Thanks to my pals at Borrowlenses.com – I got a chance to play witha a couple of the new Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash units for a week. I used them in real world situations – photographing hummingbirds.

It’s the new flagship in the Canon line. At almost $600 it’s the most expensive flash Canon has ever sold.

I’ve used many Canon flashes but this one is easily the most sophisticated and powerful. The new features are designed to be more user-friendly, but if you’re a regular user of Canon’s other flashes, you’ll probably find the opposite is true. There are 18 custom functions and a bunch of menus via “soft buttons” that took me a couple of days to master.

It has all the usual features you’d expect from a top of the line flash. It’s powerful (GN 197′ (60 m) @ ISO100), well-built and versatile. It rotates a full 180 degrees and has focus assist. It’s got additional weather sealing and now zooms all the way to 200mm to match a 20-200mm zoom range.

There’s a new color filter holder (similar too Nikon’s SB-900) and you can use this flash as a controller. There is a new wireless controller built-in allowing you to use a multiple flash system that talks via radio wave communication for enhanced control of up to five groups of flashes. I tested this with a variety of Canon flashes – in fact five 580EXII flash units and two of the new 600s. Once I figured out how to do that – (it took a while) I have to say it was pretty slick. The new system works flawlessly once you learn how to use it.

I find the soft buttons confusing but I really like new brighter, high-density LCD on the back of the camera. It’s easier to read (partly because it is larger) than the old flash.

The main thing I like about this flash (other than its amazing power) is it’s ability to zoom from 20-200mm with a Canon lens and to do so automatically. This is quite an improvement over the 580EXII and if I were to buy the 600, that’s the main reason I would do so. The built-in radio control is also a big deal since it eliminates the need to buy third-party flash triggers.

Canon is also shipping a new wireless control head called the Canon ST-E3-RT although the old controller still works. The new one just adds a few features.

CONCLUSION

If you want to use Canon’s brilliant ETTL system, especially if you want to use multiple flashes and need maximum control, and you have the budget, this flash is for you. But at $600 you’re starting to get into the territory where you could buy remote studio strobes or hot lights or third-party flashes that offer more control and power. The 580EXII is a fine unit and if that is your current flash I see few reasons to upgrade unless money is just no object. So while I like the new Canon 600 flash unit, it’s complexity and price keep me from giving it my highest recommendation. Instead it gets the next highest – RECOMMENDED.

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