If you shoot Canon and want to do wireless off-camera flash, I think Canon has finally sussed it and has provided an excellent (albeit slightly expensive) solution.
I have struggled with wireless flash with Canon for a while. I have owned the 580EX II and 430EX II flashes. My 60D has a built-in transmitter, but it requires line of sight. It wasn’t great in bright sunlight, and it was terrible when the flashes were in softboxes. I also couldn’t control everything about the flashes from the camera.
Then I tried radio triggers. I tried Cactus and PocketWizard models (non-TTL, since the TTL models are ridiculously expensive). They gave me the range and I didn’t need line of sight anymore, but man were they finicky. I couldn’t count on them working. I missed lots of shots. I also had no control over the flashes and had to reach into softboxes to change settings.
Pricey, But Worth It
I moved up to the 5D MKIII and decided I needed to solve my flash issues. I sold my other flashes and triggers and I bought the Canon 600EX-RT flash and the ST-E3-RT transmitter. The flash came to $658 with tax, and the transmitter was $361. So over $1000 total for this setup.
It is pricey, but for perspective, now that I have the transmitter, I can buy more flashes and I do not need to buy additional transceivers for each. If you want to get TTL control with PocketWizards, you need a $250 transceiver for each flash, plus one for the camera. So, it’s already cheaper to go the Canon route since the transceivers are built into the flashes. Yes, there are cheaper PocketWizards (like the new PlusX series), and you can use Cactus versions and such, but none of those offer TTL or any control whatsoever.
So, how well does it work? Just about perfectly. The 580EX II was already a fantastic, bright, rugged workhorse of a flash. The 600EX-RT is everything the 580EX II was, and so much more. The LCD screen is much, much bigger, and there are more buttons. This means no more confusing, annoying menus to go through or needing the manual to know how to use the thing. Everything is easy to access, and it makes complete sense. The buttons feel even nicer under your fingers, and everything is easy and quick to do.
The wireless functions are easy to use and there are lots of options. From the transmitter (or a 600EX on the camera), you can control everything about your other flashes – flash mode, power, etc. The LCD screen will glow orange for slaves, green for masters. You can also change settings from within the camera’s menus. So, once my flash is in a softbox, I can turn it to manual and change its output power from the transmitter. The transmitter lets me know when the flash is powered up, as well as if I achieved flash exposure. It also communicates TTL information wirelessly.
Sidenote: Thee 600EX is coming, which lacks the wireless functionalities. The 600EX-RT and the 600EX can act as masters using optical transmission, but you cannot mix optical and radio. So if you have some 580’s or 430’s kicking around, the 600EX/600EX-RT can act as masters, but you won’t be able to take advantage of the radio functionality at the same time. The ST-E3-RT does not offer optical transmission.
In short, I haven’t missed a shot, I can shoot from 30m away (some have tested up to 100m), and it all just WORKS. The cost seems steep at first, but if you compare it to actual competitors, it’s actually cheaper. And, again, it works. I can’t say that for PocketWizards (notoriously bad with Canons), or the cheaper knock-offs.
High five, Canon!