Canon 600-EX System Review

I had recently acquired Canon’s newest speedlight system. Recognizing the need of off camera lighting users and accomodating the Strobist movement which has become relatively mainstream these days, Canon’s new system provides a host of new features and a game changing addition; integrated wireless radio.

Canon and Nikon had always offered a wireless option on their flash system in the past, but these were based on light and relied on the slave flash seeing the master flash’s pre-flashes that contain a coded sequence. The slave then decodes the sequence and sets itself. There are a number of issues with this, including the requirement of line of sight which requires carefuly deliberation when placing the slave units. You also cannot know if the slave has recycled or which one is still recycling because the slave does not communicate back with the master at all.

To solve these issues in the past, I would grab my Pocketwizard Flex/Mini system. This system directly communicated with the camera and used a radio link to communicate with the slave flashes. Each flash would slide into the hotshoe of the transceiver and the transceiver into the camera (for the master flash). But because it was not a truly integrated system, I ran into a host of issues. The first issue was interference. Since the 580exII’s were notorious for EMI, I bought a roll of Veilshield RF blocking fabric to cut out socks that I needed to slip over each flash. Even Pocketwizard eventually realized this and started to include these socks for free. Without using them, the triggering was quite unreliable. I could be as close as a few feet and I would still get the occasional non-trigger. With the socks, the reliability and distance improved substantially, with only a few frames in a hundred that I would get a drop-out. With the Flex system there was also an order which to turn on the system, sometimes turning on the flash before the transceiver would be an issue, and each receiver needed its own set of AA batteries. The transceivers did not have a user interface for setup either, so if there were changes to be made, it would require a trip to a laptop. Then these settings needed to be cloned to each other transceiver, while ensuring the firmware revision for each was matched or it would be total chaos on-location troubleshooting why certain flashes were not firing. But I stuck to it because the flexibility this system gave me and the ultimate freedom to set the slaves from the camera and without worrying about placement.

580exIIs with PW Flex System

I shot the image to the left using the flex system with 2 580exIIs. One in a photoflex litedome x-small camera right and a far strobe bare illuminating the smoke machine’s output. Because of the communication with the flashes, I was able to dial in my off camera flashes from the camera without running to each flash, taking a shot and checking the histogram.

As soon as Canon offered their own system, I parted with my 580exII’s and upgraded. The new system is a vast improvement. Each flash finally has context sensitive buttons and are all illuminated, making setups a breeze. The radio system has been expanded to allow up to 5 groups and can be setup independently. You can have a few flashes in Group A set to ETTL and you can have one in Group B set to manual mode against a wall for separation. There are also indicators to let you know when the slaves have recycled without guesswork. The system has

15 channels and 10000 radio ID’s to prevent interference with other shooters and also has a radio scanner to determine which channels have the least interference. With the system being integrated, there are also less points of failure to deal with and much fewer batteries to have to check and carry around. Canon has added a few nice touches to the system to increase usability such as providing the facility to set the backlight color to differetiate between your master and slaves and a beep setting that mirrors the beep-when-recycled functionality of studio strobes.

600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT

I also acquired the ST-E3-RT master unit which is a pared down version of the 600EX and is only used for triggering remote slave units. It’s much lighter than a 600 series flash and the lcd display is face up allowing better ergonomics when setting flash settings. This is similar to the now older ST-E2 master unit which only has the option for optical triggering. One item missed with the new master unit is the AF assist light. Many shooters I know used the ST-E2 just for the AF assist light because it was much lighter than using a flash and were shooting fast primes anyways. I could have gotten 3 600EX-RTs and just used one of them as a master instead.

The flash and master units all use the same turn and lock switch for mounting and also use the same weather sealed hot shoe attachment as the 580exII compatible with Canon’s pro bodies.

I took this setup to a shoot on Saturday with a friend of mine to try out the new system. Before leaving the house, set-up was quick easy:

For the slave units:

a) Switch each slave on and toggle the flash to slave mode by pressing the button marked with a thunderbolt icon. At default settings, the screen will turn orange in slave mode.

b) I press the Gr button to identify the flash as Group A, B, C, D, E.

c) I then use the context menu to setup my channel and radio ID. The Menu 1 button allows you to jump between menu pages and the button will change to Menu 2, Menu 3, Menu 4, etc.

Setting Channel ID

Setting Radio ID

Slave A and Slave B ready to receive from master.

In this case, I decided on Channel 11, Radio ID 11. and I set Slave A and Slave B accordingly.

For the master unit:

a) I powered up the master unit, and setup my Channel ID and Radio ID to 11.

b) I then pressed the Mode button to navigate to Group GR mode. This allows me to independently setup each of my slaves manually. If I didn’t want to use the system in Gr mode, I could cycle the Mode button to either Multi (Stroboscopic), ETTL, or M (all slaves fired as 1 group). Many wedding or event shooters will probably use ETTL and let the slaves fire themselves and simply dial in flash exposure compensation to better match the faster pace requirements than a deliberate setup like mine below.

b) I pressed the Gr button and used the rotary wheel to select each group. I can then either turn that group off, set the group to a different mode (ETTL, External TTL-A or Manual), or set the power or compensation.

In this case, I decided Group A was going to be set as Manual and Group B was going to be set as Manual. This would give me maximum latitude and mirror my workflow in the studio. I can now dial in my power requirements from the camera without leaving my shooting position.

Adjusting Slave Unit B

Adjusting Slave Unit B

All Slaves Turned Off

Slave A and Slave B set to 1/2 power and both are recycled and ready to go.

I then put Slave A (main light) into an Elinchrom Deep Octa 100cm and I put Slave B (fill light) into an Elinchrom Minisoft 44cm Dish. I had to use an aftermarket flash bracket to be able to mount the Rotalux Speedring used by Elinchrom onto my flash units. I bought my brackets here. With everything ready to go, I picked up my friend Rowena, who was going to assist me with testing this system!

Initial Shot (Beauty Dish Left and Deep Octa Right)

It was very sunny outside, so I chose a spot underneath a bridge to better maximize the relatively low output of the 600ex flash. With the Deep Octa, even at 1/1 output, I’m probably losing 2-3 stops of light. If a standard shoe mount flash is ~75w/s, I’m not seeing much more than 20-25w/s. I was shooting the main light near 3/4 to full, so the flash confirmation came in handy because I knew exactly when the main light recycled. After a number of pops, I noticed the recycle time starting to go north, so I plugged in a CP-E4 external power pack to the Slave A flash to cut the recycling time. I kept Rowena close to the main light to really show-off the lighting quality that Elinchrom’s Deep Octa’s brings to the table. Dialing the power up and down was a breeze and very reliable. I didn’t experience any drop outs whatsoever.

Running into the light..

The next test was trying out the Hi Speed Sync function. One of the limitation of studio strobes and focal plane shutters (most DSLRS except for some medium format system and some boutique cameras like the Fuji X100, etc.) is the inability to sync with a fast shutter speed > 1/180 to 1/250. Firing with too high a shutter speed will yield a dark band across the image depending on where the actual shutter is at the moment the flash fires. To circumvent this issue, Hi Speed Sync strobes the flash unit so there is enough time for the shutter to capture the entire flash pulse. This allows more flexibility in setting your exposure without having to stop down the lens to cut the ambient light and (at the same time) increase the Depth of Field. To test this, I used a 1/500 shutter speed and had Rowena run across the camera and jump into the Deep Octa I had set-up on the other side. With my 5D3, I noticed that once the shutter speed was above 1/200, the light quantity dropped significantly as the system moves into high speed sync mode. With such a large lighting modifier like the Deep Octa, and a somewhat bright ambient, there just isn’t enough power to provide much light once you crank up the shutter speeds. I settled on 1/500 as I found it had just enough power to illuminate Rowena’s body as she was running towards the Deep Octa to separate her from the background.  If I had shot this at 1/200, I would have probably yielded a blurry image due to subject movement. It was the early afternoon, but If I had waited until a bit later into the evening, I would have much more lattitude with my flashes because it no longer has to compete with the ambient light as the sun sets and I could probably get a usable 1/1000 or faster shutter speed.

Before we left for the day, I took a few more shots with the 600ex, trying various combinations such as shooting ETTL, dialing in compensation and shooting from different distances from the slave units to see how well it would work based on how I work on location. I never experienced any lockups requiring a power cycle or mis-firings all day. Canon must have spent a considerable amount of time ensuring the system was relatively bug free before putting it on the market. Two considerations I should mention is that I am using a 5D mark III. The 600ex-rt is specifically designed for Canon 2012 bodies like the 5D Mark III and the 1DX. They mention that when using a previous generation body, there are hi speed sync considerations and also the inability to use Groups D and E on radio. I didn’t bring my 1D4, so I never got a chance to make a comparison between how the 600EX system fares on the older bodies. If I run into any issues down the road, I’ll write an update following-up those findings. The other consideration is cost. One master unit and 2 600Ex-RTs or 3 600EX-RTs will run you about $1600-$1800+tax. This is almost the price of a two head Profoto D1 Air system. The biggest difference though will be realized in its convenience and size. I can pack 2 lights and 2 Manfrotto 5001B Nano-Stands into a medium backpack with 2 small umbrellas and have both hands free. They also support ETTL so its great for event work. With the integrated radio, you also no longer have to carry around triggers, batteries and sync cords. Everything is self-contained.

As a predominantly on-location shooter, I’ve been waiting for this to be offered as a first party solution for a few years now, so I definitely give it a highly recommended rating and will be looking forward to using this a lot more this year.


FAT Day 4

Just a quick update here. I decided to head back down to FAT on its last day. I was mainly interested in checking out Kallvis Gent’s Human Nature series, but was early, so I jumped backstage first. I had my discreet X Pro 1 fitted with a 35mm 1.4 on its business end, so I snapped a bunch of shots while I was there. Saw some truly Epic hair created by Stanley Choy (Spellbound Hair Design) for Haphazard by Heather D. The two models had to hold up that gigantic hairpiece for quite some time until they got their turn down the runway, but the concept here is one example of what draws me to FAT. Haphhazard closed with a creative squirt-bottle paint on white dress demonstration at the end of the runway which was a creative finale to the segment.

The second round of designer got started with Pedram Karimi, followed by Kallvis Gents. I’ve worked with Kallvis before and shot an editorial showcasing some of his work last year. It was used as Kallvis’s artist showcase on the FAT Toronto website.

I shot the image to the left using Elinchrom’s great 100cm Deep Octabox, using both Ranger RX and Ranger Quadra lighting. You can check out the rest of the series here on Flickr.

I enjoyed the video presentation and the concept of “The shirt.” The “There are no clips in real life” catchline definitely hits home for people in the industry. When shooting fashion for various designers, pins and clips is an everyday reality for tailoring a piece to any particular model on the fly to create maximum appeal in the captured image.

I had a previous engagement later that evening, so I wasn’t able to stay around for the the rest of the designers. But I’ll definitely be back in 2013 for another year of FAT! Be sure to check out the gallery below before you leave to see some of the highlights I captured while roaming the venue on Day 4.

Jumping on my soapbox for a quick second before I wrap up this entry, is that I find FAT (now called Fashion Art Toronto vs Fashion Alternative Toronto) has been moving towards a more mainstream platform in recent years. FAT’s events curation team seems to have justified an inclusion of a number of ready-to-wear designers. While these pret a porter pieces are equally impressive, the overall show feels a bit fragmented as there is a large contrast between some of the designers especially when placed back to back during the runway segments. Really hoping to see curation of FAT in future years narrowing its focus back towards more alternative and fashion art.


FAT Toronto 2012 (Day 3)

Balancing a day-job as a CIO while simultaneously pursuing my creative aspirations as a photographer doesn’t leave many hours left in the day. There are many fashion events around Toronto throughout the year, and I can’t attend them all. Yet, each year I try to attend FAT. FAT showcases some of the most unique and alternative fashion styles by an equally compelling group of diverse designers. Unlike your traditional pret-a-porter fashion shows, FAT dives much deeper and darker, with designers working with materials like pvc, rubber and latex within many of their showcased collections.

The venue itself is at 213 Sterling Rd. which is a converted industrial space perfect for this kind of show. I showed up late and had to find street parking a fair distance away, but as I got closer to the installation, there were designer’s assistants running back and forth from the backstage doors and I could hear the distinct bassline from the post-rock that was playing within. I was looking forward to the experience.

It was first intermission when I got inside, as I was late and missed the first round of designers, so I jumped backstage to do my meet/greets. I had my Fuji X-Pro 1 with an 28mm f2 lens, so that was perfect to get some great shots of the event.

Soon enough the show started with Briar Rose, followed by House of Etiquette. I really like the color teal, and clearly there was teal in abundance with many of House of Etiquette’s latex skirts and dresses. Cinched Tight Corsets was up next and her latex rose dress definitely caught my eye. I should definitely get busy planning some alternative wear shoots as it gets warmer and reach out to some of these designers! Right after this was Starkers Corsetry. Dianna @ Starker’s corsetry has been designing and making corsets for quite a number of years. She’s been at the last few FAT events and I know she probably spent a fair number of hours stitching and boning her collection of intricately detailed corsets judging by her facebook updates leading up to the show! If you’re in the market for something really different for your social or wedding, I highly recommend you give her website a visit! http://www.starkers.com. I shot this for Diana in 2010 for FAT.

Right after the second round of designers, an intermission followed by a dance presentation by “The Bored Collective.” As mentioned on www.fashionarttoronto.ca , The story explains through dance a mermaid shackled by her own chastity and her transformation into a seductress ultimately in control of her sexuality and power over male desire. Shilo Morton, the creator of “The Bored Collective,” has definitely used her experience in textile art and jewellery design in creating some of the prop effect pieces used in the dance. I’ve always found an attraction to contemporary dance and performing arts, and I do regret missing the opening Ballet piece. I’ll have to drive a bit faster next year!

A few more designers followed with pieces from Jade Kinrade, Pope Joans, Pact Fashion and Sakhuja. Sakhuja really caught my attention at the end wrapping up the evening, from her opening dance piece, to the gold colored pieces and the special effects blood used on her “zombie” models. Great stuff.

By the end of the show, after running into a bunch friends, models and designers, we seemed to all have gotten the munchies, so a trip to the Don Don Izakaya on Dundas/Bay was in the cards for all of us!


Elinchrom: Quadra and Parabolic Umbrellas

I love my Elinchrom Quadras… At least, I loved them until I broke the handle off one of the heads. This also meant that I had to use a Quadra RQ reflector adapter anytime I wanted to use the head with the broken handle. This was frustrating to say the least. I had also recently acquired a few of the newer parabolic-like umbrellas from Flashpoint (Adorama) and Westcott. These 7ft monsters are great on-location, but heavy and definitely not a match for my Quadra’s umbrella receiver. On paper it looks like it would work as the Westcott even has a tapered 7mm shaft, but to even imagine trying to mount this through the Quadra’s plastic umbrella support is ludicrous and in my case out of the question completely with a broken handle.

Manfrotto Nano Clamp+Hydrostatic Arm

What I ended up doing is stealing a Manfrotto Nano Clamp + Hydrostatic Mini-Arm combo I had attached to my HDSLR shoulder mount. I use this mount for my Zoom H4N recorder, and the Nano Clamp is basically a minaturized version of Manfrotto’s super clamp for mounting mostly anything camera or lighting related.

With the new mounting clamp on my Quadra head, I now simply use a Manfrotto umbrella mount a.k.a lite-tite (which is made out of aluminum), mount my large 7ft umbrella through it and simply take the Quadra and clamp the light around the umbrella mount. The Hydrostatic arm has a single knob that tightens and loosens all of its articulation points in one go, so you can position the light where you want easily.

This setup packs lighter than Paul C Buff’s Elinchrom version of their PLM umbrella. With their PLM umbrella, you would also need to also pack a Quadra RQ adapter and the PLM mounting sleeve that centers the umbrella over the light. While my setup doesn’t perfectly center the light with the center axis of the umbrella, you can get very close depending on how you aim the light.

This is a shot taken with the the set-up above:

Ma Non Troppo Dance Group

note: While the hydrostatic arm is a bit pricey, any articulating arm can work with the Nano clamp (which is about $30 by itself). Even a gooseneck extension with a 1/4″-20 or 3/8″in thread would work as the Quadra heads weigh only 2 packs of playing cards.


Product Review: Focus35 Track Dolly

It has been a long time since i’ve contributed to my blog. With the warmer weather approaching after a long winter hibernation, I think I’d start to throw up the occasional product review here and there. While i’m still primarily into photography, the temptation to dive into a bit of HDSLR videography is too great to resist.

Cinematography usually involves a large arsenal of different types of shots and setups to achieve a specific purpose or effect. In many films, cinematographers will commonly involve a shot where the camera appears to be almost following a smooth railroad track approaching or retreating in a specific direction. This is commonly achieved using a track dolly or camera slider. A track dolly commonly involves at least the camera tripod (and in the industry, the actual operator as well), while a camera slider is a fixed length of track that is only meant to mount the actual camera and video fluid head. A camera slider is limited to lengths of about 4ft, while a track dolly can be as long as you want, limited only by the length of the track. The flipside is, that the camera slider is quicker to setup, while a track dolly requires time to move the lengths of track and re-setup for your next shot.

Today, I’m reviewing Focus35.com’s track dolly system.

At first glance, this appear like any basic tripod dolly. On the topside, it has adjustable receivers for each tripod foot and a tightening bolt for locking each foot down. The difference is the wheels are designed with 45 degree “skateboard” wheels. This allows the tripod dolly to run freely along a “track.” The track in this case, is cheap pvc conduit available at any home reno store for $5-$10 each for a length of about 12ft of conduit. In my case, my car can’t fit a length of 12ft, so I cut it down to about 104″. Focus35 mentions that their track dolly can use 1″ to 1-1/4″ diameter pipe, but I found 1-1/4″ pipe provides the best and smoothest motion. Make sure you don’t try anything larger, because the wheels can easily slip off the sides if you do.

The two pieces of conduit are laid parallel to each other on a surface. To prevent the track dolly from running off the edge of the conduit, I also bought 4 1-1/4″ end-caps which I slipped on the edges. The ridge it creates provides a hard-stop in case you get too involved in your production and run your entire setup off the edge and crash it into the ground! In my case, I decided with 104″. If you want a longer track, you can also acquire wooden dowels and insert them inside the pvc conduit. This will act as connectors and allow you to extend the track to longer lengths if needed. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ll update this post if I ever get the chance to do that.

At this point, the tripod can be set-up and placed into the track dolly and tightened down, and the entire setup can be placed on the track. Two sets of wheels will sit on one track and one set of wheels on the other. I had to run the dolly up and down the length of track a few times to “settle” in the conduit since I may not have laid them out perfectly parallel. Other than that, it is ready to go.

The hardest part at this point is practicing how to slide such a long length of track while minimizing body movement. It does take some practice. Since I’ve also used a camera slider before, The surface the track sits on has a large impact on the slide movement. Soft surfaces like grass or soil can produce a very smooth slide, while concrete surfaces may produce a less than perfect slide if the surface has loose gravel or uneven irregularities. A camera slider by comparison always sits on a fixed length of track and is not supsceptible to these types of imperfections.

Once the shoot is done, the track dolly collapses into a small shoulder bag (included with the dolly itself) and can be tucked away in the trunk. In a pinch, if you found yourself needing to travel, you can always acquire pvc conduit anywhere you plan on heading to since the track dolly itself is very small.

I found the track dolly a great tool to add variety to my videos and at $199 (+shipping), also very affordable. For those just getting into HDSLR video/cinematography, there is a myriad of equipment just to get yourself in the door and solutions like this are innovative without breaking the bank. I also plan on probably reviewing a camera slider for comparison at some point in the future for those unsure of which way they want to go!

In the meantime, I put together a 1min video of misc. clips I did with the track dolly. You can watch it below:


Joy Couture Fashion Show @ Tryst Oct-10 (Long Weekend)

Wanted to travel light, so I decided on an LX5+FL220 flash combination. Definitely free of gear hell for a change…

Here are a few shots from the camera shot in JPG mode…


Ranger Quadra Protective Caps

These frosted caps should have originally come in the kit, but since Vistek now has them in stock (1 pc @ the Downtown Toronto Store as of 5/15/2010, because I scooped up the other 2. I believe there was 1 in Missisauga as well), I bought 2 of them for my Quadra kit.

Elinchrom calls these multifunction caps because the cap acts as a diffuser and gel holder. They cost me $13.50 CAD each. This is a steal compared to what some companies can charge for simple accessories: http://vistek.ca/store/ProPhotoLightingComponents/112671/pocket-wizard-16-miniphone-to-elinchrom-ringlock-style-sync-cable.aspx


The cap simply snaps on the standard Quadra reflector. With the cap on the head, the tube is fully protected from damage. I can actually literally toss these into my camera bag anywhere without trying to re-purpose the compartments to protect the tubes.

I was a bit curious to see if shooting with the cap on would affect the color temperature.

From what I can see anyways, the bare reflector shot on the right is a bit warmer.



jayphotoworks flickr!

jayphotoworks tweets!


July 2018
« May