I have been using Nikon speedlights for quite sometime now. My favorite one is SB600 which is small, powerful and supports CLS. Recently I felt the need for two more flash units but my pocket did not permit buying two. Sadly SB600s were no longer available. The models that were available in the market from Nikon were beyond my means. I then started looking for third-party units.
Some of the old flash units have very high trigger voltages that can fry the electronics in modern day cameras. My intention was to use them in remote mode so I was not worried about any ill-effects on the camera’s electronics. My search started with Vivitar 283 units which I was already familiar with. As expected, I could not find them either. A photographer friend of mine suggested Yongnuo flashes. According to him, they could be safely used on camera too and were a very good replacement for Nikon speedlights. They did not require dedicated remote triggers as the units supported remote trigger mechanism used in Nikon CLS. A quick search on internet brought up some information and reviews of the flash which seemed fine. Amazon user reviews were also promising.
(Yongnuo 568 EX – I bought two of these for the price of one Nikon speedlight)
As per the specifications, the flash sounds very capable. Some of the features were not clearly explained on the site but later I understood them or found the relevant information in the user manual.
The main features are –
- Flash features a full ETTL Mode. This is the default mode. In ETTL mode, the unit fires a pre-flash that the camera uses to calculate exposure, followed by the real flash at the time when shutter opens. Exposure is balanced by the camera and ETTL flash working together. The pre-flash and all the calculations are so instantaneous that one can never feel the amount of work happening behind a simple exposure.
- Guide number 58 (ISO 100, 105mm)! Good amount of power for most users.
- High Speed Sync: upto 1/8000 sec shutter speed. This was an innovation of Nikon which is also present in this flash. Instead of sticking with conventional sync shutter speed, this feature allows using flash at higher than sync shutter speeds too. It achieves this by firing multiple flashes as the shutter curtains move across the sensor, thereby avoiding the ‘band’.
- Wireless Remote / Slave Mode. It works with Nikon CLS. No need to buy radio triggers separately. It can be triggered while as a slave unit in various ways- by master units, whenever a flash is detected or whenever the main flash fires or ignoring any pre-flashes but firing with the main flash (All the fancy names – S1, S2, Sc/Sn). All the details are there in the user manual.
- Full manual control between 1/1 and 1/128 of power. Good for old school users like me who like to sometimes calculate exposure using guide numbers.
- Runs on 4 AA size batteries. I already have a lot of rechargeable AA batteries. Small savings for me there. (Batteries)
- The units came packed in beautiful boxes. Each unit also has a carrying case, table stand and usual documentation. The only disappointment was that there was no support for external power. Not a big deal though since I had intended to use them on AA batteries.
- Motorized Zoom Head & Wide Angle Diffuser, Bounce Card for Catch Light, Focus Assist Beam when mounted on camera, Dedicated button for backlit, Beep sounds to give audible confirmation ( of ready status, light output falling short of requirements and before switching itself off).
- There is a Multi-mode that provides a way of ‘strobing’ a subject (usually moving subjects) on long exposures. This freezes them in multiple positions within a single frame. The rate for the strobing effect can be manually set.
- The flash also supports all of the usual modes (for more details on flash modes – Flash Modes)
I gathered my courage and placed an order for two of these units. The units arrived quickly and safely through Amazon’s courier. The built quality was better than expected. What I really liked was the large sized backlit display and the self explanatory buttons. The stand has the standard 1/4-inch-20 thread for mounting on to a light-stand, though I use the stands exclusively for placing the flash units on table tops or window sills. The battery compartment takes four ‘AA’ size batteries and the battery compartment door feels well made. Overall the flash looks very refined. I have already included the features that I later discovered, in the list above.
The flash works exactly as expected. It is simple to use with umbrellas in the remote mode. I tried various shots with Nikon D200. The built-in flash of the D200 was configured to work in the commander mode. I also tried it with SU-800 commander unit and the flashes worked flawlessly (Nikon CLS and SU-800). The images turned out fine and for a fairly large sized room, two of these units did a wonderful job. The amount of light is good.
On continuous use after about 50 shots, which were clicked with few seconds difference between each, the batteries got quite hot. I tried with NiMH and Alkaline batteries of reputed companies with the same result. This was worrying for me. I realized that these are consumer flash units and not meant for studio use. I don’t think that these units should be used continuously for more than 20 shots at a go. A gap of few minutes is good enough to let the units cool down. When I am doing multiple shots in huge numbers, I take a break after every 20 shots or so and take the batteries out to let them cool. I know that this heating up of batteries is not good but then I do not use them intensively as a professional photographer would while covering an evening event or inside studio.
The angles covered by the flash are in line with the same focal length on a full frame camera. I did not see any dark areas in the peripheries, when the flash was used on camera and fired directly. There was slight light fall-off at the peripheries when used with 25mm lens and flash zoom set at 24mm. I do not have an ultrawide lens so I could not test the coverage with the diffuser.
When I sat down for post-processing my images, one bothering aspect was a magenta tint to all my photographs. Initially I thought that it was a problem with color balance setting on my camera, but no. Everything was set perfectly and yet the magenta tint was there. I had to remove it from all the pictures. Another interesting thing was that there was a difference in color temperature between the first image and the ones clicked at the end of the shoot. The initial ones were slightly warmer than the later ones.
All things said and done, this is a wonderful flash, value for money and works wonderfully. I do not recommend it for serious professional use but for hobbyists this is an ideal alternative to expensive Nikon speedlights.