Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: Trying out the Yongnuo YN-560II

In Russian there's a saying the goes: "I am not rich enough to buy cheap things!" (and widely accepted there as an old English saying).
Well I decided I might just be rich enough to buy a Yongnuo YN-560II flash and hope for the best!

My new YN560-II napping...

 Raised according to the above saying, I usually do prefer to spend more money on a quality product that will last, rather than something I'll need to replace way too quickly. In 2010, David Hobby Wrote in his blog about his experience with Chinese flashes (specifically the Yongnuo YN-560) and later about his decision not to review their new products until their quality control improves. 
I agree with Mr. Holby for the most part, but there's no denying the appeal of a flash unit that costs a fraction of the competitors. Also, more recently I encountered quite a few positive reviews by a few photographers including Zack Arias. I guessed (and partially hopped) that since David's review in 2010, the company improved it's QC and hopefully the YN560 II version, the one Zack got, is more reliable.

So armed with my hopes and guesses, and after ordering the Yongnuo RF-603 remote flash triggers from eBay last November and being really pleased with them (You can read a more detailed review here), I decided to take the bait and ordered a YN-560II flash. With a bit of luck, I'll have a better experience with it, than Mr. Holby did.

The flash arrived remarkably fast. Two weeks for an order from China is not bad at all. Usually I have to wait over a month to get my hands on some of the cheap wonders from the peoples republic (I ordered 2 more RF-603 transceivers 10 days before ordering the flash, that I'm still waiting for).

The other manual flash I have is the LumoPro LP160. It's an awesome manual flash. It's well built, reliable, has ton of syncing options and a real quality product. I purchased it when I needed a second flash to shoot my friends on their wedding day. I was looking for an affordable and reliable flash, and I decided I didn't want to take a chance with the YN560, since I did not have much time before the wedding to sort ant faults if any would arise. So, Now that I bought the Yongnuo flash as well, I thought comparing the two would be interesting.

It's outer appearance is unashamedly "inspired" by the Canon Speedlite 580 EX II. You have to look twice to tell them apart. Right down to the flash case and stand it all the same. Beyond the moral issues I have with it, it's a not a bad thing. Canon flash ergonomics are really good, and as an owner of a Canon 580, you feel right at home. The flash feels solid and well built and the plastics do not look cheap. Canon's pull-up wide-angle panel, and bounce card are here as well. In addition, You get a flash diffuser cover (weirdly it was not part of the box, but attached outside it).

 Yongnuo design team hard at work 
The LP160 in comparison, looks more crude (I feel bad pointing that out since LumoPro did not rip off someone else's design). The LP160 feels lighter (according to the spec. they have the same weight) and slightly bigger in comparison.

Considering it's a 70$ flash it got tons of features.
The flash comes equipped with Mechanical Zoom, External charging plug,  PC sync. port. It has a  Powersaving mode and audio feedback (nice touch that none of my other flashes have). It has  8 levels of Power Settings - 1/1-1/128, with sub stop increments (LP160 goes only up to 1/64 in 1 stop steps).
In addition it automatically remembers your last settings (per mode).

Granted most of those features are not deal breakers, but they are nice too have.

- YN-560 has a declared Guide Number of 39m@ISO 100, 105mm (the LP160 - GN43m@ISO 100, 35mm).

Recycle time is good, with NiMH batteries, I was getting around ~2s for full power recharge (and did I mention the audio feedback is a nice touch?).

The YN-560 II flash has 4 modes of action: M, S1, S2 & Multi.

Manual - Well, it's manual... As the decent manual that comes with the flash says: "In M mode, you can set the flash output level as you like" - couldn't have put it better myself. As mentioned earlier, you have 8 stops of power from 1/1 to 1/128 (similar to Canon 580 EX II).

S1 - Optical Slave mode. The flash sensor is pretty good. When tested outside midday in the Israeli sun, I got consistent sync from farther than the declared 15m (from a Canon 580 firing at 1/128).

S2 -  Optical Slave mode, the sequel. In this more the YN560 flash will ignore your E-TTL pre-flashes and only fire for the real thing.  If you are using your triggering flash in the E-TTL mode and won't set the YN560 flash to S2 mode, the pre-flash, designed to meter the lighting, will trigger the YN560 and so your triggering flash will evaluate the lighting incorrectly (As demonstrated below).

Left: Flash in S1 Mode; Right: Flash in S2 Mode

I don't really use E-TTL mode when working with several strobes, but It's a nice option and it works. Same option is also available on the LP160.

Multi - In this mode the flash will fire a series of flashes at a predefined frequency. A nice option my LP160 doesn't have (I guess it was borrowed from the Canon along with the design).

UPDATE: One issue I noticed is that the flash does not work it dual triggering mode. If You set the flash in S1 mode and attach a trigger to it's hotshoe, the flash will not be triggered from the hotshoe. It's not a big issue but it's useful for occasions when you want to improve your chances of syncing a far away strobe (This is an excellent example that comes to mind).

So far I only had a few opportunities to use it, but I'm really impressed by this little flash. Bang for buck, it's a winner and having a third flash without selling vital organs is always a plus (You could say I'm quite attached to my vital organs). It's reliability over time is still a concern, and one I'll have to test over time.

Another version of the saying (this time I did come across it in English) is "Buy cheap, Buy twice". The thing is this flashes are cheap enough to buy twice (actually more like 7) and still spend less than 1 Canon flash, which costs  here 2200 NIS (over 600$) - Crazy expensive. Sure the Canon flash gives you TTL, focust assist beam and some other advanced features, but if you're in need of a simple of camera flash this is an excellent choice.

Did you have a different experience with the YN-560 II? Share It in the comments below.

While writing this review I found that since I ordered my flash, Yongnuo already released the YN-560III. The YN-560 III is unsurprisingly a follow-up to the YN-560 II, but this time comes with RF-602 and RF-603 2.4G compatible radio receivers built-in to the unit. According to the spec. it supports 16 channels of wireless, with a range of up to 100m. It's a nice feature to add and I really appreciate the company is now building new products that a compatible with their older ones.

Also, while writing the review (Yes, I was slow writing it...), David Hobby reviewed LumoPro's LP180 flash. Looks pretty awesome! The LP160 flash was great flash and I'm really happy with. At 200$ their 3rd generation flash looks like a great deal (guessing it's gonna cost around 1000NIS here). 


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