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Canon 220EX Speedlite

Featherweight Pocket Flash

Peter Kun Frary

External Speedlites

Except for pro cameras such as the EOS 1D series, most EOS bodies have a popup flash. Why use an external flash? Even a small external Speedlite such as the 220EX is twice as powerful as a popup, providing more power for group portraits or subjects against the setting sun. A shoe mounted Speedlite is less prone to red eye because it is further from the lens axis. Speedlites may be used off-camera for better modeling and macro work. Bounce technique or light modifiers may be employed for softer light. Finally, you may use special features of E-TTL flash, e.g., high speed sync (FP Flash) not available on popups.

Balanced Fill-in Flash • EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX • Auto balanced fill flash in Av mode. The 220EX works fine with newer cameras albeit without full flash menu support.

Canon 220EX Speedlite

Although compact, the 220EX is surprisingly powerful and full featured: GN 72.6 feet (22m) at ISO 100, 28mm full frame coverage (17 or 18mm APS-C), near-infrared AF assist light, flash exposure confirmation light, E-TTL, TTL, second-curtain sync, FE Lock (flash exposure lock), flash exposure compensation and FP Flash (high speed sync). You won't notice most of these features as the control panel is nearly barren: on-off switch, ready light, FP Flash switch and flash exposure confirmation light. FE Lock, flash exposure compensation and second-curtain sync are controlled from the camera. To access all flash features you need a camera with a flash menu, e.g., Elan 7 series, 3, 1V and most EOS DSLRs.

The 220EX was discontinued in 2009, so does it work with newer cameras? Yes, it works fine with any EOS using E-TTL flash metering, e.g., , all EOS DSLRs. I used the 220EX on a 5D, 5D MKII, 6D, 7D, 20D, 40D, 50D and 60D and it performed like a champ.

Where the 220EX falls down slightly is compatibility with flash menus of newer EOS. With the 6D, the menu can set FEC, second curtain sync, toggle between E-TTL II and Averaging, set sync speed in Av mode and disable flash firing (with AF assist enabled). Flash bracketing, manual power and custom functions are grayed out. High speed sync (FP Flash) can only be set on the flash itself. The 60D, 7D and 5D MKII are the same as the 6D except sync speed can't be set in Av mode.

Canon Speedlite 220EX • Shirt pocket delight

The 220EX is surprisingly petite, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It's so small you can comfortably carry it in a shirt or coat pocket. I power it with four AA lithiums to keep weight as low as possible. Despite its small size, the recycling time is amazingly fast, 0.1 to 4.5 seconds with alkaline AA batteries or 0.1 to 2.5 seconds with rechargeable AA batteries.

The shoe lock of the 220EX is especially fast and simple to use. Once mounted, you simply flip a small latch to lock it. Much more convenient than the thumbwheel found on larger Speedlites.

Balanced Fill-in Flash • EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX • Auto balanced fill flash in Av mode. Place the active AF point on your subject for off-center subjects. If you recompose with the point over a void you will suffer gross overexposure.

E-TTL Flash Metering

When you press the shutter button, the 220EX fires a low power preflash to determine flash exposure a split second before exposure. The preflash is so near the main flash it appears to be a single flash, not two flashes. The camera's Evaluative meter is used to measure both ambient light and flash. In most modes the camera balances both flash and ambient light for a natural appearance.

Fill-in Flash

In bright light, EV 10 and above, the 220EX provides automatic fill-in flash in Full Auto and P modes. In dim light, below EV 10, flash is the main light in Full Auto and P modes (the background may be dark). Av, Tv and M modes deliver automatic fill-in flash in any light, even at night (slow sync). Slow sync results in a natural balance between ambient light and flash. However, you may need a tripod due to the resulting slow shutter speeds.

Balanced Fill-in Flash • EOS 5D, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX • Auto balanced fill flash in Av mode.

The active focusing point is linked to metering and, thus, flash exposure. In other words, there is an exposure bias in favor of the object you focus on. This design also means you should avoid the lock-AF-recompose technique or suffer unpredictable results. Why? Flash exposure is determined at the moment of exposure (a split second before exposure for E-TTL and during exposure for TTL). If the active AF sensor is over something other than your subject--a black void--you'll get incorrect exposure. If you can't live without the lock-AF-recompose technique, Canon designed FE Lock for you (see below).

As I mentioned above, the 220EX balances flash and background light perfectly in Av, Tv and M modes. There is an automatic flash reduction of -.5 to -1.5 stops depending on the strength of the ambient light. This balance makes the subject look natural, but is too perfectly blended with the background for some tastes and purposes, especially under dim lighting conditions. When I want the subject to standout from the background, I dial in +.5 or +1.0 of flash compensation or use P mode. P mode uses the flash as the main light--full power flash--under dim conditions (EV 10 or lower). Canon should make the before mentioned flash behavior clear in the manual as it is a source of confusion for many users.

Fill-in Flash • EOS 20D, EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM, 220EX, Av Mode, +2/3 FEC. Unlike the 40D/50D, the 20D always needs + flash exposure compensation.

FE Lock & Flash Exposure Compensation

FE Lock is great for off-center subjects or troublesome highlights that fool the meter. FE Lock works like a spot meter for flash. First, place the center AF sensor on your subject and press the AE/FE Lock button. The 220EX fires a low power preflash. Exposure is determined by the reflectance of the subject in the partial metering circle, so be careful what you aim at. Use a medium toned area for best results. Finally, you have 16 seconds to recompose and shoot. The flash will expose the subject correctly even with usually light or dark backgrounds or an off-center subject.

The FE Lock preflash isn't people friendly as nobody enjoys being flashed in the face once for metering and a second time for the exposure! If you frequently shoot people, you'll be more popular if you apply appropriate flash exposure compensation and forgo FE Lock.

If you intend to use FE Lock on an unusually light or dark object, e.g., a white wedding dress, apply appropriate flash exposure compensation first (it doesn't work after FE Lock): subtract 1 to 2 stops of flash compensation for dark subjects and add 1 to 2 stops of flash exposure compensation for light subjects. Why? Spot or partial meters are calibrated to read 18% gray tones. No matter where you point, the camera expects a medium tone (18% gray) and gives you the correct meter reading for this result.

Fill-in Flash • EOS 20D, EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM, 220EX, Av Mode, +2/3 FEC.

FP Flash

FP Flash allows you to sync at any shutter speed, albeit with significant loss of power so this is best used at close distances (10 feet or less). This is great for daytime fill flash as it allows use of large apertures or fast film. However, FP Flash works best in Av, Tv and M modes where the user has control over aperture and/or shutter speed. When a Speedlite is mounted on the any EOS camera, P and DEP* modes are not shiftable making these modes almost useless for FP Flash. Moreover, P mode tends to favor smaller apertures over faster shutter speeds when a Speedlite is mounted.

AF Assist Light

Focusing in the dark is quick and discreet thanks to the near-infrared AF assist light. The AF assist light has a range of about 16 feet (5m). With the 220EX mounted, low light AF is vastly improved. Unfortunately, the AF assist light of the 220EX only covers the center AF area. It affords no slide sensor coverage for multiple AF arrays such as the 5D MK II or 7D. However, the top, center and bottom sensors are covered by the AF assist beam. With 45-sensor arrays--e.g., EOS 1V or 3--it only seems to work with the center AF sensor. Nevertheless, I find the near-infrared AF assist light a welcome feature and greatly preferable over the disco strobe AF assist of the 270EX.

Flash Exposure Confirmation Light

The 220EX has a flash exposure confirmation light next to the Pilot Light. If the flash exposure is accurate, it glows green for 3 seconds. If it doesn't glow, move closer and try again. Hopefully, Canon will someday put a flash exposure confirmation light in the viewfinder of all its cameras!

HaleiwaEOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & 220EX. I dial down the sky a bit to give the sign a little pop.

Final Words

This Japan made flash was discontinued in 2009 and replaced by the 270EX. Why buy a 220EX when you can get a newer design like the 270EX for under $150? For most buyers it's all about the near-infrared AF assist and/or a bargain price of old stock or used. In my experience of dropping a lot of Speedlites, the single piece design is stronger than two piece units. However such strength means no swivel and tilt so look elsewhere if you need these features. Of course, you could use an off-shoe cord and use your hand or a bracket for bounce functions.

I bought my 220EX in 1999 for $125 and, 15 years later, it's still going strong. If you need a basic compact flash with E-TTL features, the 220EX is a great choice. It is a perfect travel companion due to its petite size. I refuse to let go of mine because it's the smallest E-TTL Speedlite available with near-infrared AF assist. The 220EX is a wonderful blend of simplicity and power in a petite package that fits in your pocket.

220EX Image Samples • Click to Enlarge

Basic Specs
  • Guide Number (ISO 100): 22 m (72.6 ft) at 28mm
  • Coverage: 28mm (24mm for APS)
  • Recycle Time: 0.1-4.5 sec (alkaline batteries) • 0.1-2.5 sec (Ni-Cd)
  • Exposure Compensation: -2 to +2 in half stop increments (via on-camera controls only)
  • Exposure Modes: E-TTL (Type A cameras), TTL (Type B cameras) & FE Lock (E-TTL only)
  • Flash Modes: Normal, High Speed Sync, Test Firing & 2nd Curtain Sync
  • Head: Fixed
  • AF Assist Light: Covers only center AF sensor
  • AF Assist Light Range: 5m (16 ft)
  • Batteries: 4 AA • Alkaline, Ni-Cd, Nickel-Hydride or Lithium
  • Weight: 160g (without batteries)
  • Size: 65mm (W) x 92mm (H) x 61.3mm (D)
  • Accessories: pouch and instruction manual
  • Street Price: $120
    *Some EOS SLRs allow shiftable DEP mode, e.g., EOS A2, Elan and IX, when a Speedlite is not mounted.

    If you're interested in a larger flash, I wrote a review of the 430EX here.

    If you're interested in wireless E-TTL flash, I wrote a review of the ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter and 420EX here.

    3/17/2002 • Revised 01/09/2014

    ©Copyright 2002-2014 by Peter Kun Frary • All Rights Reserved


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