Thursday, August 11, 2011

REVIEW: Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites by Syl Arena

Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites (also on Kindle) is a very long book that has been my reading companion for the last several months. The good news is that it’s also a very good book that is long overdue – especially for those Canon shooters who read Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks and Hot Shoe Diaries books. Canon shooters are lead to believe that their flashes are so inferior to the Nikon system (which is admittedly pretty good), but the bigger obstacle for Canon shooters was the lack of decent information on Canon flashes.

Prior to this book I found the flash section of Charles Gradner’s Holistic Approach to Lighting and Digital Photography as one of my first resources on the Canon flash system and NK Guy’s Canon EOS Beginners Guide – Part IV – Flash (which later was published as Mastering Canon EOS Flash Photography) as one of the best. However, both of these online documents were a bit on the boring side without enough great images to make me excited about what I was reading.

When I first saw the Speedlighter’s Handbook with a smashing pumpkin on the front I was skeptical, but I did a little look inside on Amazon and from the Table of Contents I quickly realized this book had the potential to be the long lost Canon Flash System manual. I say this because I’ve yet to see any Canon flash ship with a manual that was super useful if you don’t know how to use the flash you just purchased already. 

I delayed reading this book for a while because there was so much content, but once I started I couldn’t stop. However, it’s hard for me to find time to read a book of this size so it’s taken me forever to get through it which is honestly one of its flaws. I would have much rather seen a Scott Kelby style like he did with The Digital Photography Book Series where the author just gets to the point and tells me what to do rather than how things work. However, there will come a day young grasshopper when you’ve mastered the basics where you’ll want to know more – in fact you’ll need to know more, and when that day arrives this is the book you would have wanted. It’s for this reason that I did actually enjoy this book quite a bit, despite its massive amount of data (which even in this format should have been 3 separate books).

Normally I would do a chapter by chapter walkthrough, but with 25 chapters packed with tons of info I just couldn’t get myself to do it. You can skim the TOC on Amazon, but suffice it to say that you’ll find any answers you seek about using Canon flashes when you read this book. It’s in there – you might have a little time finding it, but the answer is in this book. It’s for this reason that I have to say – EVERY Canon shooter should own this book – you’ll finally learn how to master your flash and realize that the system is much more capable than the Nikon faithful would have you believe.

The Best of the Book

You will learn a lot from this book as it is jammed full of a tremendous amount of info. The good thing is that after you’ve finished reading it (which is the same feeling you had when you finally finished reading the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy), you with find the handy Appendix 4: Six-Point Checklist for Speedlighting to be very helpful. There’s lots of pictures and things are spelled out very well. It’s modern, relevant and quite honestly will cover more topics than most will ever use in their lifetime. From batteries to accessories, to flash 101, to gels and so much more – it’s in there. It really should have been called Speedlighter’s Kitchen Sink book!

The Worst of the Book

Syl (rhymes with hill) states up front that he’s an in-camera guy and that he doesn’t do Photoshop on his images. The sad reality in today’s world that means the images don’t have the wow and pop you’d see in a McNally book. This really turned me off as I kept thinking, these images aren’t very good so how can this guy really teach me anything. As I ignored the images and used them as tools to describe a given technique, I got along much better. 

Attention Peachpit Press – I despised the way the images were labeled in this book. A great example is page 243 where 6 images appear on this page and the captions appear on page 242. I found this to be super confusing and would have been much happier with the figure numbers appearing directly on the images if necessary. Please don’t do books like this in the future!


Must Buy for intermediate to advanced Canon photographers – this book literally has everything you need to know PLUS everything you could ever possibly want to know. Your head will explode if you try to read it all at once, so plan on having this book handy for a long-term read (i.e., read a chapter every week or two – then apply what you learned).

The recommended audience for this book should just read the chapters in order (don’t skip) and plan to be reading for a long time. You’ll be rewarded for your time investment by learning the things that build on each other.

Beginners should just read chapters 0, 6 & 7 and then put the book away. Go make sure you know all the info from Chapter 6 by heart and apply what you know. After that you’ll be ready for the book.

Once you’ve finished this bible, I mean book, you should read (or re-read) read Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks and Hot Shoe Diaries books because they’ll mean more to you now. You’ll be a master of your flash so you can apply what you learn from Joe and immediately use your Canon gear to make the shot happen.

For those Nikon shooters who are wondering, yes there are plenty of chapters with info that applies to your system as well. However, you might feel like Canon shooters with McNally’s books where you are miffed that your platform is left out of the book.

Ordering Paperback or Kindle Version

Click here to purchase the paperback book version from Amazon, or here to get the Kindle version.


I may get a commission if you make purchases using the links in this article. Thanks for supporting the blog by using my links!

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

1 comment:

viscara said...

I have to agree that the books sure fills in a lot of details and data were canon fell short of letting customers know of the abilities of their flash units. This book shows that canon does almost as much as the nikon flashes. But that said its not a book for the light of heart nor the beginner trying to learn off camera flash or creative techniques. This book may also scare off those starting out as its going to give them a brain freeze. I would like to word a bit of caution to those starting out in flash photography which is dont take books like this as the "Only" means or way to do things or learn. If you have a particular need to shoot this way with many canon 580's this is the book to help you. Dont buy the book and then go out and buy several canon 580's flashes because the book illistrates this. For the average user this is not wise nor "Econimical" for the price of 4x 580's you can buy a pretty decent set of much more powerful studio flashes. The one major turn off to what I seen with Syl is he is constantly promoting use of a half dozen of these expensive flashes in situations that are completely impractical and down right silly for the project at hand. I just seen the guy attach 7 I repeat 7 flashes to a studio light stand with a big umbrella! Could you imagine turning on 7 pocket flashes and putting batteries in all of those things? then trying to mount them so they dont block each others view? Phew.. I got a simpler solution use one decent powered studio head. 7 canon 580's on a single lightstand is a dangling accident waiting to happen as well as one pain in the you know what to set up. When I seen Syl doing this I was a bit turned off to his book and his methods. The guy sure does know the tiny details of the specs and functions of Canon flashes but his methods are a bit off to me. Yes you can attach 7 flash heads to a stand I am sure you could attach 15 of them to the stand in some way and make them equal to the power of a 1,500 watt pack but why would you? I would have to agree this book is a tech breakdown to learn how to keep the flash from auto turning off "Annoying if your using the flash on a lighstand" by hitting the correct command codes. Its as you said the lost manual that canon did not put out. Other than that I would not see it as a off camera flash creative book.