Canon's new 470EX-AI flash, with auto-intelligent bounce feature.

Canon has just introduced the new Speedlite 470EX-AI, a flash that automatically pivots and rotates to the optimum angle to 'bounce' the light off the ceiling for softer, more flattering images.

Basically, you enable AI. B (auto-intelligent bounce) mode, hit the AI. B button on the flash or a reassignable button on your camera, and the 470EX-AI will fire once straight ahead to get a distance reading to your subject, pivot up and fire to get a distance reading to the ceiling, and then automatically pivot forward or backwards for the best quality of light.

It might sound a bit gimmicky, but in practice, it works incredibly well. Once the optimum angle has been dialed in, the flash remembers, and you can have it re-position itself as you change from landscape to portrait shooting and vice versa:

And as the headline says, I think this is a big deal – namely because it represents a big step toward democratizing artificial light for people who aren't yet comfortable with it. It could also make wedding and event photographers' lives easier.

Let's back up a second

Years ago, I had saved up some money for new photo gear – and of course, I had my eye on a fast prime lens to go along with my Nikon D80 for shooting in dim light. My dad wisely steered me toward my first flash, a brand-new Nikon SB-700. But, as it turns out, there was a big catch I didn't think about.

I had absolutely no idea how to use the thing.

This particular Facebook profile photo didn't garner many 'likes.' Because it's awful.

As the above image demonstrates, I had read far enough in the manual to figure out how to use my camera's built-in flash and Nikon's Creative Lighting System to optically trigger the SB-700. But I didn't know anything about 'bounce flash;' I didn't even know the term to Google it. And my dad, well, he did his best to explain how to use which settings and why, but I just couldn't wrap my head around how the flash mixed with ambient lighting and vice versa.

So my shiny new Speedlight sat idly in its case for a year until I got my act together, attended workshop after workshop, and started to understand how my SB-700 could actually improve my photos. These days, I use it all the time and it's been one of my best gear investments to date.

Back to the present

Bounce flash helps a lot for dim environments, but it can be useful at other times too.
Nikon D700 | ISO 200 | 1/160 sec | F2.8
Photo by Carey Rose

The Canon 470EX-AI has the potential to allow people to skip that first step that I struggled through; that sinking feeling of getting something new, shiny and exciting, but not being able to put it to good use. That disappointment can feed into insecurity, which can lead to a whole host of problems. For a while, I honestly figured that flash was just something I wasn't meant to be able to use.

Dim light can also be unflattering light, and a bag of F1.4 primes isn't going to change that

But that's not the only reason I'm excited by this flash. In my time shooting weddings, I've worked with a lot of second shooters who are experienced and skilled photographers in their own right, but simply haven't bothered with artificial light all that much. And so I've coached them on how to bounce their flashes to help them get sharp, well-exposed shots of everything from the bridal party getting ready to the dance floor at the reception.

That's because fast lenses aren't everything. Dim light can also be unflattering light, and a bag of F1.4 primes isn't going to change that. But a flash can.

Nikon D700 | ISO 4000 | 1/160 sec | F2
Photo by Carey Rose

Lastly, this 470EX-AI has some value for experienced flash users as well. If you know where you want to aim the flash, there's a 'semi-automatic' mode wherein you place the flash to your desired bounce angle and lock it in. Then, if you switch to a vertical orientation, you have the option to double-tap the shutter button and have the flash re-position to that bounce angle of your choosing. Being able to skip the ceaseless repositioning of my Speedlight as I move around an event is appealing in itself.

The sum up

In case this is coming off as though I'm somehow Canon-crazy, you can rest assured that this flash isn't going to have me switching systems just yet. But the 470EX-AI is a breath of fresh air, and represents true innovation from a company often accused of playing it safe.

Let's be clear, there's a lot that we haven't yet tested on the 470EX-AI. We don't know how well (or if) it'll really work off-camera, we don't know if it will work with a diffuser and we haven't tested the battery life. We do know that it can't detect brightly colored ceilings or walls, which could throw a color cast on your subject. But there's still a lot of potential here.

Putting the power to not just capture light, but actually improve it, into the hands of more people – now that's something that can actually result in better pictures

After all, many cameras these days are really good. Sensors of all sizes are better than they've ever been, and obviously computational photography in smartphones is only going to improve. Each new camera release seems to come with diminishing returns; a few more FPS, a higher-yet-still-unusable maximum ISO value.

But putting the power to not just capture light, but actually improve it, into the hands of more people – now that's something that can actually result in better pictures. And that is absolutely something to be excited about.

See it in action

Check out our overview video showing the Speedlite 470EX-AI in action.

The 470EX-AI will be available in April, 2018 for an MSRP of $400.