If you've been a long time reader of Fstoppers, you might recall one of my original editorial pieces: How China Changed the American Lighting Industry. At the time of its publication, I had just come off a recent spell of a few years at an American photographic lighting company and got to see first hand how American greed led to a Chinese takeover of the industry. In the years following that article, the problem hasn't gotten any better. If anything, it's gotten far worse, and to the detriment of you as a consumer.
Now more people have access to crappy Chinese rebrands and, because they're cheap, they're making their way into the country under other names, hiding their shabby and low-quality builds.
Fstoppers reader LuRey Photography recently purchased a flash unit from an online store owned by a relatively respected industry source, and is advertised as: "the best affordable compact flash."
After using the flash for some time, LuRey was forced to make an impromptu repair to the product as the battery compartment lid was no longer securely in place. Not a big deal, this is a common problem with a lot of flash units. Unfortunately, when he later peeled back the duct tape to replace the batteries, he discovered something that put him into a fit of rage.
Note: we have blurred out the name of the company who rebranded the product because we aren't in the business of attacking other people. We just wanted you all to understand the realities of this industry and be informed enough in the future to not let this happen to you.
Yup. Behind the sticker was the original manufacturer logo still etched in the plastic: Yongnuo.
Besides the logo, which would be the dead giveaway, when side by side, the product is very visibly the same Yongnuo flash available from a great number of retailers or directly from Yongnuo in China. If you weren't as savvy on lighting products as I happen to be, you would not have known this.
Let me tell you a little something about this flash model: It sucks. It is the cheapest option Yongnuo offers as OEM that you can rebrand. You can choose to add any logo anywhere you want on it, but it costs extra per logo placement. Obviously the reseller here was cheap and didn't opt to do the front-of-flash rebrand, opting to only do the rear.
So what do we recommend if you're going to spend about $130 to $160 for a flash unit? I personally own five of the higher-quality Yongnuo flashes, the YN-560 III. For $75 a flash, you can't beat that mix of power and price. If you watch the Pan Am video I produced with Mike Kelley, you'll see he also uses these higher-end Yongnuo speedlights (look for the scene where the speedlight is dangling over the staircase).
If you need TTL, it's only $115 to upgrade to YN-565. This is still less than what that rebranded flash was sold for.
The lesson here? Be careful what you're paying for. Many, many products are simple rebrands of other generic lighting products widely available on the market. Talk to more than just the seller, get opinions from other photographers, and just do a simple Google Image search if nothing else. If you're going to end up with Chinese OEM product anyway, you might as well buy it from the source. It will save you a lot of money and stress. Needless to say, LuRey learned his lesson.
And also remember: light is light. Don't pay extra for light with someone's name on it.
Thanks to LuRey Photography for sending us the images and letting us share your story.