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60d using built-in optical system "locks up" camera intermittently


I've been having an intermittent problem for a long time with my 60d "locking up" that seems to be getting worse.  I'm using the built-in optical system in the 60D in E-TTL to fire a Speedlite 580EXii and a speedlite 580EX, both off camera, using the pop up flash to trigger them but setting it so that the pop up flash doesn't add any extra light to the exposure.  It's just triggering the Speedlites, camera usually in manual mode but flashes in E-TTL.


I love this set up but the problem I have is that occasionally the camera will just lock up.  I try to press the shutter halfway to focus and get nothing.  The camera's still on but completely unresponsive.  It's not the battery cycling, as I've checked that out, and I don't believe it's a low light focus issue, as I'll often point the camera right at a light when it does this hoping to get it to work again and usually it does nothing to help.  The weird thing is that usually after a minute or two of fiddling around the pre-flash sensor will finally come alive and start doing it's thing again and I can finally fire off a shot again and it'll work till it locks up again the next time.  It might happen four times during an hour of shooting.  Sometimes turning the camera off and back on will clear it and sometime it doesn't but usually when it's locked up it'll stay like this for a couple minutes until finally it becomes responsive again.  I know it sounds like a battery issue but I really don't think it is as I've swapped them out many times and still get the same problem.


I should point out I've had the same problem with two Rebels and now this 60d so I don't know if it's my gear or operator error or what.  I know the wireless E-TTL system is complicated and doesn't always work but this problem is wildly frustrating and seems to be getting worse.


Has anyone else ever had a problem like this?  I don't know if I should spring for the 600EX and the radio controller and if that might be better or not. 


If anyone has any insights or has experienced this before I'd love to hear how you dealt with it....Thanks, Robert



If the "lock up" occurs sometime after taking a series of shots, I would venture to guess that it's the on-board flash shutting down temporarily to prevent overheating. After it cools off a bit, the camera returns to working normally.


When used for wireless off-camera communication with other flashes, the on-board flash fires a series of "pops", which can heat up the flash tube a lot if being used relatively continuously, eventually causing overheating and risking burning out the flash tube. I believe all the camera's are designed with some sort of sensor to stop the flash from firing when it starts to get overheated, rather than let it burn itself out. After the flash cools, it resets and allows the flash to work again.


I don't know if you can cause the on-board flash to shut down this way if it's simply being used as flash. It might not recycle fast enough to overheat. But I really don't know because I almost never use on-board flashes on any of my cameras that have them. The very short duration "bursts" used for off-camera flash communication, however, don't fully drain the flash's capacitor and cause it to slow down and recycle, the way using it as a regular flash will. So there is more risk of continuous usage causing overheating.


If it is due to overheating, the easiest solution is to get and use an ST-E2 module. That's an off-camera flash controller that sits in the camera's hot shoe and communicates via near IR light emissions, has a little better range, and will not overheat. It's less obnoxious than the on-board flash too.


The 600EX-RT is used with a different off-camera controller, the ST-E3-RT (or a second 600EX-RT). It cannot be controlled by the camera's on-board wireless system at all. But it would give considerably greater range in most situations and doesn't require a direct line-of-sight setup the way the optically triggered flashes do.


Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories



Thanks so much, Alan!  I think you might be right about the on-board flash overheating.  By coincidence I had just done a Google search before you posted and found another discussion on that same problem, and how it can overheat even when it's set only to be triggering the flashes.  So that is a good possibility...I'll keep an eye on it the next time I shoot.


I'm seriously thinking of maybe springing for a couple 600EX's and the ST-E3-RT in the next month or two and seeing if the radio control shooting fixes the problem.  If it doesn't then I'll just curl up in a ball 😉 


Thanks again for your post!  ~Robert 

Hi Robert,


The 600EX-RTs and an ST-E3-RT certainly would be very cool and the "ultimate" solution!


But you also could just get an ST-E2 module to use with your current flashes.




Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories




Thanks, Alan!  I was just about to order an ST-E2 to give that a try like you suggest before committing to the more expensive "ultimate" solution.  I figured I should just look in my closet first, and don't you know I already have an ST-E2 from about five years ago!  I must have gotten so hung up on figuring out the built-in optical system in the Rebel and my 60D that I completely forgot - feeling both elated and kinda foolish - ha ha! 😉


It looks like it should work fine, battery still works okay though I'll order a new one just in case.  It's also much easier to set ratios with the ST-E2.  And I can still put a third flash with a gel in manual mode for a background light and trip that as an optical slave.


Will try out the whole thing next week when I shoot...Thanks again for your help!  ~Robert

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