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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 height of the ceiling
For effective work with today’s Speedlites, photographers are often best-served with ceilings that are at moderate heights from the floor — typically 10 to 14 feet (about 3~4.3 meters). These are the types of ceiling heights you’d frequently encounter indoors, in a typical US private house.
Truly high ceilings, like in a high school gym (or other large indoor spaces, like auditoriums, etc.) are usually very ineffective for bounce flash, for two reasons:
- The increased flash power required to effectively get enough light back on your subject, and
- At tall ceiling heights, the flash would usually need to be aimed almost straight upward, meaning the bounced light returning to the subject would have a very “overhead” quality to it, producing dark shadows in eye sockets and under chins of human subjects.
The color of the ceiling
Bounce flash is most effective with a white or at least a light- and neutral-colored ceiling. Light gray tones, or even beige tones, can work effectively, as well as more pure shades of white. If a ceiling (or wall) is colored, however, it can be expected to change the flash bouncing off it to a similar color. Therefore, knowledgeable photographers usually avoid colored surfaces.
The distance the camera is from the subject
The combination of ceiling height and the camera-to-subject distance is the primary calculation the photographer has had to make for effective bounce flash. Simply stated, as distance from the camera to the subject increases, you normally have to progressively tilt the flash so it’s facing more toward the subject (in other words, not so much straight up toward the ceiling). And this works in reverse, if you move closer to a subject.
And ceiling height becomes a factor too. As ceilings get taller, from floor to ceiling, you usually have to aim a flash more upward, to effectively have your bounced light come down onto a subject.
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:
- With both flash and camera turned on, and camera aimed toward the subject, press the AI.B Full-auto distance measurement button (a long-winded name for the blue lamp/button, on the back of the Speedlite). With recently-introduced Canon EOS cameras, like the EOS 6D Mark II and Rebel SL2, you can also press the camera’s depth-of-field preview button to initiate the bounce detect process.
- Two test flashes are fired — one with the flash aimed straight ahead, and a second immediately after this with the flash head pointed straight upward
- These pre-flashes are read by the camera, the information sent to the Speedlite, and the proper angle for bounce in this situation is immediately calculated. The flash head is then automatically positioned to this detected angle.
- You’re now free to shoot your pictures.
- If you switch from horizontal to vertical or vice versa, quickly tap the shutter button twice with a half-press each time, and the 470EX-AI will immediately re-position the flash to preserve the last calculated bounce angle. As previously mentioned, you can change this via Speedlite Personal Function 8.
- If your distance to the subject changes by a significant amount, or you move to an area with a different ceiling height, just push the blue button again, and the 470EX-AI re-calculates the optimum bounce angle, and will set it immediately for these new conditions.
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:
AI.B Full-auto bounce requires a compatible Canon EOS digital SLR
A list of compatible cameras, as of February 2018, is provided at the end of this article. While the Semi-auto bounce can work with nearly any EOS digital SLR, and many older EOS 35mm film-type SLRs with E-TTL capability as well, the Full-auto bounce absolutely mandates a recently-introduced EOS camera model. And needless to say, Full auto AI bounce cannot work on competitive brand cameras.
Full-auto bounce can work within a detected ceiling height up to 23 feet (about 7 meters).
While optimum results will definitely be best at lower ceiling heights, technically, the Full-auto bounce will work up to these maximum heights, assuming a flat, light-colored ceiling surface. If the detected ceiling height is higher than this, or the ceiling is dark and absorbs much of the pre-flash illumination, the 470EX-AI will re-position the flash head facing straight forward.
Full-auto bounce can sometimes aim the flash head backwards.
Full-auto bounce will often assume there’s a wall or “corner” where wall(s) and ceilings intersect behind the photographer, and actually aim the flash head backwards, away from the direction the lens is pointing in. This is normal, and not a sign of any mis-operation. However, this can sometimes happen in situations where there is no suitable wall behind the photographer.
- Flash Personal Function P.Fn-07-2 (Personal Function #7, set to option #2) will limit the tilt to 90 degrees straight upward, to avoid any tendency for Full-auto bounce to aim the flash head backward, when there are no suitable walls to help with bouncing flash toward a subject. (Please note that Speedlite Personal Functions, unlike “Custom Functions,” must be set on the Speedlite’s LCD panel…they cannot be set using the camera’s External Flash Control menu.)
Full-auto bounce can only function when the camera is directly connected to the camera’s accessory shoe.
Speedlite 470EX-AI can be used with traditional optical-type Wireless-E-TTL, as an off-camera receiver unit only. However, any and all A.I. Bounce features are completely disabled when it is used this way…any tilting or bouncing of the flash head must be done manually, by the photographer, when this flash is off-camera.
Auto flash head zoom is always pre-set to 50mm (covers the view of a 50mm lens, on a full-frame camera), whenever the flash head is tilted or swiveled.
This has been the norm for Canon EX-series Speedlites for some time now, for both manually applied bounce, and for the 470EX-AI’s automated bounce.
- You might want to consider wider flash illumination for lower ceiling heights, or even narrower illumination when working with tall ceilings…this can only be done if the 470EX-AI is set to Semi-auto bounce. At the “S” setting, you are free to set Flash Head Zoom to Manual, and apply these changes before AI Bounce operation takes place.
If the accessory Bounce Diffuser is used, A.I. Bounce is always set to 90° straight upward
Again, this is normal, and not a sign of any erroneous operation. The Speedlite 470EX-AI can detect when its (included) Bounce Diffuser (the dome-type accessory) is attached, and when it is detected, Full auto bounce is limited to 90° upward only.
The included 14mm ultra-wide panel is not intended for bounce flash operation
Again, this conforms to how previously-introduced EX-series Speedlites have operated. You can pull out the 14mm wide panel and use it for manual bounce, or for Semi-auto bounce, but you’ll get a little warning icon on the 470EX-AI’s LCD panel. But in the “F” setting (AI.B Full-auto bounce), with the 14mm pull-down panel in place, the flash will refuse to perform its test flashes, and warn you with a big icon on its LCD panel that the Wide Panel is in place. Put the wide panel back into its stored position to resume normal Full-auto bounce shooting.
If the camera is aimed more than about 60° upward or downward, Full-auto bounce may not function
Again, if this occurs (such as if you point the camera down to photograph your shoes), this is normal when set to “F.” If you need to position the flash head for bounce with the camera aimed significantly up or down, switch to “S” (Semi-auto bounce), set your own bounce angle and press the Angle Set button to memorize it, and then proceed.
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.