Speedlites

Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

Yes the spelling is correct and is how Canon have branded their flash technology. Nikon on the other hand spell it correctly, I suppose this helps differentiate the two systems (at least when you are writing about them).

Ever since I decided to go Canon (in part decided for me by what is available today) I have been reading about the Canon Speedlite system. It used to be that if you were serious about using a camera company’s flash system you chose Nikon for their comprehensive CLS (Creative Lighting System); that was the past. Canon have now matched and in some areas exceeded what Nikon has; there is a proviso here though in that if you want to utilise all of the features you need a Canon camera that was released in 2012 (EOS-650D, EOS-5D-Mark III, EOS-1DX or EOS-M) and for the Radio off-camera flash technology a Speedlite 600EX-RT and either a Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT or a second 600EX-RT.

Whilst the main feature of the new flash is the radio triggering, it also supports the optical off-camera flash technology too. The ST-E3-RT only supports the radio technology whilst the ST-E2 (still available) only supports the optical technology.

Canon ST-E3 (Front)

Optical vs. Radio
Optical off-camera flash systems have been around for sometime for both Canon and Nikon (I think that Konica/Minolta – now Sony have this too). This is a proven and relatively low-cost system; it relies on line of sight between the transmitter (built-in flash, on camera flash or dedicated transmitter) and the optical sensor on the flash. Without line of sight you have to rely on TTL cables (usually long ones in the studio). I have seen some articles that combine the cables to the main flash and then optical from here.

Before the advent of the RT flash and transmitters, Canon had to rely on pocket-wizards or similar technology to use radio. The advantage with this is a longer range and line-of-sight is no longer required. What Canon have done is integrate a dedicated fully E-TTLII (latest version of their flash technology) radio technology (RT) system into their flagship Speedlite.

Another advantage with the RT series of flashes (over the pocket wizards) is that you only have a minimum of two items needed (either one flash & transmitter or two flashes). With the Pocket Wizards you need a transmitter and then a receiver for each flash. You don’t get full E-TTLII and you only need to have batteries for one type of device.

Other Improvements on the 600EX-RT
The 600EX-RT has a guide number of 60m at ISO 100, this is a small increase over the 58m of the former flagship flash the 580EX-II (you can see how the guide number relates to the model number). The zoom range of the new flash had also increased to 200m over the 105mm of the older model; you will however need a 2012+ camera to utilise the whole zoom range, on older cameras you won’t be able to go past 105mm.

Canon have also improved the display on the 600EX-RT Speedlite; it is now a full dot matrix display as opposed to an LCD on the older and existing models.
Canon 600EX-RT (Back)

The rear of the speedlite is replicated on the top of the ST-E3-RT, along with the superior display. This means you only have to learn one set of controls, which have also been improved massively.
Canon ST-E3 (Back)

Is there a 600EX (no RT) Speedlite? Some countries do not allow the radio frequency used by the flash to be used and since Canon wanted the same radio frequency to be used worldwide they decided to release a version without the radio technology, the 600EX.

Other features of Canon’s Speedlite System
Canon, like Nikon have a full range of flashes available as follows:

  • Speedlite 90EX – this has been designed for and comes with the EOS M
  • Speedlite 270EX II
  • Speedlite 320EX
  • Speedlite 430EX II
  • Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX
  • Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX

All of the recent Canon cameras and the Mark II flashguns (including the 600EX-RT) can be controlled or customized using the camera’s menu system. This is a much simpler way of controlling the functions of the on and off camera flashes regardless of the connection type (on-camera, optical or wireless), the only capability lost with remote connectivity (i.e. non-wired) is second-curtain sync.

Another feature of all the current range of Speedlites is that nearly all of them support a weather-sealed connection between the flash and hot-shoe of the cameras. There are exceptions but all of the current range of EOS cameras (except the EOS-M) support this as well as models almost 2 years ago, this is the same time that Canon stopped painting their hot-shoes black. The only flashes that don’t support this are the Macro Lites and the 90EX.

Although the other Canon Speedlites don’t have the radio technology in them yet I expect that most of them (if not all of them) will eventually gain this capability. Canon will most likely update the 430EX first as this is a very popular flash model. Both of the Macro flashes are quite old now so it would be nice if they were to gain this capability or even better develop something along the lines of Nikon’s R1C1 Macro flash set (one SU800 Optical transmitter and two wireless optical flashes that can be mounted on the edge of the lens or elsewhere).

Syl Arena
In researching the Canon Speedlites, I have found the “master” of them to be a talented photographer named “Syl Arena” , he has a dedicated Speedlite blog here; this is updated one or twice a week. He has a number of videos on YouTube and dedicated Canon sites too where he spreads his wealth of knowledge and experience about his style of photography, lighting in general and of course the Canon Speedlite system. One of his videos on YouTube is here, this one was hosted by B&H:

He also has a number of other videos as follows:

  • Canon’s CPS/CPN site: click here
  • The Canon Digital Learning Center: click here
  • Syl also has a couple of training videos at Kelby Training.com: click here

There are also two books written by Syl on the subject, his book “Speedliter’s Handbook” was released before the 600EX-RT/ST-E3-RT were released but has a mine of information and is still relevant:
Speedliter's Hanfbook

His second book “Lighting for Digital Photography” is more up-to-date but is more of an introduction into lighting in general and then introducing flash:
Lighting for Digital Photography

I am in the process of reading the Lighting for Digital Photography book first and then I will move onto the Speedliter’s handbook next. Once I have read both books I will start to grow my lighting collection. So I will start with the purchase of the 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT combo and then gradually introduce lighting modifiers understanding each one in turn before I grow the collection. Watch this space.

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