The difference between Master Enabled and Master Disabled is a simple and essential concept for Speedliters shooting wireless flash. Yet, many Canonistas (myself included back in the day) draw the understandable conclusion that Master Disabled means that the master is not a master. It’s an understandable, but incorrect, conclusion.

Master Enabled means that the master will send instructions to the slaves and also fire when the shutter is open (adding flash to the shot).

Master Disabled means that the master will send instructions to the slaves and then remain dark with the shutter is open.

Deciding When to Enable and Disable the Master Speedlite

Master in the Camera Hotshoe: Choose Master Enabled only if you want to have on-camera flash (say a bit of low-power fill flash). Choose Master Disabled if you do not want the shadow-killing effects of on-camera flash. In both cases, the master still sends instructions to the slave Speedlites.

Master Moved Off-Camera: If you have an extra-long ETTL cord, then you can move your master Speedlite off-camera and use it as Master Enabled. The advantage of this technique is that for the cost of the cord, about $65 on OCF Gear or Amazon, you can get valuable off-camera light from your master and still have it control the slave Speedlites. If you become a power Speedliter, you will eventually want a dedicated tran$mitter. But an extra-long ETTL cord is a great way to maximize the gear you have right now.

How to Enable/Disable the Master Speedlite

Left: Master Enabled Icon on 580EX II. Right: Master Enabled on camera LCD.

The easiest place to enable/disable a master Speedlite is on the LCD of your camera. If you have a 580EX II or 600EX-RT and a 40D or newer Canon camera, then you can access the entire Speedlite menu on the back of your camera. Head to the External Flash Function menu and then to the wireless menu. [See this article for tips.]

If you have a 550EX or a 580EX (original model) or an older camera body, then you must disable the master on the Speedlite itself. To do this:

  1. Activate the Speedlite as a master (Use lever on 550EX and 580EX. Press and hold Zoom button for 3-seconds on 580EX II and then turn Select wheel).
  2. Press the Zoom button and the zoom setting will flash.
  3. Press the Zoom button again and the Ratio setting will flash.
  4. Press the Zoom button again and the Channel setting will flash.
  5. Press the Zoom button again and the Master Enabled/Disabled icon will flash. Turn the Select wheel to on/off as desired. Press the set button in the center of the wheel.

16 Responses to The Difference Between Master Enabled and Master Disabled

  1. Constance says:

    Thanks Syl. I have two questions though.

    One: Is there an easy way to reset the flash back to the default settings – I have a 580 EX II?

    Two: If you’ve made changes in camera (Canon 60D) and made changes in the flash (580 EX II), if they conflict, which settings override the other?

    Thanks again.

  2. Fabio Bosco says:

    Hi Syl, I would like to add, if your master is disabled, still keep it pointed away from your subject. The light emitted from the master to communicate to the slave(s) still may cause unwanted light spill on your subject. I found this to be specially true at higher ISO’s (e.g: ISO 2000).

    All the best and I love your books!

  3. rafe says:

    hi Syl i have a rebel t3i i am using a non canon flash but it is t/l compatible and can be used as a master flash
    yet when i go in to the menu settings in camera i select wireless it won’t let me enable master flash
    http://www.calumetphoto.co.uk/eng/product/calumet_genesis_692c_canon_fit_speedlight/cf0170&speedlightsgenesis
    do you know why this is

  4. [...] Home > Speedliting & Small Flash > Controlling Canon Speedlites as Slaves—Part One: 600EX-RT as Radio Slave The Difference Between Master Enabled and Master Disabled [...]

  5. Jubar Alom says:

    Hi Syl,

    I have watched all your tutorials but I am having a problem which I hope you could help me with.
    I have my 580ex ii on camera as master (in group a) and 430ex ii on slave mode (in group b). I am trying to control the 430ex ii in manual wireless rather than ettl wireless. The problem is that when I change the flash power in the back of my camera to relay the message from master to flash. Nothing changes on the 430 exii. On the back of the slave it still reads ettl and no flash output is on screen.

    Am I doing something wrong?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Jubar – The settings on the slave do not change until the master fires. Then, in an instant before the shutter opens, the slaves switches mode, power, etc. If the slave does not repsond to changes made on the master, then confirm that the channel on the slave (1-2-3-4) matches the channel set on the master. To change the mode on the slave, you change the mode on the master and the slave will follow the next time the master fires.

  6. Ian Pack says:

    Syl, thanks for sharing this. I hope that your readers appreciate the time spent in creating quality blog content. Keep up the good work:)

  7. Tom Bruce says:

    Excellent article on Masters enabled.disabled. Makes things so much easier with good diagrams. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Maria says:

    This is awesome. I got hurt this year and was finding it difficult to look in the soft boxes and make changes. We just purchased a 580 and I can do it all on the 580 or on the back of the camera. Wooo hoo this is so liberating.

  9. [...] you need for a shoot, you can use one as a disabled master in the hotshoe—which I wrote about here. If you need to get good off-camera light from your master, then feel free to move it away from the [...]

  10. Michael says:

    I have a question that I can’t find an answer to, regarding using the 600ex as master to trigger a slave, while simultaneously using it as a fill. At an event for example, if I wanted to trigger the slave at a constant output – say 1/4 power – and jump back and forth between 1/64th and 1/32nd on the master (enabled, obviously). If the master is disabled, one can set a number of remotes to fire with different powers, but how, when the master is enabled, does one adjust the master’s output?

    • Syl Arena says:

      @Michael – Your master Speedlite is always a member of Group A, whether Enabled or Disabled. To control your slaves at different power levels than the master, assign them to different a group other than A. Canon’s optical wireless (600EX0RT, 580EX, 550EX as master) has three slave groups (A-B-C). Canon’s radio wireless (600EX-RT as master) has five slave groups (A-B-C-D-E).

  11. Claus Endres says:

    Just an additional piece of information: if there is no
    other unit in group A, the master flash will be active and
    cannot be disabled.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Claus – I have never heard this before, nor have I found it to be the case with my gear. What gear are you referring to? It’s possible that there’s a combo that creates this situation you describe, but I can not think of it.

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