Skip to main content

Canon Speedlite EL-1 flashgun review

The Canon Speedlite EL-1 costs almost as much as an EOS RP camera complete with kit zoom lens! So is it really worth it?

Canon Speedlite EL-1
(Image: © Canon)

Our Verdict

Money no object, Canon’s Speedlite EL-1 is a phenomenal flashgun. It’s super-powerful, amazingly versatile and, with its Li-ion battery pack, has excellent stamina and ultra-fast recycling speeds. It’s tough too, with a weather-sealed construction and can take on pretty much any challenge. Overall, the EL-1 is an absolute joy to use, but some other flashguns are almost as good and only cost a fraction of the price.

For

  • Li-ion battery pack has great stamina
  • Amazingly fast recycle speeds
  • Powerful output and great features

Against

  • Humongously expensive for a flashgun
  • RF wireless range isn’t overly generous
  • Some might prefer a color touchscreen

The price tag is enough to make you take a double-take. $1,099/£1,299 for a flashgun? That’s more than twice the price of Canon's very capable Speedlite 600EX II-RT and almost as much as a Canon EOS RP complete with 24-105mm kit zoom lens. So Canon’s new Speedlite EL-1 should be something pretty special if it's to deserve a place as one of the best flashguns, and indeed it is. We’re just not sure if it’s quite special enough.

Image 1 of 2

Canon Speedlite EL-1

A full 180 degrees of swivel is available to both the left and right of the central position. (Image credit: Canon)
Image 2 of 2

Canon Speedlite EL-1

The bounce facility works in click steps with a range of -7 degrees (downwards) to an upward/rear-facing 120 degrees. (Image credit: Canon)

Specifications

  • Max output (ISO 100, metres): Gn 60 at 200mm zoom
  • Bounce (degrees): -7 to 120 degrees
  • Swivel (left/right): 180/180 degrees
  • Zoom Range: 24-200mm
  • Flash Exposure Compensation: +/-3EV
  • Manual Power Settings: 1/1 to 1/8192
  • Additional Flash Modes: HSS, RC, Strobe
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 84x149x136mm
  • Weight (inc. batteries): 687g

Key features

A headline feature of the EL-1 is that it doesn’t run on the usual set of four AA cells. Instead, it has a rechargeable ‘LP-EL’ Li-ion battery with the promise of far greater stamina and much quicker recycling speeds. But we’ve seen this before in the likes of the considerably cheaper Hahnel Modus 600RT Mk II and Modus 360RT, as well as the Godox V860II.

Canon Speedlite EL-1

The LP-EL Li-ion battery slides into a chamber at the side, above which there’s a socket for connecting an optional CP-E4N external power pack. (Image credit: Canon)

All of these third-party flashguns feature built-in RF (Radio Frequency) transceivers for wireless master/slave operation over a range of up to 100m (50m for the Hahnel 360RT), another of the EL-1’s main claims to fame. However, Canon gives a shorter recommended maximum operating distance of 30m for RF transmission, and 10-15m for infra-red optical linking. The Hahnel 600RT II and Godox V860II also match the maximum power rating of the EL-1, with a Guide number of Gn 60 (ISO 100, metres) at the 200mm end of the zoom range. You have to dive deeper into the Canon’s feature list and specifications to find advantages.

Build and handling

The EL-1 is a relatively big and weighty beast, tipping the scales at 687g including its battery. That battery, which looks like an oversized LP-E6 series camera battery, can deliver enough juice for up to 335 full-power flashes but, naturally, you can’t slot in a spare set of AA cells if it runs flat while you’re still shooting. A spare LP-EL battery will set you back around $119/£155, although the flashgun is also compatible with Canon’s CP-E4N external battery pack, which costs around $199/£195 and holds eight AA cells.

Canon Speedlite EL-1

The LP-EL battery looks like an oversized version of the LP-E6 range of batteries that are used in several Canon cameras, and works with the same LP-E6E battery charger. (Image credit: Canon)

Build quality is simply excellent, as you’d expect from Canon’s top-end, pro-grade kit. Unlike most flashguns, the EL-1 is fully weather-sealed, so rain needn’t stop play. You don’t have to worry much about overheating either, as it features an ‘active cooling system’ with a built-in fan to ensure cool-running with up to 170 full-power flashes in a single burst. Further finery includes two built-in LED modelling lamps with adjustable brightness and color temperature.

Canon Speedlite EL-1

The large flash tube has two LED modelling lamps at the bottom, with adjustable brightness and colour temperature. (Image credit: Canon)

Performance

As they say, power is nothing without control and the EL-1 really does stand out in this respect. Not only does it have a highly intuitive onboard control system, but you can turn the flash down to really low levels, equivalent to just 1/8192 of maximum power. That’s great for really subtle flash and for shooting extreme close-ups.

Canon Speedlite EL-1

There’s no fancy colour touchscreen but the controls are highly intuitive and make adjustments quick and easy to carry out. (Image credit: Canon)

Recycling times are practically instantaneous at low to medium power settings and still less than a second even at the full-power setting. TTL accuracy proved excellent in our tests and the colour quality of the flash remains very consistent even at extremely low settings, which is a significant technical challenge for flashgun technology. All in all, it’s a great performer but, then again, you’d expect nothing less considering the selling price.

Canon Speedlite EL-1

Along with the flashgun itself, the complete kit includes an LP-EL Li-ion battery, LC-E6E battery charger, mounting foot, two colour correction filters and a diffusion dome. (Image credit: Canon)

Lab data

Flash power

(Image credit: Future)

We tested the EL-1 through its full range of power settings and measured the output with a Sekonic flash meter. It’s among the most powerful flashguns that we’ve ever used but also enables very minimal output when required. Our graph goes down to the 1/256 power setting but you can keep going all the way to 1/8192.

Recycle speed

(Image credit: Future)

The recycle time until the EL-1 is ready to fire again after a flash is negligible, up to and including the half-maximum-power setting. Even at the full-power setting, it takes less than a second to recycle and can keep on going in bursts of up to 170 flashes, thanks to its internal cooling fan.

TTL accuracy: 0EV

We enjoyed excellent and highly consistent accuracy when using automatic through-the-lens flash metering, in wide-ranging shooting scenarios.

Verdict

For features and specifications, the EL-1 ticks pretty much every box you could ever imagine putting on your wish list for a flashgun. It’s immaculately built with robust, weather-sealed build quality, and has a powerful maximum output. Yet it can also deliver very low output for subtle, close-up lighting. Its Li-ion battery pack gives it excellent stamina and ultra-fast recycling speeds, and the built-in cooling fan takes care of any overheating issues. We’d have happily given the EL-1 a 5-star rating but, ultimately, the most remarkable thing about this flashgun is its frankly outrageous asking price. Unless you're a pro shooter who absolutely must have the very best own-brand flashgun to sit atop your EOS-1D X Mark III, the cost is almost impossible to justify compared to a flashgun like the Hahnel Modus 600RT II.

Read more:

The best flashguns

Best Canon flashguns

The best flash triggers

The best flash diffusers, softboxes and modifiers for your speedlight

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist, that has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners!