Mike Chan
Mike Chan

Mike is part of the Canon Digital Learning Center team as a Senior Technical Specialist providing Online Educational resources to professional and advanced amateur photographers.

Easy built-in off-camera flash control with the EOS 7D

December 17, 2013

By now, we have heard it time and time again: off-camera flash is the IDEAL situation when photographing people and using a Speedlite on-camera is also a good way to go, although still not ideal. We have learned that in order to achieve professional quality images using flash, that the pop-up flash should not be used. But what if the pop-up flash CAN be used to achieve professional quality lighting?

Let’s just say that during this holiday season, your extended family comes over and you want to capture this moment with a family portrait or even portraits of individual family members. You have your DSLR and Speedlite and want to get that light off-camera, but with no way to trigger it.

It’s all about options

There are several options ranging from Canon accessories to third party equipment that can accomplish the task at hand.

  • The Off-Camera Shoe Cord OC-E3 cord: Probably the easiest (and most secure) way to achieve off-camera flash while supporting E-TTL. The only downside is that you are bound to a two-foot long coiled cord.
  • Two Speedlites acting as Master and Slave: Another solid option especially considering that the new Speedlite 600EX-RT units are capable of communicating using built-in radio.
  • Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT: The PERFECT accessory if you own the Speedlite 600EX-RT flash units.
  • Third party triggering systems: Some have been proven to be reliable and others not – the majority of these are simply triggers that limit you to using manual flash exposure.

So there are a lot of options, but truth be told, you still have to buy something. What if you don’t have any of these and are on a shoestring budget? Easy. You have had the answer built into your camera all along.

The built-in pop-up flash

Even though you have been avoiding using the pop-up flash ever since you bought that Speedlite, it’s the key to quickly and easily getting the flash off-camera. The pop-up flash is able to control off-camera Speedlites set in the slave mode by emitting pre-flash light pulse signals through the pop-up flash. There is a downside to this method. Unlike the methods described above, this method is purely dependent on using the optical system.

The menu to activate the wireless control is under the 1st shooting menu -> Flash control -> Built in flash func. Setting -> Wireless func.

Within this menu, you are presented with four choices:

The wireless functionality is disabled

The external Speedlite and pop-up flash are both on and are in a ratio (ex. 4:1, 2:1 1:1)

Only the external Speedlite is on and will affect exposure; the pop-up flash will only fire a pre-flash

The external Speedlite and pop-up flash are both on and are independently controlled


The built-in flash can separately control A and B groups (A:B) ratio, or fire all slaves together at even power. Advanced EOS models like the EOS 7D allow separate control of a C-group of slave units as well.

The nice thing about this built-in feature is that you aren’t limited to just the flagship flash unit. In fact, you can use a combination of Speedlites from the 270EX II through the 600EX-RT. The only Speedlites you aren’t able to use as a slave are the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX and Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX lights.

This feature will work with most EOS cameras with a pop-up flash including the EOS Rebel T3i, T4i and T5i and the EOS 60D and 70D. By the way, EOS 6D, EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X owners aren’t in the dark with this functionality. They just need an extra accessory, such as an extra Speedlite 600EX-RT, 580EX II, 90EX or Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 will work as a master unit. If you enable Wireless E-TTL with your built-in flash, be sure to turn the wireless flash OFF in the built-in flash control menu once you're done shooting because it could underexpose photos later on when it fires pre-flashes for non-existent wireless control.

So, using the pop-up flash is a simple and easy way to explore off-camera creative lighting by using the equipment you currently have. Try this functionality out this holiday season with family and friends. Even if you don’t have a light stand or a softbox, placing them on shelves or chairs with the included cold shoe foot and bouncing off of walls, like Explorer of Life Bruce Dorn shows in “Party Pix,” works just fine.

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