First-Look Review of the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

Everyone has that one friend who claims to be a photographer, but doesn’t know the first thing about the technical aspects of the craft. If your equipment of choice is an iPhone and pre-made filters, odds are you’re not a professional photo artist. You know the type; they often post their photographic masterworks to their Facebook feeds, usually pictures of flowers or “moody” black and white photos of autumn leaves. In short, they have absolutely no artistic vision or eye for composition, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn.

The truth is, professional photography is not easy. It requires in-depth technical skills, compositional knowledge, lighting experience and great timing. Photography is also not cheap. Many professional photographers own lenses that cost more than $1,000. Flashes can cost well over $500 alone. In other words, keep your pictures of lattes to yourself.

One of the most difficult elements of photography is lighting. Choosing the right flash and the right lamp is serious business. Do you want a diffused look or direct lighting? In many cases, especially when you’re on the move, a flash will do the trick, but even flashes aren’t easy to work with. The extreme brightness of a camera flash can leave unsightly shadows and edges hard enough to cut through diamonds. Luckily, flashes are finally beginning to catch up with the rest of the AI world.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

First Impressions

With the release of the Speedlite 470EX-AI, Canon introduces the world’s first artificially intelligent flash. The 470EX-AI flash features an AI Bounce function, which allows the flash to measure ceiling distance and your distance from the subject in order to automatically adjust for the correct bounce angle. While the 470EX-AI is specifically designed for bounce angle photography (a style of lighting which is softer and more uniform than direct flash lighting), this is a flash which features versatility, speed and intelligence.

Over the past week, we took the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI for a test run. We focused particularly on the flash’s AI Bounce feature, which might just change the way we think about bounce flash photography. Here is our honest review of the 470EX-AI.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

AI Bounce

First things first, we wanted to test out Canon’s new AI Bounce feature, which transforms the 470EX-AI into an automated, intelligent gadget. The first time you use the new Speedlite, it’s a little freaky. We’re not used to our flash flipping and flopping on its own. The flash works by using special sensors to measure how far away your subject is and how far you are from the walls and ceilings. When the 470EX-AI is making measurements, the head of the device flings and swivels around, automatically adjusting the camera’s exposure, angle and flash output for the perfect bounce flash shot.

If that wasn’t helpful enough, the flash can maintain the same angle whether the camera orientation is horizontal or vertical, providing unmatched perspective freedom. The AI Bounce function has two different settings. The Full-Auto mode makes the flash automatically make the correct adjustment for each shot. The Semi-Auto mode allows the user to determine their own bounce angle, yet still maintains the same angle when the camera orientation is altered. In addition, the photographer can store their favorite bounce angles and call them forward at any time.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

We tested out the AI Bounce feature by using the same bounce angle under a variety of different perspectives. The 470EX-AI produced consistent results throughout despite our best attempts to catch the flash sleeping. The flash arrived at our subject at just the right time with just enough soft illumination. The results were truly gorgeous.

Power

With a maximum guide number of 47 (when the focal distance is 105 mm) the Speedlite 470EX-AI provides enough light to be effective even when using a telephoto lens. A high guide number also ensures that enough light reaches your subject to create the best possible photo. Even when your subject isn’t cooperating, perhaps moving away from the camera or being all frantic, the 470EX-AI still produces a clean composition. During our testing we went out of our way to try and screw with the flash’s power performance, but the Speedlite did a fantastic job of keeping up with the challenge, delivering clean and consistent lighting.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

Autofocus

Composing a focused photo is not always easy when you’re using flash lighting. To get the focus just right, it often takes some trial and error before you get a real feel for your new equipment. The 470EX-AI includes an infrared beam system which emits a steady IR beam at the subject even when you are using bounce lighting. The IR beam helps keep the camera focused on one of the flash’s 19 autofocus points. When the AF point is located on the very edge of the frame, the 470EX-AI can flash multiple times to deliver enough light for the whole frame.

During our AF testing we were particularly impressed with the beam assist emission feature, which did a spectacular job of keeping the focus where we wanted it. We’ve often worked with flashes which have a mind of their own and decide that their subject is better than your subject. The new Speedlite instead helps you create your vision.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

Flash Distribution

The 470EX-AI features a flash distribution range of 24 mm to 105mm. This impressive range does a great job of rationing brightness, resulting in every part of the frame getting a consistent amount of light. We found the flash to be evenly distributed even when we were using a wide-angle lens. Even more impressive was the flash’s ability to properly illuminate subjects that were compositionally off-center.

The built-in wide panel flash provides consistently diffused light results for focal points up to 14 mm wide. If you have a flash that is underpowered for your needs, you’ll often notice your photos have an unwanted vignette effect. We didn’t notice any darkening around the edges with the 470EX-AI.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

Flash Exposure

In photography, we don’t always want our background to receive as much light as our subject. Some shots call for moodier tones, while others require a softer touch. We found the 470EX-AI’s exposure adjustment feature to be a huge help for getting just the right amount of lightning contrast. The Speedlite’s exposure is adjustable with a range of 3 stops in 1/3 or 1/2 increments. That’s enough to give you some major wiggle room with your compositional layers. Canon has included an easy exposure adjustment dial built right into the flash, so we found it very easy to make quick exposure adjustments when we needed to.

Bounce Angle Range

If you use bounce lighting often, you’ll understand how important a broad range of flash angles can be for getting the right shot. The Speedlite 470EX-AI can reach angles up to 120 degrees upward and 180 degrees horizontally. The AI Bounce feature does a great job of seamlessly taking advantage of the flash’s generous bounce range. The angle range of the 470EX-AI is perhaps best witnessed by using the AI Bounce feature to automatically set the correct angle. If you’d like a little more control over the technical specifics, the flash allows you to set maximum bounce angles and other various semi-automatic operations. We enjoyed the flexibility of complete automation, with the AI Bounce, and the more advanced manual features.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

Optical Receiver Mode

If you want to cut loose from the hot shoe, the 470EX-AI can act as a receiver unit if you have a compatible flash or a Speedlite mounted transmitter. Sometimes, using an optical wireless flash set-up is the right choice. The 470EX-AI works great as a receiver if you keep it within its maximum distance range, which is a little less than 50 feet away. If there is any possibility that you’ll one day need a flash capable of handling multiple angles and multiple directions, then owning a flash with optical receiver capabilities is an absolute must.

Built-In LCD Panel

The 470EX-AI features a small black-and-white LCD panel which provides some basic information about the state of the flash. From this screen you can see if the flash has recharged, as well as data about the critical exposure and flash setting. As far as LCD screens go, this one is pretty basic. The flash’s screen quality is like that of a scientific calculator. It’s not the prettiest display in the world, but it certainly gets the job done.

Included Accessories

The 470EX-AI ships with a mini-stand for hot shoe-free surface mounting, a dedicated storage case and a bounce adaptor, which gives your photos a suppressed shadow effect, without sacrificing any detailing. The adaptor does a great job of providing soft, diffused lighting, which is of great importance with bounce lighting photography. The mount and the bounce adaptor each have a place in the included case, so everything fits securely and snugly in a contained space.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Flash

Final Thoughts

Photography beginners often underrate the importance of lighting. As one of the fundamental building blocks for creating an emotionally moving photo, lighting is a topic that deserves more attention. The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is a flash made for bounce lighting, but versatile enough to be used for general photos and even optical wireless set-ups. The AI Bounce feature is a great way for both beginners and experts alike to get that perfect bounce angle. We’ve never used anything quite like the 470EX-AI, but we really enjoyed it.

Considering the automation that the flash provides, we consider the 470EX-AI to be a great value. There’s just no other flash on the market that fills the same needs. Getting just the right flash angle is not always easy, especially if you’re not a mathematician, which is why the AI Bounce feature is such a welcomed addition to our flash family. If you’re just starting to get serious about photography or often find yourself using bounce lighting, the 470EX-AI is highly recommended. The automatic swiveling and folding of the new Speedlite takes a little getting used to, but the rewards are well worth the novelty.

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