Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash Review

Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash Review

Introduction of the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash has blurred the Canon flash selection decision making process. Unlike the vast majority of Canon's recently released flashes, the 320EX did not replace a previously-available flash model. Specifically where the 320EX fits into the current Speedlite flash lineup can mostly be discerned by its comparative size.

Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash Compared to Other Canon Speedlite Flashes

Pictured above from left to right are the:
Canon 580EX II Speedlite Flash
Canon 430EX II Speedlite Flash
Canon 320EX Speedlite Flash
Canon 270EX II Speedlite Flash

The Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash's size places it in the second-to-lowest position - its features and capabilities do the same. Slotting between the 270EX II and the 430EX II, The 320EX is a hybrid of the two designs.

Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash Angles

Since the 270EX II has a wireless slave capability, you would expect the 320EX to offer this as well. It does. And it adds the 270EX II's missing ability to participate in one of three flash groups and operate on one of four transmission channels - like the 430EX II. To use this flash in slave mode, simply slide the power switch to the "Slave" setting (I wish the 430EX II and 580EX II were this easy to set). With an integrated or accessory Speedlite controller, the 320EX can then be wirelessly controlled via light. This controlling light requires line of sight, though the controlling light can work when bounced in some situations.

Some of Canon's EOS DSLRs (starting with the Canon EOS 7D and the two following DSLR models, the Canon EOS 60D and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i / 600D) have an integrated Speedlite controller. Accessory Speedlite controllers include the Canon 580EX II Flash and Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter.

The ability to fire a flash (or as many of them as you like) off-camera gives you FAR more control over your light and allows infinite creativity. Included with all slave-capable Canon Speedlite Flashes is a standard Canon flash shoe stand. It conveniently tucks into a small pocket in the also-included padded nylon pouch for storage and transport.

As with the 270EX II and 430EX II, you cannot use the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash as a master flash. But, it can remotely fire a DSLR. See the small button on the side of the 320EX II in the "Side" image above? It acts as a wireless remote controller and is compatible with cameras compatible with the Canon RC-6 Remote Controller.

The remote controller operates on a 2 second delay - to give you time to reposition the flash as desired. Press the button with the flash directed toward the camera, aim the flash as desired and the shot is taken. The flash release is a brand-new-for Canon feature that is shared with the announced-at-the-same-time 270EX II.

As I said in the Canon 270EX II Speedlite Flash Review: While the remote flash feature is incredibly useful, I'm not "getting" the remote camera controller feature. Perhaps I'm being dense, but still life and macro photography are the primary uses I see for this feature. If you are firing the camera from the flash, the camera has to be on a tripod, pre-focused (ideally) and pre-framed. I suppose an assistant could be holding the camera, but I would rather have an assistant (or light stand, Justin Clamp, Joby Tripod etc.) hold the flash with me controlling the setup from the camera.

If I am to be in the picture and firing the camera with the flash, the flash is probably not going to be in a good location to light the picture. So, what's the use? The feature works as-advertised if you want to use it - or you can just ignore it.

I was reminded in the 270EX II review discussion that the remote release function could be used without the flash being used - as a direct replacement for the tiny RC-6. That was a good point. Hiding the 270EX II while the actual frame was being captured is not so easy (your hand will likely need to go missing) - and hiding a 320EX is even more difficult.

I need to discuss the two remaining buttons on the rear of the flash - and the yellow-centered lens on the front. A new-for-Canon feature found on the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash is an LED light. This is a constant light (not a strobe) designed for use as a video fill light. "The light is ideal for video recording but can also be used as a modeling light or as an AF assist beam during Live View shooting." [Canon]

The LED light is not extremely bright, but it definitely helps with closer subjects. I'm probably more excited about the hands-free flashlight the 320EX's LED provides. Between this flash and my Droid Flashlight App, I can probably leave my other flashlights at home. Hang the 320EX-attached camera over your neck and turn on the LED for plenty of hands-free light to navigate your task at hand or your path home.

The LED light has two modes - manual and auto. In manual mode, the button above the switch controls LED on/off. Auto mode is for "... a camera that has an automatic LED light up function". [manual] In Auto mode, the LED will also be used for AF assist in low light conditions.

The LED will light a full frame 50mm angle of view (32mm on a 1.6x APS-C body). LED battery life is rated at about 3.5 hours. That should be plenty of time to hike out of a remote location after dark. :)

Rebel T5i with Speedlite 320EX

The camera menu system is relied upon for changing many of this flash's settings, so be sure that your camera has the flash menu feature. Here is the Canon EOS DSLR compatibility statement from Canon: "Compatible with model EOS 5D Mark II and later. Available via firmware update for: EOS-1Ds Mark III, EOS-1D Mark III, EOS 40D, EOS 50D, and EOS Rebel XS".

As with the 270EX II, the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash head is able to bounce light at 0°, 60°, 75° or 90° tilt.

A big feature upgrade from the 270EX II is the ability to also rotate the flash head. Like the 430EX II, the 320EX II head will rotate a total of 270° - 90° to the right and 180° to the left. As with the 430EX II, Canon got their left and right confused (in my opinion).

Here is why: When shooting in portrait/vertical orientation, the camera grip is going to be on top - or to the right if I'm shooting with a battery grip. In that shooting position, the 180° rotation to the flash-left will position the light directly into my left eye. I can tell you that there is not nearly enough light bounce coming from that eye to help the image. At the same time, the ideal bounce location just above/behind me is uncoverable due to the flash's inability to rotate into that position.

Great things can be done with bounce flash - learn to use it. Simply twist the head to the direction you wish to bounce light from.

As with the 270EX II, a 2-position (24mm, 50mm) manual zoom option allows the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash's light to be concentrated on the framed subject - making more efficient use of its power and extending its useful distance. Unlike with the 270EX II, both zoom settings can be used in any of the bounce orientations.

The Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash features the higher grade hot shoe locking mechanism of the 430EX II and 580EX II. Overall build quality is very good. The extending portion of the flash head has some flex, but I'm not bothered by it. No sound can be heard during 320EX charging.

The Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash uses 4 AA batteries (same as the 430EX II, the 270EX II uses 2). Note that batteries are not included in the weight specifications below - use NiMH rechargeable batteries for both cost, environmental and performance reasons. I use and recommend Sanyo Eneloop batteries for their long-lasting performance and especially for their slow discharge properties. All dimensions below are WxHxD. The ST-E2 is not a flash but a flash transmitter - it requires a 2CR5 lithium battery.

Current ModelWeightDimensions
Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter3.5 oz(100g)2.4 x 2.0 x 3.1"(62 x 51 x 80mm)
Canon Speedlite 270EX II Flash5.5 oz(155g)2.6 x 2.6 x 3.0"(65.8 x 65.2 x 77mm)
Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash9.7 oz(275g)2.8 x 4.5 x 3.1"(70 x 115 x 78.4mm)
Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash11.6 oz(330g)2.8 x 4.8 x 4.0"(72 x 122 x 101mm)
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash13.2 oz(375g)3.0 x 5.3 x 4.5"(75 x 134 x 114mm)
Discontinued ModelWeightDimensions
Canon Speedlite 220EX Flash5.6 oz(159g)2.6 x 3.6 x 2.4"(66 x 91 x 61mm)
Canon Speedlite 270EX Flash5.1 oz(145g)2.5 x 2.6 x 3.0"(64 x 65 x 76.5mm)
Canon Speedlite 420EX Flash10.6 oz(300g)2.8 x 3.9 x 4.8"(71 x 99 x 122 mm)
Canon Speedlite 430EX Flash11.6 oz(330g)2.8 x 4.8 x 4.0"(72 x 122 x 101mm)
Canon Speedlite 550EX Flash14.2 oz(403g)3.2 x 5.4 x 4.4"(81 x 137 x 112mm)
Canon Speedlite 580EX Flash13.2 oz(375g)3.0 x 5.3 x 4.5"(76 x 134 x 114mm)

 
The height of a flash helps the light physically clear large and wide angle lenses when the flash is directed straight forward. This helps eliminate the dark half-moon commonly seen at the bottom of images taken with the built-in flash and moderate-sized or larger lenses. The 320EX has considerably more height than the 270EX II. Height also helps reduce the red-eye effect.

Current ModelGuide No.CoverageTilt/SwivelRecycleAF AssistTTLManualCFs
Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitterto 49.2'(15m)28mm or greater  up to 45 ptsE-TTLNo0
Canon Speedlite 270EX II Flash89'(27m)128mm, 50mmYes/0°2.6/3.9 secSeries of flashesE-TTL IINo4
Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash105'(32m)124mm, 50mmYes/270°1.8/2.3 secSeries of flashesE-TTL IINo4
Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash141'(43m)24-105mm, 14mmYes/270°3.0 secup to 9 ptsE-TTL IIYes9
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash190'(58m)24-105mm, 14mmYes/360°3/6 secup to 45 ptsE-TTL IIYes14
Discontinued ModelGuide No.CoverageTilt/SwivelRecycleAF AssistTTLManualCFs
Canon EOS 50D Built-in Flash43'(13m)117mm FixedNo3 secSeries of flashesE-TTL IINo0
Canon Speedlite 220EX Flash72'(22m)128mm FixedNo4.8 secup to 1 ptE-TTLNo0
Canon Speedlite 270EX Flash89'(27m)128mm, 50mmYes/0°2.6/3.9 secSeries of flashesE-TTL IINo2
Canon Speedlite 420EX Flash138'(42m)24-105mmYes7.5 secup to 7 ptsE-TTLYes
Canon Speedlite 430EX Flash141'(43m)24-105mm, 14mmYes3.7 secup to 9 ptsE-TTL IIYes6
Canon Speedlite 550EX Flash180'(55m)24-105mm, 17mmYes4/8 secup to 45 ptsE-TTLYes6
Canon Speedlite 580EX Flash190'(58m)24-105mm, 14mmYes3/6 secup to 45 ptsE-TTL IIYes14

1 Guide Number is based on a 105mm flash head setting with exception of the 2-position 320EX, 270EX II and 270EX which are based on 50mm, the non-zoom-capable 220ex which is based on its fixed 28mm coverage and the 50D which is based on fixed 17mm coverage.

What is a "Guide Number"? Guide Number = Distance × f/number at ISO 100.

Here is how the formula works: For the 320EX Flash guide number of 105' and an aperture of f/8, the maximum distance from the light source should be from the subject is 13.125 feet (105' = 13.125' × 8). ISO 200 doubles this distance. F/4 doubles it again.

More basically, Guide Number = Power. More power is better as the flash can adjust to lower power when full power is not required, but more than full power is never available. The 320EX output falls, as you probably expected by this point in the review, between the 270EX II and 430EX II. This is a decent amount of power, but may leave you wanting still more power in more power-consuming settings such as when using bounced light.

Angle of Coverage figures show the flash's native zoom head range and the wide angle coverage available by using the built-in (pull-out, flip-down) diffuser if so equipped. Listed focal lengths are for a full frame body. A 17mm focal length setting on a lens mounted to a 1.6x DSLR such as the Canon EOS 60D requires flash coverage of 27.2mm. Corners become darkened when using lenses wider than the angle of coverage. Longer focal lengths can of course be used with any of these flashes, but light falling outside of the framed image will usually be wasted.

Recycle times are for full power flash discharge. When two recycle times are provided for a flash, the numbers are referencing "Quick flash" (50% charge) time and "Normal flash" (100% charge) time respectively.

Recycle time specifications are based on new AA Alkaline batteries. NiMH batteries have much less internal resistance than alkaline batteries resulting in significantly shorter re-cycle times (around 33% faster). NiMH batteries also give more consistent (full) power until they are discharged while alkalines will recycle the flash more and more slowly as they expend their life (again, try Sanyo Eneloop batteries).

All of the above-compared Canon flashes have an AF assist beam for enabling autofocus in very dark or low-contrast situations. Most Canon Speedlite flashes project a visible red grid pattern (yielding both light and contrast) for the camera's AF to lock onto. This beam typically offers coverage for up to a specific number of AF points. Since many EOS DSLRs, both 270EX flashes and the 320EX flash use a series of flashes for AF, there is no concern about AF point coverage, but there must be existing contrast for AF to work properly. A white wall will likely cause problems for you. The 320EX has an in-total-darkness AF assist effective range of approximately 13.1' (4m) in the center and approximately 11.5' (3.5m) at the peripheral AF points.

E-TTL II (Electronic-Through the Lens metering version II) is Canon's latest (as of the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash review date) flash exposure metering system. A preflash along with subject distance information (when available) is used to determine the proper amount of light to provide in the immediately following full exposure flash. E-TTL II also provides improved white balance when the camera is set to Auto or Flash white balance.

Manual flash power mode is a very useful feature. It is not featured on the 320EX itself, but with a compatible EOS body under this flash, manual flash output can be selected in the menu system. If your subject distance, light levels and camera settings are constant, determine and manually set the proper flash power. Every exposure will be correct.

The Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash has 4 custom functions - the same ones found in the 270EX II. These are adjusted using the menu system of a compatible EOS DSLR.

1) C.Fn-01: Auto power off (Enabled/Disabled)
2) C.Fn-06: Quick flash w/continuous shot (Disabled/Enabled)
3) C.Fn-10: Slave auto power off timer (60 minutes/10 minutes)
4) C.Fn-11: Slave auto power off cancel (Within 8 hours/within 1 hour)

The little chart below says a lot. Canon's wireless remote Speedlite Flash system opens the door for infinite creativity. Again, the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash joins some of the more capable Canon Speedlites with its slave capability.

Current ModelMasterSlaveRemote Port
Canon 270EX II Speedlite FlashNoYesNo
Canon 320EX Speedlite FlashNoYesNo
Canon 430EX II Speedlite FlashNoYesNo
Canon 580EX II Speedlite FlashYesYesPC Sync In
Canon ST-E2 Speedlite TransmitterYesNoNo
Discontinued ModelMasterSlaveRemote Port
Canon 220EX Speedlite FlashNoNoNo
Canon 270EX Speedlite FlashNoNoNo
Canon 420EX Speedlite FlashNoYesNo
Canon 430EX Speedlite FlashNoYesNo
Canon 550EX Speedlite FlashYesYesNo
Canon 580EX Speedlite FlashYesYesNo

All of the Canon Speedlites current as of review time are quality pieces of kit. The 320EX is no exception. As with the also-new-at-this-time 270EX II, I've been using the 320EX here and there when I have an application that it can handle. Here is one example.

Brianna as a freshman in high school had just come back from her first district track and field event - with gold and bronze/4th place medals. She was feeling very "up" and I wanted to capture her accomplishments and excitement. As it was late and we were getting up early the next morning, I had little time to spend doing this. I slid the 320EX onto a EOS 60D with Sigma 17-50mm EX DC OS HSM Lens already mounted. I positioned the flash head so that it fired into the white wall/ceiling of the hallway we were standing in (I think the gripped camera was positioned upside-down to obtain this direction). The result was a happy memory captured with quality lighting - nice full-spectrum directional light with no harsh shadows. Perhaps the best part was that I spent only moments capturing it.

Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash Sample Picture

This image was shot in RAW mode, but no out of camera adjustments were made aside from selecting the Standard Picture Style in DPP. Camera settings were M (Manual), 1/200, f/4 and ISO 100.

Shooting a flash into an umbrella is another great way to get quality lighting for your subjects. The 320EX's slave capability is of course extremely useful in this regard.

For the sample image below, I used a Canon EOS 60D and a Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar ZE Lens. For lighting, the Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash, a light stand, an umbrella adapter and an umbrella were used. A large white reflector is just outside of the frame to camera-right. Position of the umbrella is revealed in the subject's eyes.

Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash Sample Picture 2

At ISO 100, the 320EX was able to give me adequate exposures down to about f/11 in this rather tight setup. The umbrella is short-shafted *just* outside of the frame camera-left and the reflector is just as close.

I had no problems firing the 320EX with the 60D's integrated Speedlite Transmitter even with the umbrella blocking line of site (this scenario did not work with the 270EX II). The 320EX head's ability to rotate increases its usefulness in an umbrella and in other similar light diffusers.

Though it has modestly more power than the 270EX II, you are going to need wider apertures and/or higher ISO settings if bouncing this flash from a ceiling. A more powerful flash quickly becomes desired in this and other situations.

While determining which flash is for you, I encourage you to also read the Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash Review. I actually recommend the Canon 580EX II Speedlite Flash at the end of the 430EX II review, but that flash is of course considerably larger, heavier and more expensive than the 320EX.

From a price perspective, the 320EX also fits into its respective place in the Canon line. As of Canon Speedlite 320EX Flash review time, the 320EX wears the second-lowest Canon flash price. It is a very good value - a very useful tool.

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