I am a schoolmaster at a major public school with 30 years experience. I have 3 delightful daughters and my other interests include photography, gardening and cooking. I help with www.biologymad.com for A-level biologists.
Canon Speedlite 430EZ (not listed) NOT the 430EX!
Readily available second - hand; many features; easy to use;
DOES NOT WORK WITH DIGITAL CAMERAS
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This flashgun wsa widely sold up to about 5 years ago as the 'solid workhorse' of the Canon Speedlite range. Much cheaper than the top-of-the-range 540EZ, it has an excellent Guide Number (GN) of 43 (100 ISO film, in metres) and has a range of up to 20m or so. It comes in a vinyl pouch with clear-easy to understand instructions. It uses 4x AA size batteries, and don't consider using ordinary batteries unless you have a deep bank balance, as they do not last long. Rechargeables not only recharge the flash much more quickly, but you get 50 or so flashes from a fully-charged set. I used to use rechargeables (2 sets) with a spare set of AA batteries as back-up - for, when taking flash shots of (school) theatrical productions, it would be quite normal for me to take 150 shots in an evening. In case anyone wonders, these were taken at dress rehearsals! The 430EZ I have was used from 1990 to 2005 and must have taken several thousand flashes in that time, with total reliability. The flash can be turned and swiveled, to allow bounch flash off any nearby wall or ceiling. For anyone who has not used this technique, it removes those harsh shadows behind the subject, whilst a simple piece of card sellotaped to the flashgun provides a 'catchlight' in the subjects' eyes. Exposures are TTL-measured and invariably correct. Second-curtain sync allows for realistic night-time shots of mmoving vehicles etc, whilst the strobe function allows a series of rapid flashes to be used on one frame (I used it only once!). The flash automatically zooms from 21-105mm to suit the lens attached to your camera (this can be over-ridden). The easy-to-read display can be backlit at night and the whole unit can be fitted with a cheap attachment that allows it to be used off-camera and triggered by the built-in flash on your camera. I used that occasionally, but I found the simple cable lead which allowed it to be used a foot or so away from the lens axis was more than enough. The extremely fast flash and a synch speed of 1/250th allowed me to use the 430EZ in daylight whenever I was photographing sports events and wanted to 'stop the action' on dull days - it also added a catchlight on sunny days with portraits. Flashguns are NOT just for indoors or darkness! The 430EZ also allows the flash to be set up for photographing both a near object (person) and a distant background (cityscape) so taht both elements are perfectly exposed. That is something that is normally impossible and a feature that I found very useful.
It has one, and ONLY one, drawback - it CANNOT BE USED WITH THE CURRENT GENERATION OF CANON DIGITAL SLR CAMERAS (except in fully-manual mode) and so I had to replace this unit when I went digital.
If you are a film user and want an excellent, powerful, all-purpose Canon flashgun, you could do no better. They originally cost about £150 (15 years ago!!), but are now for sale for £20 or so - a real bargain! Ian