Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 16 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

What's New: 320EX, 270EX II Flash Release Function

March 31, 2011

the flash becomes a remote control device

A totally new feature on both the new Canon Speedlite 270EX II as well as the larger Speedlite 320EX is Canon's Flash Release Function. It's the first time this type of feature has ever been included in an accessory flash unit, and it underscores the usefulness of taking the flash off the camera for a whole new look to your lighting. We'll explain here how the Flash Release Function operates, and give you some ideas of how it might be used in real-world situations.

The Flash Release Function:  what it does

Canon's new Flash Release Function lets a user remove a Speedlite completely from a camera, and by pressing a button on the side of the flash unit, fire compatible EOS cameras up to 16 feet away.  That's right – the flash becomes a remote control device.  This capability allows a photographer to position a camera, and then trigger it without any wires or cords, and greatly reduces the chance of added camera shake, assuming the camera is solidly positioned beforehand.

This Flash Release Function is exclusive to the new Speedlite 270EX II and Speedlite 320EX.  Functioning similarly to Canon's existing wireless remote controllers, such as the super-compact RC-6, RC-5, and RC-1, it requires an EOS digital SLR that's compatible with infrared wireless remote controllers.  As of September 2013, that means this new Speedlite feature works only with the following EOS digital SLR models:

     EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 5D Mark III

     EOS 60D, EOS 7D, EOS 70D

     EOS Rebel T5i, T4i, T3i, T2i, T1i

     EOS Rebel XSi

     EOS Rebel XTi, XT

     Original EOS Digital Rebel (6 million pixel version)

Pressing the remote release button on the side of either new Speedlite sends a wireless infrared signal to any of these cameras, and they'll fire their shutter two seconds later. This two-second delay is built into the system, and there's no way to defeat or circumvent this. It's true that it does limit this remote control method for users who require extremely precise timing (photographing close-ups of water drops hitting a larger water surface, for example). But for many other applications, especially macro and still-life shooting, it can actually offer an advantage. More on this in a moment.

Option 1: Flash Release Function, with no flash exposure

That's right: you can simply use a Speedlite 320EX, or the new Speedlite 270EX II simply as a remote controller, with no flash actually firing and contributing to exposure. Here's what you'd need to do:

  1. Set the camera up to be triggered by a wireless remote controller: Go to its "DRIVE" function (usually a button on the exterior of the camera, showing the camera's Self-Timer icon along with an icon of stacked rectangles, representing continuous advance). Press this button or activate this in the menu, and then set the camera to the combined self-timer and infrared remote icon. Press the SET button to lock-in this setting.
  2. Assuming you don't want flash to fire during this picture, be sure the camera's built-in flash is turned OFF. If the built-in flash tries to pop-up with the camera in the full-auto "green zone" exposure mode, try changing it to the "P" (Program) mode – it's still fully automatic, but the built-in flash won't pop-up by itself anymore.
  3. Take the 320EX or 270EX II Speedlite in your hand, and turn it on. The flash should not be mounted on the camera at this point. Hold it somewhere in FRONT of the camera, but sufficiently to the side that it won't be in the picture. If it's a traditional self-timer photo of a group of people, the photographer should step into the group where he or she intends to be in the final shot.
  4. Aim the front of the Speedlite at the front of the camera, and press the remote release button, on the side of the 270EX II or 320EX. Two seconds later, the camera will fire – this delay will allow you time to move the flash unit out of sight if you're in the picture. The off-camera Speedlite 270EX II or 320EX will not fire during exposure, when used this way.

Option 2: Flash Release Function, with Wireless E-TTL flash

This is a potentially very interesting option for users who want to position a flash off-camera by hand-holding it. As long as the camera can be positioned securely, whether by tripod-mounting it or setting it on a stable surface, this will allow you to put a flash where you want, without requiring light stands, brackets, or another set of hands!

It can be valuable for simple bounce-flash shots, especially when you want to bounce off of a wall or have more control for ceiling bounce. And, of course, it can totally change the look of close-up pictures, moving from simple, flat, on-camera flash to directional light that sometimes can simulate sunlight. It's one of the great new capabilities of these two new, affordable Canon Speedlites.

Here are the steps you'd do to fire a camera, using the Speedlite 270EX II or 320EX as a triggering device, and have the flash act as a wireless E-TTL "slave unit" with you hand-holding it in position:

  1. Set the Speedlite into its "slave" mode, using its ON-OFF switch (move it to the middle "slave" position)
  2. Set a compatible EOS camera to its self-timer mode, which simultaneously readies it to receive wireless flash signals (see step #1 under "Option 1" directly above). The camera must be in its self-timer mode to be triggered by a wireless remote controller. And, again, only the cameras previously listed will be compatible.
  3. Make sure the camera has some form of Wireless E-TTL triggering device. This can be any of the following:
    1. The built-in flash of EOS 60D, Rebel T3i, or EOS 7D, set in camera's "built-in flash control menu" to act as a wireless "master" unit
    2. An optional Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 mounted on the camera's accessory shoe
    3. A Canon Speedlite 580EX II (or earlier 580EX, or 550EX) mounted on the camera's hot shoe, with the flash turned on and set to its "master" mode
  4. Hold the "slave" flash – either the Speedlite 270EX II or Speedlite 320EX – off-camera, somewhere within 16 feet of the front of the camera, and not too far off to either side. First, have the front of the Speedlite face the front if the camera, even if you want the actual flash illumination from this Speedlite to be directed in a different direction.
  5. Press the remote release button on the side of the speedlite
  6. You now have two seconds to re-position the Speedlite, even if it means taking a step or two toward your actual subject, and aim the Speedlite so that its light will be cast on the actual subject.
  7. The camera will fire two seconds after you've pressed the "slave" flash's remote release button; the triggering device you've activated (in step #3) will now send wireless E-TTL signals to the Speedlite 270EX II or 320EX you're holding in your hand. It will fire during exposure!

Possible applications for the Flash Release Function:

Really, the only limits are in the imaginations of Canon EOS photographers. While it's certainly true that pros and extremely dedicated enthusiasts who have already invested in wireless flash accessories may find the need for Canon's new Flash Release to be limited, there will be many for whom this will be a welcome new feature. It's likely that more users who are beginning to explore wireless E-TTL will have a tripod for their camera than light stands and swivel adapters to hold their wireless flash unit.

Some possible ways this can be used include:

  • Macro and close-up images of flowers and other natural subjects, where the camera can be tripod-mounted and the photographer is now free to experiment with many quick off-camera flash pictures, easily varying his or her lighting by simply moving and changing how they hold the flash after pressing its remote release button.
  • Documenting hobbies with effective pictures that no longer look like snapshots: whether coins or stamps in a collection, artwork, small sculptures, or collections of porcelain figures, it's now simple to either position a Speedlite 270EX II or 320EX off-camera and give the lighting a directional look, or by bouncing off a wall or ceiling, completely change the lighting to a soft, rich look. Either way, that harsh, flat flash-on-camera appearance is a thing of the past.
  • Photographing glass: from small figurines to fine wine glasses with your favorite vino. Glass cannot be effectively photographed by lighting it from the front - so ordinary flash-on-camera never works well. Instead, use a Speedlite 270EX II or 320EX off-camera, and aim the light onto a wall or background behind the glassware.
  • (Be sure, if using the built-in flash of the EOS 7D, 60D or Rebel T3i, that you're set to "slave only" or the new Rebel T3's "EasyWireless" setting, so the built-in flash won't fire during actual exposure; if using a 500-series Speedlite on-camera as a "master" flash, be sure to set it to "master flash off".)
  • Portraits: you can shoot beautifully-lit images, without a full-equipped studio. In fact, an ordinary room with a typical white wall will work fine! Have a person (or pet) stand or sit about 3 feet from a white wall, without objects like paintings or mirrors nearby. Hold either Speedlite so that light is aimed sideways, bouncing off this wall so that it reflects onto the side of your subject. You'll bathe it in soft lighting, once you get the hang of positioning the off-camera flash correctly.
  • Fish in an aquarium: No special equipment needed; a standard 18-55mm or 15-85mm zoom lens (or similar) will work fine. Set it to its minimum focus distance, zoom the lens to a fairly wide or middle setting, and position it close to the front glass of the aquarium. Hold a Speedlite 270EX II or 320EX off to one side of the aquarium. You now have options: you can aim the flash directly into the aquarium from either the left or right side, you can hold it above the aquarium for effective top-lighting, or simply hold it off to one side and upward a bit, so that you get frontal yet angled, directional lighting.
  • Similarly, you can get great lighting of pets in dry terrariums, such as lizards and so on.

Summary

Obviously, the opportunities are extensive. The new Canon Speedlite 270EX II and 320EX will serve many EOS photographers just fine by mounting them on-camera and using them in conventional fashion. But built-in to both of them are a remarkable pair of new capabilities: they're the least-expensive EOS Speedlites ever to offer wireless E-TTL "slave" operation, and they offer the unprecedented ability to fire a camera when you're holding a flash off-camera. Whether using it simply as a substitute for a remote control device, or in conjunction with Wireless E-TTL for new and exciting lighting opportunities, the new Flash Release Function adds a totally new dimension to what portable flashes are capable of. It's especially suited to enthusiasts looking to make that next step into wireless flash photography, who haven't yet moved into advanced accessories like light stands and specialized Speedlite modifiers.

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