The new Canon 320EX “hybrid” flash is the first camera flash with a built-in video light.
With the 320EX, Canon launches a 4th model of speedlite flashes. The closest relative to the new 320 EX is the current mid-range model Canon 430EX II, introduced in 2008 and priced at around $270.
The 320EX was announced in February 2011 at $249 and is similar in many respects: both flashes support the latest ETTL (II) technology, feature a flash head with swivel and tilt for indirect flash and a metal flash foot with quick release lever for easy attachment in the accessory shoe.
They also both offer Canon’s wireless TTL slave mode which is the easiest way to improve the quality of your lighting, with 3 groups and 4 channels to choose from. But there are also a number of significant differences.
430EX II vs 320EX – Comparison Table
The 2 flashes aim at different target groups which is why they come with a slightly different set of features. Despite the lower price there are some exclusives found on the 320 EX only.
|Advantage Speedlite 320EX||Advantage Speedlite 430EX II|
Biggest Advantages 320EX vs 430EX II
2 features make the 320EX unique: its built-in video light, and the camera remote control feature (which is also present on the other new Canon flash, the entry-level 270EX II).
Conventional flashguns are optimized to emit a large amount of light energy within a very short time frame – around 1/300 sec for a full power shot. But it takes around 3 seconds before the next flash can be fired, and that’s why they are completely useless for a video shoot.
While not a bright as a flash, it’s a huge advantage that LED’s are generating continuous light. Switch it on like a flash light, and the video lamp of the 320EX, using the same 4 AA cells as the flash tube, lights up your scene for up to 4 hours.
When used with the Rebel T3 (EOS 1100D) or Rebel T3i (EOS 600D), the optional auto light mode even automatically activates the LED light depending on the ambient light to ensure a proper exposure for the video clip.
Admittedly, the LED on the 320EX is pretty weak with 75 Lux (some professional LED panels have 600 or even 900 Lux) and it is also a harsh light source producing dark shadows. But it’s better than nothing, and it helps extending the usability of your DSLR’s video mode well into darkness.
Check here the 320EX video LED in action in this test video from the Speedlights.net youtube channel:
Camera Remote Feature
The second innovation comes in form of a camera remote control mode, built into the flash.
This features is activated with a button on the right side of the flash body, which I first thought was the wireless TTL sensor. However, that sensor is located on the front side of the flash body, the same sub-optimal solution as found on the 430EX (II).
The remote feature works in the same way as the Canon RC-6 infrared controller; it requires a DSLR that’s compatible with infrared wireless remote controllers; my Rebel T1i qualifies, and I can use it therefore. The range is up to 16 feet according to Canon specifications.
As of March, 2011, that means this new speedlite feature works only with the following digital SLR models: EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 60D, 7D, EOS Rebel T3i, T2i, T1i, EOS Rebel XSi, EOS Rebel XTi, XT, and the original Digital Rebel (6 million pixel version).
The photo here shows the remote sensor of the Rebel T1i, embedded in the grip. Through this sensor window, the camera receives the trigger signal from the 320EX, and then takes a photo with a fixed 2-second delay.
Now, the big question is whether you need this feature or not. It seems more of a gimmick, actually, since it does the same as you can do with any accessory remote controller. There seems no advantage in using the flash for this task. But it’s neat – just like the Yongnuo RF-602 wireless flash trigger doubles up as a camera remote control.
Apart from the video light and the remote feature there are some other advantages compared to the 430EX II:
- LED can be used as modeling light
This could be actually a major benefit for some of us, but limited by the low range of the LED. Conventional flashes use high-frequency bursts of small flashes as modeling light, with a typical maximum duration of 1.0 to 1.2 seconds – a very short moment to evaluate the shadows on the subject and therefore a bad solution. The LED is a continuous light source and therefore not bound to these limits; you can let it shine until the batteries are depleted.
- A little smaller and lighter
There’s not much difference when you compare the dimensions of the 2 flashes on paper, but you’ll notice a clear difference when you see them side by side. The body of the 320EX is a bit more compact, but especially the flash head is much smaller vs the 430EX II. I think that a smaller speedilite is a better speedlite, and therefore see the advantage on the side of the 320 EX.
- Slightly less expensive
Canon’s official price for the 430EX II is $299, and the street price is around 10% lower. This leads to the prediction that you’ll have to pay around $249 – 10% = $225 for the 320EX. It is to be expected however that it will take a while until this slightly lower price level is reached, at the beginning you’ll pay the first mover price of $249 and that’s not much less than the 430EX II price.
Read the full Canon 320EX review to learn more about this flash. I was pretty critical first, but I must say that I started to like it; it’s a good partner for my Rebel T1i camera body with the kit lens.
Advantage 430EX II vs 320EX
For HD video the 430EX II is completely useless; there’s simply nothing it would be good for in that use case. But as a photo flash, the 430EX II has a number of very big arguments on his side.
Higher Guide Number
Canon uses always the guide number for maximum zoom in their communications. For the 320EX, it’s GN 32 (in meters) with the 50mm reflector position. The 430EX II has GN 43 at the 105mm setting. Now, how do these values compare?
On Speedlights.net the guide number is always used with 35mm reflector position. There, the 320EX has GN 24 (since you have to zoom to the wide reflector setting) while the 430EX II has a guide number of 31. As you can see this is a clear difference.
The table shows the guide number curves for full frame camera bodies like the 5D Mark II. At 24mm and 50mm, both flashes are pretty close. But in between, and from a 70mm lens setting on, the 320EX falls clearly behind.
With EF-S camera bodies like the Rebel series DSLR the shape of the 2 curves stays similar, but the lens zoom positions have shifted. The 50mm reflector setting of the 320EX can be used with a 35mm EF-S lens already, and the 24mm reflector setting covers from 15mm focal length on.
The 430EX II is smart: it automatically detects the size of the camera’s image sensor and selects a more narrow reflector position on the speedlite without user intervention. Stronger by nature already, the 430EX Mark II gets even more extra juice with this trick.
It’s not that the 320EX is too weak for everyday shooting. Most digital EOS cameras automatically switch to ISO 400 when a flash is detected. This higher ISO setting doubles the flash guide number, which means you have 2 * GN 24 to work with.
But clearly, more is always better, and GN 24 won’t be always enough, e.g. for bounced flash with high or dark ceilings, or when used together with umbrellas, softboxes or other light modifiers. The 430EX II is a much better candidate for that.
Wide Angle Auto Zoom Reflector
On the 320EX there are exactly 2 zoom positions available: you can either leave it in the 24mm default setting, or pull out the front of the flash head to manually “zoom” to 50mm position. There is no wide-angle panel built in, and there’s also no diffuser (‘stofen’) for this flash (given the rounded front screen, a special design will be required).
With the integrated wide-panel in place the 430EX II covers as low as 14mm already for full frame, or from 9mm with EF-S. The auto zoom feature moves the flash head reflector with the lens in a range between 24mm and 105mm (15mm – 65mm with APS-C / EF-S).
The 320EX is enough to cover the standard Canon 18-55mm EF-S kit lens, but it’s not compatible with super wide angles like a 10-22mm, and it wastes power with telephoto lenses.
Real AF Assist
When it comes to AF assist there are big differences between the designs with significant impact on low light shooting. A good AF assist beam is unobtrusive, uses a pattern for contrast, and covers a wider range of AF sensors.
The Canon 430EX II uses the latest technology for low light focus assist. The dual beam is state of the art, with 2 bright red LED lights. The projection of a striped pattern allows precise focusing even in situations with zero contrast (such as a white wall). And the official range of 10 meters is very good.
In comparison, there’s a much simpler system found in the 320 EX. In normal photo mode, the flash uses as AF assist what Canon calls “intermittent flash firing system” and people on the discussion boards call the “disco light”: a sequence of small flashes from the flash tube itself. Not only is the maximum range shorter with 4 meters max.
Using the flash tube can’t really be called unobtrusive, it’s actually pretty annoying for your subject.
The 320′s LED lamp would be an alternative but it is usable as AF assist only in live view mode; Its usefulness is also limited by the fact that there’s no pattern projected which is why it can increase an existing contrast, but it can’t generate contrast e.g. on a white wall with no structure itself.
Real Manual Flash Mode
This mode is not present on the 320EX. It has a manual mode, but only controlled through a compatible camera body. As soon as you’re shooting outside of the wireless Canon TTL world, the manual mode option is gone for good!
On top of that, it’s also often more convenient to set an output level on the flash, and not have to dig through the camera menu. The photo shows the LCD screen of the 430EX II flash with manual power set to 1/2 with a -.07 adjustment.
There are a couple more factors speaking for the established mid-range flash, apart from the main ones mentioned above.
- LCD display
Only the 320EX lacks the LCD display; I don’t think this is a big deal since there’s not too much to set on the flash unit itself, and there a lots of examples of flashes that are easy to use without LCD (e.g. the Nissin Di-622 Mark II)
- Exposure compensation on the unit
In case a flash exposure compensation is needed, your only option with the 320EX is to set one on the camera. The 430EX in contrast allows dialing in a flash exposure compensation on the speedlite itself.
- Analog TTL mode
Canon 320EX is only compatible with digital type “A” camera bodies. The 430EX II can also be used with film based EOS camera bodies, and with PowerShot G series cameras (type “A” and “B” cameras)
- Stroboscopic mode in wireless setup
The 430EX II can be used in multi flash mode as part of a wireless setup, but not in the camera hot shoe. The 320EX doesn’t offer that feature at all.
- More custom features
There are a couple more custom features available with the 430EX II, e.g. switching display units from meters to feet, which don’t apply to the 320EX. The list below doesn’t contain anything game changing however, it’s simply that more features come with more customization
|320EX Custom functions||430EX II Custom functions|
Auto power off (Enabled/Disabled)
Quick flash w/continuous shot (Disabled/ Enabled)
Slave auto power off timer (60 minutes/10 minutes)
Slave auto power off cancel (Within 8 hours/ Within 1 hour)
Distance indicator display (Meters/Feet)
Auto power off (Enabled/Disabled)
Modeling flash (Enabled/Disabled)
Test firing with auto flash (1/32/full output)
AF-assist beam firing (Enabled/Disabled)
Auto zoom for sensor size (Enabled/Disabled)
Slave auto power off timer (60 minutes/10 minutes)
Slave auto power off cancel (Within 8 hours/ Within 1 hour)
Flash range/aperture info (Maximum distance/Aperture display)
To learn more, read the full Canon 430EX II review on Speedlights.net.
320EX vs 430EX II Specs Compared
The following table shows the full specifications together with Speedlights.net test results for the 2 mid-range speedlite offers from Canon: 320EX vs. 430EX II.
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$model2 = "'430EX II'";
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If you’re never shooting video with your DSLR the decision is easy: get a 430EX II, not the 320. If you’re shooting a lot of demanding flash setups, and shooting more ambitious video projects, the call is also simple: buy a photo flash and an extra video light, e.g. a real light panel, or a ‘hot’ light.
What’s the 320EX good for, then? I think it’s a good compromise when you like to experiment with your camera’s photo and video modes, and you have no plans to move beyond using the kit lens: the simple video light is a lot better than no light; and the flash, especially when combined with higher ISO, should be sufficient for most of your shooting.
Other Alternatives in the $200 – $300 Range
There are 2 other options worth considering in the price range of the 320EX, both from third parties.
The first is the Nissin Di-622 Mark II, which you can get for less than $200. It’s simple but very powerful, has a real manual mode, a ‘real’ AF assist (single LED), auto zoom, wide panel, and even some features not found on the 430EX II, e.g. 2 optical slave modes, or a built-in reflector card. Go here for a full in-depth Nissin 622 Mark II review.
The second, with around $230 pretty exactly in the same price range as the 320EX, is the 50 AF-1 flash from Metz. This flash features pretty much everything the 430EX II has to offer at a slightly lower price point, and with a slightly simpler user interface. The 50 AF-1 is the evolution from the precursor 48 AF-1: learn more in the 48 AF-1 review.
Finally, there are more options in the Canon world: The current top-grade speedlite is the Canon 580EX II. The 270EX and new 270EX II are the entry-level flashes from Canon: they don’t bring a lot of features to the table, but at least they are small, light and relatively cheap (at last for a Canon flash).
If you don’t mind buying a used flash then also have a look at the Canon 430EX (around $200) or the 580EX (around $350).
Where to buy the Canon 320EX
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.