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First Impressions: Testing Canon's New Speedlite 600EX-RT & Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT | PixSylated

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.

The new Group mode allows individual control of up to five groups.

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).

The new LCD is larger, brighter, and sharper. 580EX II on left. 600EX-RT on right.

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.

The channel scan shows with of the radio channels are the strongest.

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.

600EX-RT Speedlite on B&H

600EX-RT Speedlite on Amazon

ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter on B&H

ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter on Amazon

In the video: putting the new Speedlites to the test during one crazy shoot.


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

  1. Bill says:

    Testing mine on high-speed sync yeasterday. Worked like a charm.

    These are keepers so out with the “old” PocketWizards. Also, the PocketWizard fried my 580 flash. After use my flash only worked in manual mode! And in manual mode they took forever to charge.

  2. Jan says:

    nice…, they should also have made a wireles reciver to youse with old flashes.

  3. Harry Stringer says:

    Questions about using an Ex600-RT with the Canon 5D mk1.
    I noticed in your paragraph about groups, that the Ex600-RT will only work with 2012 camera. To be clear, are you saying that no groups at all can be set/ controlled if I mount the flash onto a 5D mk1? If not from the 5dMk1 in camera menu system, then can groups be set up using the flash’s control panel?
    I want the radio control feature, but I can’t afford to change my cameras as well as the flash units.

  4. Gene says:


    During a shoot I like to switch between Canon bodies and other brands (mostly Leica). I know it won’t give me TTL, but do you know if the ST-E3-RT will trigger the 600EX-RT Speedlight from a non-Canon camera’s hotshoe? If so, would it send the Speedlites some basic manual settings? I’m looking to replace my CyberSync transmitters and receivers.

    Your blog is tops. Keep up the great work!


  5. Stephen Payne says:

    I have two 580 EX-II and a 430 EX-II so I invested in Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 & Mini for my Canon 5D and 7D cameras as I have been trying to move to radio control. I am personally a little upset with the discontinuance of the 580 series. My pertinent question here then is, will the EX 600 work with the Pocket Wizard tools I have already purchased. The 600 is expensive and the only way I could justify its purchase is if I could slowly begin to integrate it with my existing systems.

    Thank you,

    Stephen Payne

  6. […] mode. Yes, it’s fair to say that, in optical mode, the 600EX-RT a better looking 580EX II. First Impressions: Testing Canon’s New Speedlite 600EX-RT & Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT… But honestly, you may want to go manual with your 580ex for a while… learning the ins and out […]

  7. Dale Garman says:

    Article mentions that it is backward compatable with older flashes in optical mode. I just received one and cannot get the older flash to drive it as a master, or the ST-E2 transmitter either. Hopefuly I’m issing something simple. I did set the new 600ex to slave but can’t see a setting that tells it to look for optical vs. RT.

    • Syl Arena says:

      @Dale – Make sure that your 600EX-RT is set as an optical slave (as opposed to a radio slave). The icon in the upper right corner of the LCD should be a sideways flashbolt when it is optical wireless. Also make sure that the black panel on the front, just above the big red panel, is facing the master. Twist the head, as needed, so that it points towards your subject.

  8. Yes, there is a 600EX. You can buy them on ebay and order it in the US. It is cheaper than the RT version.

    • Syl Arena says:

      @Otto — Just want to add that the non-US, non-RT versions of the 600EX not only lack the radio capability, they lack a US warranty. Essentially one is buying a gray-market 580EX II with a better LCD screen.

  9. Greg Jackson says:

    I just purchased the Canon T4i & now looking for a really nice speedlite. Is the Canon 600 EX-RT worth the investment if I don’t have an immediate need/interest in the radio control feature? I understand this latest release by Canon is the best piece of flash equipment since some if the original offerings.
    Thank you.

  10. odett says:

    Has anyone tested the 600ex using pocket wizard flex tt5? Does it work?

    • Hi

      Yes it does work with the flex tt5. BUT (there always seems to be a but, right?!) if you use the 600ex-rt in RADIO mode; it will not work. You have to buy the st-e3 transmitter if you use the flash in radio mode. My worry is that if you do use this new transmitter, I don’t want to lose the high speed sync capabilities. I have read another review somewhere where this person said that he tested using the st-e3 transmitter AND 600ex rt flash and the high speed sync worked perfectly. so time will tell as more and more photographers experiment with their equipment.

      My husband was a bit upset knowing that my camera that I just bought in 2010 (1D Mark IV) is already out of date. That is technology for you.

  11. nico says:

    Newby question: I’m fairly new to flash and made a small investment earlier in the year. I got a Youngnou 560 and 600/602 transceiver so that I can have an off camera manuel flash. The system works well but i’m wanting to add another flash to the mix and would like to expolore ETTL.
    So the question is which flash could compliment this system? Btw, I shoot with 5dmk1 and mk2. thanks for any thoughts/advice you can provide

  12. Aidan J-G says:

    I have tried the 600 ex-rt on an old canon eos 40d, everything worked perfectly, even the wireless and hss.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    Where are the remaining videos (that you speak of in the first video) that you did on the 600EX-RT?

  14. Nikolay says:

    It is so annoying that Canon need to take so long to came up with such a system. It look amazing but how to go and replace all of my pocket wizards and the 7 Canon speed-lights that I currently own, it will cost me a fortune, especially when the ST-E3-RT won’t work with older model.

  15. Linda says:

    We have two 430, one 580 and the 600. Looking for the best way to work with these together. Wondering what the best receiver would be to work with the St-E3-RT transmitter on the 580? Have not bought the transmitter yet. Maybe I should just sell the two 430s and get another 600.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Linda – There currently is no device that will enable you to use the ST-E3-RT transmitter with the 580EX or 430EX Speedlites. They only work in optical wireless. The ST-E3-RT only works in radio wireless. The convenience of radio is so great, that I’m sure you will not regret selling the non-radio Speedlites and upgrading to more 600s.

  16. Ed says:

    My primary Canon is an EOS-1D X. I just want to be sure I understand using the 1DX and a 600EX RT I do not need the ST-E3-RT for radio syncing, but if I want to add older Canon Speedlites (specifically 580 EX II and 430 EX II models) the entire system needs to be in optical slave mode and if the 600EX-RT (as master) is off camera I should use a cable between it and the camera like the OCF cables. Do I have that right?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Ed – When the 600EX-RT is connected to the hotshoe of your camera, you do not need the ST-E3-RT Transmitter. If you wanted to use your 600EX-RT as an off-camera Speedlite, then you could need a way to fire it. One option is to use the ST-E3-RT as a radio transmitter. Another option is to use the OCF cord. You are correct that the 600X-RT must be set as an optical master to control the 500- and 400-series Speedlites as slaves. There is no way to mix Canon’s radio and optical systems — meaning that your 600EX-RT cannot do both radio and optical at the same time.

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