Using Canon’s ETTL Flash system

The STE-2 flanked by the 430EX Speedlite (left & 580 EX Speedlite (right)

I recently bought a well-used Canon STE-2 infra red transmitter, just to see how well ETTL (Evaluative Through the Lens) works.

Nikon calls their system iTTL (intelligent Through The Lens) but it’s very similar.

Photographers are mostly a savvy group. If a product works well, that product is seldom easy to find “used.”

Even with my years of experience I found Canon’s Wireless Flash System not very intuitive.

If it weren’t for those years at the newspaper, when I my used Lumedyne flash units on manual figuring exposure with Guide numbers and a Minolta Flashmeter, I’d be lost.

Canon’s infrared based transmitter STE-2 for their flash system is due for a makeover, or at the very least, an update. Enough of the griping…

What I Used

  • Canon STE-2 transmitter
  • Canon 580EX
  • Canon 430EX

I’ve recorded 2 sets of videos to show how to set your Speedlite in preparation for off-camera wireless flash using Canon’s ETTL (Evaluative Through the Lens).

Setting up the Canon 580 EX

  1. Turn on the Speedlite
  2. Set Speedlite to ETTL mode by repeatedly pressing MODE button until “ETTL” displays.
  3. Slide the knob on the base of flash from “OFF/MASTER” position to “SLAVE
  4. Press “ZOOM” button, repeatedly. Display will display “CH” flashing, leave the channel on 1. Unless there’s another photographer working with the same channel and interfering with your flash operation, you will probably never need to change it.
  5. Don’t forget to set the ZOOM on your flash.Depending on what you’re trying to light, you should narrow the beam by zooming the flash head to 50, 85 or 105mm settings.That way you can actually aim your light instead of scattering it all over your scene.

It might be easier if you watch the video.

Setting up Canon 580EX for Wireless ETTL operation from Peter Phun on Vimeo.

Setting up the 430EX Speedlite

To use the 430EX Speedlite, it’s very similar. Watch the video below:

430EX setup for wireless slave operation from Peter Phun on Vimeo.

The Transmitter STE-2

Back panel of STE-2 shows the 2 buttons you'll use to control power output of Speedlites. Choose your aperture, leave the rest to this unit.

If you only have 1 Speedlite, that’s it.

If you have more than 1 Speedlite, then you have options here to change the SLAVE group by rotating the selector dial and choosing “A“, “B” or “C

But the STE-2 will only control 2 SLAVE groups “A” and “B” for each channel.

What that means is if you have a 3rd Speedlight, you’ll have to set it either on SLAVE A or B to fire in synch.

That 3rd SLAVE group “C” is only available if you use a 580EX Speedlite as the MASTER.

For best results with 3 Speedlights, I recommend using “MANUAL” with a ratio of 1/8th power and varying the distance to give you the results you want instead of “ETTL”

Max is a challenge because he is black and white but also because of his short attention span

Next, the fun begins as I use this system on a challenging subject: a not so cooperative 6-month-old-black-and-white-kitten.

This flash system has been around a while but until now, I haven’t explored it.

If you’re curious and want to test the gear, you can rent from Borrow before buying.

I preferred to use my Speedlites on Manual power and also with radio slaves. No one system is better. Each has its limitations and advantages. I’ll share my thoughts as I use this system.

2 thoughts on “Using Canon’s ETTL Flash system”

  1. Hello Shane,
    Hope you had a great Christmas. By that I mean, I hope you got some new photo toys? I picked up this STE-2 used on Amazon. It works very well indoors, but is unreliable outside because infra-red is based on line-of-sight. Thanks for those kind words my friend. Here’s wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

  2. Peter, very nice tutorial here. I learn something every time I stop by. Keep up the good work!

    Your Friend,

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