the lack of a controllable manual mode, it will always fire at full power so you have no control.
Everything should work OK with the (more) expensive TTL-enabled radio triggers – both ETTL and manual mode flash control (to be confirmed).
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Click here for the Canon 320EX ‘unboxing’ video and a quick demo of the flash from the Speedlights.net channel on youtube (ignore the last 3 minutes).
The Canon 320EX comes with the following set of accessories (all shown in the video):
- the flash with GN 24 at 24mm and 35mm (tested GN is almost 27.9 even)
- blue warranty card
- semi hard case
- mini flash stand
- instruction manual
- additional leaflet about using LED light
The semi hard case has thick padding to protect against shocks. It’s a high quality product and comes with an additional inner pocket for the flash stand but no belt loop on the back (no Canon flash case has that). It’s basically just a smaller version of the 430EX II and 580EX II flash cases.
The mini stand is almost, but not 100% the same as the 430EX II stand: thick, solid and heavy plastic with nice surface, however this stand is made in Taiwan (not Japan), same as the whole 320EX that also has a “made in Taiwan” marking.
The instruction manual covers using the flash, video light and remote control features on 48 (English) pages; the additional leaflet about the video light reads: “when battery power is low, the LED light may not turn on even if the flash-ready lamp is lit”.
With the 320EX Canon have released a second mid-range flash, positioned below the 430EX II when it comes to its photo features. I don’t think that the build quality of the 430EX II is that great, and therefore had some concerns about the new, and slightly cheaper speedlite under review here.
The 320EX is a tad smaller and a bit lighter (275g vs 320g) than the 430 series – this is mostly due to the simplified flash head design. Compared to some other flashes it appears even smaller, e.g. the Yongnuo YN-468 (far left), or the Nissin Di-622 mk 2 (far right).
When it comes to the quality of the build it does not have to hide: the unit feels well made and dependable, it’s carefully assembled and (apart from the flash head in horizontal direction) there’s not the slightest play in anything.
The flash foot is made of metal and a bit redesigned versus the 430EX II (picture left): it is more rounded and the pins are not cone shaped but resemble small barrels. The layout is certainly the same with the center x-sync pin and the additional 4 TTL pins to allow communication with a camera body.
There’s a quick release / lock lever on the back of the base with additional safety button and the mechanism also pushes down a plastic plate to lock the flash in the accessory show, in addition to actuating the safety pin in the foot. The flash is snug in the accessory shoe with only a tiny bit of rotation when moved around with the hand.
The flash has no PC sync port and no connector for external power.
The 320EX has a smaller flash head than most other speedlites as can be seen in the photo below.
The compact size comes at the cost of a fixed 24mm coverage for full frame DSLRs / 15mm for EF-S cameras, e.g. EOS Rebel models such as the 600D. The front screen is also a bit smaller than comparable flashes, and above all more rounded.
The flash head snaps nicely into the 60, 75, and 90 degrees position when turned to the right.
Towards the left it allows a full 180 degrees rotation so that the total horizontal adjustment area is 270 degrees.
In the vertical axis the maximum is 90 degrees = straight upward. There’s no close-up position with negative tilt.
Wide Angle Coverage
The 320EX comes without a snap-on bouncer / diffuser, and given the special shape of the flash lens it will also require a special design to get one released by third parties. A wide-flash panel is also not implemented, and there’s no bounce / reflector card / catch-light panel either (the small flash head would not allow inclusion of either).
That’s why the 24mm (full frame) / 15mm (for Rebel bodies and other EF-S EOS cameras) coverage is really the minimum unless you bounce the light off from a ceiling or use modifier such as an umbrella or soft box which give you a wider light spread. But this is certainly no problem when shooting with the 18-55 mm kit lens which is fully covered.
(since there is no wider coverage than 24mm the usual speedlights.net light fall-off test was not performed for this unit).
No Auto Zoom but Additional 50mm Reflector Position
Simply pull out the entire front section of the flash head to manually “zoom” to a 50mm coverage position. The camera detects this “tele” setting (as can be seen from the camera menu) but it can’t move the flash head itself, this is something the user has to do with his hand. Don’t forget to push the head back for wide angle shooting or heavy vignetting will occur.
This flash is very easy to use and falls into the emerging category of “no frills” speedlite products similar to Nissin Di622 Mark II and Metz 44 AF-1. It doesn’t have all the features found on other flashes but it’s really much easier to use.
Simple Controls, no LCD Panel
On the back of the flash you find 5 control elements: 4 sliders and one button, all made of hard plastic and all with a good and tight fit. On the right side of the flash body there’s one more button for the camera remote feature (see photo further above). All controls have a good size and overall the flash is super easy to use and a joy to handle.
On/Off is located on the bottom left and implemented as a slider with 3 positions. You can turn the flash on, or set it to the “Slave” position. As a slave it still can be used in the camera hot shoe (the flash foot does not lock up) but you’ll eventually want to switch over to “On” to stop the flashing slave indicator LED that will irritate people.
On the bottom right you find the switch for the video light. Here you can toggle between manual mode and auto light mode (not supported by the Rebel T1i used for testing). In mode “M” you turn on the light source by pressing the light button for about 1 to 2 seconds – it takes a bit longer to react, probably a safety measure against unwanted activation.
The 2 sliders at the top are used for setting the slave group and remote channel. The 320EX is not downgraded here: it gives you the full range of A-B-C group selection plus channels 1-2-3-4.
Finally, in the center left there’s the TELE indicator for the 50mm flash lens position: when the flash head is pulled out you see an orange light there. If the light is flashing that’s to warn you about insufficient coverage with a wide angle lens.
When used with the EF-S based T1i with the small sensor, the flashing stops at the 32mm lens position: from that point on the 50mm reflector fully covers the lens (50mm / 1.6 = 31.25mm).
The last light indicator is the red flash ready lamp. It has no embedded “test flash” button, which means there’s no way to fire a flash with the unit alone and unmounted. If you just need some light, simply use the the video lamp.
There is no custom functions setting on the flash, but you can do some feature tweaking through the camera menu: there are 3 auto-power off settings plus the quick-flash feature that can be adjusted.
Canon’s new 320-EX runs on AA 4 batteries (alkaline or NiMH can be used) which provide up to 4 hours of video light or 180 full-power flashes according to the specifications from Canon.
Battery handling is easy: slide down the battery cover which then automatically swings open supported by a spring loaded mechanism similar to the 580EX II. There’s a sticker with large polarity icons in the compartment, and each of the cells has it’s own slot. The whole construction is of high quality and very user friendly which makes changing the batteries really a breeze.
Test: Flash Recycling Times: 2.3 sec / 3.3 sec
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.
Official flash recycling time is a fast 2.3 seconds according to Canon. Interestingly the handbook does not specify if this is the average for alkaline or NiMH batteries. But that’s what the recycling times testing is for so let’s simply find out.
As you can see in the video it’s really pretty fast with eneloop NiMH cells and the average is exactly 2.3 seconds, but with the Duracell alkalines (fresh from the packaging, charged at 1.614 Volts) recycling time is above 3 seconds – the ISO-average is 3.3 seconds to be precise.
What’s weird is that sawtooth pattern in the curve for NiMH eneloops – I haven’t seen this with another flash yet. My thought was that (1) I made some error with the calculations but that doesn’t seem to be the case after I checked. Please feel free to use the video to prove me wrong.
So I thought that maybe (2) it doesn’t fully discharge the capacitor with every 2nd flash, but that’s not the case either. The flash meter shows the exact same output for every burst in the series.
So what is this then? Maybe the overheating protection starting to kick in?
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.
Official Specification GN 32 (@50mm)
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.
Canon advertises the flash under review as GN 32, but that’s the output for the 50mm position of the flash head. To allow comparisons between flashes all Speedlights.net guide numbers are stated at 35mm. For that focal length the 320EX reaches a guide number of 24 (meters) with the flash meter reading of f16 plus 6/10. It’s the same guide number for 35mm as for 24mm due to the fixed flash reflector unable to zoom, apart from the 50mm “tele” position.
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.
The flash outperforms its specs pretty clearly, just like the other Canon speedlites 430EX II and 580EX II tested before here on speedlights.net. Instead of 24 meters it reaches a strong 27.9 at 24mm, which makes it almost as powerful as the bigger brother 430EX II for that specific flash lens position.
For the 50mm setting a calculated GN of 35.5 can be achieved, which is now clearly less than what you get with the 430 (has tested GN of 39.4). The 430EX mk2 has then its maximum GN at 105mm with GN 48.5 in the test – for the 320 EX there’s no more zooming after the 50mm position.
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.
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The entry-level flashes 270EX and 270EX II have not been reviewed yet. On paper, they reach a guide number of 22, so they’re a bit lower than the 320 EX. Go here to compare the specs for Canon 270EX II and 320EX.
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.
|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. With a half stop the 320EX achieves an average result in this discipline.
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 320EX Flash Duration Compared
Flash duration was measured only for the full power output level since the flash offers no partial steps on the speedlite (only through the camera menu). With 1/325 sec the result for t0.1 flash duration is in the expected area – albeit a tad longer than for the slightly more powerful 430EX-II.
|Model||flash duration spec at 1/1 power (sec)||t0.1 metering result (sec)|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||1/800||1/375|
|Canon 430EX II||unspecified||1/350|
|Metz 48 AF-1||1/125||1/230|
The following table now lists a complete set of specifications for the new photo-video speedlite from Canon and compares them with the results from the testing for the review.
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Features Compared: 320EX vs 430EX II
Which flash should you buy for your Canon camera body: the new speedlite 320EX, or the slightly more expensive 430EX II?
The following table provides an overview of key feature differences between the 2 mid-range flash offerings from Canon, the established 430EX II vs the new speedlite 320EX. Go to the 320-EX vs 430-EX II comparison page for detailed information.
|Main advantage Speedlite 320EX||Main advantage Speedlite 430EX II|
In summary you can say that the 430 is the more capable camera flash, but only the 320EX has the additional option for video lighting.
The 320EX is not made for professionals – the Canon 580EX II is made for that target audience. But for the average user the 320 EX does 90% of what the 430EX II is doing as a photo flash. The biggest downside vs the 430EX II is probably the flash-pulse based bright white AF assist light (“disco light”) that can be quite annoying over time.
Where to Buy
Check also the prices on eBay where you don’t only find the current 320EX but also older and used speedlites from Canon.
Please use the comments to post questions and add your own insight and experience.