Gear Review: Canon 600EX II-RT

Canon 600EX II-RT

The Canon 600EX II-RT is a battery powered on-camera flash with a variety of pro level features. In this review I’ll delve into some of the features and capability of the flash as well as offering an overall assessment.

Features

Top of the list of features for me is the built in radio transmitter. Using the built in transmitter you can trigger this flash off camera, or you can use it as a master to trigger up to 3 other groups of flashes. It’s a nice touch that the flash can serve as a master and gives it another level of convenience and creative power. A useful option is that the flash can be set to fire or not fire when set as a master. This gives you the option of having a fill light on your camera even when using it as a trigger for other groups of flashes.

Other cool features of the flash include weather sealing, a zooming fresnel head, TTL metering, and fast recycle times when using an external battery pack. Impressively the flash will recycle in a mere 1.2 seconds at full power when using the external battery pack. The only downside with the battery pack is that it will cost you $199 if you go with the Canon CP-E4N.

Power

The low max light output of the 600EX II-RT is probably the one thing that gets me down a little about this flash. It’s adequate for many indoor uses but I can’t help but want more power. If in your shooting you have to stop down you’re pushing the flash to full power all of a sudden. So if you’re like me and you like getting the same exposures at varying distances you may find this flash can’t quite keep up the further from your subject you are.

Recycle Times

The 600EX II-RT is a little slow to recycle a full power shot unless you’re using the external battery pack. Without the battery pack the flash is rated by Canon at 5.5 seconds for a full power shot, although in my experience its more like 3 seconds with my rechargeable batteries. I have the battery pack as well and the flash is a beast with it. At full power with the battery pack the recycle time drops to about 1 second. You won’t find many flashes better than that.

Batteries

Some people like that Canon has chosen to use AA batteries in their flashes and some people hate it. The main reason people hate it is that the flash doesn’t have a battery level indicator. You just have to kind of pick up on the fact that it’s recycling slower and swap the batteries at that point. But, regardless of your opinion on their battery choice, it can’t be denied that getting 5-700 pops from a set of rechargeable AA’s is cheap and convenient. Ultimately I like that it uses AA’s because its a standard battery size that is also used in my transmitters and you can buy them anywhere. I recommend getting the Canon CP-E4N external battery pack to get the most out of the flash.

Accessories

The 600EX II-RT comes with a carrying case, a couple of snap on color temperature filters, a snap on diffuser, and a mini-stand. The case is big enough to hold the flash and all it’s accessories.

Usability And Interface

Overall the 600EX II-RT is pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it, even though it does offer a lot of functionality. To really dig into everything this flash can do might take a little bit of time with the user manual but getting up and running is very easy and shouldn’t be a problem for anyone with some experience with speedlights.

Examples

I used the 600EX II-RT at a fashion show and was impressed with it when using the external battery pack. It delivers just enough light to work for this purpose when in a darker room. But there isn’t much extra left in the tank at longer distances where it’s just barely lighting the subject. However a little editing in photoshop can fix things right up. The main thing I was able to do was get enough differentiation between the subject and the surroundings to have a successful picture.

I also tried the 600EX II-RT outdoors as a fill light and had some success with it but you really have to get the flash close to your subject to see a substantial effect in midday sunshine. In the photos below I used the flash off camera on a light stand with no modifiers.

Conclusion

This 600EX II-RT has some things that make it great. It is made well, it’s weather resistant, its easy to use, and it has some useful wireless capabilities. However, it falls somewhat short in max light output. Even though this light can be used off camera, its power output makes it of limited use in most off camera situations. Sure the flash is great quality and meets most expectations but a lot of flashes manage that these days. So while this is a pro level flash with a lot of features, there are more powerful flashes out there now that I would be tempted to buy instead of this one.

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