The price gap between Canon’s flagship 600EX-RT Speedlite and the venerable 580EX II Speedlite has narrowed to a point where it makes no sense to purchase the 580EX II. If you are going to purchase a Canon Speedlite to use as a master flash, make sure that it is the 600EX-RT. If you are going to purchase your first Speedlite and you have the financial means, the 600EX-RT is also a great choice.

When I first published my 600EX-RT vs. 580EX II comparison eight months ago (here), the 600EX-RT was $100+ more than the 580EX II. Now, the gap has narrowed to $10 and the choice becomes a no-brainer.

Why The 600EX-RT Is Now A No-Brainer

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Santa Fe Photographic Workshops has added a new series of two-day workshops to their summer schedule and shifted their long-format workshops to a Wednesday-Saturday schedule. This means that you can now take a long-format workshop and a two-day intensive workshop just before or after. Heck, you could even pair two intensives before and after a long-format workshop and still have Sunday off to explore Santa Fe. You’d also save a bit on airfare because you now have a Saturday night stay in your trip.

There are several great intensives scheduled for the Monday-Tuesday before my June 26-29, 2013 Crafting Dramatic Light with Small Flashes workshop. (Info about my small flash workshop here.) These include:

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A guest blog for PixSylated by Peter Read Miller, Canon Explorer of Light

McKalya Maroney USA. London 2012 Olympic Games Day 1. Women's Artistic Gymnastics, The Vault. Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS 1.4X lens at f4, 1/2000", ISO 3200, 400mm. © 2012 Peter Read Miller.

Last summer, while on assignment for Sports Illustrated at the London Olympics, I was one of the lucky handful of photographers who were given a pre-production version of Canon’s EF 200-400mm f4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender to shoot during the games.

Canon 200-400mm lens

I used the lens almost every day and had photos published in both the print and online versions of Sports Illustrated —as well as in SI’s super cool “Live from London” iPad app.

Allyson Felix USA gold. London 2012 Summer Olympic Games: Day 12. Athletics: Women's 200m Final. Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS 1.4X lens at f4, 1/1250", ISO 4000, 400mm. © 2012 Peter Read Miller.

Given the logistical challenges presented during the London Olympics, the 200-400mm was a godsend. Most days, I averaged one to two hours on busses and trains getting around the Olympics. One day, I did ten busses, plus the train, just to cover four events.

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I’ll head out early Monday morning for the first leg of my five-week Speedliter’s Intensive tour. First up are Austin, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Then I’ll make a quick dash home for Mother’s Day. Busy first week.

Also on the line-up are: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Hartford, NYC, St Louis, Salt Lake City, SF Bay Area, and Washington DC.

The Intensive is a one-day crash course on my approach to flash photography. To see the details, the calendar, and a promo code that saves $25, click here.


It’s hard to believe…after waiting nine months, but we leave tomorrow for Havana. “We” are two groups of photographers organized by Santa Fe Workshops. I’m the leader for one group. Zack Arias is the commandante for the other group.

This is not a typical workshop. Rather, it’s a people-to-people exchange in which we will spend time with Cubans, learning about their lives and their culture. Along the way, we’ll make many great photographs and spend time with Cuban photographers. It’s going to be a memorable week!

If you’re interested in joining me on a future trip to Cuba, you can read about the current Cuba trip on this PDF. To get on the mailing list for announcements about my next trip, send an email to

I’ve had a crazy schedule of late. Spent last week in Denver with Peter Read Miller at his sports photography workshop. Havana will be a warm reprise from the crazy cold weather that hit Colorado last week.

I hope to post some pix while in Cuba…if I can find access to the internet. Might be harder to find the time, given that we have a full schedule for the week. Adios!


Controlling Canon Speedlites as Slaves

• Part One: 600EX-RT as Radio Slave
Part Two: Fundamentals of Optical Wireless (this part)
• Part Three: Setting Up Speedlites as Optical Slaves (coming)
[Note: In this series, I am writing about the master/slave system built into Canon Speedlites. There is another type of optical slave that is common in studio lighting. It fires the strobe when it senses a flash of bright light, but all changes to power, sync, etc. must be made manually on the unit.]

The Difference Between Canon Radio and Optical Slaves

Canon offers two ways for Speedlites to communicate—radio and optical wireless. Radio has the advantage of working over longer distances and the ability to communicate through opaque surfaces, like walls and softboxes. Radio wireless was introduced about a year ago with the launch of the 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3-RT Transmitter.

Optical wireless must have a line-of-sight connection between the master and slave—although the master’s signal can bounce around objects and corners if the walls/ceiling are a light color. I once put a slave Speedlite in a shower stall knowing that I could bounce the master’s signal off of the bathroom mirror. Optical wireless works up to about 40’/13m. It cannot go through opaque surfaces–but is happy to fly through windows, which allows you to control slaves outside the room. Optical wireless will also go through translucent fabrics—like shoot-through umbrellas to control slave Speedlites nearby.

Canon’s optical wireless system is robust and reliable—even outdoors in noon sun. The key is to know how to set up the slaves so that they can see the master—which I will cover in a bit.

Speedliter, Know Thy Optical Master

The 600- and 500-series EX Speedlites can be optical masters (as can the macro ring and twin lights). The advantages of using a Speedlite as an optical master (over a pop-up flash as master) include:

  • the Speedlite has greater range
  • the Speedlite head can be tilted/panned directly at a slave
  • the Speedlite can be used as an off-camera master (detailed at the end of this article)

[Note 1: The 600EX-RT can operate in radio OR optical wireless. For insights on radio wireless, read Part One of this series.]

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I’ll be hitting 15 cities this spring on my 2013 Speedliter’s Intensive tour. Through the end of March, you can save $25 by buying an early bird ticket ($50 off the Chicago 2-day event). Spend a day with me learning how to create great light with small flash.

Speedliter’s Intensive Spring 2013 Cities / Dates


Random Bytes 130318 is a quick collection of great posts and resources that have come my way over the past couple of weeks. Thanks to all who have written to say how much they appreciate this new feature on PixSylated!

Timelapse: an Introduction to Still Photographs in Motion

Video of Gulf Photo Plus 2013 Shoot-Out

Lifehacker: Why I Stopped Pirating and Started Paying for Media

Tumblr: Who Pays Photographers

UltraPixel Sensor Coming to Mobile Phones

Cine Meter for iPhone/iPad

Timelapse: an Introduction to Still Photographs in Motion—this beautiful eBook by Dave Delnea was published today by Craft & Vision. It covers the basics of getting started with timelapse photography, including: gear, techniques, and post-production. For $5.00, it’s a bargain! Click here to check out the details Use the promotional code TIME4 when you check out and pay only $4 OR use the code TIME20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ eBooks. (NOTE: These codes expire at 11:59pm (PST) March 22, 2013.)

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There are two options for wireless communication built into the 600EX-RT Speedlite system: radio OR optical. If you are using only 600EX-RTs as slaves, then take advantage of the radio system. The range is longer than optical wireless and you won’t have to worry about the signal being blocked by opaque surfaces. If you are using the 600EX-RT with earlier Canon Speedlites (500- and 400-series Speedlites), then you must operate the 600EX-RT in optical wireless (either as a master or a slave).

Notice that I said radio OR optical. It is not possible to send instructions to a 600EX-RT via radio and then have it optically transmit those instructions to 500- and 400-series Speedlites. That would be radio AND optical. Pick one wireless mode OR the other. If you want to use a 600EX-RT with non-radio Speedlites, then the 600EX-RT must be in Optical Wireless.

Setting Up the 600EX-RT Speedlite as a Radio Slave—Four Steps

There are four steps to using a 600EX-RT Speedlite as a radio slave. Think A-C-I-G and you’ll remember them.

  • Activate the 600EX-RT as a radio slave
  • Set the Channel of all slaves to match the master (Auto or Channels 1-15)
  • Set the Wireless ID of all slaves to match the master (0000 to 9999)
  • Assign each slave to a Group (five options A-E)

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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.

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