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'My Canon Speedlite Wishlist' Revisited | PixSylated

In July 2009, I published an article titled ‘My Canon Speedlite Wishlist on PixSylated. Having just finished a two-week series of workshops with Nikon flashmaster Joe McNally, I brainstormed and daydreamed about the features that I wish I had on my Canon Speedlites.

In the Wishlist, I explained why I wanted features like:
• a wireless switch on the outside of the flash
• getting rid of ratios for multi-Speedlite control
• offering a digital control unit
• incorporating radio technology
• stretching out the zoom
• a gel holder.

The post went viral on the web. Over 500 photographers added their insights and desires. Some of the most-requested features included:
• a battery meter
• the ability to read custom functions on the flash LCD
• the ability to shut individual groups off
• a beep when a flash recycles.

Was Canon listening? It’s now obvious that they were. I’ll go through the details after the jump. Oh wait…that happened a week ago when Canon announced the 600EX-RT Speedlite and the ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter.


SO, here’s a rundown of the points raised in ‘My Canon Speedlite Wishlist'”

1. Put the wireless switch back on the outside. YES—we now have a dedicated wireless switch on the 600EX-RT Speedlite. So getting into and out of wireless is only a couple of button pushes away.

2. Design the external wireless switch with four options. BETTER—I wanted the wireless switch to be incorporated into the power switch. Canon came up with a better solution by assigning wireless functions to a dedicated button and adding a Lock setting to the power switch. So, when you get the settings where you want them, slide the switch to Lock and you don’t have to worry about bumping the power setting by accident.

3. Come to understand that not everyone lights from the front. YES—Canon’s new radio technology gives us the freedom to put Speedlites virtually anywhere around the subject.

4. Adopt a better icon for wireless mode. YES—We now have a unique icon for radio transmission (that actually resembles a radio antenna) and an upgraded icon for optical transmission.

5. Ditch the “Master / Slave” language. NO—we still call them masters and slaves. Interestingly, in the manual for the SB-900, Nikon does too. So, I no longer feel as politically incorrect as I did in 2009.

6. Call groups what they are—groups. YES—The term ‘Slave ID’ has been retired. Groups are now groups.

7. Get rid of ratios. NO & YES—Canon has carried forward all of the functionality of the previous generation of Speedlites. So, if you like Flash Exposure Bracketing or multi-light ETTL control via Ratios, then you’ll still find them in the new gear. However, for those of us who’ve lusted after Nikon’s more direct approach of dialing EV up or down for each ETTL group…hurrah! the new Group mode enables us to do this (but you have to have a 5D Mark III or 1D X to access this new functionality).

8. Create a true 3- or (better yet) 4-group control system. BETTER—In fact, in the new Group mode, we now have five groups. Again, this functionality requires a 2012 camera.

9. Offer a digital control unit. YES—The ST-E3-RT is an elegant, low-profile digital control unit. So, I no longer lust after Nikon’s SU-800.

10. Add a built-in optical trigger. NO—If you want to mix your Canon Speedlites with other brands of gear (such as when shooting with studio strobes), you still have to use radio triggers (like PocketWizards) or attach an optical slave circuit. [For details on using optical slave circuits, read this article.]

11. License the RadioPopper technology. BETTER—I still think that Kevin King is a hero for inventing the RadioPopper and, thereby, showing the world that radio-based ETTL control is possible. Canon’s integration of 2.4 GHz radio offers more flexibility than RadioPopper because I do not have to have different models for different countries.

12. Add a couple more stops of Flash Exposure Compensation. NO/SORT OF—We still have a three stop range of FEC. The easy workaround is to switch into Group Mode and then dial power for a specific group up or down in Manual.

13. Stretch out the Zoom. YES—The zoom on the 600EX-RT now ranges from 20mm to 200mm.

14. Include a dome diffuser. NO—I still wish that Canon would provide this 25-cent bit of plastic. The size, shape, and design of the 600EX-RT is different enough from the 580EX II that Sto-Fen will likely have to tool up for a new model.

15. Include a gel holder. YES—we now have a dedicated gel holder and a sensor that communicates to the camera when a stock gel is in place. Right now, Canon includes what appears to be a CTO and a half-CTO get. I’ve yet to test the system with other gels.

16. Ditch the penguin. YES—we now have a blonde in the lighting diagrams (shown below).

17. Give me a breath of hope that Canon actually cares about their Speedlite system. YES—it was a long wait, but the answer is now obvious. If I could afford a ticket to Japan, I’d head over and buy the Speedlite engineers several rounds of beer.

What about the reader requests?

1. Battery Meter. YES—while we do not have a battery meter that indicates all voltages, we do have a low-battery icon that gives a warning that it’s time to change batteries.

2. Ability to read custom functions on Speedlite. YES—the new dot-matrix LCD makes a wide range of words and icons possible. So, now it’s actually possible to change Custom Functions in the field without having a cheat sheet in your pocket.

3. Ability to shut individual groups off. YES—The new Group Mode enables individual groups to be turned on/off. It also enables individual groups to be run in different modes and control for up to five groups. Again, you must have a 2012 camera to access Group Mode. Our current cameras can’t even think this way.

4. Beep, beep, we want a beep. BETTER—Canonistas have long lusted after Nikon’s humble beep as an indicator that a Speedlite has recycled. Canon has designed far better functionality. Thanks to the 2-way radio in the new Canon gear, each slave actually reports to the master when it has recycled. Then, when all the slaves in a group have recycled, the master displays a ready-icon for that group. Then, when all the slaves have checked in as recycled, the master sound the long-awaited beep! So, even when there’s a wall or window between you and your slaved Speedlites, you’ll know when they are ready to go. And yes, the beep can be turned off for quiet places like churches.

From the 600EX-RT user manual...the new blonde.

Workshops Featuring the New Canon Speedlite System

Strobes & Speedlites on Location, Paso Robles Workshops, April 23-27, 2012

Canon Speedlites Demystified, Maine Media Workshops, August 19-25, 2012

Other Stories About the New Canon Speedlite System

Video: Hands-On With The Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite & ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter

First Impressions: Testing Canon’s Speedlite 600EX-RT & Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT


20 Responses to ‘My Canon Speedlite Wishlist’ Revisited

  1. M.D. Welch says:

    So the new group feature does not work on a Canon 7D? That is a bit disturbing. We are not talking about a 30D, this is still a new/current camera.

    • Syl Arena says:

      MD – The new Group mode requires a 2012 camera (5D Mark III or 1D X, so far). Our current cameras aren’t programmed to think in terms of the logic presented in Group mode. Maybe this will be enabled through a firmware update…?

  2. Thanks as always for the great writeup Syl. Too funny about the 2009 wishlist and what was released!

    In terms to your comment about the Group mode requiring a 2012 camera, I (and I know I’m not alone here) REALLY hope they make this functionality available for the 5D2 and 7D at the very least, since these were the top of the food chain in their designated lines at the time this functionality was announced. I’m hoping that leaving the 5D2 in production could serve as an indication that Canon will actually do this, but I guess we won’t know until we suddenly have firmware updates.

  3. Mike Spivey says:

    Transmitter in camera.

  4. Great article, nice to see Canon listening, there’s a lot of great new stuff, I wish I didn’t have to stump up £5k for a 1Dx to replace my 1Ds3 to use the functions & I’d like to be able to intergrate my current 4 580exii’s with the new gear more fully (Bad English ;)), bit of a sting with the UK pricing that’s not so much steep as vertical. Better get a ton of clients so I can get into this new gear & more importantly it’s creative freedom.

  5. Keri says:

    Hi Syl,
    Are our 580exI and II’s compatible with the 600’s?

    Hope you are well,

    • Syl Arena says:

      Hey Keri – They are compatible in optical wireless but not in radio wireless. And yes, we have a whole new set of words to play with. @:–)

  6. David Terry says:

    I used RadioPoppers practically from the time they were first released and switched to the PocketWizard Flex TT5 about a year and a half ago.

    Biggest win with the Flex TT5 is the ZoneController. It makes controlling groups of lights in a variety of ways a piece of cake with the simple flip of a switch. (no confusing menus or mixed mode controls to go through, you want the hair light brighter, you just turn a dial and keep shooting)

    A downside to the TT5 is the added cost … adding $200+ to each flash that is in use.

    With the new Canon 600 I was actually naively hoping that changing out the infrared for the radio controls would only slightly affect the overall cost of the flash and produce something that would more competitively replace a Canon+TT5 setup. (it does beat it, but not by a lot)

    The other downside is the need for a complete new system (including camera) in order to fully take advantage of the new flashes.

    It would be nice if there was an external unit that would let me incorporate an existing 580 into the group without having to sell it and purchase a replacement. I use 6 flashes and the thought of replacing all 6 of them at once is making my wallet cry.

    Another thought on the pricing …. when a light stand tips over and breaks one of my flashes I feel bad at $450 per flash (repair cost is less, but somehow knowing I just broke a $450 flash hurts). The thought of breaking a $600 flash every time the wind blows too hard makes me want to cry.

    I had thought that as soon as Canon released a radio system I would completely switch over and had stated so publicly. Now I’m having second thoughts.

  7. James Taylor says:

    Thanks for the updated information! So it looks like some features will not be possible with pre-2012 cameras, but basic RT functionality is there for the 5DMKII. Although it would be nice if it all worked, I’m happy some functionality is there!

    What I’m wondering about is using two speedlites and a transmitter in RT mode on the 5DMKII. Does ratio mode work in this situation to have a main & fill light setup in RT mode? Or do both flashes just fire at the same light level? Also, if both flashes are set to manual I guess there is no way to adjust the power output from the camera on pre-2012 cameras?

    Thanks again,


  8. Brian Worley says:

    What’s with the anti penguin bit I quite like the old guy. And you don’t get such strange looks sending an inflatable penguin as you might if you send an inflatable blonde!

    Brian / p4pictures

  9. Dan says:

    Hi Syl,
    Thanks for the updates, I’m far more excited about the RT than the 5dMKIII, so would like to stay with my 5dMKII. A question about the group functionality availability with older cameras – how do you mean that it isn’t available? OK surely the menu system with existing firmware and cameras isn’t compatible (if Canon doesn’t release a firmware upgrade I’ll be seriously peeved), but if you have the ST-E3-RT surely that will enable groups by itself? Or is it that if the camera doesn’t understand groups, the ST-E3-RT will lobotomize and suddenly not understand groups also?

    In some of your pictures it looks like you have the ST-E3-RT LCD showing group functionality, which means that you can use groups from the ST-E3-RT (if you have one), if not from back of the camera. What say ye?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Dan – The new Group mode definitely does not work on the 5DM2. What you are seeing in the video is the ST-E3-RT operating in Manual mode. So, you’re seeing Groups A-B-C on the display. The new Group mode enables groups D & E in addition to A-B-C. It also enables different mode assignments to individual groups and the ability to turn specific groups on and off. The 5DM2 is happy to run A-B-C in either ETTL or Manual, but not a combo. This is true of the 5DM2 and the 580EX II as well.

      • Dan says:

        OK thanks, so the new flash & digital remote lobotomize themselves based on the camera they’re attached to. To summarize (check me here)

        – Groups A-B-C available
        – Either ETTL or manual, but not both, on A, B & C
        – All on, or all off
        (per specifications)
        Hi speed sync not available (you haven’t seen this)
        One stop hit (again you haven’t verified this)

        – Groups A-B-C-D-E
        – Each mode can be set individually to ETTL or Manual
        – Individual groups can be turned on or off

        Wow … OK, I have three of the new flashes on order and the controller, but I’m re-evaluating this. I don’t want to have to upgrade my camera too just to see these new pictures! I’m happy with the 5dMKii


        • Syl Arena says:

          Dan –

          I’ve shot a thousand or so frames with the new Speedliting gear on my 5DM2 and 60D. I have shot in all shutter speeds — up to 1/8000″ without a sync issue. I know that the user manual specs say otherwise. But, I have not had these issues (so I crossed them out in your comment for clarification).

          • Dan says:

            That’s fine – I was trying to indicate that those were the specs but not seen by you, sorry I wasn’t clear.

            So we don’t know what the deal is. Do you have pre-release firmware that allows HSS with older bodies? Is it just an over-conservative spec, and perhaps the 5DmkII is OK where maybe an older camera really will not work HSS over radio? Fluke – or by design?

            If you could try and get this information from Canon that would be a great help.

  10. Shawn says:

    Yup this new strobe has me excited. Long overdue for Canon. Thanks for the write up. So do you think Canon finally surpasses the Nikon “CLS”? What does your good friend Mr. McNally, who I am a fan of, think about Canons upgrade? Is he ready to jump ship. Lol

    Thanks again for all that you do for us Canon strobist.

  11. Jaime says:

    Thanks Syl! Great info. 2 on order!

    Regarding optically triggered non-Canon speedlights (monolights, ets.):

    Since the 600 is communicating via the new 2.4GHz wireless trigger, I presume it no longer does the old E-TTL pre-flash which would false trigger optically driven strobes?

    If that’s the case, shouldn’t optically triggered strobes now be able to use the 600’s primary flash in line of sight as the optical trigger (without having to worry about being false-triggered with the pre-flash, or shooting in manual mode with the Sonia Green to avoid it)?

  12. Mark Hamzy says:

    Hi Syl,

    I have a question for you and I am hoping that you could help me. I have a couple of 600EX-RTs and a Canon 5DMkIII. I am using group mode with the flashes set on manual. Why does the FEL not work in manual mode?! It works in ETTL. It seems like all of the functionality is there. Tell the flashes to fire at their settings (for example 1/4 power), and take a spot meter reading of the light power for the given ISO. Just like a flash meter would do. Why do the Canon engineers disable this ability?


  13. Morten says:

    Hi Syl, I’m really excited about the new system and really enjoyed your intro video etc. One of the things that got me really excited was the new BEEP feature, as I’m used to, and love that, on larger studio flash gear, but I have to admit I fell quite let down by it so far – I have activated the C.f. and set the sound symbol to ON, both on the individual flashes in group A,B and C, as well as on my St-E3 Master and yet – no beep! The sound symbol is there in the display on all the units, yet it seems like I’m only getting the beep when initially setting up and doing the test exposure, and after that everything is silent. What is the secret handshake I need to know to get the ready beep EVERY time the flash’es are ready to fire again…? Advance thanks!

  14. Ang Uy says:

    I don’t know if this counts as a speedlite wish, but I’d love it if Canon came out with bodies that have built in radio transmitters (like the optical transmitters built into the 7d, 60d, etc).

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