by The Staff at Vivid Light

The 420EX is Canon’s basic, no frills, mid-line E-TTL flash. With street prices ranging from $180 to $220 it’s around $150 less than Canon’s top of the line 550EX unit and it works equally well as a shoe mounted flash or as a wireless slave triggered by a 550EX, ST-E2 (shoe mounted wireless transmitter), or MR-14EX ring light unit.

With a guide number of 101 @ 35mm this is a bargain flash with some juice. It covers 24-105mm. Best of all we found the juice was metered out in doses that provided a more natural look than some other mid-line flash units we’ve tested.

When using it for fill flash for available light portraiture you’ll still want to use flash exposure compensation or a diffuser to soften the flash a bit more for a more natural look. But you’ll have to do this in-camera, provided your camera supports this feature, as the 420EX has only a VERY basic set of controls.


Even at a distance the 420EX produced good results. Canon Elan 7, 100-400mm IS at 75 to 80 feet distance.

The good news is that it offers full E-TTL compatibility with all of Canon’ current SLR camera bodies and with Canon’s Powershot series of digital cameras. The 420EX is powered by four AA-size batteries (alkaline, lithium, Ni-Cd, or Ni-MH).

Recycle times were good if not spectacular with the AA’s and the flash automatically switches to power saving mode after 90 seconds. Supported flash modes include full E-TTL autoflash, high speed sync, FE lock and rear curtain sync modes.

When used with the Elan 7 or 7E in low light conditions the 420EX emits a cross pattern using two LEDs enabling the camera to autofocus in near dark conditions.

A soft case and stand (for remote use) are included. Look for an article on Canon’s wireless flash system in an upcoming issue.