Canon 5D Mark II Mark II Flash

Like its predecessor, the EOS 5D Mark II does not offer a built-in flash, but instead features a top-mounted hot-shoe as well as a PC sync terminal (rated for under 250 volts trigger voltage). The hot-shoe includes a waterproof seal around the base, designed to mate with the Canon 580EX II's seal, which is integrated into the flash's locking mechanism. This keeps water from seeping into this important electrical connection during wet conditions.

The Canon 5D Mark II gives you excellent control over flash exposure, allowing you to adjust flash and ambient exposure independently of each other, in one-half or one-third EV increments. This makes it very easy to balance flash and ambient lighting for more natural-looking pictures. The Canon 5D Mark II uses E-TTL II control for compatible external flashes. E-TTL II is only available when the camera is paired with more recent Canon EX-series strobes.

A nice touch is the Flash Exposure Lock button (which also functions as an AE Lock button). It fires the flash under manual control before the actual exposure, to determine the proper exposure settings. This struck me as very handy, akin to the more conventional autoexposure lock function for handling difficult ambient lighting conditions. A Flash Exposure Compensation feature controls the flash exposure +/- 2 stops in 1/2 or 1/3-stop increments.

Several of the more impressive features of the Canon flash system depend on the dedicated EX-series Speedlites. Among these are true FP (focal plane) flash sync, flash exposure bracketing with external flash units, flash modeling, and E-TTL II exposure control. FP sync requires a flash unit to provide uniform light output for a relatively long period of time, which the flash achieves by pulsing its high speed strobe multiple times as the two shutter curtains travel across the sensor plane, revealing only a small section of the sensor at a time. Uniform, long-duration flash pulses like this permit use of shutter speeds as high as the 1/8,000-second maximum that the Canon 5D Mark II is capable of. This can be invaluable when you want to exclude ambient light from the exposure. (FP sync mode is referred to as "high speed" mode on the Canon 550EX, 580EX, and 580EX II flash units.)

Here's the rundown on Canon Speedlites and their compatibility with the Canon 5D Mark II:

Speedlite Model On-Camera Capability E-TTL Wireless
580EX II All, E-TTL II, Thyristor Master or Slave
580EX All, E-TTL II Master or Slave
550EX All, E-TTL II Master or Slave
540EZ Manual operation only None
480EG External auto plus manual operation None
430EX II All, E-TTL II Slave only
430EX All, E-TTL II Slave only
430EZ Manual operation only None
420EX All Slave Only
420EZ Manual operation only None
380EX All None
220EX All None
200E Not Compatible None
160E Not Compatible None
MR-14EX Macro Ring All Master Only
MT-24EX All Master Only
ST-E2 transmitter E-TTL, attach to camera Master Only
Non-dedicated shoe-mount units Manual operation only n/a
Studio strobe packs Manual operation only, connect via threaded PC sync socket on camera body n/a

You'll note the references to "E-TTL remote" capabilities in the table above. Canon's Speedlite system permits TTL flash metering with multiple remote units, and even allows you to set differential power ratios between the slaved units, over a six-stop flash exposure range.

The "Flash Modeling" feature of the 550EX, 580EX, and 580EX II Speedlites is quite useful. With a 550EX or 580EX connected to the Canon 5D Mark II, pressing the camera's Depth of Field Preview button causes the Speedlite to fire at 70 flashes per second for about one second. This creates the illusion of a constant light source for your eyes, letting you preview the lighting on your subject when the flash fires. VERY handy, and likely to save lots of shoot/check/reshoot time!

The "X-sync" speed of the Canon 5D Mark II is 1/200-second. When used with higher-powered studio strobe systems, Canon recommends a maximum shutter speed of 1/60-second or slower, to accommodate the time/intensity profile of such units.

A final benefit of the dedicated Canon Speedlites is that they carry powerful autofocus assist illuminators that can extend the range of the built-in AF assist light found on a typical Canon SLR built-in flash. For example, the AF assist beam on the 550EX is rated as good to about 50 feet, versus the roughly 13 feet of the pulse flash from a Canon 50D. (As mentioned above though, note that the ST-E2 wireless sync transmitter can also be used for AF assist during non-flash photography, a handy trick.)

Canon's E-TTL II flash exposure system also works with certain lenses to include object distance data into its calculations so it can adjust the flash power accordingly. A preflash is fired and the resulting readings compared to the ambient light reading for each of the camera's 35 metering zones from just prior to the flash, to identify and compensate for specular objects (that is, very reflective surfaces). In instances where most cameras would underexpose an image because of a reflective object in the frame, the Canon 5D Mark II will ignore the brighter areas and expose the subject correctly in most instances. This is designed to help shooters like event photographers -- especially wedding photographers, whose cameras are constantly forced to balance a bright white dress against all manner of reflective materials on the clothing of others, in addition to the usually black tuxedos of the groomsmen.

The Canon 5D Mark II can also control some aspects of an external flash from the Flash Control menu. The appropriate Flash mode for your model flash can be set. You can select 1st or 2nd curtain synchronisation. Flash Exposure Bracketing can be selected, for capturing three successive photos with an exposure range of +/- 3 EV. Here you can set Flash Exposure Compensation, and set E-TTL II to Evaluative or Average metering. You can also set the flash to not fire when mounted and powered on, which is useful for using the flash as an AF-assist beam only. Slow-sync mode is automatically enabled in shutter-priority or manual exposure modes, and can be set to "Auto", "1/200-1/60 sec. Auto" or "1/200 sec. (fixed)" in aperture-priority mode via Custom Function I-7.


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