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

  • 600EX-RT has a larger LCD. The display on the 600EX-RT is 35% larger than the 580EX II. The letters are larger. The icons are more detailed. If you are new to Speedliting, the 600EX-RT is much easier to read and understand.
  • 600EX-RT has better buttons. As shown below, the four function buttons underneath the LCD change their functions based on the mode of the Speedlite. The labels on the LCD change accordingly. Also, the Mode button has been separated from the function buttons and made larger. And…(loud applause!) a dedicated button has been added on the left shoulder to activate the wireless system.
  • 600EX-RT is fully backwards compatible with 500- and 400-series EX Speedlites. When activated in optical wireless, the 600EX-RT is essentially a 580EX II with a much improved user interface. In optical wireless, the 600EX-RT can be used as either a master or slave with 500- and 400-series EX Speedlites. It can also be controlled as an optical slave via the pop-up flashes on the 60D, Rebels T3i, T4i, T5i, and the SL1.
  • 600EX-RT has radio wireless. This greatly simplifies the communication between master and slave 600EX-RT Speedlites. The signal can go through walls, the sides of softboxes, etc. [Note: it is NOT possible to use a 600EX-RT in radio AND optical wireless at the same time. The 600EX-RT is activated in either radio OR optical wireless.]
  • 600EX-RT can change the color of the LCD backlight to green or orange. As shown above, I have the backlight color set to orange when the Speedlite is a slave (either radio or optical). As shown below, the backlight is set green when the Speedlite is a master. This small feature is a huge help when setting up wireless Speedlites in dim ambient light.

Weird Pricing In The Market For 580EX II

There’s no doubt that the 580EX II is close to the end of its market cycle. For the past several weeks, B&H Photo has listed it as a Discontinued Item. Although, yesterday I checked again and found that it is back in stock at B&H for $489. Equally weird is that Amazon lists the 580EX II for $619—a full $120 more than the cost of the 600EX-RT. As I said above, deciding today between the 600EX-RT and the 580EX II is a no brainer.

As of June 10, 2013 — Amazon prices the 580EX II $120 more than the 600EX-RT — $619 vs $499.

Current Pricing & Availability

600EX-RT Speedlite on B&H

600EX-RT Speedlite on Amazon

580EX II Speedlite on B&H

580EX II Speedlite on Amazon

.   .   .

SUMMER SPEEDLIGHT WORKSHOPS—I have two extended workshops on Speedliting this summer. I’ll teach Crafting Dramatic Light With Small Flashes in Santa Fe, June 26-29. I’ll teach Canon Speedlites Demystified in Maine, August 4-10.

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32 Responses to UPDATE: Deciding Between Canon’s 600EX-RT and 580EX II Speedlites

  1. Biju says:

    Can I use the 600ex-rt to trigger any other strobes OR would I still need the pocketwizard? What is the best recommended option?

  2. Jared says:

    Thanks for the article Syl!

    One of my old 580EX units died a couple weeks ago, and I was debating getting the 600EX RT or the 580EX II. You just helped me make my decision.

  3. amy says:

    If you own the transmitter device as well as the 580ex II and the 4XX speedlite, what would be the reason to buy a third speedlite and spend another $600 ?

  4. john adams says:

    the 580EXII is now listed as discontinued at B&H
    John Adams

  5. Chris C says:

    When the 600 was announced, many retailers dropped the price of the 580 by around $100. I ended up buying 2, and was told by multiple stores that the 580 was going to be discontinued and that was the reason for the price drop.

    Is the 580 still available?

  6. Donald Chalfy says:

    I own 3 600EX-RT speedlites and a ST-E3 transmitter. This is my first foray into speedliting and I must say, this is a fantastic system. I cannot speak to the 580EX II and its predecessors, other than having toyed with them when I sold photographic equipment for a national camera chain, but what I can say is that this 600s are a dream to use with the new user interface and a more intuitive method of navigating the menu system. The addition of the radio functionality alone justifies the cost offering a level of flexibility hitherto not seen on speedlites.

    I also had the benefit of attending one of Syl’s Speedliting Intensives in Minneapolis MN and it was far and away, one of the finest events I ave attended. We were able to really dig in and learn about this subject, as well as speedliting in a very well planned and presented.

    One cannot go wrong updating to the 600EX-RT Speedlites, or adding one to one’s existing kit.

    Don Chalfy

  7. budd Johnson says:

    What ever happened to the new book? The Field Guide?

  8. Chris says:

    Now isn’t that interesting. It’s the same in the uk, those fine chaps at Amazon have the 600 at £440 and the 580 at £512…. Now why is that?

  9. Reed Hutchinson says:

    Regarding pricing of the 580 vs. 600 / Amazon vs. B&H

    I’d imagine that B&H, and perhaps some other large online chains, are being used by Canon to sell of the existing stock of 580’s – In other words, these dealers are getting a special price on a “Soon to be discontinued” item.

    The 580’s on Amazon aren’t really sold by Amazon, rather they are fulfilled for smaller retailers by Amazon – At least the ones I saw when I checked just now.

    These small stores probably didn’t get a “Deal” like B&H and they want to minimize their losses as much as possible.

    It doesn’t cost them anything to keep them listed on Amazon, and perhaps they’ll get lucky and someone will opt for the more expensive option, for whatever reason.

    If you were to go to one of these stores “Brick & Mortar” locals (if they exist) you may get a price much closer to reality. Either that or a hard sell as to why the 580 is far superior to the 600 – at least until they 580 stock is gone…

  10. The 600RT is a true technical master piece as rightly noted. However, I found two major irritants in actual use: a) the menu seems to have gotten more complex. It is quite confusing to need to toggle too many modes till you find you find what you are looking for, especially between mode button and the wireless button. Wish Canon would allow switching off either radio or optical in their custom function – it would be much simpler then. b) I found the fonts to be tiny & thin – thus difficult to read.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Wish granted. Head to Personal Function 06 to program the wireless button on the 600EX-RT. If you only use radio, toggle option 1. If you only use optical, toggle option 2. Then the wireless button will cycle from non-wireless to the wireless mode that you want directly.

      • Thanks Syl. I never learn to read the manual – granted its thicker than the camera manual!

        Recently I faced an issue with 600RT where the flash just started delivering lower power (may be 1/10) on eTTL mode. Changing batteries did not help. Wondering if anyone faced this issue. Just as a side note, I faced this problem with 580Ex once as well.

        • Piper says:

          On my last photo shoot — first time using my new 6d camera with the 580exii, I ran into the situation in which my 580exii was only firing at very low output(using ETTL via a ETTL cord). I tried FEC — no change. I switched it over to manual and tried full power – no change (I should have gotten nuclear blast!. The next day, I wanted to see if I could narrow down the problem, so I then tried the flash directly in the 6d’s shoe. Same result. Batteries were fully charged. Red pilot light lit. Saw the green light in the back afterwards, etc. Wiped contacts. Reseated. Swapped a 430ex ii in the shoe and set it to the same settings — worked fine. Swapped back in the 580 (trying both ettl and manual)– same low output results. I then pulled out my old t2i body and tried the 580 on there. Worked fine.
          Swapped the 580 back onto the 6d and also ended up trying FEL — and then it worked fine. Since then, it’s been fine, but now I’ve lost confidence in the 580’s operation. Shortly, I plan to buy a couple 600’s. My question: has anyone else had this (I see a lot of “it misfired at full power” posts) — but not quite this one. My 6d is brand new (only out on 3 photo shoots thus far) — Should I be suspecting anything with respect to my 6d’s shoe — or the fact that the 430 worked fine (and the 580 has some known issues) rule that one out? I’ve had the 580 for about 2 1/2 years… The fit in the shoe seems tight/secure/similar on both cameras. I’ve got some big events coming up in January in which I will be totally reliant on my off-camera flash working (whether by radio or optical!) to control multiple speedlites!!!

  11. david nelson says:

    Is the 600 compatible with pocket wizards flex & mini?

  12. David Nelson says:

    Syl, your speedlight series on Kelby Training was great, I learned so much. I have used the OCF cords you recommend and they work perfectly, but I’ve gone to the flex and mini as I shoot tethered on location and my cords keep getting tangled up.

    Again, I learned so much from you and thanks for this blog.

  13. Ron C says:

    Syl, Nice article but your statement of “…It can also be controlled as an optical slave via the pop-up flashes on the 60D, Rebels T3i, T4i, T5i, and the SL1” does not seem correct. I am a new owner of a 600EX-RT and a EOS SL1 and spent a few hours trying to get the Speedlite to trigger remotely from the SL1 pop-up flash with the Speedlite in slave mode, off camera, and nothing in the shoe. I contacted Canon support who advised “While the EOS Rebel SL1 can control an external flash that is mounted in the hot shoe, it does not have a built in remote flash transmitter.”

    • Syl Arena says:

      Ron –

      Make sure that the 600EX-RT is set as an optical slave and not as a radio slave. Here are a few tips > Also make sure that the master and slave are set to the same channel (1,2,3, or 4).

  14. Steve Huss says:

    Hi Syl,
    First off, your Speedliters Handbook is a great read. I refer to it often, thanks. I just purchased the 600 kit (2 600s and the ST-E3-RT), great kit for the price. I also have 2 580EXIIs. Since the 600s are backward compatable, my question is about HSS. Would it matter if I put a 580 or a 600 on my camera as the master, (making sure to put the 600s on optical slave) and set the other flashes on slave/HSS. I do have a 30′ ettl cord to use if needed to relocate the master so the slaves can see it. I think I have right in my head, and will certainly check it out. Thought I’d check and see if you have any thoughts I should be aware of. I have an outdoor wedding next weekend, and since we are starting photos at the worst time of day (high noon), HSS will be my go to function for most of the formals.

    Thanks Syl.

    • Syl Arena says:

      @Steve – For optical wireless, the only advantage to using a 600EX-RT as a master rather than a 580EX is that the 600EX-RT has the interactive menu system–making it much easier to use, in my opinion. In all other aspects, for optical wireless, they are identical.

  15. Recently I was playing with the auto WB correction feature with colored gels and ran some experiments. Canon has a gem hidden here which seems to been missed by the marketing guys:

    a) 600EX-RT has a small light source under the flash head. When the flash is fired it sends a beam of light through the gel which is picked up by a sensor on the side. The flash seems to be measuring the temperature of this light and makes the WB corrections.

    b) However, this feature is active only when the flash is in master mode.

    Has anyone tried with different color gels? Canon does not make them now but I believe if we were to cut and insert a green or pink gel, it should see the same corrections.

    Syl, any comments on possible applications appreciated!

    • Syl Arena says:

      @Shikharest – I’m not a fan of the gel system built into/onto the 600EX-RT. Two main reasons” #1 the gel holder often falls off when I strap on my favorite Speedlite mods (like the grid or egg diffuser in the Strobros Speedlite modifier kit). #2 is that I typically don’t want the camera to auto-correct for the color of my flash. For instance, if I gel a Speedlite to blend it in as fill-flash during the golden moments of a sunset, I don’t want neutral light. I want golden light. All of this could be fixed in post from a RAW file, but there’s no advantage to this extra step.

  16. randy stephens says:

    Hello Syl,

    Thanks for taking the time to help people. I have a chance to get a like new 580ex ii for $300.00. Does that make it worth getting over the new 600ex?



    • Syl Arena says:

      Randy – It’s all about resources…not spending more than you can. The functionality of the 600EX-RT system is huge, but if the extra $200 busts the bank, then the 580EX II is the way to go.

      • BipinD says:

        Syl, I used to use 580exii’s and learned to use them to the best as I could just like 1000’s of other photographer. I now have 600EX-RT’s but only got them when resources became available.

        Working photographers will use the kit they have and only upgrade when they have to.

  17. Reza Mirzai says:

    Syl, Thanks for all you informative comments and help. Quick question, I have an ST-E3-RT and 4 600EX-RTs and that is all I use. Is there an advantage whatsoever for someone in my case to ever use optical when all I need is Radio transmission? Is there an advantage in optical transmission with TTL that you lose with radio? I read somewhere that may be the case where the optical communication between speedlights for determining exposure in TTL is more accurate with optical transmission than radio. It may be that the Nikon folks are pushing that thought but wanted to check with you. Thanks as always for all you do.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I’ve never heard a bonafide source stating that optical is more reliable than radio for E-TTL work. If a shooter is using a third-party, add-on radio trigger, then it’s possible that radio is not as reliable as the built-in optical system. But, for the 600EX-RT system, radio is the way to go.

  18. Alan Katowitz says:

    Excellent comparison description!

    I love Santa Fe, and surrounding areas and up to Taos and the Angel Fire loop!

    I was photographing this past evening at the closing evening of:
    The Vancouver Eco Fashion Week at the Fairmount Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, BC.

    I was covering the runway evening unfolding designs of four designers.

    Of course, I was shooting without a flash utilizing runway overhead lighting.
    On the last appy, wine and beer break, I utilized my 580 EX II flash to catch some small group photos.
    After returning to the ballroom and taking my place at the right of the end of the runway with a 40-40 degree angle on the approaching models. I put my 580EXII with “stoffen” diffuser attached at the corner of the white runway riser. At the end of the last designer’s designs, (Jeff Garnier), from London, England which were accompanied by
    Country Western, rock and roll, rock-a-billy, vocals and guitar, Henley from Nashville, Tenn.
    After Jeff, took his bows, the audience mounted the runway and started rocking and rolling the beat of the music! Of course I was firing away with my 70-300 2.8 and Canon 5D MK3.

    5-10 minutes later after the runway was beginning to clear, I remembered and turned to pick up my flash. Gone! Someone had snapped it up while I was documenting the dancing!

    Later I found out other items of gear had gone missing as well! The director of Vancouver Eco Fashion Week, Myriam La Roche, informed me, because more than one item was stolen, she is going to launch a claim on the show insurance! Hurrah!

    Fast forward to these comments, (maybe more than normal), I decided to ask google the difference between the: 600EX-RT And the “Classic” 580 EXII.
    And your forum popped up!

    Thank you, and I would enjoy talking to you. Perhaps even, discuss meeting you in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this summer?

    Best regards,
    Alan Katowitz
    Alan Katowitz Photography
    Check out my Business Facebook pages:

    Add me as a friend and message me your mobile phone# and email address

  19. Nikol Mikus says:

    Hi Sly,

    I currently own and shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II, 430ex ii(love it) and the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter. I want to add more to my kit. Not sure if I should purchase another 430ex ii (affortalbe) or step up on the power with a canon Speedlite 600EXII-RT (Pricey – want to use it as the master) or the older version Speedlite 600EX-RT(used – cheaper). I am trying to balance price vs power. Would love your input!

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