Controlling your Canon Speedlight from your camera

One thing that most camera manufactures haven’t historically done a great job in is the user interface of menus. From flashes to your camera navigating through menus to make quick changes aren’t always quick. Although I have used many different Canon speedlights over the years I still don’t find it easy to navigate through the on flash menu that Canon has. Setting exposure with the dial button is easy but certain actions that I rarely need always take way to long to thumb through various menus to finally remember how to do something.

Today I wanted to share a little tip that many of you might not know about, how to control all of your flash menu items from your camera’s LCD directly.
This feature isn’t available on all setups though. In order to use this you must have one of the following Canon speedlights:

  • 580EX II
  • 430EX II
  • 270EX
  • and the following Canon camera bodies:

  • EOS-1D Mark IV, Mark III and 1Ds Mark III
  • EOS 5D Mark II & Mark III
  • EOS 7D
  • EOS 50D, 40D
  • EOS Rebel T2i, T1i, XSi, XS
  • PowerShot G11, G10, G9
  • PowerShot SX 1 IS, SX 10 IS, SX 20 IS
  • You can control anything you could on your flash right from the camera, this can be a great way to save some time and also help you learn all about your flash control. The buttons are a little different for every camera (which is really something I don’t understand why canon does, please create a universal menu that will work for everyone instead of different menus/buttons for each camera). For this post I am going to reference and provide screenshots for the Canon 7D.

    First you can find the menu under the main menu at the very bottom under Flash Control.

    Here you will be able to turn on/off the ability for the flash to fire and also access your external flash main settings and custom function settings. You can also access settings for the built in cameras flash but please, please, please never use the pop up flash on a camera. I’ll get into why in a later post, but if you only learn one thing from me about photography remember to forget your camera has a built in flash and try to get your external flash off camera as much as possible.

    control your flash menu from your canon 7d

    When you enter the external flash main settings you can control everything you have on the back of the flash but in such a easier to understand way. Most speedlights really are cryptic in how the menu is setup and this makes adjusting the flash really simple and easy. At the top you can adjust the flash mode from the options you have for your flash, with the 580II you can choose between E-TTL II, Manual and Multi flash. Depending on what you choose it will adjust the rest of the menu items on the page. If you are shooting on manual the next option you can adjust the strength of the flash output.

    You can also change the shutter sync from 1st curtain to 2nd curtain or Hi-Speed. If you don’t know what these are I won’t get into this today but keep you eyes peeled for a article coming soon. Another very handy control is the zoom level of the flash, here you can quickly scroll through the available distances to zoom to. And finally you can turn on or off the wireless functions.

    how to zoom your flash from camera

    If you are shooting in E-TTL II mode then you will see different options. The FEB is a Flash Exposure Bracket if you wanted to bracket your flash exposure for any reason. With digital I don’t really see any need to bracket your flash, but it’s there for anyone who might need it. You can also change the flash exposure compensation (check out our guide on this here: Using Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) as well as set the type of TTL from Evaluative or Average.

    Another really cool thing is that you can access the custom functions under the External flash C.Fn setting menu. This was probably the worst menu on your flash. It gave you the ability to change the custom functions but no explanation on the screen at all, so you would have to refer to the owners manual to see what function did what. With 14 custom functions on my 580 EX II, I never remember what each Cf number is so its a hassle to bring out the manual to remember something. Here is what the controls of a Cf look like on a Canon 580:

    updating custom functions Cf on canon 580 EX II

    I bet there are some settings in here that many of you didn’t even know about. For example did you know the Cf 2 lets you control how to enable a modeling light on your flash? Did you even know that your flash had a modeling light? I bet many of you didn’t and its a pretty useful feature especially when you are learning about light. Here you can see exactly what you are updating the settings to.

    Pretty cool! I hope you learned something new about your camera today, now it’s time to get those cameras out and play around with your flash. I am working on a lot of articles coming soon about speedlights and how to get the best light from them so stay tuned. You can always stay in contact with us and make sure you don’t miss a post with any of the 3 ways to stay in contact with digital photo buzz.

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    Author: Mark

    Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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    2 Comments

    1. Never knew you could do that – thanks for sharing – great post!

    2. Thank you for any other informative blog. Where else could I am getting that type of info written in such a perfect means? I’ve a venture that I’m simply now working on, and I’ve been on the glance out for such info.

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