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Canon 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT - Breakthrough or Too Little Too Late for Too Much?

Published: 10/03/2012
By: larry

As a Canon shooter, I was glad to see all the cool specs on the new Canon 600EX-RT and companion ST-E3-RT that Canon announced at the beginning of this month. Back before I met Scott Hargis in about 2006 I purchased the old ST-E2 (predecessor to the ST-E3) with a 580EX. They were pricey and the combination didn't work so many times because the ST-E2 couldn't talk to the 580EX I lost count. So I still have a bit of a bad attitude about Canon flash gear. I have to say, my attitude didn't get any better recently when I look up what the price is combo on Amazon. It will cost you effectively $1100 to have one off-camera 600EX and $1730 for two (2-600EX's plus a on-camera ST-E3).

I haven't tried these new versions, so I admit, I know nothing about how well they work. Syl Arena has a post about his hands-on experience with the combination and is positive about them. My question is why did it take Canon so long (about 5 or 6 years) to understand that the last version of this combination was a bad idea, wasn't reliable and needed to be redesigned to use radio frequency communication? In 2008 when I first saw Scott's presentation on triggering any  flash with any camera for $33  I quit using my Canon ST-E2 and haven't used it since.

I would advise caution and skepticism before running out and buying into this flash solution because:

  1. Canon has a very bad history of creating flash products.
  2. There are a variety of other well tested and well understood approaches to get you to the same place as this gear does at far less cost. The most economical is probably the combination of radio triggers and optical slave flash triggering method that Scott Hargis teaches in his eBook and Video series.
  3. Canon said the last version of these things were wonderful while they were actually total garbage!

Sorry to be so cranky, it just takes me a long time to get over being ripped off by a major multi-national camera manufacturer!

16 comments on “Canon 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT - Breakthrough or Too Little Too Late for Too Much?”

  1. While i think the Canon infrared system has been a joke, i think the Canon 580 ExII is an very well built and functional flash that i would happily use off camera with high quality radio triggers. However, there are less expensive options that will work nearly as well, although I think this may be the most durable around.

  2. I am going to wait quite a while and see how others find their reliability, and usability, for PFRE use. I have 5 580EXII's with the Pocketwizard Flex TT5's, and the AC3 Zone Controller. It's a total love-hate relationship for me with this combo. When you are close in, it works most of the time, but it is not nearly as reliable as it should be. One option is to spend almost $100 per flash to get them taken apart, and shielded internally, to fix the RF leaking issues that affect my triggers. And then hope that works. It's already a very expensive system, and it does not work fully as advertised. Who's at fault here? Probably both companies to some degree. I get a lot of misfires, but I live with it, because it still saves me a lot of time not having to leave the camera, and adjust lights individually wherever they are located. So, because of my large investment with my current system, I will wait and see how others review the system, and then decide. Fifteen channels would be really sweet. That would be a HUGE draw for me. That, and RELIABILITY!!! No misfires, and NO dropped communication between units!!! We'll see. It ticks me off, because the 580EXII's are otherwise pretty well-built, with a lot of features. OK, I'm done my rant too.

  3. I think the real benefit here is the ETTL and radio built into these units. If you started from scratch and built a flash system around this concept in the long run the only real added cost in the equation is the ST-E3-RT. This scenario works only if you compare it to using Canon 580EX IIs and Pocket Wizards. I whole heartily agree that there are much more cost effect solutions out there especially for real estate / architectural photography. I use Canon 580EXIIs, 430EX's and YongNuo R602 triggers for a very reliable (but manually adjusted) solution to my lighting needs. I think this new Canon flash and control system will be welcomed by photojournalists and wedding photographers using multiple lighting "on the run".
    Best Regards, Ron

  4. I used the Pocket Wizard plus in school and liked them. Then I bought the cheap ebay stuff and had problems. So when I had the cash I went with the Pocketwizard Flex TT5?s, and the AC3 Zone Controller. What a joke then almost never work right and takes so much time. At least for me. I just got a used st-e2. I like this guy so much more. I used 3 580ex2 and one 430ex. I will wait on the new stuff. I picked up a sb-28 and hope to make that work with the others. I would like to get the sb-80dx but I have not found any of them yet.

  5. I just dumped, I mean sold, my 580EXII and got three YN-560s, the RF-603C transceivers and a few other items for what I sold it for. I found with my 7D triggering the 580 alone worked fine. When I introduced a SB-80 to fire optically - the SB-80 would go off and the 580 did not. Doesn't make any sense, but that is what happened. I regret ever buying the 580. Wish I would have bought Scott's e-book sooner. I will never go back to Canon flashes.

  6. David Hobby said it best...

    "Official price for the Canon 600EX-RT speedlite was set at: 1 Paul Buff 640WS Einstein + 8" hi-output reflector + 2-grid set + 64" soft silver PLM + 64" diffusion fabric."

    I heartily chuckle in your general direction, Canon. A feeble attempt at best.

  7. I guess the problem I have is the need to control the lights from the camera. I shoot a lot of interiors with a lot of lights and I find it is faster to go to the light and change the power than to fiddle with a tiny controller. I have a Cyber Commander and it works as advertised but is not quick to use. On occasion I do wish I had that ability with a light in a particularly challenging location but not enough to actually spend money on something like the Canon.

  8. I understand these units use the 2.4GHz radio spectrum which means they're limited to 30 metres - less if atmospheric conditions aren't perfect (eg. rain and high humidity) or if the signal has to go through walls. Depending on the channel frequency used, they can also be affected by other 2.4GHz devices like microwaves, cordless phones and modems. At twilight shoots, I usually have multiple strobes/receivers lighting up the house, sometimes when I'm 40+ meters away. The trigger/receiver units I'm currently using work up to 275 metres apart. I don't think Canon considered real estate photographers' needs at all. Perhaps it was an easy route for them as most countries don't regulate the 2.4GHz spectrum so they wouldn't have to produce different models for different countries and get each certified by that country's regulatory body.

  9. @Dave- Syl Arena reports that they work at 100 meters but also says he did his tests in a rural area where there wasn't likely to be a lot of interference from cordless phones etc. This is reason why the Pocket Wizard Plus II & III are more reliable... they operate way up in the 344.04 & 433.62 MHz band. Nothing up there to bother you:) Of course they are sync only. Can't have everything!

  10. Yes, most manufacturers use 30 metres as the practical limit of the range of their devices. Some, like computer mice, have less range so as to conserve battery power. The reason why the band isn't regulated is that radio waves are absorbed by water very effectively - it happens to be the natural resonance frequency of water molecules. If the transmitter and receiver were used in space, I'm sure they'd work many kilometres apart.

  11. Mea culpa - 2.4GHz is NOT the natural resonance frequency of water, however radio waves at that frequency nevertheless are absorbed by water.

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