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.
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