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Monday, 13 February 2017


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For folks willing to spend a little more (about $65), I highly recommend the Yongnuo 560 III or IV speedlites. These have built-in radio receivers and can be controlled via radio transmitters. I've been impressed with their quality and functionality.


You can control up to three of them with the $39 Yongnuo YN560-TX.


Both available from Amazon or B&H via the TOP affiliate links...

Always good to get some ground truth (though a bigger sample would be good) but this seems typical of a lot of cheap Chinese OEMed equipment: some of it works and some of it doesn't.

Before someone says anything about "poor QA". It isn't poor QA it's poor production process (and sometimes poor design) but a standardized process is what's most missing from a lot of Chinese OEMs production.

I worked with someone evaluating a beta version Chinese binoculars. They were good optically. The OEM was pretty good too though prone to "make fixes" for problems that didn't exist without asking the customer. When they shipped the production version a small (but not trivial number) of people got binoculars where the focuser was very, very stiff. They eventually figured out that one person in production was tightening down a friction screw in the focuser as tight as she could (rather than "enough to give a nice feel") because (it seems) that's how you tighten screws.

A European or Japanese manufacturer (even making optics in China) would have a spec for adjustment, training for the assemblers and perhaps a torque screwdriver to set the right amount. Along with a check by the assembler to verify it feels OK. Even better use a design that will give you the right feel without adjustable parameters.

Even that doesn't work sometimes. I have a set of (expensive) Swarovski binoculars that I need to return for a fix because it's always had a gritty focuser feel right out of the box. Ugh, they weren't cheap as chips!

So,what's the other flash/softbox you are using shown in the photo?

Good info. I've been curious about these flashes. What do you think of the color temperature? I use some vintage Nikon flashes (sb-24/2b-28) and they play nicely in manual mode with all of my digital cameras because of their low trigger voltages. I would love to mix in a cheap flash with an optical slave, but I want the color temperature to match the Nikons. I've been contemplating an old sb-26 for a $125, but $30 is such a tempting price.

Does anybody know the trigger voltage for these flashes? I haven't been able to locate that info.

Hooray a lighting post! Some random thoughts ...

One thing to be careful with the Yongnuos is that they seem to have a high infant mortality rate. 1 of 2 I bought from B&H stopped working shortly (less than 1 day!) after I started using them, and there are similar stories around the Internet. So not only should you get one from a place with good return service, but get one far ahead of when you need it so you can make sure it won't die an early death. And carry backups too, which shouldn't be too hard since they're so cheap.

I ended up returning mine, and getting some Cactus speedlights and their remote transmitter, which have turned out to be fairly reliable, though the remote does have some dead spots. Again, testing ahead of time is imperative.

One thing I like about the Cacti is that they have a 1/4-20 tripod socket on the flash's body, so I can just attach a 5/8-inch spigot to it, and mount it securely on a light stand. With the right kind of umbrella holder (eg. Lumopro's LP634), it's easy to center the speedlight in the middle of an umbrella. Flashshoe mounts tend to put the speedlight away from the center of the umbrella.

For color temperature, you have to test the flashes as they may change their color balance over the power range: color at full output may be different than color at minimum output. I shot an XRite Color Passport's big grey patch used for white balance at every power output level (don't forget to start at a small aperture and open it up as you reduce power) to confirm the color consistency of my flash. I did find however that the power levels aren't quite accurate to the flash's power scale. YMMV, so test!

Another useful hint: if you need AA batteries, the Amazon Basics pre-charged lithium-ion (currently in a grey body with a lime green top) are said to be relabled Eneloops, which are the best rechargeable AA batteries you can get. The important attribute is pre-charged, since that means they have a low-self-resistance which is one of the hallmark features of Eneloops that lets them hold charge for such a long time.

They're cheap, reliable, and last forever, and I use them in everything from my speedlights, transmitters, and even Nikon battery grips, where I've taken well north of 2000 photos per charge without trouble.

How to charge a zillion batteries? Amazon to the rescue again: I use a SunLabz 16-cell charger. Its charging rate isn't the fastest (but you don't want that so you prolong battery lifetime), but it can charge an entire shoot's worth of batteries in one go for me.

For modifiers, a shoot through umbrella and a 5-in-1 reflector (make sure one of the 5 ways you can use it is as a diffusor too) can do a lot: I wouldn't worry too much about getting anything fancier for a while. Learning how to use the light's inverse-square fall-off to light your subject works just as well with an umbrella as any other diffuse light source.

Lastly, I'd say that artificial lighting has a strong DIY streak to it and lots of hacking. There are very few rules, and you do what you need to do to get a shot. For example, recently on a shoot gone wrong, I couldn't use my big strobe (its remote wouldn't talk to it despite lots of pre-shoot testing), so I gaff-taped two speedlights together to get more power, clamped it to a light stand, and had someone hold an umbrella in front of it, and we got the shot we wanted. Which reminds me, always bring lots of gaffer's tape and clips and clamps of all sizes: you'll never know when you need it.

Good luck!

Stephen, I should add that for $177, Amazon has a two speedlite Yongnuo IV kit, including a remote controller unit and some gels. It is a very good deal.

Just search for 'YongNuo Kit' through this link.


MJ: We have a small studio with big lights and not a lot of floor space. A lot of the students are interested in these affordable flashes and more than one class of students were hanging out in the studio to participate or watch. Only the two $28 flashes were used in the testing. The Profoto strobe with softbox is not plugged in, it was just stored there from a previous shoot a student completed.

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