It is common knowledge that one of the worst places to fire a flash from is the hotshoe of your camera. This can result in glare, red-eye, and/or harsh shadows if there is a wall behind the subject.
In some situations this is the only option. To improve the shortcomings of a hotshoe-mounted flash you can add some kind of a diffuser to your flash unit or bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling, but even bounced flash can result in harsh shadows.
The alternative is to move the flash unit away from the lens axis. This can be done either with a bracket attached to your camera or mounting the flash on a lightstand. To trigger the flash once it is off the camera you can use a simple synch cord.
Alternative, if you don't want to use a cord, you can use a wireless or infrared device to trigger the flash. The Canon ST-E2 is simply Canon's infra-red device to trigger flash units mounted off camera.
I bought an ST-E2 when I started getting interested in lighting but it was a poor buy for reasons I will outline below. The unit only works with certain Canon flash units that can be set as Slave units. I use mine with a Canon 550EX. Check first to make sure that your flash can be used as a Slave with the ST-E2. If it can, there will be a switch than can be set to 'Slave', 'Master', or 'Off'.
After buying the ST-E2, I bought a complete budget studio lighting kit (three strobes, three light stands, two umbrellas, and everything else that is required) which cost me less than the ST-E2 alone. Once you get into off-camera lighting it needs several components, and the infra-red triggering device is just one component of course.
If you start buying everything separately (extra Canon flash units, lightstands, umbrellas, brackets, etc.), it starts to get very expensive. The kit I bought does a great job and it worked out at a fraction of the price.
The ST-E2 is dedicated to the Canon flash system, of course, and does offer some advantages over a cheap studio lighting kit. It allows you to retain E-TTL II/E-TTL exposure control so that the flash unit/s pump out just the amount of light. With my studio kit I just get a fixed amount of light and have to think a lot more about exposure settings.
The proprietary Canon system is all battery powered and completely portable. This means you can use it in the middle of a field, but for my lighting kit I need AC power. On the other hand, batteries run out and battery-powered flash units can't produce as much light as AC powered lights.
The ST-E2 will trigger all flash units set as Slaves that are within range (the range is about 15m indoors according to Canon's specifications). To prevent unwanted firing when two or more ST-E2's are being used in close proximity, each device can be set to a different one of four channels: A to D.
Slave units can be designated as A or B. An A:B flash ratio can then be set on the ST-E2 to vary the output between A flash units and B ones (1:8 to 1:1 to 8:1). The idea of this is to create lighting that isn't flat and boring. With my studio lights I can't do anything like this and have to physically move the lightstands to achieve the same effect.
Compared to a budget studio lighting kit then, the advantages of the ST-E2 system are portability, flexibility with lighting adjustments, and the ability to retain E-TTL II/E-TTL.
The disadvantages are cost and relatively low power.
The ST-E2's infrared output also doubles as a focus-assist device. I don't suffer from any focusing problems but I have heard of this device being used just to assist focus, rather than for its intended purpose.
The unit is powered by a single 2CR5 lithium battery which should be good for around 1,500 transmissions.
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Weight: 3.5oz; 99g (without battery)
Battery: 2CR5 (weight 1.6oz; 45g); 6 volts; approx. 1,500 transmissions
Maximum working range: 8m to 10m (outdoors); 12m to 15m (indoors)
Date Purchased: July 2006
Supplier: Fotofile, Bangkok, Thailand
Price: 10,220 Thai Baht
Soft Case: LP811 (included)
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