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Smart lighting with this flash strobe

The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is great for beginners who may not be well-versed in flash photography.
The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is great for beginners who may not be well-versed in flash photography.

The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is touted as the world's first flash strobe with an Auto Intelligent (AI) bounce function.

This means the flash can automatically tilt to the optimal bounce angle depending on the scene. This is great for beginners who do not know how to bounce the flash to get even lighting for their shots.

For this review, I tested it with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR camera. From a forward-pointing position, the flash can tilt up and backwards to 120 degrees and swivel horizontally from left to right.

The 470EX-AI looks like any other flash strobe with a rather traditional rear control panel consisting of a monochrome LCD screen. Below the LCD screen, there is a power switch, a selection dial and dedicated buttons for mode, zoom, flash exposure compensation and others.

The only telltale signs of its unique capability is the AI.B button on the left of the rotary dial and an AI.B switch above the LCD screen. The AI.B switch allows you to toggle through the No AI Bounce, AI Bounce Semi Auto and AI Bounce Full Auto modes.

I started by testing the AI Bounce Full Auto mode. Holding the camera in a landscape orientation and pressing the AI.B button, the 470EX-AI fired a pre-flash at the subject before it tilted upwards and fired a second pre-flash at the ceiling.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $639

    BOUNCE ANGLE: 0 to 120 degrees

    WEIGHT: 385g (without batteries)

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

This configuration process, which has to be repeated every time you switch to a new location, gives it a reading of the subject and the environment.

When you move the camera from a landscape to portrait orientation, double-half-press the shutter release button and the flash head will automatically tilt upwards.

When you switch back to landscape, double-half-press again to reposition the flash head.

The results were surprisingly pleasing when I photographed my subject in a meeting room with a 4m-tall white ceiling. The metering was accurate and the flash provided even lighting to the subject regardless of the camera's orientation.

While the Full Auto mode certainly makes flash photography a tad easier, I feel it might not provide much education for a budding photographer. This mode also bounces only vertically, so it is not ideal when a 45-degree bounce would be better.

But if you are a more advanced photographer, you can use the AI Bounce Semi Auto mode.

In this mode, you first manually tilt the flash head to the angle you prefer (again in landscape orientation), press the Angle Set button on the side of the flash head and the flash will remember the angle you have set.

Subsequently, regardless of camera orientation, when you double-half-press the shutter release button, the flash head will automatically tilt to the angle you had set earlier.

I tried various flash angles with this mode and everything worked without a hitch.

On the downside, the 470EX-AI does not support radio transmission (RT) communication, but only optical communication.

Thus, it cannot be used as a master flash to control another flash in slave mode. Instead, you can use only the 470EX-AI in slave mode with another Canon flash, like Speedlite 600EX II-RT, as the master.

In addition, the 470EX-AI's AI Bounce Full Auto mode is not supported by Canon EOS models launched before the second half of 2014.

Also, at $639, it is more expensive than its peers like the non-AI Speedlite 430EX III-RT ($419), which supports optical and RT communication for wireless flash shooting.

• Verdict: The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is an innovative flash strobe that makes flash photography easy for beginners.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline 'Smart lighting with this flash strobe'. Print Edition | Subscribe