Tuesday, March 27, 2012

First Look: Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash

wwCanon Speedlite 600EX-RT Box Contents
Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Box Contents

Today my Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT flash arrived from B&H, so I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts about it.

Big Honkin’ Manual

The first thing you notice when you open the box is that the new manual looks like the car navigation system manual – it’s huge! Of course it’s three manuals in one because it’s localized in English, French and Spanish so the truth is that it’s only 1/3rd of the visual size. Inside it looks more like a camera manual than the cryptic flash manuals of the past, but it’s still just about the facts so don’t expect to learn how to use the flash from this book.

Built-in Gel System

Something new for this flash is the addition of the built-in gel filter holder that has been the mainstay of the SB-900 and SB-910 Speedlights from Nikon. It’s a nice design that features a carrying pouch, but the truth is that this too little to late for me as I’ve already moved on to the Rogue Gels which I like a lot more for their variety of colors, organization, more compact pouch and flexible use with any flash. I applaud Canon for playing catch up, but it’s a token effort as you only get two gels with the flash and with the $29.95 SCF-E1 replacement kit. What the heck? What a checkbox only feature! Despite its solid construction, I’ll stick with my Rogue gels.

Improved Case Design

You can see in the photo at the top of this article that the case design has changed, and while I’d call it a minor change it’s significant. Now thanks to the Velcro strap in the back you can easily attach your flash to your camera strap or backpack if you were so inclined. I’m not sure I’d do it, but I can see how in a pinch that could be useful.

580EX II Comparison

While I didn’t have time for a full review, the burning question on my mind as well as many others is “how does the 600EX-RT compare to the 580EX II”? Physically it looks a little larger but for oddly enough feels a tad lighter. In practice it feels a lot more like using a SB-910 from Nikon than a Canon flash, but Canon users will feel right at home. When controlling via the 5D Mark III’s menu it’s a snap to use, as is the 580EX II, but the difference is that it’s also super easy to program the 600EX-RT off the camera using the back of the flash controls (shown above) versus the Morse code required by the 580EX II. I love the new design and it’s a snap to use without even opening the manual (which is impossible with its predecessors). It’s also a heck of a lot easier to use than Nikon flashes too.

Simple Flash Power Test

I just wanted to see what sort of power I had with zoom min and max as well as how each flash would handle ETTL, so I took some sample shots. If you are using an iOS device you’ll have to tap the photo to see the “mouse over” shot and then tap on another photo to see the “mouse out” in that previous spot. With that said, all of these shots were taken for 1/60 sec at f/16, ISO 100, 16mm (16-35mm II) using a Canon 5D Mark III. Here’s how things worked out:

Mouse over to see 580EXII, mouse out to see 600EX
200mm Max Zoom on 600EX (mouse out)vs 105 Max Zoom on 580 EX II (mouse over)

The 600EX-RT has a 200mm zoom to match Nikon’s SB-900, so this is a big improvement over the 105mm on the 580EX-II. Hopefully Canon learned from Nikon and we won’t have any overheating issues. In my limited testing the flash performed well with no signs of overheating. Clearly you get more focused light with the 600EX which also features a lightly longer barrel than its predecessor.

Mouse over to see 580EXII, mouse out to see 600EX
20mm Min Zoom on 600EX (mouse out)
vs 24 Min Zoom on 580 EX II (mouse over)

The 600 had a little more spread (even at 24mm) so the extra power was obvious.

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Full ETTL on 600EX (mouse out)
vs Full ETTL on 580 EX II (mouse over)

Again, on ETTL the 600EX showed off its better zoom and had a little more even light without as much vignetting as the 580EXII.

Overall for this test it was no surprise that the 600EX-RT showed off its strengths, but honestly in practice this is going to be less of an issue in most normal scenarios. Sure if you are Joe McNally this might make a difference, but for mere mortals you’ll rarely take advantage of the extra oomph offered by the 600. It’s also likely (although I didn’t test) that the 600 will drain batteries faster, so there’s a downside too.

Real World Shots

I didn’t have much time, but I thought I’d take a quick crack at seeing if the new flash made any difference on a real world shot. With that in mind I threw my 100mm macro on the 5D Mark III and dialed it in for 1/60 sec at f/22, ISO 1600 to see how the two flashes compared in ETTL mode. I also boosted the flash exposure compensation by +2 on both and bounced on the ceiling / wall behind me. Here’s the results:


600EX-RT


580EX II

The net result was that they both performed equally well with the 600EX-RT having a slightly softer and diffused light (a good thing) than the 580EX II.

What about the radio wireless?

Check out these articles for more info:

Conclusion

So far what I’m seeing is a flash that catches up with Nikon’s SB-910 and performs better in every way than its predecessor. However, I can buy a 580EX II for $469 (with the current rebate that expires on 3/31/12) and the new 600EX-RT costs a whopping $629! That’s $160 difference and the new Pocket Wizard III (which doesn’t have ETTL) only costs $139. So, if you can forego the ETTL radio wireless support, you can buy a 580EX II AND a wireless transmitter for about the same price (without the rebate). Now having wireless ETTL does have its benefits and being able to control it from your camera (or computer with EOS Utility) is an added plus as well. However, for those of you with two or three flashes you can invest in a wireless ETTL system for your existing flashes (see here for a price comparison) for a little more than the cost of one of these flashes. Throw in a superior Rogue Gel system and you are good to go.

My advice is that if you are buying your first Canon flash then go for the new flash. It’s a good flash that will serve you well both now and as you grow into the system in the future. However, if you already own one or more flashes and aren’t prepared to toss them out to buy two or more of these (to take advantage of the radio wireless), then I see no point in buying them.

I’m still on the fence about keeping the one I’ve ordered or sending it back. It’ll take the radio wireless test to convince if I should keep them or not, but then I have to buy at least two so that’s a pretty significant investment for the owner of three 580EX II’s and a ST-E2 transmitter.

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Disclosure

I purchased this flash at full price for my personal use. If you make a purchase using links found in this blog I may get a commission.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will the canon radio transmitter trigger pocket wizards?

Ron Martinsen said...

I wasn't able to test that but it is my understanding that the systems are incompatible. Contact PW or Canon for an official answer.

Studio 7 Photography said...

How about recycle times? If the 600 charges faster than the 580 that would be amazing

Ron Martinsen said...

Studio 7,

I only use freshly charged batteries (Enloops and Engergizer Rechargable) so I didn't have any issues with recycle times with the 580EX II's or the 600EX-RT. I do HIGHLY recommend the CP-E4 for high usage shooting.