Rebranded Lighting Equipment Horror Story: Be Careful What You Buy

Rebranded Lighting Equipment Horror Story: Be Careful What You Buy

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.

Strobie yongnuo ripoff fstoppers 1

Strobie yongnuo ripoff fstoppers 3

yongnuo-ripoff-fstoppers-2-1

Yup. Behind the sticker was the original manufacturer logo still etched in the plastic: Yongnuo.

The Yongnuo YN-460 is an older model Yongnuo speedlight unit that retails for at most $50 these days. LuRey paid more than double that, at about $130.

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.

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69 Comments
Robert Slowley's picture

Blurring wasn't too good guys... given that you've given the name away, it's worth noting that these Strobist flashes have /nothing/ to do with David Hobby (aka The Strobist), see http://strobist.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/warning-strobist-brand-flashes.html

Patrick Hall's picture

Was anyone suggesting they were associated with David?

Jorje Castillo's picture

thinking the same thing. it's worth noting that this comment has nothing to with Joe McNally, see:
http://portfolio.joemcnally.com/#!/index

Robert Slowley's picture

People do, which is why he had to make that post.

john smith's picture

lol..I can tell who the strobe belongs to...always knew that guy was kind of shady and a snake oil salesman.

Robert Slowley's picture

Which guy?

C S's picture

This is a surprise to people? Everything SR sells is a rebrand. Just look at the specs and compare them around.

Heath Hurwitz's picture

Scott kept pushing his flashes on Creative Live and it was clear they were just rebranded Yongnuo flashes. He kept trying to explain that they were somehow better than the stock units because he put his stickers on them.

His triggers are also rebranded, but not Yongnuo. They are Wansen.

His target audience is photographers that wouldn't know any better.

Jason Autry's picture

I always thought it was obvious that he was taking advantage of the newbies out there by slapping a sticker on these flashes, not sure why anyone would be surprised.

Mr Blah's picture

Another case of uninformed customer crying after buying a product without doing is research.

Nothing new here...

wori's picture

here is the pic

LA M's picture

Not a huge deal...this goes on in many more areas. Re-branding of a product is nothing new. You get what you pay for in most cases.

Spy Black's picture

Not sure why you're trashing the 460. It's simply a basic model. Does it's job. Can't go wrong for it's (real ) price.

China owns the world now., we just need to get used to it.

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

They are not dogging the flash but more the mark up and crappy re-branding.

Felipe_Paredes's picture

nop, they just own the USA.

Spy Black's picture

No, they share the USA with the Arabs.

Daniel Walldorf's picture

You can buy it here: http://scottrobertla.com/scott-robert-studio/srs-strobie-130/
But this guy also sells Yongnuo transmitter/receivers: http://scottrobertla.com/scott-robert-studio/srs-radio-trigger-system/

You can get these for some 30-40 bucks or buy them for only $229 from this ridiculous idiot.

Savi You's picture

Why the hell would you buy a no-name chinese brand for almost twice as much as a Yongnuo 560 III? I guess there's a sucker born everyday...which is why the chinese rebrands are thriving.

the_pro_amateur's picture

Knock it off fstoppers. You're blurring the name because you don't want the crook who did this coming back at you. They absolutely deserve to be held accountable for this. I wish people weren't such cowards. Trying to keep the information from readers doesn't help anyone but yourselves. Also, "..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." Could you possibly have found a more douchey way to say that? Just had to throw in how you'd pick up on it in a second because you're soooo savvy.

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

You have a lot of negative comments on our site. We knew this would get hashed out in the comments and inform our readers.

the_pro_amateur's picture

So you took the time to censor a photo BECAUSE you knew someone else would come along and post the photo uncensored. Sure that makes a lot of sense. You were covering your a$$ and then if someone comes back at you, you can say "ohhh it was those damn comments!". As I said, cowardly. If the crook who did this wanted to work with the site someday, would you turn him down?

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

Yeah we don't need another photographer to put his stickers on our posts so I don't think he would be much help here. I hope you were able to find out in the comments where not to buy your flashes.

Antonio Carrasco's picture

I think I heard of this before:
"Me Chinese. Me play trick. Me put ajax on my..."

whatever's picture

racist prick

RVLT7's picture

Now you are even worse than the conartist we are discussing here.

Jeremy Chou's picture

And of course somebody will make a racist comment. So typical.

Walker's picture

It hurts my heart to see duct tape on photo equipment.

james johnson's picture

Duct tape IS photo equipment in my book. All I'm concerned with is getting the job done.

Chris Helton's picture

Jim, sure getting the job done is the goal. Gaff tape is made for a reason though. Need something to hold together, but not destroy it trying to take the tape off?? Not to mention how shiny silver duct tape looks on gear. lol PRO right there.

Mr Blah's picture

Go ahead and tape a flash to a wall with duck tape "to get the job done"....

I'm sure the client will be happy! There is "getting it done" and "getting it done properly"...

Spy Black's picture

The client would be very upset indeed if you did that and didn't tape the duck instead...

Mr Blah's picture

HA! yeah, DUCT tape! My bad! ;)

William Bond's picture

Not to discredit this article because I do think this is a big problem. However, in the defense of the company they could just be using the same housing to save a few bucks but have different internal parts. Paying for new tooling is expensive and they may have figured that the housing the manufacturer already has may not be worth changing because its not like camera shoe mounts have changed. I would test this in comparison to the $50 model to make sure its the same thing and maybe even open it up. SOURCE: I work for an umbrella company that shares some device housing among its other brands.

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

I highly doubt they put different guts in. Just a sticker upgrade.

Mr Blah's picture

Umbrellas and flashes are QUITE different.

Yes they could reuse the shell, but I doubt they change the guts as this would mean a whole assembly line to build the flash.

The shell isn't the costly part of the flash....

William Bond's picture

The materials to make a flash is most likely relativity cheaper then the tooling to make the parts. I work for a company that gets products made over seas by contract manufacturers and they only get 3000 products made. It's not like an assemble line is dedicated for one product for life. Regardless I agree that this is sketchy that this person is doing it with a sticker and chances are they are the same exact flash. But I wouldn't assume until I looked inside the casing to see what materials are used. Same as I wouldn't want any doctor assuming that ever person who has a cough just has a cold.

Michael Comeau's picture

With the exception of some amazing cheap flash triggers, I've regretted every no-name lighting equipment purchase I've ever made. The super cheap stuff rarely if ever lasts. Now I stick to Craig's List and store sales where I've gotten amazing deals on high-quality stuff from Alien Bees, Plume, and Chimera. If you buy the right stuff used and take care of it, you can make money on gear.

Mike Macak's picture

the_pro_amateur +1 for calling out the sentence about the author being so savvy and making us feel like imbeciles, thinking that we wouldn't ever be able to tell the difference.

Micah Chiang's picture

I bought two YN-460s in 2009, they both still work perfectly. Sure, I've upgraded to better, more powerful lights since 2009, I just disagree with you.

on another note regarding the seller....unsure of whether or not to congratulate brilliance or shame extortion.

RVLT7's picture

Not a fan of SR's style as his post processing is overkill and the main message in all his talks are product driven. But! I have used his "flash card" when using OCF. It's pretty handy.

http://scottrobertla.com/wp-content/gallery/srs-strobie-130-images/srstr...

Marcos Villaroman's picture

You get what you pay for until the competition is gone. Given greed and the global market, this will continue. All we can do is try to minimize bad purchasing decisions and move on. I am thankful for those who warn the rest of us when they discover they've made purchasing mistakes.

tony pardilla's picture

you guys talk about how China affected the lighting industry in a previous article.

all i see here is a carefully worded "attack article"... most of the retailers here get their lighting equipment from China... some companies like the old calumet photo sold triggers under their brand name were originally made by phottix, or the cheetah lights by godox, etc

so if a person gets flashes from Yongnuo and rebrands them to make a profit, then why not?

isn't this america where we live in a capitalist society... do you guys not want to make a profit on the things or the services you sell? If one photographer sells his services for $1,000 but another photographer in the same area with the same set of skills and experiences sells his services for $500... will you guys blame the $1K photographer for over pricing his worth or blame the $500 guy for under pricing.

though i have to admit it was a bad job of hiding the original logo... blame yongnuo on that, not the reseller...

my advice to those wanting to buy new gear, do some research first.... its your fault for buying something more expensive if you didn't spend 10 minutes looking on ebay to compare gear...

Fstoppers you guys should contact Scott to see his thoughts on your article...

Patrick Hall's picture

I agree with a free market. I wouldn't say anything is wrong with that. I'm not sure I agree with one photographer being the same skill as another....that's like saying one athlete is exactly the same as another. We are all unique and comparing two different artists to two physical electronic products that are exactly the same is a bit of a stretch.

But I do agree on your assessment on perceived value. If someone wants to pay more for the same thing or something very similar then I think that's what marketing is all about and I'm all for it....for better or worse.

I think all Jaron was doing publishing this story he was emailed was playing a part of the research process a photographer might have. Maybe they see this article, maybe they google it and find it, maybe they already bought something similar and have learned after reading this.

tony pardilla's picture

a follow up on products that we sell, all of us want to make profit - there's no argument there, what if one of our clients found out how much we pay for our print books vs how much mark-up we attach to those said books. Wouldn't they argue with the same logic in the article above, why would we pay for $$$$ for that book to be printed if we can get the same book with the same material printed for $ if they go straight to the printer we use... same logic with the flashes... we pay for a perceived value!

In the bedding industry, the bed you get from sears is the same one you get at a bedding experts, etc... it all comes from the same manufacturer (China)... you may pay a little more at sears than you do at the other store, but will that change the fact that the bed is still a good product... everything gets re-branded... the reader who fixed his flash must have gone through Scotts classes and must have said, this flash is a good product, I'm going to buy it... does it change the fact that he used it for any of his jobs, does it diminish his quality of light because it was a yongnuo rebranded flash... did the flash fail in his expectations after he found out it was made by yongnuo.

the point of my argument is that things get rebranded (Yongnuo, Phottix, Cheetah Light, Godox) deal with it... if you don't do your research, then you are at fault for buying something that is more expensive

it was yongnuo's fault for the bad re-branding w/ the sticker... it does not diminish that his light is still a good light... don't blame the re-seller... like you and the rest of us, we are all in it to make $... don't blame Scott for trying to make $

also Fstoppers you guys are awesome... i will keep on reading your articles because like this one, it helps educate the photography community

pardon the bad grammatical miss-spellings and lack of punctuations

samuraipolitics's picture

I dont think it is entirely accurate to compare our mark-up on prints to putting a sticker or name plate on the same product. the prints we sell get the markup because it's OUR work on the print. if you want to make an accurate comparison, go buy a print from Ikea, put your name on it and mark it up triple. that would be a more accurate analogy.

Spy Black's picture

"though i have to admit it was a bad job of hiding the original logo... blame yongnuo on that, not the reseller..."

Why are you blaming Yungnuo for an action taken by a reseller? Youngnuo is the originator of the product and can rightly put their name on it. If they were contracted out by someone else to supply them with a generic brand that could be a different story, but that may not necessarily be what went down here.

tony pardilla's picture

I'm saying blame yongnuo for the bad job of covering up the original logo, what they should have done was no sticker and make sure the original logo wasn't there… yongnuo is the manufacturer and deals with selling the re-branding products… if i was the reseller, id be pissed if my clients saw that there was another logo behind my logo, which i paid for to re-sell

Jacob Jexmark's picture

You don't get it. Youngnuo didn't do the re-brand, the reseller did.

Spy Black's picture

You still can't blame Yungnuo. They supplied the unit as is and the reseller didn't object. It's pretty cut and dry.

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