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Resist The ST-E2 Temptation | PixSylated

Many Speedliters are fond of using the ST-E2 Wireless Transmitter in lieu of a master Speedlite. I am not among them. In fact, I discourage people from getting the ST-E2.

The thinking in favor of the ST-E2 is that it is about half the price of a 580-series Speedlite. I concur: about half the price and less than half the functionality.

My experience has shown that the range of the ST-E2 is shorter than a 580EX, both indoors and out. This is due to the fact that the flashtube on a 580EX is much stronger than the small tube inside the ST-E2. Further, the range of the ST-E2 flashtube is impeded by the thick red plastic panel that is there to block the visible portion of the flash. (If it was not blocked, it would add uncontrolled, on-camera flash to the exposure.)

In terms of flexibility, the ST-E2 literally has none. Unlike a 580EX, which can pan 360º, the ST-E2 will only control Speedlites that are within an 80º angle in front of  the lens. In contrast, by panning the head on a 580EX, I can hit a slave that is to the side or behind me. The flexibility of the 580EX is a huge advantage when it comes to creative Speedliting.

A third limitation of the ST-E2 is that it can only control groups A and B. Given the extra steps needed to run Group C, this is not a huge downside. On the positive side, the ST-E2 provides the A:B ratio control quite easily via a sliding lever. So, for novice Speedliters, this trade-off is fine.

A fourth limitation, and one that looms larger as I become more accustomed to controlling my Speedlites via the LCD screen on my camera, is that the ST-E2 (like the original 580EX) cannot be controlled by the camera LCD. When you are starting out, this shortcoming will not seem like an issue. As you become an advanced Speedliter, you will learn to appreciate the convenience of controlling your Speedlites via the camera LCD.

Gear recommendation #1: If economy is a concern, start with a 430EX and an extra-long E-TTL cord. Many people think that they need to spend $250 on an ST-E2 to get their one Speedlite off-camera. I say spend $65 on an E-TTL cord instead. Not only will you save a big chunk of dough, you’ll be able to control the Speedlite via the camera LCD (assuming you have an EX II Speedlite and a compatible, late-2007 or newer camera.

Gear recommendation #2: While you are learning to master your first Speedlite, start saving for a 580EX II. Then, when you want to start shooting with multiple lights, you can buy a 580EX II and use it as an off-camera master (thanks to the extra-long E-TTL cord you bought earlier). Now you have a 580/430 combo for about the same price as two 430s and an ST-E2. I’ve no doubt that you’ll find the versatility and power of the 580EX II + 430EX II + extra-long E-TTL cord to be far greater than a pair of off-camera 430s that have to remain in front of the lens

So what if you already have an ST-E2? When you eventually outgrow it, there is always eBay.

Portions of this article excerpted from my ‘Speedliter’s Handbook

For a calendar of my seminars and workshops on Speedliting, click here.


24 Responses to Resist The ST-E2 Temptation

  1. You forgot to mention that there is no rear curtain synch either… an unforgivable sin!

    It is however smaller than an additional speedlight.

  2. DaveM Photo says:

    That's pretty much how I started, except with a 430EX, then 580EXII with ETTL cord and later added the 430EXII. I always considered getting the ST-E2 and use the Canon wireless system, but found it unreliable and limited (could have been operator error as well) when shooting outdoors which is what I do 90% of the time. I opted to go with PW Plus IIs and that setup has served me well.

    Hope you're feeling better. Looking forward to your Speedliter's Handbook. Any idea on the release date?

  3. Mike Padua says:

    I wish this post came out a year ago.

  4. Mike Spivey says:

    I have 3 580ex II's and an ST-E2. About the only good thing about the ST-E2 is the ease of controlling the ratios.

    The only other good thing is it looks better on top of a G series camera.

    Do you think there is any chance of a modern ize version?

  5. Matt Vanecek says:

    PocketWizard. Plus the extra-long TTL cord so you only have to buy two PocketWizards, when using 2 flashes (1 for camera, 1 for remote non-corded flash), instead of 3.

    I just can't bring myself to trust in infrared, especially when putting flashes in places where the infrared signal would very likely be blocked by {umbrellas, softboxes, reflectors, people}, and isn't reliable in bright light situations. But then, I've been known to be paranoid a time or two. However, I have enough stress in my life–the radio triggers are just one more thing that just works, whenever, wherever (and I keep spare batteries for them!), thereby adding no stress to my life…

    Your mileage may vary…

  6. Tim L says:


    You're killing the market for used ST-E2's before I've had a chance to dump mine! Come on, man! 🙂

  7. Greg says:

    I have an ST-E2 and it's not my favorite piece of Canon equipment, but it does have a place in my bag and a certain usefulness, particularly for live macro subjects were a cord is cumbersome, the added weight of a bulky flash sitting on top of my camera makes it harder to steady the camera in high magnification critical focusing conditions, AND where the additional visual size of the camera/flash combo can frighten small animals.

  8. Chris S. says:

    Sorry Syl, I love my ST-E2 because it allows me to get better focus in dimly lit situations without having to lug a big flash on top on the camera and when paired with my Pocket Wizard Mini-TT1 and my off camera flashes on Flex TT5 units I can have some great flexibility.

  9. Mike says:

    Very good points Syl, and I agree the ST-E2 does have it's limitations, but just to be fair….let's at least mention a few pro's:

    – Smaller than than a speedlight. Very easy to carry in your pocket and doesn't add much weight or bulk to the camera.
    – It's plug-n-shoot and you only have to fiddle with master/slave menu settings on 1 speedlight instead of 2.
    – More reliable & consistent ETTL than Pocket Wizard TT1TT5 🙂 Yep, I went there….I HATE the new PW's. Seriously, there have been many occasions where the PW's were acting flaky and I just needed ETTL to plain work, so I reached for my ST-E2.

  10. IanW says:

    On the other hand the ste2 will give red focus assist not the glaring white flashes. Mine's not for ebay, though I agree, I wouldn't have bought it now for the reasons you list.

  11. DAvid Costa says:

    I use Pixel Knight TR-332 triggers. they are wireless radio triggers that maintain ETTL and to HHS. They were about $180 on ebay. they work great. You can read a great Thread about them at http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.ph

  12. davidtong says:

    Great post… The ST-E2 is so archaic compared to the SU-800 and hardly worth half the cost of a 580exII, heck, the 550EX would be a better value than the ST-E2.

    In any case, China has already come up with a clone, not only does it have longer range and swivel mount, it also uses AA batteries!

    Regards, Dave from David's Simple Photography http://reviews.davidleetong.com

  13. Chan says:

    Thanks for great sharing here, Syl. Very much appreciated! Between, few questions to ask about off flash camera, currently i have one 580EXII and 430EX and ST-e2 :
    1. Do you recommend to get Extra-long E-TTL cord ?
    2. If shoot outdoor can i know what's the benefit of Extra-long cord, i have to point the (580)flash tube to slave, right?
    3. one of the reasons i owned st-e2, i do not have to suffer when there's reflection on/near my subject..from what i know 580ex will fire anyway even in very low power

    hope my explanation won't confuse you 🙂 im not good in it
    thanks n very much appreciated if you could advice

  14. James Taylor says:

    Well, very interesting points. However, I really like my ST-E2. It works so well indoors – just mount and shoot. I’ve had no problems using it with my flash in an Apollo softbox as well (indoors). Another nice use for it is during Christmas Eve or birthday parties. I put two 580s on stands in the corner of the livimgroom (one on each side of the house) pointing up and use the ST-E2 to fire them – photos turn out great! I realize I could use a third speedlite to do this, but the lower profile of the ST-E2 is nice in this situation. Even though I have a third flash (580II) I always grab the ST-E2 for these type of situations. And the best reason for the ST-E2 is the focus assist – it seems much more unobtrusive then what comes out of the 580s – I would probably own it just for this feature alone!

    Love the blog – keep up the great work!

  15. Cedric says:

    Great sharing! now i'm going to sell my ST-E2 and get Flashzebra ETTL extra long cords! woo hoo! Thanks Syl!

  16. Chris S. says:

    So I guess nobody gets to comment?

  17. Razumikhin says:

    First of all, awesome site you've got here.

    I do a lot of live music photography, it's very low light, everybody moves really fast and worst of all, a lot of the time, flashes are banned. The ST-E2 has saved my butt a few times in these situations with it's focus assist beam. It's generally faster at nailing focus than i am at doing it manually, especially if the lighting guy is doing horrible things with strobe lights etc. Also security guards and tyrannical event managers generally don't get upset by it's presence.

    As for using it as a wireless flash trigger, i use it in night clubs with a diffused 580exII in my left hand and a camera in my right. Once upon a time i used an E-TTL cable and have also tried slaving the 580exII from another 580exII. The ST-E2 seems the most reliable of these three options. Also, it's crappy plastic design is nice and light when you're other hand is busy controlling the lighting.

    If you where to buy this retail it would not be worth the money. Fortunately most of the people selling these things on ebay sell them at a price that takes into account the ST-E2's shortcomings. I got mine for $150 AUD ($140 US) and they seem to be around or slightly more than that in general.

    For these reasons, i feel the need to play the devils advocate and argue for the ST-E2. That being said, there's no doubt that there's plenty of room for improvement! Hurry up Canon!

  18. David says:

    And don't forget its usefulness if you use Radio Poppers. A Popper PX atop an ST-E2 is a very convenient setup. Just yesterday I fired three lights from across 6 lanes of traffic in midday sun. Also, does anyone actually buy these things new anymore? With so many articles like this one floating around it's incredibly easy to find them used. I think I got my first one for $150, might have even been $120 which isn't a bad price if you absolutely need a commander.

    But all in all, your outline of its limitations is spot on. It's just that there are a few more positives than you allude to.

    Oh, I got another limitation, crappy plastic shoe. After a year of daily use I'm finding that my connection is not as tight as I would like it to be.

    Canon definitely needs to step up their flash game. I'm seeing more and more shooters make the switch to Nikon simply because of the better flash system. Had I started out knowing what I know now, I'd have started with Nikon. The 580ex III better be fan freaking-tabulous, although I probably won't buy one. Canon's limitations have taught me how to work in manual to get what I want.

  19. David says:

    After a brief initial test of my new Yongnuo ST-E2, I discovered the following which may be of interest:
    — The AF-assist light is noticeably brighter than that of my 580 and 430;
    — I can input settings using the Speedlite panel, the camera's Flash Control menus (T2i in my case), or the ST-E2. Very convenient.
    I'm pleased with the functionality of the Yongnuo unit, and its cost–around $110–makes it a better option for me than Pocket Wizards, another 580 or a Canon ST-E2.

  20. Would much rather buy another 580ex 🙂

  21. Rex Gigout says:

    When I do the math, I agree that an ST-E2 is less than half the functionality of a 580EX II, while costing about half as much. On the other hand, I am not a numbers guy, and really like the ST-E2, because I must often set-up rather quickly, and do not need to use advanced Speedliting techniques for the vast majority of my shooting. It is very useful for me to leave everything set on Group A, affix the ST-E2 to the camera, quickly position a remote Speedlite or two, fire away, and be done with it. This is quick-and-dirty documentary photography, of course, not art. (Evidentiary photography, to be more precise; I wear a badge and gun.)

    When I want to be more advanced and/or creative, then yes, an ST-E2 has much less utility, but even then, if not working with a tripod, the ST-E2’s comparatively lighter weight can be much kinder to my ailing, aching right wrist.

    I do wish the ST-E2’s signal had a wider broadcast

    Syl, thanks SO very much for writing your most excellent book!

    Be safe and well!


  22. […] thick piece of red plastic. There are many reasons why I do not recommend it—which I wrote about here. If you think that you need one, please read that article before you […]

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