By: Rudy Winston
February 25, 2018
To see the Speedlite 470EX-AI in action, check out our video gallery here!
Nearly every photographer, regardless of their experience level, has struggled with the issue of how to tame the completely unnatural look of on-camera flash, in indoor flash pictures. Unless you walk around with a coal miner’s helmet strapped to your head regularly, the completely flat lighting that direct flash normally produces looks like almost nothing we typically see in real life, and is a dead giveaway that we’re looking at a flash picture. And, that direct flash “look” often labels the picture as something of a snapshot, regardless of the subject or situation you’re actually capturing.
Photographers have of course used bounce flash for decades, to get more natural appearing flash pictures. But properly executed bounce flash requires practice and experience, and even for those advanced shooters with the experience, can be a challenge when they have to shoot quickly, or rapidly change from horizontal to vertical with the flash still on-camera.
Canon’s Speedlite 470EX-AI changes all that. It introduces a totally new technology called A.I. Bounce. (A.I. stands for Auto Intelligent.) In this article, we’ll explore A.I. Bounce, both for the casual amateur or photographer who’s beginning their journey into better pictures, as well as for the more experienced photographer who knows how to use bounce, but may want a faster and more efficient way to work with it.
Beyond the 470EX-AI’s completely new A.I. Bounce technology, we’ll have a separate article to introduce this Speedlite’s place in the Canon EX-series flash line, and to review its other flash features.
The Challenge in Bounce Flash Photography
Bounce flash is certainly nothing new in the world of photography. When a photographer is indoors, in an area with light-colored walls and/or ceilings, it’s long been known that if a flash is angled upward towards the ceiling, sideways towards a wall, or even swiveled and tilted up and back, towards a corner of a room, the result can be much softer, natural-looking lighting. This can be achieved with a single flash unit, still attached to the camera’s accessory shoe.
But the trick is knowing how to tilt or swivel the flash head, so light is effectively bounced from the wall or ceiling, and most of it hits the subject. The promise of much more natural-looking pictures is lost if much of that light falls elsewhere in the scene. Photographers who often shoot indoor candids, portraits, or events have had to learn, through trial and error, how to effectively position the head of a flash unit to get good lighting on their subjects — and it’s not always easy or immediately intuitive. If we just assume bounce flash off a ceiling, the factors they have had to consider in their decision-making include the following:
The bottom line, again, is that bounce flash indoors, with a flash on-camera, has been a challenge even for the experienced photographer. Now, Canon has an answer: the Speedlite 470EX-AI.
A World’s First — A.I. Bounce
Canon engineers have developed the world’s first auto bounce system for portable flashes — the A.I. Bounce system in the Speedlite 470EX-AI.
Auto Intelligent Bounce technology targets different types of users: the experienced shooter who is comfortable setting his or her flash for bounce, but who wants a tool that will speed up their shooting; and newcomers to photography, who understand that direct flash has a totally unnatural look, but who are either not comfortable working with bounce, or simply are so new that they aren’t even aware it’s a possibility.
Accordingly, there are two fundamental ways of working with the 470EX-AI for bounce shooting indoors. You set them with a single, three-position switch, on the back of the Speedlite.
The 0° position — A.I. Bounce “off”
By default, the 0-degree position means exactly that — the Speedlite is set for direct flash operation, with the head facing directly forward. If you do tilt or swivel the flash head for bounce, as soon as you press the camera’s shutter button halfway down, the motorized flash head will automatically return to the 0°, or straight-ahead position.
Speedlite Personal Function P.Fn 9 — AI.B 0°
If you activate this Personal Function on the Speedlite 470EX-AI’s LCD panel (that is, set it to Option 1), you now can perform traditional, manual bounce, with the sliding switch at the 0° position. Once this P.Fn is set to “1,” just physically tilt and/or swivel the flash head to perform bounce flash, as photographers traditionally have. This applies only when the flash is connected to the camera’s accessory shoe…if it’s being used for Wireless E-TTL off-camera, you can bounce and swivel the head with the sliding switch at the 0° position without P.Fn 9 being set to “1.”
An important note: unlike previous EX-series Speedlites, you do not need to first press a release button on the flash before manually tilting or swiveling the 470EX-AI’s flash head. This can be done at any time in the “0°” position (or other A.I. Bounce settings), without damaging the flash’s motorized bounce mechanisms. It is normal to feel slight resistance as you tilt or swivel the flash head, so don’t be alarmed at this. However, when the motorized tilt and swivel mechanisms are actually moving the flash head, don’t try to physically stop it with your hands, or move the head until the motorized functions have stopped.
“S” — AI.B Semi-auto
The Semi-auto setting will be of special interest to the experienced photographer. Here, you set your own bounce angle, given the indoor location and camera-to-subject distance — as you traditionally would for bounce flash shooting indoors. But if you press the large Angle Set button on the side of the flash head, the Speedlite 470EX-AI memorizes your user-set bounce angle.
Now, if you change from a horizontal to vertical composition, just tap the shutter button twice, quickly — the 470EX-AI will immediately and automatically re-position the flash head, to preserve the same original bounce angles you set, but now for a vertical (or horizontal), re-composed picture.
What happens if your scene changes, and you’re suddenly much closer or farther away from your subject? Or, what if you move to a different room with a different ceiling height? Just re-set your bounce angle, using your own experience…a press on the 470EX-AI’s Angle Set button now memorizes the newly-applied bounce settings. Again, fire away, and if you do re-compose the camera, just tap the shutter button twice before your next shot — the flash once again adjusts its swivel and tilt to preserve that angle you last memorized.
Personal Function 8 — Automatic bounce angle correction
We just mentioned that if you switch from horizontal to vertical shooting (or vice-versa), you can tap the shutter button twice and the Speedlite 470EX-AI’s motorized swivel and tilt will kick in, and re-position the flash head to preserve the bounce angle you previously set. But with Speedlite Personal Function 08, you can change this:
P.Fn 08-1 — AUTO:
The flash head will automatically re-position itself any time your finger is halfway down on the shutter button, or whenever the camera’s meter timer is on (i.e., if exposure info appears in the camera’s viewfinder). This has the potential to speed up bounce shooting even more, for the photographer who frequently changes his or her composition.
P.Fn 08-2 — Shutter button press x1:
When set to Option 2, if your camera orientation changes, the first press on the shutter button will activate the motorized tilt/swivel to re-position the flash head, to preserve your initial bounce settings. Again, this is an even faster method of working than the factory-default method, which requires a deliberate double-tap on the shutter button.
Please note that these Personal Function 8 settings also work with compatible EOS cameras, if Speedlite 470EX-AI is used in the AI.B Full-auto bounce setting, described later in this article.
Think about possible applications for AI.B Semi-auto. A wedding photographer who’s working unobtrusively as a bride gets ready can quickly change compositions, and get more pictures in a shorter period of time. Set the bounce angle once, and it is preserved automatically as the camera switches from horizontal to vertical shots, and back again.
An event photographer can likewise quickly increase the number of shots he or she can capture indoors, in a fast-paced situation. This can really be beneficial in candid shooting, to get the same natural-looking flash coverage as you switch from horizontal to vertical compositions. Subjects ranging from interior shots of normal-sized rooms in a house to product photos for online selling all could be enhanced by the ability to perform bounce flash, for both horizontal and vertical pictures.
“F” — AI.B Full-auto
This will be the most impressive setting, for many Canon customers. Clearly, it’s primarily aimed at the inexperienced photographer, who realizes bounce flash will change the “look” of their pictures, but hasn’t had success with bounce flash in the past, or who simply doesn’t know how to work with it.
With the bounce mode switch set to “F,” you’ve commanded the flash to automatically read and set the tilt and swivel of the flash head, to automatically give you the most effective bounce coverage for a given setting and subject distance — when you press the “AI.B” button on the back of the flash (or, with compatible EOS cameras, the camera body’s depth-of-field preview button). Users no longer have to manually tilt the flash head — it’s all done automatically.
And, automatic E-TTL flash exposure continues to function, with both Semi-auto and Full-auto A.I. Bounce. This includes the ability to perform fill-flash when there’s abundant indoor lighting, apply flash and/or ambient exposure compensation, and so on.
Unlike the Semi-auto bounce setting, which will work with virtually any previous Canon EOS digital SLR (and many film-based EOS cameras as well), the Full-auto setting requires the camera and Speedlite to work together, as two test flashes are quickly fired. Therefore, Full-auto bounce with the Speedlite 470EX-AI is limited to recent EOS digital SLRs…we’ll cover this later in this article.
The operational sequence is simple, with a Speedlite 470EX-AI mounted to the hot shoe of a compatible Canon EOS DSLR:
For the less-experienced photographer, the AI.B Full-auto setting has the potential to truly change their indoor photography. There’s a night-and-day difference in flash pictures taken with good bounce flash technique vs. conventional direct flash. Even the most casual of viewers can see this difference, with bounce having simply a far more natural appearance. The Speedlite 470EX-AI has completely automated this, when it’s used with a compatible camera, and in appropriate indoor settings. It truly is a world’s first, as of its February 2018 introduction…a technology that can absolutely change the look of a photographer’s pictures.
Both the Semi-auto and Full-auto bounce settings do allow the user to dial-in Manual flash exposure, and to set Manual flash power from full (1/1) to 1/128th power, if the photographer desires.
Limitations with Full-auto Bounce
Full-auto A.I. bounce is a great new technology, but it is impossible for it to work in every possible situation. A few things to be aware of, for the “F” setting:
Speedlite 470EX-AI is not just a novelty. This is a flash unit that, again, has the potential to change a user’s indoor flash photography — and for some users, these are a huge percentage of the important pictures they take. The beauty of this automation is that it’s not simply aimed at the casual, beginning photographer. Even experienced photographers working with flash can combine their own experience and skill with Semi-auto operation, which can immediately duplicate their bounce settings when the camera is rotated to change composition. And for many photographers who are beginning to move upward in their photographic journey, the Full-auto bounce technology can bring a new quality to their flash images, whether they’re shots of family taken at home, or any other subject in a suitable indoor setting.
Finally, beyond the tremendous new A.I. Bounce technology, this is a very capable, mid-range Speedlite, that can be a practical addition even to the high-end user who currently relies on flashes like the Canon 600EX II-RT and similar units. Canon is confident that the Speedlite 470EX-AI will be a welcome addition to the EOS system, and we hope this introduction to its new features is a helpful addition on the Canon USA Digital Learning Center website.
Compatible Cameras with AI.B Full-auto Bounce
This list is effective as of the introduction date of this Speedlite — February, 2018 and applies to the Full-auto bounce compatibility only. As mentioned earlier in this article, every Canon EOS digital SLR is capable of Semi-auto bounce with Speedlite 470EX-AI.
Full compatibility, including AI.B measurement via depth-of-field preview button:
EOS 6D Mark II
EOS Rebel SL2
Compatible — AI.B measurement start from flash’s blue AI.B distance button:
EOS Rebel T6i, T6s, T7i
EOS 7D Mark II
EOS 5D Mark IV
EOS 5DS, 5DS R
EOS-1D X Mark II
Any camera previously introduced, as of February 2018, which is not on this list, can perform AI.B Semi-auto bounce only.