As a mentor, teacher, guide and just plain friend to other photographers I am often asked “What is a good flash.” We have always had the prestigious labels of Nikon and Canon who build Speedlights that complement the performance of their flagship cameras. But we also have always had brands like Metz, Vivitar, and Quantum who have always been great third party manufacturers as well. But the question remains “What flash should I buy?”
Then the Chinese (and maybe South Koreans) hit the market with inexpensive knock-offs to the flagship brands. Now now the market has more depth than I have ever seen. Now when photographers are speaking about their next flash brand names like Neewar and Yongnou are heard as often as Nikon and Canon. So in an attempt to describe the scope and depth of the Speedlights that are available to photographers these days I set about on a very loosely based method to catalog and compare what is on the market. See Table 1 below.
Firstly, I canvassed a group of professional photographers across North Carolina. I received 72 responses to this question: “Can you please tell me what Speedlight you are using and what flash (or Speedlight) you use for Off Camera Flash outdoors?
So who is buying what? The responses (found in Table 1 below) reveal that flagship speedlights are still be purchased by the professionals. It was split with 25 Nikon and 23 Canon with the remainder spread across the range of all other brands. And in noting their comments the “knock-offs” were almost always used as the second flash complimenting the lighting from the flagships. So this will serve as a baseline for future reviews to see if the knock-offs build in popularity over the next year.
But another factor I looked at was to compare and analyze the cost and performance of this wide range of speedlights. I used the Guide Number to establish a relationship between Cost and Flash Output. The Guide Number is assigned by the manufacturer and is a scientific/engineer’s number that can be used to measure output. A GN of 110 would be twice as powerful as a GN of 55 when measured at 100 ISO. All speedlights have a GN assigned and it can be found in the specifications page from the manufacturer. I researched the 24 speedlights reported to be used by the professionals and compared their GN to Cost.
The most frequently flashed used by the professionals was the Canon 580EXII. It’s cost on Amazon.com on 12 April 2014 was $679. It has a GN of 190 giving it a Cost per GN of $3.79. Now compare this to the Yongnuo YN568EXII that costs only $120 with a GN of 190 (58m*3.28) its Cost per GN is $0.63. While the Yongnuo YN568EXII equal in power output to the Canon 580EXII its cost Per GN 84% less than the Canon. Further, the Yongnuo flash is only 20% of the cost of the Canon. You would save $559 if you purchased the Yongnuo YN568XII. So if you are looking for Power OR Price it appears that many photographers are going to be looking toward China.
Another important factor is High Speed Synch. I noted this capability in the last column of the table below. HSS allows you to use shutter speeds above the rated synch speed of your camera. All the flagship flashes allow this and you can see that not all the lower priced knockoffs come with this feature. So BE AWARE that it is well worth the extra $$$ to have this capability. Why? You are photographing a bride outdoors and you want to have that soft Depth of Field behind her but your Shutterspeed is limited to 1/250 sec. That means you are going to have a high aperture setting to offset the lower shutterspeed. It can be important to you!
One more factor you may or may not be interested in Through the Lens (TTL) metering. This capability allows the cameras flash metering to automatically stop the output of the flash when you subject has been sufficiently exposed. It was awesome at weddings, family gatherings, etc. When you do not have time to play with exposure settings TTL is your best friend. Please note if your choice in a new flash has TTL circuitry for your Camera.
So let’s consider the Yongnuo YN 560II. It only cost $60, But for $60 you are getting a very BASIC flash. No HSS and no TTL. But it is manually adjustable AND it does have a optical slave meaning this would be a great second flash.
DEPENDABILITY has not been measured or weighted in this comparison. The Knock-offs have not been around long enough for anyone to comment on. Again, it depends on how you will employ your investment. I have used Nikon and Quantum Flashes for the past 10 years of wedding and never missed a shot. Someday we can report more about the knock-offs as they mature.
Bottom Line: Does the name really mean that much?
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or FB message me on my Facebook page anytime. May I also recommend you review http://speedlights.net/ before you buy! It is a great website and provides detailed reviews of the flashes noted below.
Please review all the costs and the Performance Ratios and basic capabilities of all the cameras reported by the survey group at Table 1 below.