Canon XSi/450D

XSi flash and manual mode

Switch to Manual mode to get the best results when using the Canon XSi/450D flash.

The first time using the Canon XSi/450D built-in flash was a disaster! Asked to take some photos of members of a volunteer organization, I marched to the scene with my one-week old XSi.

The photos were taken outside in the bright mid-afternoon so there were shadows on faces. After taking a few shots, I decided to flip up the built-in flash for fill.

The flash-fill photos were washed out, which never happened when using a compact digital camera. I erroneously assumed the XSi flash would perform the same way as compact cameras I’ve used in the past.

I never did figure out what went wrong but became determined to learn how to use the built-in flash correctly. I asked in some online photography forums and was advised to use Manual mode for the best flash shots.

Nervous about using Manual mode

Having rarely used Manual mode, I expressed my nervousness. Then a forum member emailed me suggestions about using a flash correctly in Manual mode. Those suggestions now appear as an excellent article here at Digicamhelp.

But before clicking over to the article, here are a few important concepts to understand.  In Manual mode:

  • The exposure system assumes that the flash is being used as the main source of light. In Creative modes such as Aperture and Shutter priority, the system assumes the flash is being used as fill flash.
  • The Exposure Compensation display becomes the Exposure level indicator. When the needle is in the center, a photo is properly exposed.
  • The light exposure meter is activated when the shutter button is pressed halfway. You can use any one of the four XSi/450D exposure options (Evaluative, Center-weighted, Partial or Spot metering).

Set the aperture and shutter speed using the exposure indicator to gauge correct exposure (needle in the middle). Change the ISO if necessary. Exposure is locked so that, even if the needle moves, it has no effect on the settings you selected.

Evaluative Through the Lens flash

The flash on the XSi/450D has a separate system known as Evaluative Through the Lens (E-TTL). The flash output is calculated independently from the exposure meter. In other words, there are two separate exposures: one from the camera and one of the flash. A subject is metered by the flash, which uses a very low powered pre-flash when the shutter button is fully depressed.

Practice using the XSi/450D flash

In my experience, it takes some time to get the knack of using the flash in Manual mode. However, in almost every instance, I’ve found the outcome to be better using Manual mode.