Monday, June 8, 2009

Canon's 270 EX

Wet Metal
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Back in the early summer of 07 I was out at Lago d'Averno (my favorite dragonfly hunting ground) shooting in +30C degree heat (high 80s to low 90s F for the metric impaired) with a Canon 20D, a 100mm macro lens + tubes, and an MT-24EX all supported on a BushHawk shoulder mount. A lot of weight to put on a camera strap, especially one that I wasn't checking on a regular basis to make sure it was still secure. I stopped to wipe the sweat from my face and let the rig dangle by the strap and as my luck would have it gravity got the best of my rig -it landed flat against the side of the BushHawk with an ugly thud...

When I first picked up my gear and brushed the dust off of it the MT-24EX didn't work. The force of the impact drove the batteries so hard against the internal contacts in the battery compartment they were flattened and no longer touching the batteries. The hot shoe on the 20D also took a lot of damage and eventually failed a few months later.

When I got home I bent the battery contacts out and managed to get the MT-24EX working again, but since that fall two years ago I knew that I was using that flash on borrowed time. About two weeks ago the "A" flash head started to intermittently fail, but because the light looked good when it did work I knew the controller was going bad. Weather due to the gravity test two years ago or shooting in wet early morning conditions this year I don't know, but the end result was the same -I couldn't rely on it anymore.

Since it failed I've been experimenting with mounting a Canon 270EX on the MT-24EX's flash mount, but with limited success. The image included with this post is a test shot, and it's pretty dark. Since I took that shot I've redesigned the flash mount so I could get a lower angle between the flash and the subject, but it's just not the same as having a dual light source. If I put the 270EX on a flash bracket, with a bigger diffuser, then the light would be a lot more even and the shadows less severe. But I don't think it's going to work mounted right at the end of my MPE-65mm -I can't make the diffuser larger without bumping the subject with it at high magnification.

So at this point my options are pretty limited: Either use the MR-14EX that's been collecting dust since I picked up the MT-24EX, use a 580EX II on a flash flash bracket (not practical for my style of shooting), or buy a new MT-24EX. That last option presents a problem: Canon has updated every flash in their lineup except the macro flashes. I've got no proof, but it just makes sense that they're going to come out with a new macro flash. I'd hate to shell out +600 USD just to see Canon announce a new unit sometime between now and next fall...

So I'm going to see what I can do with the MR-14EX, and as long as the natural light is good shoot more natural light closeups. Although I don't get as much feedback on my closeup photography as I do the high mag shots I like shooting closeups in natural light more than shooting macro.

Time to break out the gaffers tape, channel Martha Stewart, and see what I can do to reduce those half moon specular highlights that haunt the MR-14EX :)

For those of you wondering about the performance of the 270EX it's actually pretty good as far as the flash recycle time goes: Almost instantaneous all the way out to 5x and F10. The E-TTL metering with it is also a lot more accurate than the MT-24EX. So I can't discount it completely as a potential light source for macro -I just can't get it to work in the way that I want to use it...


Michael said...

Thanks for this post. I've been thinking of the 270EX as a possible bracket-mounted macro flash with the Canon 100mm, since my Vivitar 285HV is annoyingly heavy and slow to adjust. It sounds like it'd work better for me than it did for you, though I wonder how much.

Out of curiousity, why do you mention the 580EX II on a flash bracket as an (impractical) option but not the 270EX? Is it too weak to light the subject on a sufficiently fast power setting at that distance?

By the way, I love your work, and I've learned a lot about macro technique from your writings, even if I'm just at 1:1. It's much appreciated!

Dalantech said...

Hey Michael,
The 580 EX II on a bracket would be too heavy and off balance for the way that I shoot since I'm usually holding the whole rig with my right hand and grabbing the critter's perch with my left. I've decided to use an MR-14EX until Canon replaces the MT-24EX. Now that the early spring weather is over I'll probably be shooting more natural light closeups anyway.

Glad you like my work and the blog :)



overread said...

Thanks for the info on the 270 and its uses - out of interest I have come across the info that the flash has no slave feature - can you confirm that this means its always going to be a single flash setup with this flash and that you can't use it with another flash (say 580M2) with cable connections for a multiflash setup?

Also how would you compare the 270 to the sunpak RD2000 that I recall you using in the past?

Finally thanks for the tip on a possible update to the twinlights flash - sadly I think that flash is just not canons strongpoint when you compare their setup to that of what nikon users get. An update to the twinlights is also something that I feel we just won't see - its too specialist for canon to really pay any attention to I feel. At the moment they seem to be running round like headless chickens chasing Nikon and Pentax with ISO and DSLR video features.

Dalantech said...

There's no way to use the 270EX as a slave unless you can find some sort of trigger for it (something that would fire it by detecting the main flash burst). There's no way to set it manually except through the camera's menu, so I'm not sure that a slave trigger would even work.

The Sunpak had a nasty bug where the flash wouldn't sync with the camera if you changed the aperture -the only way to get it to work again was to cycle power to the camera or the flash. I don't know if Sunpak issued a firmware fix for it.

I'm not sure if Canon is going to update the MT-24EX -it's just a hunch. Macro is getting VERY popular, and if Canon were to come out with a macro twin flash that was easier to use out of the box then I think it would sell very well.

overread said...

Thanks for the info - the search for a nice small flash goes on it seems!

I don't suppose anyone has hacked a nikon flash to work on a canon camera yet - only their macro lighting setup seems lightyears ahead of canons :(

Unknown said...

I just order a flexible flash mount on EBay. I planning to use a couple of 270ex on it with either my mini pocket wizard, or MR14 as master. Hope this flash mount arrive soon and I can have a try. Enjoy...

Dalantech said...

@ George: It's not possible to slave a 270EX off of a master flash -there are no remote control electronics built into it. IMHO if you want to shoot with a dual light source you're better off getting the MT-24EX and build a set of diffusers for it.