Best Canon flashgun: which Speedlite is right for you?

Wondering which flashgun is best for your Canon camera? This guide covers it all – from the best Canon Speedlite for beginners to professional flash for macro.
A photographer crouches down to photograph a woman dancing in a warehouse, his face obscured by the flare created as the Canon Speedlite EL-5 fires.

Canon produces a range of flashguns that enable photographers to experiment with light and take their imagery to the next level, from entry-level models for beginners such as the Speedlite EL-100 through to the pro-level Speedlite EL-1 and EL-5 (pictured).

Canon Speedlites enable you to take creative control of lighting in ways that are impossible to do with daylight or continuous LEDs. Freezing a moment in time is just the start.

"Being able to separate the exposure for the background and for the subject in daylight, overpower the sun and pop some fill-light into shadows outdoors – these are things that you can't do with normal continuous LED lights," says Canon Europe Product Marketing Specialist Mark Fensome.

Canon Speedlites are considerably more compact and manoeuvrable than equivalent continuous lights, and even entry-level Speedlites render colour to a very high level and accuracy. With advanced flash features such as high-speed sync, wireless second curtain sync and wireless radio control of multiple groups, Speedlites also extend your opportunities for creative photography.

But how do you choose the best Canon flashgun that suits your needs? What are the features that matter? Here, we suggest some of the best Speedlite options to consider.

A stunt rider on a bright green bicycle balanced on its front wheel being photographed using two Canon Speedlite EL-1 flashes.

"The Canon Speedlite EL-1 has one of the fastest recharge rates in the market, and you can boost that even further to an incredible 0.1-0.4 seconds by using the optional CP-E4N battery pack," says Mark.

A stunt cyclist jumps off a stone wall into a paved alleyway, a burst of flash light freezing him mid-jump.

"The Speedlite EL-1 comes with a battery charger and clip-on bounce adapter," says Mark. "It also has back-illuminated buttons which are useful when you're shooting in the dark." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens and a Canon Speedlite EL-1 at 15mm, 1/640 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 4000.

Best Canon flashgun for high performance and action: Canon Speedlite EL-1

With a blistering burst rate of up to 170 full-power flashes, rapid 0.1-0.9 sec1 recycle times, a guide number of 60 (m, ISO 100) and precise manual power control down to 1/81922 power, the Speedlite EL-1 offers the ultimate in high performance for demanding shoots. It's built for endurance too, with an active cooling system, weather-resistant construction and a rechargeable Li-ion battery that delivers up to 335 full-power flashes from a single charge.

"The Speedlite EL-1 is the best Canon flash for professional photographers who need to capture images in high-pressure scenarios," says Mark. "Whether you're shooting news or sport or covering a red carpet or a catwalk, you can depend on the Speedlite EL-1 to be ready to shoot and ready to keep up when you need to hammer images out."

In addition to familiar advanced flash functions such as radio triggering, high-speed sync and a bi-colour LED modelling lamp, the Speedlite EL-1 features wireless second-curtain sync for more creative off-camera flash control. It also includes FE Memory which automatically transfers E-TTL II flash exposure information to Manual flash mode, making it quicker to get up and running with a manual Speedlite setup.

A pair of hands holds a Canon camera and a Canon Speedlite EL-5 positioned so you can see the Multi-function foot.

The Canon Speedlite EL-5's Multi-function foot enables additional functionality with compatible cameras. "It can do things such as auto-detect the status of the camera and disable the flash's auto power off function if the camera is still active, so it's always ready," Mark explains.

A man and a woman dancing in a warehouse lit by multiple Canon EL-5 Speedlites.

Speedlites that have radio wireless flash triggering, such as the EL-5, give photographers greater flexibility to experiment with off-camera flash. Not only does radio triggering work over greater distances than optical triggering, it also doesn't require "line of sight" so you're free to put the flash behind objects – or even in them. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 Mark II with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens and Canon Speedlite EL-5s at 22mm, 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 320. © David Newton

Best Canon flashgun for creative portraiture, weddings and events: Canon Speedlite EL-5

If you don't routinely require the ultra-fast performance of the Canon Speedlite EL-1, the Speedlite EL-5 gives you many of its professional functions and near performance in a more affordable form.

"It's a great all-round performer," says Mark. "It's as powerful as the Speedlite EL-1, and while it doesn't offer the same level of Manual power adjustments, it still goes down to 1/1024 power with compatible cameras. The majority of flashguns typically go down to 1/128 power, so you're still getting a wider range of power levels with the Speedlite EL-5.

"This Canon flash benefits from very fast flash recycle times of 0.1-1.2 seconds with the Li-ion rechargeable battery, which is also capable of delivering around 350 shots at full power. An accurate battery indicator also makes it simple to see when you need to replace the battery."

The Speedlite EL-5 has a weather-resistant design and uses Canon's Multi-function foot interface rather than a conventional 5-pin foot. "Like the Speedlite EL-1, it is easier to use with a simpler and more intuitive button / joystick layout and menu system, making it less stressful to set up when under pressure," adds Mark. "Plus, shortcut buttons can be assigned to directly access the Speedlite menu or Quick Flash Group Control feature on the camera's LCD, further simplifying and speeding up adjustments on a shoot."

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A side profile of a Canon camera with a Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT attached to it.

Equipped with shortcut controls and a control wheel which enable you to make quick adjustments, and a lock switch that prevents settings from being changed accidentally, the Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT is a powerful flash for everyday photography.

Best Canon flashgun for everyday photography: Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Are you looking for a decent hit of flash power? A movable flash head for bouncing the light? Simple controls and a lightweight design? The Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT ticks all the boxes and more.

With its guide number of 43 (m, ISO 100), the Speedlite 430EX III-RT has plenty of power for most occasions. It's powered by AA batteries and recycles in just 3.2 seconds following a full-power flash. In addition to a tilt-and-swivel zoom head that permits a versatile range of adjustments, the Speedlite 430EX III-RT can be used as a sender or receiver in a radio or optically triggered wireless flash setup.

"The Speedlite 430EX III-RT is a flashgun that hits the perfect balance of performance and price to satisfy the majority of people," says Mark. "It's nicely built, fairly compact and has a lot of capability – certainly enough for typical everyday photography."

A woman and man smile as they look at the screen of a Canon camera with a Canon Speedlite EL-100 attached to it.

"The Speedlite EL-100 is the best Canon flash for beginners but it also has quite a few creative features, including second-curtain sync and high-speed sync," says Mark. "So it's a Speedlite that will continue to perform, even if you move up to a more advanced camera."

Two children blow bubbles using bubble makers while two others look on and play with them, taken using a Canon Speedlite EL-100 flash.

The Speedlite EL-100 is ideal for smaller cameras such as the Canon EOS R10 or EOS 850D, and it provides creative lighting opportunities to capture natural results indoors. Taken on a Canon EOS 800D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D) with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens and a Canon Speedlite EL-100 at 26mm, 1/200 sec, f/4 and ISO 1000.

Best Canon flashgun for flash beginners: Canon Speedlite EL-100

The Canon Speedlite EL-100 is the best choice for photographers who are just starting out in flash photography. With an easy-to-use Auto mode that can take care of all the flash exposure settings, it's ideal for flash beginners, but also provides room to get creative, with Manual flash control down to 1/128 power and advanced options, such as stroboscopic flash and an optical sender/receiver function for wireless lighting control.

"The Speedlite EL-100 is a great choice if you have an entry-level camera and you're looking for a solution that gives you a bit more power than the on-board flash unit," says Mark. "It has simple operation and controls and a bounce/swivel flash head, so you can direct the light towards a wall or ceiling and avoid that harsh look you get with direct light."

A close-up of a butterfly in flight taken with a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II flash.

An ideal choice for wildlife photographers who shoot macro, the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II ensures an evenly lit environment, with settings that can be personalised to suit your way of working. Taken on a Canon EOS 70D with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens and a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II at 1/2000 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 640.

A Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II flash.

The LED modelling lamps on the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II can be adjusted independently for a range of different lighting styles. The flash head can also be rotated so the main light source can come from any angle.

Best Canon flashgun for macro photography: Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II

While it's possible to use any Canon flash to photograph close-up subjects, a dedicated Canon Macro Speedlite flash offers the performance and creative control that can have a massive impact on your macro photography.

The Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II uses a ring-flash design with dual semi-circular flash tubes positioned around the front of the camera lens. These flashes can be rotated and controlled independently, enabling you to achieve a uniform, shadowless look, or to emphasise texture by making one flash brighter than the other.

"In macro photography, you're normally working so close to the subject that you're blocking off much of the light," says Mark. "But this flash allows you to get good coverage across the subject. You also get a couple of LED illumination lights to help illuminate the subject when you're focusing.

"It can be used as an optical wireless sender too, so you're able to have a multi-flash lighting setup, with a third light coming in from behind to illuminate the background."

Photographer David Newton crouches down to capture a dancer mid-move against a distressed concrete wall.

Playing with light on an urban dance shoot

From simple setups to capturing motion with multiple flashguns, photographer David Newton demonstrates how to get creative with the Canon Speedlite EL-5.
A photographer leaning in close with a Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT flash to photograph a frog in green foliage.

Often used to photograph flowers, insects and other small subjects, the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT has a higher guide number than the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II and its independently adjustable heads allow for greater creative control.

Best Canon flashgun for professional creative macro: Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT

The Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT provides all the flexibility and control that professionals need for close-up photography. "Both the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II and the Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT allow you to be creative with your macro lighting," Mark explains, "but the Twin Lite is more powerful and gives you more control over the lighting direction."

It's based around a twin-flash system, with the position of each flash able to be independently adjusted to suit the subject. "You can even take the flash heads off the ring and mount them to external supports," says Mark. "They're connected by cords, but you're free to have both lights on one side if you like, or perhaps at 90° to one another."

This flash offers an abundance of power as well, with a guide number of 26 (m, ISO 100) but it also has the option of reducing the flash output to 1/512 power, compared with the Ring Lite's standard 1/128 power.

"Having a Canon RT flash means you can also control other Speedlites remotely using radio wireless control as well as optical," adds Mark. "This means you've got more options available to you when it comes to positioning other Speedlites."

A Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT, Speedlite EL-5, Speedlite EL-1 and Canon EOS R6 Mark II lined up alongside each other.

Most Speedlites typically offer a Manual flash output of 1/1 to 1/128 power, but the Canon Speedlite EL-5 and Speedlite EL-1 offer more low-power options. "Being able to control the light to such an accurate level enables you to put a very subtle amount of light into the image, so it doesn't look like you've used flash," says Mark.

Canon Speedlite comparison: EL-1 vs EL-5

There is a difference in price between the Canon Speedlite EL-1 and the Speedlite EL-5, but these two advanced Canon flashguns share many of the same flash functions and capabilities. They both have a guide number of 60 (m, ISO 100), draw their power from a rechargeable Li-ion battery pack LP-EL, and have zoom heads that can cover 24-200mm. So what are the main differences between the Speedlite EL-1 and the Speedlite EL-5?

"The Speedlite EL-1 has an active cooling system whereas the Speedlite EL-5 features an enhanced passive cooling design," Mark explains. "You also get an upgrade in terms of dust and moisture resistance with the Speedlite EL-1, plus an external power supply terminal, so if you really need to boost the power or shoot for longer, or place the flash in a remote location, then you have the option of using the CP-E4N battery pack."

The Speedlite EL-1's integrated fan allows it to function for extended periods, and it's capable of firing up to 170 full-power flashes3 in a continuous burst. By comparison, the Speedlite EL-5 is able to sustain a burst of about 85 full-power flashes4 before it needs to rest.

Some of the compromises made in the design of the Speedlite EL-5 versus the Speedlite EL-1 are functions that only the advanced Speedlite photographer, who needs the ultimate in flexibility and features, is likely to need. There isn't a sync terminal or an external flash metering module, for example, nor are there locks on the battery door or bounce angle. It also only supports wireless radio triggering, whereas the Speedlite EL-1 also comes with optical.

What these professional Speedlites have in common – and what is consistent across the Canon flash range – is ease of use, intuitive controls and the capacity to unlock creative opportunities. More than just a way to add light where there is none, they are tools that can inspire you to experiment with new techniques.

Marcus Hawkins
  1. 1/8192 to 1/1 power charging time required for firing
  2. Minimum flash output is 1/128 for high-speed sync or optical wireless transmission
  3. At 23°C, with the fan set to ON, and before reaching flash firing restriction Level 1, with no flash adapters fitted (bursts up to 160 full power flashes with the flash zoomed from 150-200mm)
  4. Using a fully charged LP-EL battery under Canon testing conditions. Continuous flash count at full output until flash firing restriction Level 1

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