September 15, 2012 / Review
Review | Canon Speedlite 600 EX-RT
We finally upgraded! 2012 has been an expensive year for us as wedding photographers with lots of new equipment coming out from our camera manufacturer of choice: Canon. You have to have the newest year, right? While there certainly is an argument in the “photography community” at large that you don’t need to spend so much money on gear because technically it’s not going to make you a better photographer (and believe me this is very true, I took tons of bad bad BAD photos with my first camera that I am ashamed to call my own). However, if you do know your gear, and how light works, and understand the flow of a wedding day like the back of your hand to anticipate capturing moments… then the gear gets out-of-the-way of doing your job. And when new gear comes out, it just makes your job easier and makes capturing those moments even easier. Plus, our wedding clients deserve the best (or at least that’s what I tell Betty when I need to spend close to $10,000 in a year on equipment upgrades…). Enter the new flagship flash from Canon, the Speedlite 600 EX-RT. Our “old” flashes (580 EX II’s) didn’t suddenly stop working, but these upgraded models just make how I work so much easier on a wedding day.
First, some history. Many photographers these days use off camera flash, which means instead of, or in addition to, the large flash that you see sticking out of the top of a camera, there is another flash externally firing to give a direction to the light. In other words, that light is traveling on a different axis to the camera lens to give dimensionality to the subject instead of straight on. See the difference here between a straight on flash from the camera versus the image on the right where the light is coming from an angle.
Previously we achieved this by using Pocket Wizards PLUS II transceivers, which are fairly large devices that you would need to attach to the flash and a second to the camera, to create a radio transmitted signal that would fire the external flash simultaneously. Nothing wrong with this system, it works flawlessly and the PLUS II transceivers have been the industry standard for years because of their reliability, even when some newer technology came out that may have had better features but not the same consistency as the older PLUS II’s.
Now, enter the new Canon Speedlite 600 EX-RT. We waited a couple of months to upgrade (heck, we just spent $7000 on two new EOS 5D Mark III bodies a few months ago). While our 580’s still work fine, the benefit of not having to carry around more gear and have more wires (with the PocketWizards) sealed the deal for the upgrade.
Built-in Wireless that actually works. If you’ve ever tried to sync a PocketWizard with a 580 EX II you know that it’s sketchy at best. With weddings, I can’t have something work 90% of the time (and that’s being conservative with the 580), I need 100% reliability because you can’t ask the Pastor to pronounce them Husband and Wife again because your flash didn’t fire. For that reason we actually used the Nikon SB-900 with our PocketWizards because it does have 100% reliability unless the cable falls out, which has happened. With the new 600 EX-RT, I am always connected to my other flashes and can control their power from the camera without having to physically walk over to the external flash.
Better menu system! The 580 EX II was how shall we say, archaic? No, at least it was simple and to the point which is a plus, you knew exactly where the buttons were to increase intensity and change modes from manual to ETTL, etc. However some of the buttons were a little backwards, such has having to hold two buttons together to access secondary menus such as optical triggering. The biggest issue of course was the custom functions on the 580 which are simply CF1, CF2, CF3 with no description as to what they actually did from the flash itself. The 600’s have much larger LCD screens on the back more akin to the Nikon SB-900 which provides a ton of information. Smartly, for the wireless triggering, the LCD actually changes color to let you know whether it’s a Master of Slave flash so when you have a flash on the other side of the room again you don’t have to walk over to it, you can tell whether it’s connected and what it’s function is simply by the color of the LCD panel’s backlight.
The remaining upgrades are menu items such as being able to finally zoom the flash head to 200mm, minor details that are helpful to have when you need them.
Now to the few Cons, if any. The flash head is slightly larger, only marginally though so it’s not a big deal at all for us or most people I would assume. The radio trigger functionality does depend on all of the flashes being “ready” before any of them will fire. So for example, if you have one remote flash set to full power and a second set to 1/64 power, the first flash will have a slight delay in the time before it’s ready to fire again while the lower power flash will fire again almost immediately. However, if they are on the same “network” of remote flashes neither will fire until both are fully ready to go. A good feature if you’re doing say studio work where you want all of your lights working in unison, however in the fast-paced world of weddings and events it would be nice to be able to disable this feature and just let the flashes fire independently. Lastly is just the price which is $100 more than a 580 EX II, but you are getting a lot of functionality for the cost if you consider that a 580 EX II + a PocketWizard PLUS II would be the same amount.
Having put these flashes through their paces are a number of weddings so far I am just in love with them. Being able to carry less gear and not worry about fumbling with PocketWizards by controlling the flash from the camera is a huge bonus. Anything that makes my life easier and allows me to accomplish amazing photographs in less time with less gear on my shoulders is worth the upgrade price to me.