The Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 is a portable infrared wireless transmitter designed to wirelessly trigger Canon Speedlites. For the most part, it does that well. But unfortunately, there some severe limitations that makes it a waste of money. If you’re in the market to purchase a ST-E2, wait and read this post first before making your purchase, you won’t regret it.
Ratios, But Where’s Group C
While the ST-E2 is able to control Groups A and B of the Canon Wireless Flash System’s (CWFS) Ratio System, it has no control settings for Group C. While perhaps not an often used Group, it seems rather short-sighted not to allow the user whether or not they want or need to use Group C.
The reason for the lack of Group C controls might have something to do with…
The Lack of Digital Controls
Did you know that Nikon’s wireless transmitter, the SU-800 Commander Unit, has a digital display back where power can be dialed in to each Group, including Group C? It also allows you to flash exposure compensation. Canon, on the other hand, opted for analog controls with few options. And of the few options, you can’t…
Set Flash Exposure Compensation…In Your Dreams
With the loss of control to use Group C, and to add insult to injury, with the ST-E2 you can’t set flash exposure compensation unlike the Nikon SU-800 or a Canon 580EX II Speedlite. This is a fairly critical important item for a wedding photographer such as myself, as we’re always looking for soft, diffused light and if we can’t easily dial back the flash output, that doesn’t help us. Yes, I know you can dial back exposure compensation, but that doesn’t help when I need to dial back flash and exposure compensation to create a nice saturated background while keeping nice soft light on my subject(s).
UPDATE: I’m aware that you can set flash exposure compensation from your camera, but that’s only if you have a newer camera model.
In The Line of Sight
Unlike the 580EX II Speedlite, the ST-E2 uses infrared to transmit the necessary signals to get Slaved Speedlites to fire. Unfortunately this make the transmitter very line of sight. Unlike the 580EX II and Sto-Fen trick I talk about here, you can’t really do much other than put the ST-E2 on a OC-E3 sync cable to put the infrared transmitter more in the line of sight of the Slaved Speedlite. And unlike a Speedlite where the head can swivel and tilt as needed, the ST-E2 does neither.
I’ve also read a number of online posts where the ST-E2 has limited range outdoors. I’m willing to bet it’s because the infrared signal dissipates quickly in bright sunlight. I’ve never had a problem triggering Slaved Speedlites with my Master Speedlite using the Sto-Fen trick.
No Manual Mode
I was recently shooting a wedding and while flash ETTL is great at balancing ambient and fill, but not for creating dramatic lighting. This is where Manual mode is great as it gives the photographer full control. Unfortunately, you can’t access Manual mode with the ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter, which is amazing that Canon would leave out such an important feature. This alone makes having a Speedlite as a Master transmitter make more and more sense. Canon definitely needs to release a ST-E2 Mark II, until then, I’ll be holding off purchasing this guy.
Other Complaints That Are Less Significant But Still Annoying
The ST-E2 uses the same crappy hot shoe design as every flash prior to the 580EX, the “slide-in-screw-down”. It doesn’t really affect the operation of it, but it is a lot of wasted time screwing and unscrewing the ST-E2 to put it on and take it off.
Did you know that the ST-E2 doesn’t use a standard type of battery such as a double-A or triple-A but rather uses a 2CR5? Not a huge deal, but stock up.
Say Something Good
For ~$220, the Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 helps with auto focusing by emitting the red LED grid to help in situations of low-light. Although the red LED grid makes it hard for you, as the photographer, to blend in and get candid shots sometimes.
So if you have been considering the ST-E2 to use as a wireless transmitter and/or auto focus assist, don’t. If you buy this unit brand new at B&H Photo Video, it’ll cost you $220 versus a brand new 580EX II Speedlite for $445. While the 580EX II is double the cost of the ST-E2, it’s also double the usefulness. Imagine this, you’re photographing a wedding and the ST-E2 drops and breaks. If you have more than one 550EX, 580EX, or 580EX II, you can use one as a Master unit, not all is lost. But what if you only had one ST-E2 and one 580EX II and it’s the 580EX II that dropped and broke or malfunctioned? That ST-E2 will be just a nice auto focus assist unit. If $445 is too much to drop for a new 580EX II, consider buying it used for ~$300. If $300 is still too much, consider getting the 580EX (~$225-250) or even the 550EX (under $200) from Craigslist.
It’s better to invest the money into something that gives you more bang-for-the-buck.