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Increasing Head Rotation on a Canon 430EX Flash

Canon 430EX, 160 degrees to right

I love my flashes, thanks in large part to David Hobby. I don't love spending lots of money on equipment, which is why I opted to buy the cheaper Canon 430EX flash instead of the bigger, badder 580EX. One of the things I sacrificed with that decision was the ability to rotate the flash head more than 90 degrees to the right. Most flashes will rotate a full 180 degrees to the left, but for some inexplicable reason, both Canon and Nikon limit the right rotation to 90 degrees on most of their flashes. This is very frustrating, because when using the camera in portrait mode (especially with a vertical grip), the flash is located on the left side of the camera. The stock rotation options allow you to light up the entire floor and your feet, but only the front half of the ceiling. This makes for very lousy lighting when bouncing your flash. Why the manufacturers don't reverse the situation so that we could rotation a full 180 degrees to the right and only 90 degrees to the left is beyond me.

I recently read an old Strobist thread on how to modify a Nikon SB-800 flash to allow 135 degrees of rotation to the right. Basically, there's a metal tab attached to the bottom of the flash head and two plastic bumpstops attached to the flash body. When turning the head, the metal tab hits those bumpstops to keep the head from over-rotating and twisting the wires out of their plugs. The decision of which direction and how far to restrict the rotation was obviously completely arbitrary, because there are two bumpstops (one for each direction). The Nikon solution to this problem involves opening up the flash body and grinding away one of the bumpstops so that rotation to the right may continue until the tab hits the back side of the other bumpstop. As it turns out, the same mod will work on a Canon 430EX, although the working quarters are a little tighter than on the Nikon. The following was performed on a 430EX, but I imagine the same applies to a 430EXII. The result will be a flash head that rotates anywhere from 135 to 160 degrees to the right, which is far more useful for on-camera bounce. This whole process took me nearly 2.5 hours the first time, but I'm sure I could do it in well under an hour now that I know what I'm doing.

Before I begin the instructions, a word about safety. The capacitor that powers a camera flash stores a huge amount of current and dispenses it at hundreds of volts. Once charged, the capacitor will store this electricity for a very long time, even if you turn off the flash and remove the batteries. If you happen to touch the capacitor terminals, you'll experience this first hand. At best, the jolt will really get your attention. At worst, it could cause physical harm or (some claim) even death. If you've got a bad ticker or use a pacemaker, don't go anywhere near the inside of your flash. It's simply not worth the risk. If you're able to pay attention to what you're doing and avoid touching exposed terminals, then read on to find out how to extend the flash head rotation on a 430EX. It should go without saying that this procedure will void any warranty that may still remain on your flash. I've performed this procedure on my own 430EX, and it all worked fine, but I offer no guarantee that you won't screw something up and render your own flash unusable. It happens to the best of us. Proceed at your own risk.

If none of the photos on this page load, email me. I need to go kick my firewall.

Tools The tools you'll need for this are a small Philips screwdriver (small enough to fit in the screws around the base of the hot shoe), an even smaller flathead screwdriver (about 1.5-2mm wide), and either a Dremel Tool with really small bit or an X-Acto knife and a lot of patience. You'll also want good lighting in your work area. I borrowed my son's LED headlamp.

First, fire your flash at full power and then immediately turn it off to prevent the capacitor from fully recharging. See above. The weaker your batteries, the slower it will charge. Then remove the batteries from the flash.

Shoe off Shoe on Next, remove the shoe from the flash. There are four screws located around the shoe mount on the bottom of the flash. Note the orientation of the connector that plugs the shoe into the main circuit board. Yellow is toward the battery door; white is opposite the battery door. Unplug the connector using tweezers or your flathead screwdriver; don't pull on the wires. Set the shoe aside. Incidentally, if you wanted to add a 1/8" miniplug to your flash to use as a remote wired trigger (like a PC-sync), you'd want to tap into the black and white wires on the hot shoe. That's a story for another day, though.

Upper screws Now point the flash head straight up and rotate it 90 degrees to one side. This will expose four bolts on the top of the flash body. You need to remove the two screws on the larger (front) half of the body. The two screws on the smaller half (toward the controls) may be left in place.

Before you can remove the front cover from the flash body, there's a little clip that must be released. Remove the little cover from the odd screw fitting on the side of the flash opposite the battery door. The clip is right above the screw plate. A metal ring attached to the back (control) half reaches across the joint and hooks over a plastic bump on the front half of the case. You can see this metal ring if you look inside the case directly above the screw plate. This is the part where you really need good lighting. To release the clip, insert your flathead screwdriver into the visible slot above the screw plate and slide it over the metal clip. Squeeze the two halves of the case tightly together with one hand, and with the other hand use the screwdriver to press the metal ring toward the center of the flash body. Once the ring is pushed far enough inward to clear the plastic bump, gently separate remove the front half of the case. This process will make more sense after inspecting the photos of the disassembled case. I'm not sure why this clip exists, but Canon must have felt it was necessary to hold the case together.


Note the orientation of the wiring plug that connects the front of the case to the main electronics. Yellow is toward the front; white is toward the back (controls). Use your flathead screwdriver to unplug the connector (don't pull on the wires) and then set the front half of the case aside. The metal tabs that extend upward from the back half of the case (into which the shoe screws thread) have a tendency to fall out. Note their orientation (the short end of the bend goes toward the back of the flash), and be careful not to lose them. It may be best if you just take them out and set them aside now.

Head off 1 Head off 2 With the flash lying with the controls facing down, you should now be able to push the release button on the flash head's hinge and then lift the flash head straight up out of the body. It's still attached to the main electronics via quite a few wires. To increase your working room, unplug the three connectors from the body that sit directly under the head's metal plate. Orientation, screwdriver, etc. You know the drill by now. The remaining wires aren't so easy to disconnect, so don't bother.

Metal plate Take a close look at the metal plate on the head and how it slides into place on the body. The little tab on that metal plate is the one I mentioned in the second paragraph which keeps the head from rotating endlessly and twisting all the wires right out of their sockets. If you look just inside the semi-circular opening in the top of the body, you'll see the two plastic bumpstops that the metal tab hits in order to restrict rotation. Slide the head back into place and rotate it so you understand what's going on in there. The little notches cut into the perimeter of the opening in the body are the detents that make the head stay put at certain angles.

To maximize the amount of head rotation, you'll make three changes to your flash. First, you'll cut away the plastic bumpstop on the right side of the body (the one that the metal tab would hit first as the head rotates to the right). Then you'll cut away part of the metal tab itself, because it's way beefier than necessary. Finally, you'll cut some new detents in the semi-circular body opening so that the head stays put in its new positions.

In retrospect, if all you wanted to do was flip the head rotation so that it rotated a full 180 degrees to the right and only 90 degrees to the left, you could do so by merely rotating the metal plate 90 degrees clockwise and shaving down the tab on the head that fills the slot in that plate. It's quicker, there's less chance for error, and you've got a lot more room to work. The down side is that you still only end up with 270 degrees of head rotation; it just covers a more useful range. But that's not what this writeup is about...

Finished bumpstops Carved bumpstops Original bumpstops First, the bumpstop. Because the circuit board is so close to the bumpstop, you can't use a large bit in your Dremel Tool like you can on the Nikon flashes. I happened to have a cutting ball that was less than 1mm in diameter, which worked perfectly. You can also slowly carve the bumpstop away with an X-Acto knife if you don't have some form of rotary tool, but it'll take a while. The bumpstop is fairly deep, but you only need to grind away enough of it to clear the metal tab on the head, which is about 4mm. With that bumpstop gone, the head will now rotate until the tab hits the back side of the other bumpstop. To maximize rotation, I also ground away almost half of the back side of the other bumpstop. If you remove too much, the tab could snap off entirely if the head is rotated too forcefully (or dropped). If you're nervous and are content with your flash rotating 135 degrees to the right, you can leave the second bumpstop alone. Make sure you remove all of the plastic shavings from inside the body when you're done. Compressed air works great for this.

Cut tab Original tab To further increase rotation, I also unscrewed the metal plate from under the head and cut away half of the tab. I used a cutting wheel on my Dremel Tool, but a hacksaw would also work. This entire step is optional if you're content with your head rotating 135 degrees to the right. Make sure you cut the correct half of the tab. With the beveled screw holes facing you, you want to cut away the counter-clockwise side of the tab. Even with half the tab missing, it's still far stronger than what remains of the plastic bumpstop on the body case.

Reattach the plate to the head (noting the direction of the beveled screw holes) and test fit the head into the body. It should rotate considerably farther to the right (mine goes to about 160 degrees), but still stop at 180 degrees to the left.

New notches Original notches Detent bump Now you need to cut some new detent holes in the semi-circular opening in the body to support the new rotation positions. The spring loaded detent bump on the head points straight forward. Rotate the head as far to the right as it will go and then mark where the detent bump stops. You'll want to cut a new notch there so that the head will stay put when you rotate it that far. You can also cut other notches along the way; I mirrored the 120-degree notch from the left side. Don't cut the notches too wide, or the head will flop around at that position. Test fit the head again and verify that the detent bump rests in your new notches.

That's it, you're done! Put everything back together in reverse order. All the electrical connectors that you removed are designed to only fit back in their sockets one way, but I'm sure you could force them in backwards if you were persistent. Pay attention to the proper location and direction that you noted when removing them. Make sure that the transparent plastic shield under the head/body joint goes under the metal plate. Be sure any metal tabs by the shoe get put back in properly (the short end of the bend goes toward the back, and they bend up toward the head). You'll need to use your flat head screwdriver again to help that goofy ring on the side of the case latch onto the bump again. Finally, throw in a set of batteries and go shoot some portraits while bouncing the flash back over your shoulder -- just because you can.

180 left
180 left

90 left
90 left

Straight ahead

90 right
90 right

120 right
120 right

160 right
160 right


This article has been rewritten on the Prairie Rim Images blog.

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originally written 16 Mar 2010
last updated 17 Mar 2010
Obi-Wan (obiwan@jedi.com)

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