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Using Old Canon 199A and 277T Flashguns on EOS Digital

John Seaman

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I acquired an EOS 1100D a few days ago, but got frustrated trying to get a Jessops 360AFD flashgun to work properly on it. Now I have a couple of old Canon flashes, a 199A and a 277T, which were designed for A and T series cameras probably 40 years ago. So I decided to see how well they worked on a DSLR. There’s a lot of misinformation about this online, so I thought it might be of interest to summarise what I found.

First, they are both totally safe on digital, with trigger voltages less than 6V.

Second, the non-TTL auto exposure control, with a sensor on the front measuring the light returning from the subject, works very well and gave excellent histograms. Unlike the E-TTL 360AFD which consistently over exposed (and its auto zoom function did not work).

Third, they have surprisingly good compatibility with the EOS digital SLR, despite being decades older. They both operate the flash ready signal in the finder. And they automatically set the shutter speed to 1/60.

So why use them? Well, they just work, and are very simple to use. On the more powerful tilting 199A you just select the ISO and auto flash range, then read the aperture off the dial and set that on the camera. For example at 200 ISO on the Green range, the aperture is f/8. On the smaller non-tilting 277T, first set the ISO, then you have a choice of apertures via the F.No.SET button. There’s no zoom on these apart from add-on wide diffusers - so what?

It seems ironic that a whole generation of film era TTL flashguns, which read the light reflected back from the matt film surface, are pretty much useless on digital. Jump back a generation and it’s a different story.

Here are the two guns mounted on the 1100D, the 199A on the right, showing that the speed is set to 1/60.


Edited by John Seaman
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Yes, I agree, these film era Auto Thyristor flashes are still very useable on modern Digital cameras, or almost any camera ever made. The 199A has a Guide Number of 30m at 35mm zoom which is pretty close to modern flash units when using bounce flash. I also have a 299T which is probably the last Canon Auto Thyristor flash before going to ATTL. 


The 533G and 577G are a little bulky, but have even more power for bounce flash. 

Many people don’t know it, but both the 580EX II and 600EX RT have an optional built-in Auto Thyristor mode, which uses a sensor on the front of the flash. Some people prefer Auto Thyristor to ETTL in certain difficult lighting situations. 



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While Canon started to produce the EX line of Speedlights around 1995, which will work on all DSLRs, the performance was mostly based upon the camera it was used on.  My 550EX plus the D60 (not the 60D) was a PITA, requiring flash AE lock and flash exposure comp to work decently.  The 5D mk I provided much better consistency. 

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That's interesting, thanks for the comments. It's worth mentioning that these guns work very well off rechargeable AA batteries, unlike some which need expensive alkali's. I should add that on the 1100D it's necessary to set custom function 2, flash,sync speed in AV mode, to "/200 to 1/60 auto" for the 1/60 speed to show on the LCD. Although the speed is still set to 1/60 even if you don't do this.

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42 minutes ago, zakslm said:

rom what I gather, you probably have to set the camera to M and set the ISO, shutter speed and f/stop based on dial or readout on the back of the flash

I find aperture priority mode works fine.

Of course the latest flashguns have fabulous functionality - but they also have instruction manuals running to hundreds of pages. Trying to get my head round the complexity of them makes my poor old brain hurt.

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2 hours ago, John Seaman said:

but they also have instruction manuals running to hundreds of pages. Trying to get my head round the complexity of them makes my poor old brain hurt.


I know what you are talking about and pretty much "ignore the noise" and do what works for me until I'm stumped or get curious - then I read the manual.

I've found that the Canon Speedlites seem to work very well with compatible cameras and at the end of the day, are "smarter" than I am in figuring out how to get very good or excellent results.  So I trust and maybe "tweak" E-TTL modes and adjust accordingly if needed.  


Edited by zakslm
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