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Why Does My Canon Flash Stop Working and Say Busy?

I noticed this question in the recent keywords, and the topic also came up on my post comparing the Canon EOS Rebel t1i, Rebel t2i, and Rebel t3i. Why, when you shoot a bunch of pictures in a row, does the camera stop working and the flash say its busy?

In short: The flash used up all its juice and needs to recharge, or “recycle.” The way around it? Don’t snap so many pictures in such a short amount of time with the flash.

The long version? Click through and read the rest of the article.

A flash puts out a lot of light. Go ahead, point it at yourself and pop the flash. You’ll see what I’m talking about…

To do this, the flash needs to use up a lot of electricity really quickly. It does this by storing electricity and then dumping it through the flash bulb when you fire the flash.

The flash can only store up a certain amount of electricity, and it can only recharge so quickly. This recharge time is especially constrained by the fact that your flash is drawing energy from a battery.

Let’s say, for example, your flash can hold 100 units of energy. Every time you fire the flash, it uses 20 units of energy. Every second, it recharges 10 units of energy. In five quick seconds, you shoot off five pictures… using up 100 units of energy. The flash recharged 50. Two more seconds you shoot off two more, using up 40 units and leaving you with 30. You get the picture? The flash is using up the energy more quickly than it can recharge, and eventually… it runs out.

When that happens, your camera shows a “Busy” signal and it won’t take pictures for 5 seconds or so while it recharges the flash to full.

There’s really no way around this. A more expensive, fancy camera won’t help. If you’re gonna run the flash taking 10+ pictures in a row, then you just need to deal with it getting drained and then stopping to recycle.

Why Don’t Studio Lights Have This Problem?

You might have seen a studio photographer firing off shot after shot without any thought about his strobes. They just keep firing; they never seem to stop. So why do you have a problem with your flash?

Studio strobes draw energy from an AC power source. When you plug into the wall, you get a higher current of electricity than you do from a battery. This allows the flash to recycle much more quickly than when you’re drawing power from a battery. The end result is that studio strobes can go on, seemingly endlessly, without getting drained.

If, on the other hand, you work with speedlights (i.e. Strobist style) the problem becomes exacerbated. If you’re shooting with a speedlight at full or half power, it puts out a lot of light; and it uses a lot of electricity. You might only get off 1, 2 or 3 shots before the flash stops to recycle (although that recycle time is usually only 2-3 seconds). It pays to be patient, take a deep breath, and wait a couple seconds between shots.

Unfortunately, flash recycling is just a fact of physics. The flash can only store a certain amount of power, and it can only recharge so quickly. If you often run into a problem with the flash being busy, you need to be patient and not take so many pictures so quickly. Take a second and breath…!

Filed Under: Digital Photo FAQs

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About Digital Photography How To

Digital Photography How To is intended to be a guide to people learning how to use their digital SLR cameras. Three years ago, I had never picked up a camera; now, I produce a yearbook every year and I moonlight as a professional photographer.

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Digital Photography How To is written by Brian Rock. In addition to being a photographer, he's an educator. He teaches high school history, he's the advisor of the school yearbook, and he trains his kids to do all of the photography for the yearbook.

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