For the past week, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to shoot a trio of Canon’s new 600-EX-RT Speedlites (B&H / Amazon) and the new ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter (B&H / Amazon)). The gear was provided to me by Canon-Europe for evaluation. Next week, you will see my expanded thoughts about putting the system to several tests on their Canon Pro Network site.
If you want the short version of my assessment, then I’ll say “Canonistas, hold your heads high. Again, we are on the cutting edge of technology. Welcome to the future of Speedliting!”
I have a ton of info to share about the new system. I also have a couple of videos coming very soon. In the first (here), I put the new Speedlite system through a number of shoots on location. The second (coming soon) is a detailed tour of all the buttons and dials.
Here are my first impressions and observations:
Two-Way Radio — Canon has broken into new territory by adding 2.4 Ghz radio to the system. For the first time ever, the slaves can send messages to the master. So, not only did I control slaves outside the building, they sent messages back to the master when they recycled. So now, we do not have to guess when remote Speedlites are ready to fire. This is a huge advantage over the previous generations of Speedlites.
Range — I controlled and fired Speedlites from 340′ (100m) away. I was able to switch modes, dial in power and FEC adjustments, etc. This was done in open countryside with no RF interference. In urban environments, the range will be much shorter. The draft user manual that I received states the range at 98′ (30m). Frankly, I’ve never come upon a situation where I wanted to first a Speedlite at 340′.
Sync Speeds — I shot at all sync speeds, up to 1/8000″ in High-Speed Sync, on both my 5DM2 and my 60D. I used both a 600EX-RT Speedlite and the ST-E3-RT transmitter to trigger. In hundreds of frames over the past week, I have not had one sync issue. The manual says that on pre-2012 cameras (anything other than 1D X and 5DM3), the system takes a one-stop hit in sync speed and that HSS is not possible. This will be an interesting area to watch as others begin to use the gear.
5 Groups / Individual Control — There is a new wireless mode (Group – Gr.) that enables individual control of up to five groups. The mode for each group can be set independently. Each group can be turned on/off at will. To make this work, you must use a 2012 camera (1D X, 5DM3). For me, this functionality is a compelling reason to upgrade both Speedlites and camera.
Larger, Brighter LCD — The dot-matrix LCD is a quantum leap beyond the previous systems. The icons and menu options are easier to read. The backlight can be set at green or orange. I have normal and master modes in green and slave in orange. This made it easy to confirm wireless configuration in dim light. The screen will also turn red if the unit gets too hot (which I have yet to see).
Interactive Menu System — Thanks to the functionality of the new LCD, the interactive menu system is much more intuitive to control. No longer do we have functions hiding under functions. You just keep pressing the Menu button on the right side to see additional menu options. I go through this in detail in the second video (to be online Friday afternoon).
Dedicated Wireless Button — Far better than the Off-Master-Lever on the 580EX and the Press-And-Hold-Forever button on the 580EX II…we now have a dedicated button for the wireless system. You can see it in the photo below — left side with the sideways flashbolt. The button can be configured to cycle through radio only, optical only, or radio and then optical wireless.
15 Channels, 10,000 Wireless IDs, and a Channel Scanner — The radio works on 15 channels in the 2.4 GHz range. So does your cordless phone, your Bluetooth earbud, your wireless router, and your microwave oven. The channel scanner provides insights on which channels are the cleanest. In addition to the master and slaves being on the same channel, they must also be on the same Wireless ID. Since these run from 0000 to 9999, there are literally 10,000 wireless IDs for every channel.
Wider & Longer Zoom — The zoom now ranges from 20mm to 200mm. For a guy like me, this is a very welcome addition…not because I can shoot flash farther now (which is true). Rather, I like to use the zoom to tighten the pattern of my light and create natural vignettes.
Is The 600EX More Powerful Than The 580EX II? — In a word, no. Thanks to the 200mm zoom, the Guide Number table has been expanded. If you look at the Guide Number for 105mm, you will find that it matches that of the 580EX II.
How Is The ST-E3-RT Transmitter Different From The 600EX-RT Speedlite? Well, the ST-E3-RT runs on two AA batteries (rather than four). It also lacks the flash head and the Auto-Focus Assist Light. The ST-E3-RT has a sleek, low-profile design. In terms of buttons, dials, and menus, they are basically identical twins. And, yes, I wish that the ST-E3-RT had an AF-Assist light.
Compatibility With 580EX II and Earlier Speedlites — Canon has done a good job of maintaining backwards compatibility with the existing line of Speedlites. The new 600EX-RT system works in radio mode or optical mode — but not both at the same time. This means that you can use the 600EX-RT with earlier generations of EX Speedlites by using optical transmission for wireless mode. Yes, it’s fair to say that, in optical mode, the 600EX-RT a better looking 580EX II.
Dedicated Gel Holder & Gel Sensor — I haven’t shot with this thoroughly yet. The Speedlite came with two gels — presumably a CTO and Half-CTO. There is a sensor on the bottom of the head that will advise the camera of the presence of the gel. One area that I will explore is how this interacts with gels other than CTO and Half-CTO.
Is There A 600EX? There are some countries that do not use the 2.4GHz band for unlicensed wireless devices. I’m told that, in these countries, Canon will sell the Speedlite without wireless using the model name 600EX.
Can the 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT Be Used Anywhere? It’s my understanding that the new system can be used in any country that uses the 2.4 GHz band for unlicensed wireless devices. This includes most of the developed world.
Will The ST-E3-RT Work With The 580EX II? The ST-E3-RT is a radio-only device. The 580EX II is an optical only device. So, no, the ST-E3-RT will not control older Speedlites.