Flash speedlites used to feel like quite the expensive proposition, but with the proliferation of cheap, third-party versions, the variety and range has become ever more accessible. If the latest top-end speedlites still feel very costly, then older models such as the Canon Speedlite 580EX II still have plenty of capabilities.
The 580EX II has now been superseded with the likes of the 600Ex-RT, but for those who bought into the flashgun in the early days, such as myself, it still covers everything you need for on-camera flash to close-up, off-camera portraits.
For any other type of camera equipment that was produced back in 2007, it wouldn’t just be showing grey hairs, but also resigned to the old people’s home. But in the case of the 580EX II, it’s just one of those things that keeps on going.
Therefore, let’s look more closely into the intricacies of the 580EX II and how it shapes up against the current competitors.
Although the Canon Speedlite 580EX III has a fully plastic construction, just like other flashguns, it feels extremely solid with full weatherproofing and has a reassuring weight of 375g. It takes four AA batteries as its predominant power source, with the option for external power.
The flash head itself can be tilted and moved in all directions, fully moving up and down and through a 360-degree range of motion. The flash head has a built-in wide-angle diffuser allowing coverage for 14mm lenses, plus a very usable bounce card.
The flash can zoom from 24-105mm, with options for automatic and manual control via the zoom button and then rotating the rear dial. All those rear buttons may seem initially intimidating, but in reality they are very straightforward to use and cover all the essentials.
From left to right, the first button illuminates the LCD panel for low-light use and accesses the custom functions. The second button is for cycling through the different modes from fully automatic to manual.
There is a high-speed sync button and a zoom button as well. The large dial is used to quickly change the settings and the central button locks the chosen settings in place.
The 580EX II can cope with both crop and full-frame sensor bodies and lenses, compensating for the differences in focal lengths. The flash also has a guide number of 100 with a reach to 190.3 feet when set to full power.
This distance will obviously depend on the f-number being used. For example, when the flash is set to 190.3 feet with an f-number of f/4 at ISO 100, it will have range up to 47 feet.
The Canon Speedlite 580EX II in Use
Although the 580EX II has an optical wireless system of four channels with different groups, so it’s not always the most straightforward to control the power levels. Some feedback has stated that especially in TTL mode, exposure compensation is hard to set for individual groups, preferring groups A and B to be set by a ratio. However, I use a third-party wireless trigger with more flexibility, which definitely fills in the gaps if you wanted to explore this route.
For a single flash set up, operation is far easier. For instance, the turning of the rear dial can change flash exposure compensation.
In full TTL mode, the flash is extremely straightforward to use and throws out plenty of illumination for everything but distant subjects. In manual mode, power levels can be easily dialed in and a brief press of the pilot light is a quick way to fire off a test burst to make sure everything is working.
Once the menu system has been mastered, it’s a very simple process to dial in settings and power levels. On a typical photoshoot, the 580EX II just simply works and gets on with its intended job, exactly what you need from a reliable Speedlite.
How Does It Compare?
Times have obviously moved on since the introduction of the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, with the latest and swankiest version from Canon being the 600EX II-RT. The latest unit has slightly better overall workings, with things like an increased recycle time and scope for use with the latest Canon cameras. If you only rely on one flash unit, the 600EX II-RT is a good choice, but obviously far more expensive than the 580EX II.
Where things become less clear-cut is with the proliferation of brands such as Godox and Yongnuo with their very affordable flash units. Both companies also offer very affordable flash triggers, with the Godox versions being very reliable.
For a multi-flash setup, additional flashes from these third-party producers make sense. Especially when you can buy a bunch of them for the same price as a top-end flash unit. However, as your primary Speedlite, these cheaper units simply don’t have the same build quality or weather-proofing.
This means if you are a working photographer, it just makes sense to buy the most reliable unit, which is built for the rigors of daily use. Then again, it’s hard not to justify the likes of the Godox AD200 which can provide 200 Watts of power in a Speedlite-sized package.
|Canon Speedlite 580EX II||Canon 600EX II-RT|
|Guide Number||190 feet / 58 meters||197 feet / 60.5 meters|
|Exposure Control||E-TTL/E-TTL II, Manual||E-TTL/E-TTL II, Manual|
Considering the current prices of the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, it’s an excellent flash unit that will cover all the bases you need as a working photographer. It’s not going to have all the latest and greatest features as found in the 600EX II-RT, but if you don’t mind slightly more basic workings, it’s a very reliable flash which doesn’t seem to date for both large and small subjects.
Third-party makers may be offering very similar features for a lot less money, but they are nowhere near as robust for regular use. Over the course of the years, I’ve dropped my 580EX II so many times, had water spilled over it, and even had kids smearing all manner of edible substances over the thing. After a quick wipe down, the 580EX II just keeps working without a hitch.