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Essentially, if you own an E-TTL II (or presumably iTTL) cable of a certain length/type, is there any reason to also own a manual PC-sync cable of a similar length/type, or can the camera be fired in manual mode via the E-TTL cable.

I presume it can, and so getting a PC-sync cable would be redundant for those just starting to get into flash, and not owning studio flashes or anything other than a speedlite, since it looks like it just maps all the connections on the camera hotshoe to another hotshoe a length of cable away, but I'd like confirmation of this before I disgard the idea of buying a cheaper PC-sync cable to experiment with manual flash before moving on to E-TTL stuff.

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The contacts used for manual flash are just a subset of the contacts used for E-TTL, and the E-TTL cable will just be replicating the contacts on your on-camera hot shoe. If the same contacts appear at the end of the cable, the manual flash will behave exactly as it does when attached to the camera.

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