Hands-On with the Canon EX600-RT flash.

So, in the past weeks I have:

  • Lost a 580EX II flash
  • Broken my car windshield (gravel truck, pebble…)
  • Broken my second 580EX II flash.

I have therefore had to go out and buy a 600 EX-RT. A not actually more powerful flash (600 refers to the highest guide number, but Canon has just upgraded the Guide Number table to include higher zoom settings – the actual head is the same power as the 580’s, it just has a 200mm zoom setting – and more zoom means more concentrated power forward), but one that has been significantly upgraded.

Here it is:

First – very first – impressions:

  1. It’s just like a Nikon SB900!
  2. But it now adds radio control (2.4 GHz, like WiFi) as a built-in option for controlling remote flashes. A Pocketwizard Flex killer? I never tried out the TTL Pocketwizards (the company was rather slow and difficult in getting test models to me, so I use the “dumb” industry-standard Pocketwizard II Plus, of which I have six), but if I were Pocketwizard I would probably be worried. Radio is evidently superior to light, especially outdoors.
  3. The radio control is, however, useless until you have other Canon radio-operated wireless devices, and there are few so far. I.e. until a new 430 replacement comes out, buy even more 600EX flashes. And with six existing 430s I am not about to start using radio to obsolete all those – you  cannot mix radio-control and light-control: it is one or the other.
  4. My 1D Mk IV controls the 600EX-RT – but not all of it. The custom menus are only partly controllable with my 7D and 1D Mark IV cameras. (Upgrade, Canon?)
  5. Still no optical slave? This function (which Nikon calls “SU-4 mode”), would be very welcome.  If it exists I have not yet found it.
  6. The new Custom Functions Menu is fairly intuitive. As is operation in minutes. Which is a nice change. But still, I can poke holes in the User Interface in minutes, and, not being a committee of older gentlemen ruled by consensus, I could improve it in minutes…
  7. Wireless flash has its own button now.
  8. But it takes a week, well, something like ten seconds, of holding down the C.Fn button to get to the Custom Functions.
  9. A possible warning sign for me: there’s a temperature overload feature and warning. I do hope this does not mean this flash has turned into a Nikon overheating flash: one outstanding feature of the Canon flashes has been that you can fire them at whatever power you need all night – and as an event and creative shooter, I very often do.
  10. The new optional “beep” seems erratic. It is meant to sound when the flash is charged, but it often does not do this – eg when it has fired at low power. At best, the feature is very poorly documented.
  11. Communication between the 600EX and my 1D Mk4 is erratic when I attempt to change FEC (flash compensation) on the flash as well as on the camera (which is bad practice but easily done).
  12. I like the new “light distribution” feature (alas, in a custom menu, whereas Nikon has a switch) that enables you to spread the light a little closer, or to concentrate the beam a little more for vignetting and more effective power).
  13. Compatibility with older cameras is doubtful. Canon says you lose synch speed unless you use a 5D MK3/1Dx camera, but it appears all is well on my cameras so far. Mmm.

I think a software upgrade would solve some of the issues; but they can generally be worked around.

This updated flash is an investment in the future that also works for today, but that may (willy-nilly or voluntarily) speed up our move towards that future.

Stay tuned for more impressions, and some images, soon.