Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Cheap, Chinese & Cheerful

I’m indebted to photographer Keith West for introducing me to, and convincing me of, the merits of the item I’m going to discuss here.

So many of my students seem to fall prey to sales staff at their high street camera shop and come along to class clutching their beloved new DSLR, “kit” lens (aaaargh!) and Speedlite-type flashgun.

They then usually huff and puff about what an expensive hobby photography is: they’ve only just taken the hobby up and already find themselves in need of an additional lens (that’ll be limitations of the “kit lens” becoming apparent) and accessories for their ultra-expensive flashguns.

Until comparatively recently, I confess, I’ve side-stepped the whole speedlite/strobe mania thing. On location or weddings I avoid flash unless absolutely necessary – that’s why God gave us the sun, clouds and reflectors, after all. If pushed I’ll reach into my camera bag and pull out my trusty old Metz “hammerhead” – fifteen or so years old and still working beautifully, nice white light, powerful, fully adjustable – but gobbles up batteries like they’re going out of fashion.

My trusty old Metz

In case you didn’t know (or care), in recent years there‘s been a quiet revolution in flashgun technology. The new generation of guns are capable of much greater communication with the camera as well as an infinitely faster recycle rate – most being able to keep up with your camera’s 6-7 frames per second firing rate -hence increasingly being referred to as “strobes”.

I’ve never been too worried about my camera and flashgun talking to each other. I just want to be able to adjust the power output, so my Metz has been ok so far even though after a few dozen shots on fresh batteries, I find myself having to make small-talk with the model for 3 or 4 minutes until its ready to shoot again. Not ideal.

But if I decide to go out and get a nice shiny new strobe to go with my Nikons – say the Nikon SB-900  or  much smaller SB-400, I’ll be shelling out between £128  and £323. Canon’s equivalent range from £102 to £368 (prices from as of 6th Jan. 2011).  Even the Nissin branded equivalent will set me back between £83 (for a “not-quite” speedlite) and £204.

And that’s the problem: I’m basically tight-fisted when it comes to buying new gear. Unlike an amateur enthusiast, every item of equipment I buy has to be justified and justifiable economically and it galls me to spend upward of £200 on something which I feel is obscenely overpriced.

So imagine my delight when Keith West, an equally thrifty photographer, told me that he regularly uses a sturdy little Chinese equivalent of the speedlites which costs a fraction of the price of the Nikon/Canon model and despite not having a few of their bells and whistles, delivers finely adjustable strobe flash (almost) just like the big brands. 

Keith uses a couple of Yongnuo strobes on stands with brollies or soft-boxes and so produces studio-quality results and this kit still adds to less than the price of a single Canon/Nikon/Nissin strobe – how can you lose? 

The Yongnuo YN 560

As I’ve said, the Yongnuos don’t have all the functionality – especially the same level of TTL (through the lens) control – as their big name counterparts. But my own model, the YN560, has one Manual and two slave settings as well as fully adjustable power and zoom settings. That’s all I need. There’s also built-in pop-out reflector and diffuser, as well as the natty little “frog feet” stand.

Another advantage of these cheeky little strobes is that they’re essentially the same carcass shape and size as the ones they’re attempting to mimic in every other way. The obvious benefit of this is that they can be used with the same range of accessories. For example, Rayflash ringflash units fit nicely onto the Yongnuo just as they would onto the Canon/Nikon versions and this is also the case for the various additional diffusers/light-shapers that are available. 

Yong Nuo & Canon equivalent side by side

The build quality is surprisingly very good. I’ve had a couple of occasions in the last few months when I’ve been very glad of my Yongnuo: one of which was an early morning winter wedding – virtually all indoors and minimal available light. The Yongnuo managed something in the region of 500+ shots before I decided to change batteries, and in truth I could probably have gone on for some time longer but wanted the fastest recycle times possible so that I didn’t miss anything.

But here’s the absolutely best bit – the aforementioned YN560 (not the cheapest strobe in the range by some way) is currently listed on Amazon from £56! That’s FIFTY SIX pounds!

Of course it’s up to you how you spend your cash but personally I’d rather by the cheaper strobe – or even two – and spend the balance on other kit.

Keith’s website –


4 responses

  1. Jeff Boston

    Interesting article David, ( I have 2 SB 900’s), however, I do have the Yongnuo RF-602 wireless transmiter and 3 receivers (around £50), and am quite impressed with them. Even I had difficulty in justifying Pocket Wizards at circa £400 a shot. I was using them to trigger the shutter last night.


    January 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm

  2. Ken

    Great article David, I have just taken delivery of a Yongnuo YN462 (Sony fit) from Ebey . I’m pleased with the quality of the product,

    January 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

  3. Thanks for this article you have saved me £££ I need to replace my SB800:)

    January 21, 2011 at 8:31 pm

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