I recently made the decision to get rid of all my Canon Speedlite flashes and replace them with some very inexpensive Chinese made Yongnuo brand speedlight flashes instead. In the past, opting for the cheaper alternative in camera equipment was never my approach to photography, especially if I already have a branded product of seemingly better quality. But there are 4 very important reasons why I made this recent change. So in this short post I am going to explain in detail why I switched.
1 – For high speed photography, like when capturing stop-action shots of movement, you need flashes with a very short flash duration. What that means is you need a flash that emits its power very quickly within the shortest time frame possible. The Yongnuo flashes are some of the fastest speedlights available and therefore Canon flashes may not be fast enough in certain situations to prevent motion blur from occurring on a fast moving subject, like on a humming bird’s fluttering wings for example. I also found some speed test numbers for the previous generation Canon 580EX flashes and at 1/8th power the flash duration was 1/3759 of a second. Now that may sound very fast to you, and it is, but it is not fast enough to capture certain types of moving subjects. At 1/8 power though the Yongnuo YN-560 III flashes, which are the ones I bought to replace my Canon flashes, have a duration of only 1/4950 of a second, which is much faster than the Canons. I am not sure what the duration is on the newest Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite flash, as I was not able to find any duration tests on that model for comparison, but hopefully they are faster than the 580EX. My problem though is I was in fact using some much older Canon 550EX model flashes and they are even slower than the Canon 580EX units.
2 – I also found that the recycle time on the Yongnuo flashes is a lot faster than my older Canon flashes. This means the time you have to wait before the flash is ready to fire again is much shorter with Yongnuo. At full power my older Canon flashes took up to 8 seconds to recycle each time after an exposure. Meanwhile, the Yongnuo at full power takes only 3-4 seconds to recycle. And at lower power settings of 1/4 power or less the recycle time on Yongnuo flashes is almost nonexistent. In fact, in most cases they are ready to shoot again instantly, especially if you are using them with Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable batteries, which recycle flashes much quicker than regular AA disposable batteries.
3 – One of the biggest dislikes I had with my Canon flashes is they could only be triggered remotely by a Canon made trigger like the Canon ST-E2, which costs $300 and is a big replacement cost if you lose one or one breaks. This also means, if I wanted to use a universal trigger to trigger my Canon flashes together in a group with another brand of flashes, I couldn’t. What is great about Yongnuo flashes is they have an optical sensor which allows the flash to be triggered by any form of infrared light. That means if you are using 2-3 Yongnuo flashes remotely you can simply connect an inexpensive radio trigger receiver to just one of them and then the light from that flash when triggered will trigger all of the other flashes nearby in synchronicity. All very easy and handy and makes the Yongnuo flashes much more versatile in terms of trigger ability. The newer Canon 580EX and 600EX-RT also have optical sensors (my older Canon 550EX flashes didn’t), but still they can only be triggered optically by a pop-up flash from a Canon camera and not by any other remote flashes. But if you are shooting with a more professional 5D or 1DS DSLR body, or some of the other models that don’t have a popup flash either, then your only option to trigger those Canon flashes remotely is to use the expensive Canon ST-E2 trigger as I mentioned earlier or to buy a Pocket Wizard trigger, which again makes it difficult to trigger any other brands of flashes together in a group with Canon flashes.
4 – If cost is at all a consideration for you then Yongnuo is definitely the way to go. They are around $75 each here on Amazon with free shipping for the Yongnuo YN-560III. And with the cost savings over Canon flashes you can buy 4-5 extra Yongnuo flashes for the same price as just one Canon flash. The more speedlite flashes you have the better because you can always use 2 or 3 of them together to increase power output if needed. The Canon 600EX-RT costs around US$550 for just one. It also means replacement cost of a damaged Yongnuo flash versus a Canon flash is obviously a lot less too. If you lose a flash or drop one off a bridge (as I once did), then it is a lot less to worry about with an inexpensive flash like Yongnuo.
Bear in mind though, I am not needing speedlites with ETTL that can communicate with my camera’s light meter to automatically set the flash power for me. I always shoot speedlites set on manual power control. So I am just buying the lesser priced Yongnuo YN-560 III flashes for about $75 each locally in Thailand. But if you want all those extra electronic functions in a flash then Yongnuo makes other models too like the YN-565 which has ETTL functionality for just a bit more money.
Yongnuo also makes their own remote radio triggers if you want matching Yongnuo brand triggers for remote shooting. They have a few Yongnuo trigger models in fact at different price points, but I’m not fussy about which triggers I use and I’m just using some no-name radio triggers (seen above) that sell for about $15 a set for one transmitter and one receiver from sellers on eBay. I like the ones I’m using also because it attaches to the Yongnuo flash and then they have a connector which you can see on the side of the above unit that allows you to attach umbrellas to the trigger receiver for use with your speedlites too if you want. That is a feature that I have not seen offered on the more expensive triggers yet. If you are interested in these inexpensive triggers I am using then you can find them on eBay by searching for PT-04NE triggers. But make sure you buy the transceiver together in a set with the transmitter unit which attaches to the top of the hotshoe of the camera. You need both units to be able to trigger a flash remotely and these radio trigger units will work with any brand of speedlite flash pretty much.
I hope this information is helpful and when it comes to speedlites it really isn’t worth spending a lot of money for them or the triggers. Especially when there are some inexpensive flashes out there which actually perform even better in my opinion than the expensive branded ones from Canon.
*UPDATE #1 / 6-March-17* – I just posted a new article about speedlight flashes entitled “The Pros & Cons Of Speedlight Flash Photography” which you can read here. I am also now only using the high quality but inexpensive Yongnuo RF-603C-II-C3 Wireless Remote Flash Trigger Transceivers which can be found here to trigger my Yongnuo speedlight flashes. They work beautifully and don’t require the connection of an additional trigger receiver when used with with the newer generation Yongnuo YN-560 III and Yongnuo YN-560 IV speedlight flashes.