Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why I'm Done with Canon's Flagship Flash

Canon 5D mk II & 50mm f1.4 lens
For the past few weddings, really ever since we've completely changed over to Canon a year or so ago, we've been having some hiccups in our flash work where the Pocket Wizards just aren't delivering reliability for us for off camera flash work.  It took us a while to narrow down the instances where we were having difficulty but finally we figured out that when the flash was placed near the ground (or on the ground) outdoors or far away from the controlling camera especially when there were objects or people between the camera and flash, the flash would often not fire.  It wasn't  a regular thing, it would work once, then not again for 6 or 7 shots.

Canon 5DmkII & 20mm f2.8 lens

Our first instinct was batteries and we made sure all our equipment had new, full charged batteries.  Then we started to blame the Pocket Wizards.  Yesterday we decided to bring different flashes and test this all out and see what the issue was.  We had to get this sorted out, there is nothing more embarrassing than asking a client to wait while your gear isn't functioning.  And nothing to destroy the creative juices faster than being frustrated with your equipment.  We use a lot of off camera lighting.  It suits our style and we enjoy it, but we are getting paid and we need reliability from our equipment.  No excuses.

Olypus E3 and 50-200 Zuiko Lens
So I brought along the Lumopro LP160 and Panasonic DMW-FL500 flashes on our session yesterday.  I made sure the Pocket Wizards and flashes had good batteries.  Actually to be honest, I only made sure for the Canon flash that it had fresh batteries.  We also used our Alien Bees 800 studio strobes.  So once we were out of the studio and on the street we used only the Canon flashes the 580EX II (we own two of them) and to start with they worked well.  We then went into an underground parking garage (we like shooting in those...) and set up our Bride and Groom for a shot.  The 580 went on the ground behind the Bride and Groom with the little stand it comes with supporting it.  We had the Pocket Wizard on, all settings correct (double and triple checked) and......NOTHING.  No firing.  Frustrating.

Olympus E3 with Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4
So I took the Panasonic Flash and swapped it in.   It worked!  It worked repeatedly.  In fact, as I mentioned I had not changed out the batteries so the only downfall was it was taking a while to recycle, but it worked every single time!  Thank-you Thank-you Thank-you!  Oh and Canon, you suck.  I mean wow.  The 580EX II is their top of the line professional flash, and it clearly interferes with radio signals from transmitters.  I had heard of the issue with the new Pocket Wizards that have TTL, but thought that the older (I prefer manual flash) Plus II's that we use were not having issues.  The rest of the day the Canon flashes stayed in the bag and we used the Lumopro and Panasonic flashes with no issue.  We did have an issue again later with our studio strobe outdoors when it was placed far away from the camera and behind the Bride and Groom.  Now I'm not surprised the Alien Bee lights are not shielded and would cause problems and we have seen this in the past from those lights.  For the price of them I won't complain.  But I will absolutely complain about Canon's "professional" flash that is this poorly thought out.  Basically I spent a few hundred dollars on a flash that isn't reliable in the one situation I prefer to use flash.....Off Camera!!!

We'll be taking the Olympus and Panasonic flashes with us in the future to jobs even though we won't have the four thirds cameras.  They can be our workhorse flashes, and I'm glad I never sold them!  I don't think I'll rely on the Lumopro though, you can read back in the blog about my history with that flash as well.

Rant over!  Thanks for dropping by the blog, I hope you have had a great weekend.


Shawn said...

Yes, the issue is in the 580 EX II itself and not really the pocket wizards. I have been very frustrated as well with these speedlights which I use mainly for indoor sports. However, I have had very good luck with using Radio Poppers as my triggers. For whatever reason, there appears to be no shielding problems when using these. The problem is I could do this with flashes that cost a fraction of the 580s. That being said, I am very close to jettisoning all of my canon flashes once and for all as I have also found ETL to be very unreliable as well. Hard to believe they are actually selling these for nearly $500. Come to think it of it I may just send all of my Canon gear packing and go back to Nikon since I seem to have had problems with just about everything Canon here lately - flashes, lenses and bodies, particularly the 7D and its focusing issues.

Neil Gaudet said...

It is super frustrating how poorly the flagship Canon flash works for sure. Mine is pretty much an on camera only TTL flash now but since I own so many off brand flashes that work perfectly it hasn't really hurt my work at all not that I've figured out the issue. I have heard that people have better luck with Radio Poppers because they use a different frequency.

You go Nikon and I'll go Sony. :)