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Canon’s New Red-Line Speedlite EL-1: Better Control, Greater Expression

On 14 October 2020, Canon announced its new flagship flash, the Speedlite EL-1. The first ever red line (L-series) model in Canon’s flash history, the new Speedlite adopts a new xenon tube and revamped flash circuitry, offering significantly better control over flash output. It supports Canon’s EOS mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

 

Shape the light, shape imagination

Dramatic night portrait-

EOS R5/ RF85mm f/1.2L IS USM/ FL: 85mm/ Manual exposure (f/1.2, 1/200 sec)/ ISO 250/ WB: 3300K/ Speedlite EL-1

Digital cameras have progressed tremendously in recent years. With high ISO speed performance that just keeps getting better, making it easier to shoot in low light, external flashes now need do more than simply brighten up the picture. More than just another light source, they are now light shapers—important tools that help photographers achieve their creative vision.

Also see: What are the Benefits of an External Flash?

Canon's new Speedlite EL-1 brings light shaping by Speedlites to a whole new level. Canon's first ever L-series flash, it boasts peak performance and quality ideal for professional photographers. With its micro flash capabilities, high-speed recycle time and a host of other features that offer better control as well as more lighting possibilities, it is the latest must-have equipment in the bag of all photographers who seek to master shadow and light with better precision.


We take a closer look at what’s new.

1. Capture nuances: Micro flash down to 1/8192
2. High-speed flash recycling
3. 160 continuous flashes or more at full output
4. One lithium battery, three times more shots
5. Other features

 

1. Capture nuances: Micro flash down to 1/8192

In this case, how low you can go matters

New cameras, such as the flagship DSLR EOS-1D X Mark III and the mirrorless EOS R6, have native ISO speeds that go as high as 102,400. When ISO speeds are that high, depending on the scene, your usual flash output could result in light that is too intense. The micro flash capability of the Speedlite EL-1 enables subtler lighting so that the atmosphere of the scene is closer to your vision.

flash output of Speedlite EL-1 and Speedlite 600EX II-RT

14 stops’ dynamic range

The Speedlite EL-1 incorporates a xenon tube into a new structure than enables stable flash firing even with a low flash output. Improvements to the firing circuitry as well as to the precision of the flash output detector and flash meter make it possible to achieve a micro flash of 1/8192.

Every time you halve the output of a flash, you get 1 more f-stop of dynamic range. In other words, from full output down to 1/8192 power, the Speedlite EL-1 offers up to 14 f-stops of dynamic range.

Tip: Need even more flash output? The Speedlite EL-1 can take up to 15 receiver units via wireless transmission. That’s the ability to fire up to 16 flashes at the same time.

 

Creative control over lighting in your portraits

Let’s take the scenario of a street portrait shoot at night. If you simply wanted to capture the ambience of the location the way it was, increasing your ISO speed would be enough. But what if you wanted to make the subject look just a bit brighter, or improve the skin tone a little?

Outdoor portrait in ambient light

Under these conditions, ISO 6400 lets you capture the scene’s ambience the way it is. But the portrait subject looks a little dark, doesn’t she?

outdoor portrait with flash output 1/128

The light from an external flash wouldn’t reach the buildings in the background. The usual practice is to set a high ISO speed to expose for the background and a fill flash for the subject. However, flash output 1/128 is too intense here, spoils the atmosphere.


Outdoor portrait with flash output 1/8192

All images: EOS R5/ RF24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 70mm/ Manual exposure/ ISO 6400/ WB: 4200K

With the micro flash capability of the Speedlite EL-1, you can set flash output as low as 1/8192, which is lights the portrait subject just enough to flatter her skin tone. The output is so low that it will not affect the balance in your shoot settings, ensuring natural results that faithfully depict the atmosphere. You can use it for daytime portraits, too!

 

Retain the details in your macro photography

Until now, conventional Speedlites were not suitable for macro photography: the flash would be too strong considering the distance of the flash head from the subject. The 1/8192 micro flash on the Speedlite EL-1 solves that issue, ensuring just enough light to reproduce the details and colours of flowers, insects, and other macro subjects, even when you shoot close-up.

1/8192 micro flash ON

No flash

EOS R5/ EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ FL: 100mm/ Manual exposure (f/3.2, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight

 

2. High-speed flash recycling

Be always on the ball to capture decisive moments

 

Comparison of flash recycle time wth Speedlite 600EX II-RT

Before a flash is fired, energy is drawn from the battery and stored in a capacitator. The “flash recycle time” (or “recharge time”) refers to the time taken for the energy to recharge before there is sufficient power to fire the flash.

The Speedlite EL-1 features a lithium-ion battery power source and new charging circuit design, achieving a faster charge time and better battery efficiency. It takes only 0.9 seconds to recharge for full powered (1/1) output, and 0.1 seconds to recharge for 1/8192 output.

You know what’s even better? Low battery level doesn’t affect the recycling time*. That way, you will always stand a better chance of capturing well-lit moments.

*Depends on Canon’s measurement conditions.

Special occasions such as weddings are full of decisive moments you don’t want to miss—especially not because your flash couldn’t recharge on time. With the high-speed recycling time of the Speedlite EL-1, your chances of capturing them will increase tremendously.

 

3. 160 continuous flashes or more at full output

Nail the magic moments with perfect light

 

Comparison of number of continuous flashes with Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The new xenon tube adopted in the Speedlite EL-1 is made from highly durable glass that provides better resistance against the high heat generated by flash firing. This is supported by an active cooling system that uses a built-in fan to circulate cool air inside the flash head.  Together, the two remove the limit on the number of continuous flashes imposed by overheating, offering approximately 160 full-powered continuous flashes or more—more than 2.5 times the number possible on the Speedlite 600EX II-RT.

It’s not just about spray and pray: depending on the scene, burst shooting could help you to nail the magic moments more easily. A higher number of continuous flashes increases your chances of well-lit successful shots.

Click here to learn how to get creative with continuous flash firing

 

4. One lithium ion battery, three times more shots

Longer shooting stamina so that you can keep up the pace

Speedlite EL-1 uses just one large capacity lithium ion battery—the LP-EL (1920mAh, 7.2 volts), capable of approximately 335 flashes on full charge, more than three times that possible on the Speedlite 600EX II-RT using four AA batteries.

While it looks like the LP-E6 battery used in many advanced EOS cameras, it cannot be used on cameras. However, it can be charged using the same charger as that for the cameras.

 

Comparison of battery life

 

Missed out on moments while fumbling with installing four batteries in the correct orientation? That will be a thing of the past with the Speedlite EL-1, which requires just one battery pack.

Speedlite EL-1 display panel

Adopting a lithium ion battery makes it possible to display the battery level on the rear display panel of the Speedlite, so you get an advanced indication of when it’s time to change your batteries.

 

5. Other features

New E-TTL Taste and FE memory functions

In E-TTL (Evaluative Through-The-Lens) metering, the camera meters the ambient light and sets the appropriate flash output for the scene. The new E-TTL Taste function allows further customisation, letting users chose their desired balance (Ambience-priority/Standard/Strong) according to the brightness of the available light (Dark/Middle/Light). The FE memory function remembers the flash output you used in E-TTL and lets you continue to use it and make fine adjustments after switching to manual mode.

Twin LED modeling lamps

In addition to the modeling flash that was also found on other Speedlite models, the Speedlite EL-1 is equipped with two coloured LED modeling lamps (orange and white) that can emit light for long periods. The brightness and colour temperature of the light from these lamps can each be adjusted by up to five levels.

 

Bounce adapter and colour filters

The Speedlite EL-1 comes with:
- A bounce adapter, which reduces the shadows caused by bounce flash to create a more natural look, and
- Two colour filters that let you even out the lighting colour temperature when shooting under warm lighting.

Larger upward bounce angle

The flash head of the Speedlite EL-1 can be rotated 120° upward, 7° downward, and 180° left and right. This gives it a larger upward bounce angle scope than the Speedlite 600EX II-RT, which is rotatable 90° upward.

 

Intuitive operations with the joystick

The joystick, positioned right in the centre of the dials, provides an intuitive way to select and change settings. Simply move it to move the cursor on the memory-in-pixel reflective LCD display panel.

Built to withstand tough conditions

Weather sealing on Speedlite EL-1

The Speedlite EL-1 has a high level of dust and droplet resistance equivalent to the EOS-1D X series with the Speedlite 600EX II-RT. Be assured of quick response even in rainy weather, in any scene or situation.

 

Radio wireless transmission

Wireless multi-flash photography is possible with up to 15 other flash units. If the sender and receiver units are all Speedlite EL-1, you can even wirelessly control all of them to fire micro flashes down to 1/8192. Optical wireless transmission is also supported.

Second curtain sync supported during wireless firing

You can use second curtain sync even when firing the Speedlite EL-1 off camera via wireless transmission*. This is also possible when Speedlite EL-1 is the sender and Speedlite 600EX II-RT/600EX-RT/ 430EX III-RT are the receivers.

*Camera needs firmware update for Speedlite EL-1

 

For more flash photography tips and techniques, check out:
In Focus: The Basics of External Flash Photography

 


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