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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.

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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
Previous comments
Ben Meir Ohayon's picture

https://www.photoflex.com/products/starfire-digital-flash

heres another rebranded yongnuo YN460. some kid in my class was sold one, for 130$. when i brought my 460s to school, they were identical

A A's picture

When is the YN600EX-RT coming out finally?

Thierry Lyles's picture

I personally loved watching Scott Robert on creative live.. he is awesome at speak and teaching.. When he started pitching his flashes I went to check them out.. Immediately I recognized they were just rebranded Yongnuo products with one hell of a mark up.

LA M's picture

BTW: Just to throw acid on this discussion...I'm sure you are aware that many of the cars on the road share the "same" basic platform/parts...right?

Success is about copying what works and developing ways to repeat it at the lowest possible cost. Look at any business and you will find a similar basic foundation. Innovation is nice when it happens though. I hate when camera companies charge increasing amounts of money for the same basic technology...which they re-skin in new shiny packaging. Like the way Canon's flagship cameras have similar dynamic range to models 5 years out of date...write an article about that ;-)

Really...this isn't new.

samuraipolitics's picture

wow...my 1dx has the same dynamic range as a 1 mark III, damn it...duped again!

LA M's picture

I would have saved the money on the 1Dx and learned to read and comprehend. Much more valuable in life.

Owain Shaw Photo's picture

This story has been really helpful to me as I need a flash for a job on Tuesday and can get one of the better units you recommend, delivered on Monday, for the same cost as renting a Canon flash locally. Pulling the trigger on it right now. Knowing yourself and Mike use the things makes me pretty confident in it ...

Jaron Schneider's picture

Can't beat em for the price.

Owain Shaw Photo's picture

Follow up. Totally happy with it - great flash for the price. The shoot went well, and I've used it on two more jobs in the past week, so very glad to have picked this up rather than renting one locally.

Thanks again for the recommendation, I read the right article at the right time!

emanresu1973's picture

I have no problem with him rebranding and reselling, but did he get permission from Yongnuo to rebrand their product for consumer retail sales? Did he pay them licensing fees? If so, he is doing nothing wrong. If he didn't pay licensing fees/royalties/get permission etc from Yongnuo, then that is a problem.

james johnson's picture

Well, nothing wrong except duping his customers. There is that.

emanresu1973's picture

Plenty of things are rebranded, it's a pretty normal process for there to be one manufacturer of a product that is sold under numerous names. It's only duping his customers if he isn't selling rebranded product with Yongnuo's permission

james johnson's picture

If your business model relies on the ignorance and naivete of your customers, you are duping your customers.

Jacob Jexmark's picture

I wonder if Scott has a contract with Yongnou as an example.. If he doesn't isn't rebranding their stuff and selling it retail infact illegal?

jmilez's picture

That's wild, not sure why, but "he" was the first person that came to mind when I saw the photo and before seeing whose product it was. Can't believe it took this long to figure out, but apparently anybody smart enough to buy a Yongnuo was smart enough not to buy his and compare.

Jacob Jexmark's picture

To be 100% honest, this is the first time I've ever even heard of him..

Leif Sikorski's picture

Reminds me on the CamRanger which is basically a 30-40$ TP Link box with a custom firmware sold for way more. There are many companies re-labeling existing hardware and selling it for a much higher price -sadly. A Google search is always your best friend before you buy anything.

Shane Castle's picture

Since the photographer had used it "for some time" and was presumably satisfied with it, this actually argues that the original flash is severely underpriced. The photographer only became "enraged" (buyer's remorse?) after he discovered the original make, model, and price. What did he expect? Canon? Nikon? I don't think so. He knew he was getting a copy of some kind, and in fact he got a fairly good one.

"Similar but different" in the photo industry is as old as the industry itself. Nothing new here. This is how the marketplace works.

Will Chamberlin's picture

Slightly off topic but loved the video - what is the app which he is using to preview images?