Points in Focus Photography

Re: Pixsylated’s Speedlite Wishlist

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Syl Arena, over at www.pixsylated.com recently put up a Canon Speedlite Wishlist. Syl gives us 17 points to chew on that he thinks would make Canon’s Speedlite system better; most of which I agree with, some I think are silly, and some I think are a bad idea in the larger scheme of things. However, in that spirit here are my thoughts, however little they may count, and my Canon Speedlite Wishlist.

My Wish-list

  1. Replace the power switch and slave mode button with a single multi-position power switch (off, solo, master, slave)
  2. Get rid of ratios for wireless groups, use straight exposure compensation for all of the 3 groups.
  3. Insure that every flash has proper EMI shielding
  4. More zoom, so long as it doesn’t make the flash bigger
  5. Replace the ST-E2 with something that exposes the full functionality of the system
  6. Replace the MR-14 and MT-24 with something more flexible and modular
  7. Open or license the TTL protocol to the wireless remote manufacturers

Where We Agree; Changes that Would be Nice

Syl and I would both like to see a longer zoom range. However, for me this comes with a caveat, the flash can’t get physically larger. The 580Ex II is already about as big as I want a Speedlite to be. If my Domke F2 is packed, it’s already a tight fit in the front pockets, any bigger and it’s going to be a problem.

We both would also like to see some changes to the wireless system, as well.

  1. Make the wireless system more flexible.
  2. Make the wireless system easier to work.

For starters Canon should have replaced the 3-position wireless selector switch and the 2-position power switch on the 580Ex II with a single 4-position power/wireless mode switch. I don’t even use the wireless system that often, and I find the current scheme of holding buttons and turning dials to be cumbersome and annoying. I’d probably break something if I had to deal with it on a daily basis.

The A:B ratio plus C as exposure compensation scheme has got to go too. Simply having the ability to set exposure compensation for all groups is definitely the way to go. If Canon wants to keep the ratios, and I can see some utility in the system in some situations, they should be enabled though a custom function.

The only problem I see with changes to Canon’s wireless system is that it’s quite old. Canon’s wireless flash system predates Nikon’s by something like 5 years and dates back to 1998. Further the current top of the line 580Ex II flashes are still compatible with Canon’s 550 Ex and 420Ex flashes released in the late 90s. If the protocol that’s in place isn’t sufficiently flexible, there’s the problem of segmenting the user base again. Do you try and shoehorn new features into the existing protocol if it can support them, or do you make a break and add start anew and can you do so in a way that doesn’t make it cumbersome for users with existing gear to upgrade incrementally?

Where We Disagree; RF Wireless TTL

Syl would like to see Canon license the technology from Radio Popper. I’m strongly against something like that.

For starters, if Canon were to license a radio system I’d rather see it be compatible with LPA Design’s Pocket Wizard system than Radio Popper’s. I’m biased, I already have an investment in Pocket Wizards that I’m not keen to throw away. I’m also sure there are just as many people that feel the inverse. That’s the problem with licensing a RF system. If Canon chose a 3rd party RF system as a basis for their own there would likely be a split in the user base. And people would be pissed off, so which group do you pick? The best option is neither, even better is to not use have an RF system at all.

Second, I don’t see any reason to license a RF tech in the first place. A licensed radio system doesn’t get around any regulatory issues, the flashes would still have to be tested and certified by the FCC (and every other countries’ radio regulatory body). Nor does it remove any major design hurdles, it’s not like building a radio transceiver isn’t well understood. Further the Speedlites would still need to be properly shielded, which they clearly aren’t now, and the RF circuitry would have to be designed and integrated which would have to be done regardless of whether a system was licensed or a new one designed.

Actually there’s a strong case for designing a new system from scratch, specifically a new system can make a clean break from the 11 year old protocol that the optical E-TTL system uses, and the new clean hypothetical E-TTL RF system could build on all the lessons learned since then.

The only thing licensing a 3rd party protocol does is give someone with that system an advantage in being able to existing triggers. However considering that Radio Poppers are parasitic in nature, requiring an existing optical wireless commander to drive them, you can’t really use them with out a Speedlite or ST-E2 on the camera anyway. So there’s not much of a win there either.

Technology concerns aside, there is no way that adding RF tech to the flash wouldn’t also increase costs and complicate the system further. Almost every continent has some variation in their RF regulations. An RF system that is legal in Japan likely won’t be legal to sell in the US or Europe due to the spectrum it uses. Just insuring regulatory compliance and testing would be a major cost that would need to be covered somewhere.

Quite possibly the best solution to the RF wireless problem would be for Canon to document their TTL protocol and properly shield their flashes. This would make it easier for 3rd parties to build systems similar to LPA Design’s TTL Pocket Wizards (that is to say they connect to the hot-shoe and don’t require hacks to pickup the existing optical pulses.) and insure they are reliable. Everybody wins. Further opening the TTL protocol opens the door for studio strobes to support TTL solution’s not just Speedlites.

What’s Right; Right Now

There is one thing that absolutely rocks, and that’s the water-resistant flip-lock hot-shoe on the 580 EX II (and to a slightly lesser degree the non-water resistant one on the 430Ex II). I have some limited experience with Nikon’s locking system on the SB-800 and SB-600 as well as the awful screw down system Canon used previously on the 430Ex and 420Ez, and this is by far my favorite hot-shoe design. It’s fast, easy to use and always feels secure.

Also, momma don’t take my high-speed sync/second curtain button away. I’m almost always in high-speed sync mode when I’m shooting wildlife and almost never use it otherwise. Having it one click away makes me a happy photographer.

What I’d Like to See; Some New Gear

It’s time to roll out some new gear. We both want the ST-E2 replaced with something that gives full control of the system. As far as I’m concerned, the wireless controller should be able to do everything a 580EX II can do, except be a light source, and cost the same.

I think Canon should take that a step further and replace the MR-14 and MT-24 macro lights as well. I would design the replacement to follow Nikon’s R1C1 lead with the above-mentioned wireless controller and small modular flashes. It’s a more flexible solution and gets rid of a flash design that needs to be maintained. Even better, with a good design, a full ring light would be easily produced by loading the lens adapter completely with strobe modules.

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