I receive emails every week from Canonistas asking my thoughts on whether they should buy a Canon 580EX II (introduced 2007) or the new 600EX-RT. It’s a fair question. The short answer is that, for the reasons I outline below, I don’t recommend buying a new 580EX II. I think the real options are either a new 430EX II, a used 580EX II, or a new 600EX-RT.

Quick Look: Canon 600EX-RT (compared to 580EX II)

  1. LCD Display—larger, active-matrix LCD (as shown above, right), capable of displaying a wide range of icons and messages, backlight can be green or orange (I set custom functions so that orange appears when Speedlite is a slave and green in non-wireless and master mode.)
  2. Menu System—it’s now interactive, the menu options and button functions change based upon the Mode
  3. Control via On-Camera LCD—able to be controlled via camera LCD on Canon models intro’d since mid-2007 (40D and newer). 2012 cameras (1D X, 5D Mark II, Rebel T4i) have a new graphical interface that makes Speedlite control a breeze.
  4. Beep—now it’s easy to know when your flash is recycled
  5. Zoom—range is now 20mm-200mm, a small, but helpful, change
  6. Radio Wireless—now has two-way radio built-in that provides much longer range and much wider angle of coverage than with optical wireless. Signal will pentrate walls, softboxes, etc. Master will not beep until all slaves have checked in as ready
  7. Optical Wireless—Full compatibility with optical wireless system used by 500- and 400-series Speedlites (but not able to use radio and optical wireless simultaneously)
  8. Wireless Activation—Dedicated button to activate and change modes in wireless system
  9. Optional Speedlite Transmitter—ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter has radio only (not compatible with optical wireless used in older Speedlites), long range and wide angle of coverage, controls are identical to 600EX-RT
  10. Group Mode—(new with 600EX-RT and requires 2012 or newer model camera) allows for individual control of up to 5 groups. Able to individually control each group: on/off, assign Mode (Ettl, Manual, etc.), and control power functions.
  11. Flash Power—virtually the same as the 580EX-RT.
  12. Street price = $579 (Oct. 2012) Check current 600EX-RT price here.

Quick Look: Canon 580EX II (compared to 600EX-RT)

  1. LCD Display—smaller LCD with all icons baked into screen (as shown above, left)
  2. Menu system—uses small icons. Buttons must do multiple jobs (especially wireless button on right).
  3. Control via On-Camera LCD—Able to be controlled via camera LCD on Canon models intro’d since mid-2007 (40D and newer)
  4. NO beep—must rely upon Pilot button to advise that Speedlite is ready to fire
  5. Zoom—24-105mm is very similar to coverage of 600EX-RT
  6. NO radio—Wireless control facilitated by optical flashes from master (mistakenly called “infrared”). Must have direct, line-of-sight path between master and slave(s).
  7. Optical Wireless—Full compatibility with optical wireless system used by 500- and 400-series Speedlites
  8. Wireless Activation—wireless system activated and controlled through the Zoom button (slower and rather confusing at first)
  9. Optional Speedlite Transmitter—ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter is 20 years old, short range and angle of coverage, controls are different than Speedlites
  10. No Group mode—limited to three groups, no way to power individual group on/off or to run one in ETTL and another in Manual.
  11. Flash Power—virtually the same as the 600EX-RT
  12. Street price = $474 (Oct. 2012) Check current 580EX II price here.

Quick Look: Canon 430EX II (compared to 580EX II)

  1. LCD Display—smaller than 580EX II, but it does not have to display the Master icons for wireless
  2. Menu system—essentially the same as the 580EX II
  3. Control via On-Camera LCD—essentially the same as the 580EX II
  4. Pan/Tilt of Head—pans 180º to left and 180º to right (580EX II pans 180º in both directions)
  5. Zoom— essentially the same as the 580EX II
  6. Optical Wireless as Slave Only—the 430EX II cannot work as a master. It is fully compatible with Canon’s EX Speedlite system as an optical slave.
  7. No External Power Jack—the 430EX II cannot be attached to an external power pack for more rapid recycling. The 580EX II and the 600EX-RT can use external power packs.
  8. Flash Power—about 2/3 stop less than 580EX II / 600EX-RT
  9. Power Increments—full stops vs. the 1/3-stops of control provided by 580EX II and 600EX-RT
  10. Power Range—1/1 to 1/64 vs. 1/1 to 1/128. Because the 430EX II starts at a lower max. power, its min power is about the same as the 580EX II and 600EX-RT.
  11. Street Price = $269 (Oct. 2012) Check current 430EX II price here.

Making the Decision—First Speedlite / Wireless Slave Only

Value-Priced Speedlite—if you are on a budget, my recommendation is that you buy the 430EX II rather than either of the two Speedlites mentioned above. The 430EX II (but not the 430EX) can be controlled from the camera LCD of most Canon DSLRs. (See this article for more info on how to do this.) It is fully compatible as a slave with Canon’s optical wireless system (so you can control it with the pop-up flash on many Canon DSLRs). It puts out almost as much light as the big guys (technically about 2/3-stop less). And it costs just $269 (Oct. 2012). I think that the 430EX II is a great first Speedlite when economy is your #1 concern. Check current 430EX II price here.

Future-Proof Speedlite—if the price of the 600EX-RT is not beyond your means, then this is the one I’d start with — even if you’re a novice. Even if you have no desire to work with multiple Speedlites now, the new LCD and interactive menu system on the 600EX-RT makes it much easier to learn Canon Speedliting.  There’s no doubt that going forward, Canon will built it’s Speedlite system on the new radio technology. I’ve no doubt that once you get the hang of running one Speedlite, you will soon want to run a second and eventually a third. So, in terms of the future, the 600EX-RT is the way to start.

Making the Decision—Wireless Master

Value-Priced Master—if you already have one Canon Speedlite that can be a slave and you’re looking to add another that can be a master AND economy is a big concern, then I’d look for a used 580EX II on eBay or elsewhere. Please note that I said 580EX II and not the original 580EX. The big improvement in the EX II is that its entire menu system can be displayed on the LCD of many Canon DSLRs. This is a very important part of my workflow. (See this article for more info on how to do this.) Why did I suggest used rather than new? Because if economy is a big concern, then a used 580EX II provides the greatest value for a Speedlite that can be a master. They typically go for $275–$350 on eBay. If you’d rather buy a new Speedlite to use as a master, then I’d spend the extra $105 over the cost of a new 580EX II and buy the 600EX-RT to get the new menu system and the future-proofing.

Future-Proof Master—even if you have a bag of 500-series Speedlites (as I did) that operate on optical wireless (as opposed to radio), I’d start adding 600EX-RTs to my kit. This is similar to my situation when I bought my first 580EX II—I always used it as the master over my older 580EXs because I could pull up the menu of the 580EX II on my camera’s LCD. Over a couple of years, I replaced all of my original 580EXs with 580EX IIs. Now, they cycle is repeating itself with the 600EX-RTs replacing the 580EX IIs. If you’re going to get a new Speedlite, cut back on your coffee habit for a month, and spend the extra $105 on the 600EX-RT.

Other Resources

How to Select a Speedlite

600EX-RT Buttons & Dials Tour on Canon Pro Network

Video: Hands-On with the 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT Transmitter

Move Your Master Off-Camera on an Extra-Long ETTL Cord

 

21 Responses to Deciding Between Canon’s Speedlites 600EX-RT and 580EX II

  1. plevyadophy says:

    Hi,

    I regard the new 600EX-RT and wireless transmitter as an extremely poor choice.

    Why? Because the cost/benefit analysis just doesn’t stack up because of Canon’s absurd pricing for the new kit.

    Added to which the new kit works fully only with cameras made since 2012. For far less money you can get the same functionality as this new kit provides; and be able to use the functionality on cameras as old as the Canon 1D/1Ds Mark II.

    Here’s how things stack up (U.K. pricing).

    ( 1 )
    2 x 580EX II @ approx. £350 each = £700

    1 x Phottix Odin kit (1 x tx, 2 x rx) = £369

    TOTAL 580 Kit cost = £1069

    ( 2 )

    2 x 600EX-RT @ approx £600 each = £1200
    1 x RT transmitter @ approx £300 =£300

    TOTAL 600EX-RT kit cost = £1500

    ( 3 ) Now this is where it gets very interesting/irritating:

    To expand your 580EX II kit by two flash guns will cost you: £1069 + £700 (for 2 additional guns) + £250 (for 2 additional wireless triggers). For a total cost of just £2019

    Now, to expand your 600EX-RT by an additional two flash guns will cost you: £1500 + £1200 (2 x flash). For a total cost of £2700.

    So you are paying approximately £700 more for much less compatibility, in fact almost zero compatibility with older cameras. And these sums are for someone starting out from scratch. If you already own a number 580EX II flashguns the cost to move over to the newer gear increases because of the loss associated with selling off your old kit.

    The Phottix Odin kit allows a multitude of flash features (ratio, groups etc) and all by way of radio transmission with existing Canon flash guns including old 430 series flashguns.

    You can check out the Phottix Odin here: http://journal.phottix.com/photo-accessory-news/phottix-odin-ttl-trigger-canon-ship-week/

    Of course, there is the fly in the ointment in terms of recommending the older 580EX II flashgun system, and that is the appalling ergonomics. For some people that alone may make them opt for the newer flash (providing they have a new 2012 camera if they wish to use all the features, or have an older camera and don’t need to use wireless flash).

    DISCLAIMER:
    I DO NOT have any link the Phottix company other than having once tried out the system in a store.

    I hope folks find the information I provided useful.

    Warm regards,

    plevyadophy

  2. Mike says:

    There are quite a few problems with your comparison. For starters, the price differential between the two flashes in US dollars is a lot less, like $100USD as opposed to the 250GBP you quote. Secondly, there actually is less functionality in the Phottix system (for example, 3 groups versus five). As well, when I used Pocketwizard’s solution for radio ETTL, I had a fairly high failure rate of misfires. With the 600EX-RT’s it’s practically dropped to zero. Then there’s the whole advantage of not having a separate receiver – simpler, less batteries, less prone to breakage, and WAYYY easier when using modifiers, especially when multiple units are used!

    Lastly, I don’t know any professional photographer using Phottix, there may be some, but generally Pocketwizard has been the gold standard so a more even comparison might be between a PW system and the standalone 600EX-RT’s. Your comparison seems to WANT to find the 580EX-II’s cheaper, and thus uses prices at the highest range for the new flash, the lowest range for the older model, and knock-off triggers. Here’s another comparison: I replaced three 580EX-II’s, three PW TT5, 1 PW TT1, and an AC3 zone controller with three 600EX-RT’s and a ST-E3-RT, and was out of pocket less than $100. Which is acceptable to me, given the useability of the new units and the act I was exchanging old tech for new!

  3. Brian Powell says:

    I’m a pro who’s been using the Phottix triggers and I love them. Rock solid with my two 580 EX IIs…. love them so much I bought two 630s :) Just came in today.

    BUT I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get rear-curtain sync to work on the 630s! It doesn’t work like it does with two 580s (ETTL master/slave and rear sync icon on).

    Not in the manual and it won’t come on in any radio or optical triggering mode. The icon only comes on in regular non-triggering modes, and I tested it at a 2second shutter speed. Nothing.

    Can’t find anything online. Am I the only one who cares about rear-sync off camera?? The Phottix triggers can do it, radio. Two 580s can do it optically.

    So far I love everything about the 630s I got today, but if no one can tell me how to do rear-sync (preferably radio, but I’ll take optical) OFF CAMERA … then they’re being returned real quick.

    Anyone?

  4. Mat Gaskins says:

    The 430 ex II can do 1/3 adjustments.

  5. Shannon says:

    I heard that the 600EX-RT presentation totally tanked at PhotoPlus in NY. That they were in chaos interference with faxes, phones, and other transmitting electronics. Any one hear of this issue? The guy at the shop told me that Canon bought the radio frequency, but under the condition that it is for USA use only, and it is illegal to use them in radio mode outside of the United States? Can anyone confirm this?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Hi Shannon -

      The 600EX-RT system operates in the 2.4 GHz band — the same used by many wireless devices (garage door openers, cordless phones, TV controllers, etc.) and also by microwave ovens. So, I’m not sure why a camera shop would say that “Canon bought the radio frequency.” This is an international “industrial radio” standard used in the vast majority of industrialized countries. Unlike PocketWizards and RadioPoppers, which have to operate in different frequency ranges in various regions, the 600EX-RT system uses the same frequency range worldwide. There is a list of compatible countries in the user manual. There are 58 countries on that list.

  6. Kryn Sporry says:

    Well, I found this a useful article. Although prices have changed a bit, plus the 580EX II’s have now been discontinued. I use the Odin too, and it works flawless with the Canon flashes, but not consistently with Canon COMPATIBLE flashes (depending on brand/model it may or may not work). I agree that the menu of the 580EX II leaves something to be desired, but as stated by others, the Camera LCD helps. What’s more important is that the Odin has the easiest menu structure you could posisbly think of! Sure, only 3 groups, but then again, they can be controlled fully independently (manual mixed with ETTL), and its easy to understand and manipulate. teh Odin made storbisting childsplay. The pocketwizard may be teh industrial standard, but it is way less convenient to use compared to the Odin (you actually need to think about stuff), but what’s more important, the US version of the pocketwizards operate at a frequency that the flashes also operate on, hence the misfires with pocketwizard in the US (EU versions operate at a different frequency and are therefore ok).

    I do agree that the 600RT probably has a better menu structure, more groups, and operates at 2.4GHz industrial standard. No extra Rx triggers, and future proof. However, does it mix ETTL with manual? can you do power level settings in manual remotely? (580EX II could only do ratios, not power levels).
    All in all if I had nothing go for the new Canon system (potentially get an Odin if you cannot do more than ratios). If you have something, go for Odin and get cheaply new or second hand 580EX IIs. If you have the Odin system alreday, you can go either way, 580 or 600 , depending on budget.

  7. Rob says:

    Syl, after watching your YouTube videos, I was talked into returning my newly purchased 430EX-IIs and getting the 600-EX. I couldn’t be happier, that along with the 33′ E-TTL Cable has made life easier. I would love to see an article or video about how to use the Canon system with mixed-mode lighting. For example, Canon 6D, (2) Canon 600EX-RTs, (1) Alien Bee BX1600. I don’t know if that is possible, but it would be great to have that knowledge out there as I would like to use a strobe as the key light and then the Speedlites as the fills and hair lights, etc. Thanks!

  8. (Hopping for some help)

    Dear Syl and friends posting here,

    My gear: Canon 5D Mk II + Canon MP-E 65mm macro. Macro indoors 90% of the time.
    50mm/1,4 Canon
    85mm/1,4 Zeiss
    Never had a flash.
    I can only afford more or less the price of the new Canon 600 EX-RT for macro and everything else. I live and work in Portugal and the taxes here are huge.
    After much reading and consideration I think this new Canon flash technology is the way to go and grow in the future (I read about alternatives like Metz flashes, Canon macro flashes, various ring flashes, continuous light, etc; didn´t like any completely).

    My quick question:
    Will I be able to do macro (and of course other types of work) with this Canon 600 EX-RT?
    My plan is this: the 600 EX-RT + some affordable reflectors as a second light point (white/silver/gold, etc.) and a TTL cord (I can´t afford for now the new Canon Radio transmitter and the cord will work for macro).
    Or the new 90 EX little speedlite to be an optical master and use the 600 off camera wireless.
    Is this a good way to start? My main concern is the 600 for macro.
    Thank you so much for your attention and help in advance.
    My warmest regards,

    Luis Filipe Cunha

  9. Geoff Parkin says:

    I am now considering the 600ex rt as a replacement for my 4 580ex’s. I may not be able to make the switch all at once so I am counting on good compatibility between the old and new. (Minus radio)
    Also I regularly use one 580Ii in manual mode along with the others set to ETTL. I also control all the flashes in full manual mode via the master flash. I didn’t see this as feature listed above.
    I’ll throw in a vote of confidence for the Radio poppers they work very well in difficult situations.

  10. vincenzo says:

    hi, nonn can not find the instruction manual in Italian for Canon Speedlite 600EX flasc-RT, and possible? thanks

  11. Nikolay says:

    430EX II is very good option for the price of the unit, The new Canon system is amazing but for most of us out of reach as for whoever wants to start with off camera flash photography will need at least 3 speedlits to start with.

  12. [...] I first published my 600E-RT vs. 580EX II comparison eight months ago (here), the 600EX-RT was $100+ more than the 580EX -RT. Now, the gap has narrowed to $10 and the choice [...]

  13. Chris Koffend says:

    With a new 600 on the hotshoe, can I use an old 580EX and a 580EX2 as slaves? Light activated?

    With a new 600 on the hotshoe and set to master, can it be used to broadcast via radio to two other 600s as “slaves”

    If the 600 can act, in master mode, as the wireless transmitter when it is on the hotshoe (or connected via cord), do I need the new radio transmitter for the 600 flashes?

    I am just a hobbyist and am looking to step up to the 600, but don’t want to do it all at once. Goal is 3 + transmitter in the end, but not the beginning!

    Thanks any/all.

    • Syl Arena says:

      @Chris -

      Yes, the 600EX-RT will work with the 580EX and 580EX2 in optical (light-activated) mode. You cannot simultaneously control other 600EX-RTs via radio. It’s either optical OR radio. 600EX-RT is happy to be a radio master from the camera hotshoe or on an ETTL cord. The advantage of the cord is that it allows you to put the master in a position where it will contribute off-camera light to the shot. Of course, using a transmitter instead of the ETTL cord is great solution. But, the transmitter is much more expensive.

  14. aandy says:

    Hello!

    I use Canon 580Ex with 5D Mark III. I want to use 2 flashes in the future and I consider to keep my Canon 580 EX and buy the new 600EX with Canon ST-E3-RT speedlite transmitter.My question is if the new Canon 600Ex will work together my 580 ex. I want to use the wireless. I will apreciatte your sugestion.

    • Syl Arena says:

      600EX-RT will work with the 580EX/580EX II in optical wireless — either as a master or a slave. The ST-E3-RT only works in radio wireless. So, it will not work with any Speedlites other than the 600EX-RT.

  15. joe says:

    I noticed that someone mentioned that the 600ex-rt is only fully compatible with cameras manufactured after 2012. I have a T2i, built before 2012. What features of the 600ex-rt would not work or at least not work or sync automatically with the T2i?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Hi Joe -

      Your T2i will not know that the 600EX-RT has radio wireless. It will think that the Speedlite only has optical wireless. So, to run radio wireless, you will have to dial in the settings directly on the Speedlite’s LCD rather than on the camera’s LCD. Essentially, your camera will think that the 600EX-RT is a 580EXII. Other than radio wireless, all of the features will work on your T2i.

  16. Dave kennar says:

    Is the 600 RT fully compatible with a 6D? Anyone?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>