I was excited to see that quintessential Amazon taped cardboard shipping box in front of my door when I got home today. I immediately tore it open to reveal my 4 new Yongnuo YN560-III Speedlights I ordered. I’ve been using Nikon SB-28’s until now and I have to say, they’ve been bombproof, and the picture of reliable, but lacking in some features that I’ve wanted for a while now, namely, internal slaves and more power. I’ve been using radio triggers and receiver with my SB-28’s and they have been very reliable, but external triggers are just one more thing I have to think about and setup. And when you have the receiver mounted to the flash it adds over an inch to the height of the setup which poses issues with some of my gear. There are also times when an optical flash would be nice, too, but that was not even an option with the SB-28’s. Since I don’t shoot Nikon cameras the SB-28’s TTL capability isn’t an option for me so switching to a non-TTL system wasn’t a consideration for me when I was deciding if I wanted to try something new.
I have been shooting Fujifilm cameras exclusively as of late, and in fact, have sold all of my Canon gear, so other than the Fuji EF-42, there aren’t any other viable TTL options available, which is fine since I rarely use it. With the TTL business out of the way, I evaluated my options available to me that meet my requirements. I came up with two options, the LumaPro and the Yongnuo. The LumaPro boasts an impressive Guide Number (power) and does include an optical slave option, but no radio option. It has in integrated gel holder which I would love to have. It is also more than double the cost of the Yongnuo. The Yongnuo YN560-III goes for around $70 USD, has built-in optical and radio slave capability (and I already own a set of Yongnuo radio triggers), has a decent power advantage, although not as much as the LumaPro, and has earned a good reputation to boot. Decision Yongnuo.
Alright, on to the good stuff! My initial thoughts after opening the boxes is that they look pretty beefy, even compared to my SB-28’s, and simply dwarf my EF-42. They have a metal hotshoe which adds to it’s robustness and a nice sized lock ring that’s easy to turn (and deploys a locking pin when turned down all the way). Like my Nikon’s, they have a built in bounce card and extra wide diffuser, both of which can be extended out of the flash head, but they are not easy to get out. Maybe they’ll loosen up with use, but in the cold you better have something to pry them out with. They have what looks like a button on the hinge that one would assume locks the flash head into position, but it is purely cosmetic. In fact, there is no lock at all for the flash head, it is indexed so you can just push it to whatever position you like. I have found this to be undesirable since heavier light modifiers will make the flash head flop down under any kind of jolting. This wasn’t an issue with the Nikon’s since they had a locking button on the flash head that you would have to push to move it. My EF-42 just flops around when my LumaQuest Softbox III is attached. At least the Yongnuo’s flash head adjustments take some effort to switch so maybe it won’t be a problem, but I do prefer a locking flash head.
One thing I like to do with any new device is to not read the manual, at least initially. I don’t know if this is a guy thing or a engineer thing, but I don’t RTFM until I’ve had a chance to explore the interface on my own to see how intuitive it is. If I have to go to the manual to understand how to use it’s basic functions, it’s typically not good. So I threw in a fresh sett of NiMH AA’s, rev’ed it up and poked around the menus for a minute, finding just about everything I would expect to see. It took a minute to understand the menus available by pushing two of the buttons simultaneously, but they are labeled very clearly. Within just a few minutes I had it setup for my radio transmitters and all ready for the testing to begin. I did have to refer to the manual to figure out some of the configuration options, which are pretty easy to use once you understand what the menu items mean (primarily the sleep/power saving options).
Navigating around the menus is very easy with the 4 arrow buttons (up, down, left, right) which in shooting mode control the power settings. I think my favorite thing about this flash is the way the power modes are set with the 4 arrow buttons. The left and right buttons give you the ability to adjust the power in full stops, while the up and down buttons adjust the power in 1/3 stops (you can change the incremental value from 1/3 stops to 1/2 stops if you prefer via the configuration menu). I know it seems like a small thing but this feature kicks butt. If I need to quickly go from 1/1 to 1/16 power it’s only 4 button presses away instead of going though all of the 1/3 increments to get there. If I need 1/8 and 2/3 power I can just tap the up arrow a couple of times and I’m there. Again, it’s a small thing but when I’m shooting I want to be screwing around with the gear a little as possible and this certainly helps in that arena.
Speaking of power settings, the Yongnuo YN560-III can be set all the way down to 1/128th power whereas the SB-28 could only go down to 1/64 power. This is great for me when using a light on the background directly behind the subject since I’ve always had to amp up my other lights to get the proper ratio or add a ND gel to bleed off a stop. And one other thing worth mentioning when setting the power level, the menu wraps around, meaning that when you hit 1/128 and press the power level button again it wraps back to the beginning to 1/1 power. I do prefer this type of navigation but I know some like it to bottom out and not wrap around. Kind of a Coke vs. Pepsi thing.
One of the biggest reasons for my abandonment of my beloved Nikon’s was the desire for my speedlights to have their own internal slave capabilities. I would have settled for just a radio slave, but the YN560-III has radio and optical slaves, Bonus! The radios are compatible with the Yongnuo RF-603 C1 triggers that I already have (I purchased them to use as a remote shutter release) as well as the RF-602 and the new YYN560-TX Flash Transmitter that allows for controlling the flashes remotely (kick butt!). The radio operates at 2.4ghz and seems to have plenty of working range, as well as 16 channels to choose from.
The optical slaves operate in two different modes as indicated by S1 and S2. The first optical slave mode, S1 is the standard behavior where it fires the flash when it senses another flash popping. The second optical slave mode, S2, is identical to the first S1 mode except it ignores the TTL preflash which you’ll need if using a TTL flash for the master flash. The Fuji X-E2 has a small pop up flash that can be set to “Command Mode” which is designed to give a small pop of light which should be enough to set off slave enabled flashes while having a minimal impact on the exposure. Just for fun I thought I’d play with it to see how well it works for those times I don’t happen to have my radio flash triggers with me, or I break it, or the trigger’s batteries die, etc. To be honest I didn’t expect it to work very well but in fact it works better than expected. Even when the Yongnuo was on the other side of an umbrella the X-E2 set off the YN560-III flashes almost every time. The only time I had an issue was when I was grossly off access from the slave and it was behind the umbrella. Nice little surprise!
There are couple of other features that are worth mentioning that I’m starting to really like about these “basic” flashes. The flashes have the ability to give an audible signal where they are charging and when they’re ready. Indoors it is rather annoying and not really needed since I’m generally shooting at a middle to low power setting. But outdoors when I’m shooting with the power turned up to 1/4 or higher I tend to outrun my flashes and wind up with shots with no light. Now I have a nice little “beeeeep!” to let me know when they’re ready to go again. Brilliant!
The flashes also come with a nice little storage case that will probably never use, but nice nonetheless. But inside the case is a little pocket that I almost overlooked which has a small flash stand that can be used by itself or used to attach the flash to a tripod. Not a bad thing to have in the kit.
There is also a small door on the side that hides an external battery connector and a PC sync cord connector in case you’re rolling old school.
Although I haven’t had a chance to really punish these speedlights yet, the few sessions I’ve used them on so far have been very positive. Good color and consistency, fast charging, with a full charge in just over 2 second using 2600mah NiMH batteries, and best of all, they just work, and work well. Are they as good as my Nikon’s? In many regards, even better. Will they last as long and take the punishment that my SB-28’s did? Time will tell, but so far I am really loving these new Yongnuo speedlights.
I’ll post more updates as time goes on and/or there are any events with them that warrant their own post. In the mean time, let me know what you think of them and post any pictures you’ve gotten with them on the Light With Me Facebook page.
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Photo credit: All of the images of the YN560-III here are from the Amazon product page HERE.