Trent Chau | Photographer and Instructor

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A weekend with the ST-E3-RT and 600EX-RT


Well this is exciting, it’s been a while since I’ve done a live weekend review of a product.  Tracey let me borrow her spare ST-E3-RT receiver and Canon 600EX-RT to try for a little so might as well write a review about it.  While they aren’t exactly new to the market, being around 9 months old now, I thought it would be fun to review the units in a real world situation type usage and talk about the hits and misses of the the combination.  Looking forward to discussing the pro’s, con’s, and more of this very unique lighting system from Canon.

Here’s the plan for the next few days :
Friday – Wedding at Georgia Tech (BOO, Go Dawgs), testing out the combo for detail shots, and some personal shots
Saturday – Photo shoot with Phranchesca and more – Basic testing for beauty shots
Sunday – Fire dancers and more, some test shots with a more artistic twist
Monday – Extra’s

So here’s how the review is done guys, some of you may get a kick out of it.  I’m doing this the completely guy idiot way, without a manual and just guesstimating how things works.  This weekend I’m just going to wing it and hope for the best and use a combination of familiarity of equipment, photography skills, and good old fashion luck to make the most of photos.  Afterwards I’ll give an honest on biased perspective of how it went because well Canon didn’t give me anything to tell the truth :).  So please enjoy.

Before we go into the actual shoots itself, lets talk about the combination and also extra equipment used.


Wow this flash is nice.  I always loved the 580ex II, and the 600 is everything it was but better.  The feel is great, the build is awesome, and the light quality is nice and consistent.  The 600ex-RT just makes using flash a lot easier by having a stellar menu system.  Performance wise there isn’t much difference between the 580ex II in the sense of quickness or responsiveness but I’ve always been satisfied with that combination.


So much better build quality than the ST-E2, and thankfully it uses double A’s.  There are some really glaring problems with the ST-E3-RT though.  The lack of focus assisting makes shooting in the dark tricky, and when mounted you have to bring the camera to your waist to make any adjustments due to the position of the screen.  Syncing the ST-E3-RT to the 600EX-RT is extremely easy to do and you can start shooting within second with the combination.  When the ST-E3-RT is on you cannot mount a flash on top of your camera (which kinda sucks), so I mounted the 600EX-RT on a few other things.

Extra Equipment Used

A light stand, umbrella mount, and brolly box was used for many of these photos, all generic stuff cheaper than $60 total.  A Lumiquest diffuser was used for a few also, which will be noted in captions.

Day 1 – A wedding

I was extremely excited about using the combo for a wedding details, and boy did the pair knock it out of the park.  Setup was a super easy breeze to do as everything was up and running in less than 3 minutes.  The 600ex-RT was placed in Brolly box and light stand, turned on and synced with the ST-E3-Rt ridiculously easy (pretty much a tap of the button).  Here’s a picture of me using the setup to take a ring shot, and the shot itself. Thank you Brendon for the behind the scenes photo.

Shooting wedding details with a 5d Mark III, Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC - Using the ST-E3-RT to trigger the 600ex-RT

Shooting wedding details with a 5d Mark III, Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC – Using the ST-E3-RT to trigger the 600ex-RT

The ring shot itself

The ring shot itself

The E-TTL wireless system worked great, and this was the first of two shots each with pretty quality exposure, despite having a window in the background.  No complaints about performance and the flash seemed to fire every time (hard to tell with the eyes in the viewfinder) except some shots later when the flash seemed to be refreshing slower.   Something bad on my part is the ready beep confirm on the 600EX-RT wasn’t turned on, this probably would of saved me some hassle.  It also serves as a good reminder that batteries do not last that great in the cold 🙂  Below are a few photos from the wedding with a small caption.

Lol good enough to capture wild's grooms men

Lol good enough to capture wild’s grooms men


A good scotch deserves to be well lit, the E-TTL system did great with the specular of the bottle


Simple lighting and details, the flash was great.


Just a little bit of fill. Hey you can see me in the ring 🙂


Using the 600EX-RT with a Small Lumiquest Modifier, super fast and easy cake shot.

Conclusion for weddings : Well it was nice, and it worked, but I WOULD NOT spend $300+ for the receiver for something that can be done with this item (Long E-TTL CORD).  Being wireless was neat and all, and having automatic firing was great, but for detail shots the flash was never further than 6 feet away from me.  Throw this cord in a bag, buy a 430 EX II, and get a light stand and a brolly box and it will barely cost the same as just a ST-E3-RT.  I didn’t want to risk shooting wireless during the reception with a device I wasn’t 100% familiar with so take my review with a grain of salt.  Using an educated guess, would I use the system for a wedding?  For practical reasons no, it’s not really cost efficient and there are so many more price efficient systems out right now.  You won’t really impress clients with multiple 600EX-RT’s and a ST-E3-RT, all you will really impress is other photographers.  There was some things I wanted to test like HSS (High Speed Sync) and more portrait type lighting, this is something more planned for day 2.

Day 2 – Inside/Outside Environmental Portraiture

600 Ex-RT as the main light in a brolly box camera left, triggered by the ST-E3-RT.  There is also another flash camera right behind subject.

600 Ex-RT as the main light in a brolly box camera left, triggered by the ST-E3-RT. There is also another flash camera right behind subject.

Today was a really exciting day, not only was it time to try out the combination for portraiture and use some of it’s more advance features, I was also shooting with a modelling noob in PhranchescaWe met at a mutual friends birthday party a few weeks ago and earlier this week agreed to do a fun and quick shootThe plan was simple, meet up and shoot at my studio in Atlanta at the Atlanta Goat Farm.  Awesome place with dilapidated buildings and more, and always a great place to shoot.  Unfortunately it was also really cold and actually snowing in Atlanta so we did a fairly quick and short session.  In anticipation of using HSS also various other things the 600EX-RT had a battery pack attached to it and wow did it really make it faster.  Once again the light stand/brolly box combination was used to create beautiful soft light.  Since HSS was going to be something aimed for the 85 1.2L II was also used, for that beautiful F 1.2~2.0 shooting only it can do.

The combo for the the day

The combo for the the day

So I tried various things with the combination including using it as a main light, a fill light, a kicker light, and also along with a manual flash.  The wireless ttl system worked great, and adjusting flash exposure compensation was a breeze.  Something I failed TITANIC level at was putting the ST-E3-RT on Manual and expecting it to adjust.  For the life of me I couldn’t find how to adjust the power of the flashes from the ST-E3-RT while fiddling around with it and just said screw it and went back to TTL.  It was particularly awesome using the ST-E3-RT and 600EX-RT along with the $60 Yong-Nuo YN-560 and Phottix Stratos II triggers.  That was a funny looking combination you can see here.

Canon 5d Mark III with Canon 35 1.4L, ST-E3-RT, and a Phottix Stratos II wireless trigger with TTL Pass Through

Canon 5d Mark III with Canon 35 1.4L, ST-E3-RT, and a Phottix Stratos II wireless trigger with TTL Pass Through

The system above looks hilarious but it worked really awesome.  Big thank you to Jamie Howell for telling me about the Phottix Stratos II triggers, they’ve been one of the best buys as a wedding photographer the last year.  They have a TTL pass through that works perfectly so you can keep an automatic system while also use them as a manual wireless solution for other flashes.  Absolutely wonderful solution.

Conclusion for the ST-E3-RT/600EX-RT for Environmental Portraiture :  What a fun setup to use for portraits.  I love how quick and easy it worked, and how painless it was to use an automatic lighting system where all power adjustments were done via camera.  The HSS worked perfectly as a fill.  Regretfully I forgot to try to do some very 1.2/ 1/4000th shooting to try to darken the sky, it just got really cold.  This will done tomorrow for another shoot to see the results.  For portraiture, and mostly for HSS this combo is excellent and fun to use, and I can actually see the value of the units together.  The ST-E3-RT didn’t miss a beat and it is so much more useful than the ST-E2 ever was.  In this situation I fell in love with the combination despite epically failing at adjusting the power in manual.  2 thumbs up from me for this combo (despite it being unreasonably expensive still).  I was particularly happy with this shot with HSS and the 85 1.2L II.

Combination is used as fill with sky, you can see my reflection

Combination is used as fill with sky, you can see my reflection

So Day 3 will have some more interesting portraiture including fire dancers and more.  Looking forward to trying out some high end HSS and stroboscopic shooting.

Day 3 – Fire Dancers, and Steam Punk, and Naked Sadies oh my.

Melissa and her crown

Melissa and her crown

So day 3 went absolutely awesome guys, but it was absolutely freezing for all of us.  To keep things running smoothly I didn’t try to mess with stroboscopic flashes.  I just did the same and pair the 600ex-RT/ST-E3-RT for the main light, and a Yong-Nou 560 for the back.  The 600eX had a battery pack and it did good until it really started slowing down half way into the shoot.  There was a few photos, and I wonder if it was the batteries acting up (they were fully charge).  The ST-E3-RT was perfect though, and fired it every time the flash was fully charged.  Light output was wonderful, and on full auto it did a pretty decent job.  Here are some sample photos below using the set.”

Big thank you to local artist and aerialist Melissa Coffey for her absolutely beautiful fire work, and also JJ Cirrus and her amazing boyfriend Davin for the great steam punk outfits they brought.  This was an awesome shoot.

I’m going to add one more day in later tonight, and than write a conclusion.  This has been a fun set to do.

About trentchau

Photographer, videographer, and photography instructor in Atlanta. Born in New Orleans. I love food more than photography, but do love photography quite a bit.

One comment on “A weekend with the ST-E3-RT and 600EX-RT

  1. Dino Cardelli
    March 20, 2013

    Man….I miss you guyz !!!


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This entry was posted on March 2, 2013 by in Equipment Testing and tagged , , , .

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