Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI: no radio, but auto bounce

Canon’s new flash leaves radio aside. Instead, it offers a motorized head that adjusts automatically for the best results when light bounces. Canon calls the technology AI Bounce. If it works, it’s an interesting new feature for flash users.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI: no radio, but auto bounce

The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is a new category of strobe, and is the world’s first flash equipped with AI Bounce. A test flash is used to calculate the perfect angle for natural, flattering illumination. Is it some kind of magic?

I must confess I am addicted to bounce flash. Whether I use it on camera or away from the camera, it is never directly pointed at my subject. Now, I’ve some experience with bounce flash, so it kind of works for me all the time (and usually in pure manual mode), with one or two test shots giving me the basis for working each new situation. But I am well aware that for many people flash, bounced or not, is a headache. I believe Canon designed this new flash for those people, and while I would like to have one unit to try, I must say just reading through the information available makes me wonder how the flash computes all the data to choose the light output and bounce angle.

Canon says this new Auto Intelligent (AI) function takes the fuss and uncertainty out of flash photography and creates unrivaled illumination. The revolutionary new technology present inside the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI, says the company, “intelligently calculates and maneuvers the flash head position automatically to create optimum lighting for outstanding images. From photo enthusiasts learning how to use flash, to professionals looking for straightforward shooting, the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI is a must-have for photographers.“

Really? I must say I am curious. Still, Canon asked a professional, accomplished portrait, lifestyle and wedding photographer Jo Thorne to use the flash whilst it was in development, and her comments were enthusiastic. Commenting on her experience, Jo Thorne said that “having used the Speedlite 470EX-AI on a few different shoots recently, the results are exceptional – far exceeding my expectations. The Speedlite 470EX-AI’s set-up efficiency means I’m able to capture more in-action moments, which cuts down my post-production time and gives me an abundance of more images to choose from. Using this flash has reignited my love of light, something that can add immense value to an image.”

According to Canon, the AI Bounce function automates bounce photography within the flash. This never-before-seen innovation uses a test flash to calculate the perfect angle for natural, flattering illumination, whilst automatically moving the motorised flash head into the optimum position for perfect lighting. The full-auto mode  carefully manipulates the flash head for every new shot, eliminating unwanted shooting complications. It also removes the time needed to evaluate the shot and reposition the flash head manually. As a result, photographers of all levels can confidently and quickly use the flash, reassured that the Speedlite 470EX-AI can help deliver consistently beautiful images.

Being old school, I am aware of the problems you face when you bounce light, so I still have a few questions that Canon information initially available did not answer completely. How does the flash define the reflectivity of the surface used to bounce the light from? How does it know the type of subject being photographed? How does it define the amount of light needed for a perfect exposure? How does it define what is, according to Canon, “flattering illumination”? Does it compensate for colour casts, if the surface light bounces from is not white? The video from Canon USA with Rudy Winston (above) does clear some of the aspects of the new flash, and does answer to some of my questions, so do sit down and watch it.

The flash has a Full Auto mode that, according to Canon, takes care of everything (I want to try that, please…), which is ideal for those not familiar with the use of flash. For those with greater experience in flash photography, there is a semi-auto mode which allows the user to set the bounce flash angle for different shooting scenarios. The Speedlite 470EX-AI then automatically adjusts the flash head for different camera orientations. Canon ads that “this pioneering technology enhances the opportunity for photographers to be creative with their lighting, whilst achieving consistency in every shot. This is crucial for portrait photographers who regularly alternate between landscape and portrait.”

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI: no radio, but auto bounce

If the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI works as promised, it may well be a good strobe to add to any photographer’s bag, and not just those entering the world of flash photography.  The new AI Bounce feature seems to be something to use with the flash on the camera, but I wonder if it works with the flash positioned away from the camera. Canon does state that the wireless optical receiver function allows the flash to be used at distances of up to 10m away from the camera, but does not specify if that’s for normal operation or if the AI Bounce still works. And if it does, can it be used with radio, through the use of  a transmitter/receiver pair from an independent brand? Yes, I  still do have a lot of questions that need answers, despite this being an interesting development in terms of technology.

One thing is sure. With a camera with a built in Speedlite transmitter function (as most Canon DSLRs do have these days) it is possible to control the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI, if not with the AI Bounce active, at least as a common flash, for experimenting with varying lighting scenarios. In fact, the Speedlite 470EX-AI harnesses the power and reliability of Canon’s flash technology, although it leaves aside the radio system used in the most recent strobes from Canon, like the Speedlite 430EX III-RT. Does the move to the old optical system represent a limitation of the AI Bounce?

With a Guide number of 47 (m, ISO 100), the Speedlite 470EX-AI offers a regular lens coverage – from 24 to 105mm, with a built-in adapter extending the coverage to 14mm, for extreme wide-angle shots. The flash recharges silently in 5.5 seconds to full power with 4 AA/LR6 batteries, or 3.5 seconds with rechargeable NiMH batteries, which means the unit is slower than the 430EX III-RT or even the non-radio 430EX II (0.1 to 2 sec. with NiMH and 0.1 to 3.7 sec. with alkaline batteries). High-speed sync is present, as usual, and the flash offers a total of 19 custom functions,  so photographers can personalize the settings according to their needs and preferences.

Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI: no radio, but auto bounce

The dot-matrix LCD panel provides an intuitive interface, guiding photographers to easily navigate the flash settings and select how diffused or concentrated the light is via priority settings. To achieve maximum flash output, shortcut buttons and a control wheel provide fast access to settings, delivering a creative fall-off effect and an even distribution of light across the whole image. By rotating the flash head 180 degrees left and right, plus 120 degrees upwards, the AI Bounce flash function enables photographers to adapt to different environments and remove unwanted shadows. The bounce adapter provided can be clipped onto the Speedlite 470EX-AI to deliver softer illumination, allowing for much more radiant portrait shots. With this level of control over the flash, says Canon, “photographers can focus on capturing high-quality, well-lit imagery that consistently delivers unrivaled results.”

While it is compatible with all EOS products, the AI Bounce full-auto mode on the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI will only work with EOS models built after 2014 – excluding EOS 2000D, EOS 4000D, 1300D, EOS M6, EOS M5 and EOS M3. The Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI Bounce flash is scheduled to be available April 2018 for an estimated retail price of $399.99.

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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…

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