Why I Chose Third Party Speedlights Over the Name Brands

Why I Chose Third Party Speedlights Over the Name Brands

Name brand speedlights — like a lot of things in photography — are absurdly priced, and although they carry the big brand names, they also lack in a number of key areas versus the lower cost, third party alternatives. Take a look at my reasoning for steering clear of the big camera manufactures brand speedlights.

I totally fell for it, at first armed with a minor understanding of available lighting products. Looking to branch outside of shooting in just natural light my sights were locked in on purchasing a brand name speedlight to match the name on my camera. It was the sensible direction to go. As a purchasing decision, I figured how can you possibly go wrong by paying more, surely quality reflects in the price. As I later learned with lighting, this is not the case.

Price

I placed this one first on the list for good reason. Any way you look at it the purchase of one flash, that costs the same amount as three is a tough sell. For example at the time of this post a single Canon 600EX-RT II Speedlite retails for $479. Alternatively the third party options that currently reside in my kit the Godox V860II-C are just a fraction of the cost, and currently selling for $179.00. On top of that current disparity the pricing tends to get even better from time to time, as these often find their way on sale. When I had purchased my set of three, combined they equaled under the price of the one aforementioned Canon Speedlite.

Pricing gets more lopsided when it comes time to control the speedlights off camera.The brand name Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite transmitter will set you back another $285. This price especially does not hold up well when compared to the more versatile X1T-N which is priced at just $46. Not to mention most of the time I shoot with dual cameras at my side, and having an affordable second trigger is much easier than switching it back and forth between camera bodies, disrupting the flow of the shoot.

One trigger controls it all.

A Well-Rounded Ecosystem

Take the Godox system as the current gold standard for a well-rounded system. Prior when I utilized a mixture of Canon and Profoto OCF, it always frustrated me that I could never conveniently combine both to work together. Switching over to just one system, I can now combine two or three of these inexpensive speedlights with a larger output strobe like the AD600, to quickly generate a larger variety of looks, using for example back lighting, and gels that compliment the main light. This is something I could never achieve before with an incompatible mixed system of more expensive brands.

Cross Brand Compatibility

One of the factors that eased my past camera brand switch, which entailed moving from DSLR to full frame mirrorless was that nearly all of my lighting equipment remained compatible. The only gear that I had to update was the relatively inexpensive trigger. Once the trigger was mounted to my Sony body, the communication just seamlessly occurred and everything simply worked. My Canon Speedlites could never do that. This was a large factor in my decision to switch as all this lighting equipment could be salvaged, and not painfully sold at a loss. 

Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery

It’s liberating to toss aside that horrible mixed-bag-collection of both rechargeable, and last minute gas station purchased batteries scattered about the bottom of your camera bag. Those are replaced with one convenient rechargeable lithium battery, that ships in the box, and lasts ages during a gig. One battery gets me through a full wedding day without breaking a sweat. 

Finally a flash that runs off of a rechargeable Li-ion battery pack, ensuring fast recycle time and all day performance.

Quality of Light Is the Same

Last among my reasoning is the fact that you can't argue that the name brands have great build quality. And although build quality will of course vary among the third party options available to you, there is hardly a real world difference to be found in actual light quality between them. All of the best accessory speed light shapers are third party and universal. With that said fitment and compatibility of must-have accessories like the ones form MagMod are never an issue.

So next time someone who is starting out in photography asks you for some light purchasing advice, do them a favor, and recommend a versatile, less expensive, third party option.

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55 Comments

Mark Niebauer's picture

yongnuo has worked well for me.

Derrick Ruf's picture

Great example Mark. I have worked with wedding photographers that swear by them.

Jon Dize's picture

I've used the Yongnuo tranceivers for about five years and they have never failed to do what I ask them to do, but I have had a few issues with hyper-sync with Yongnuo speedlights. I still use Nikon speedlights, half a dozen or so, but the connection is through Yongnuo triggers. Which also work with my monolights.

David Pavlich's picture

I have two 568s and a 565 and use their transmitters and receivers (622) for off camera work. Never had a failure. I have read some that have overheating problems when a heavy duty cycle is used (they won't recharge until they are cooled off), but I've not experienced it.

David T's picture

I like them, but they have some QC issues. The Godox system is thought out a bit better, with more compatibility between triggers/flashes.

I could never trigger the Canon 600EX-RT in slave mode using the flash 'pulse' (making it flash through light of other flashes). My best option was to purchase Godox X1R-C (Receiver) to incorporate the Canon ones on the Godox ecosystem. New purchases are all Godox equipment.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

Totally agree! I love my Godox lights. I bought one Canon 430ex II when I first started off camera flash and it was $240 on sale at the time. That money could have bought a $50 Godox transmitter and THREE $60 Godox TT600 speedlites with money for lunch to spare!

Derrick Ruf's picture

Nice, thanks for stopping by Francisco, you're a perfect example of what can be done with this system. Keep up the great work in the lighting community.

William Howell's picture

Yeah, I too think it is a waste of dough to Nikon or canon branded speed lights. If the Chinese lights break, I’m only out $60.00 versus $600.00 for the brand name.

Here is a photograph I did of a colleague, I used four Einsteins, a Chimera 57, Chimera Medium strip box, fresnel attachment as the key for the face and a reflector for the hair.

Sarah Dugan's picture

This is the reasoning that led me to start buying 3rd party speedlights. I've seen too many contemporaries lose a OCF speedlight (or two!) at a wedding via a drunken guest; the cost on them is about the same as the average deductible, so it's not something insurance is going to cover. When I was shooting weddings and roller derby, losing an OCF - even with sandbags or gaff tape as security - was a real worry! $175 is a lot more palatable than $500+ for sure.

Plus, now that I'm a Fuji shooter, Godox is a must with Fuji's anemic flash system...

William Howell's picture

I buy cheap Chinese speedlights, because, firstly, there aren’t any speedlights made here in America, secondly, cheap price, good enough quality.

For big lights I buy American, you know, shop local, buy American, that what everyone said way back when.

Marius Pettersen's picture

So do you buy these Chinese speedlights from China or through an American vendor?
And are there any other American brands than Paul C. Buff?

William Howell's picture

I bought the Yong Nuo lights from Amazon.
Here are some American manufacturers; Photogenic, Speedotron, Lumedyne, Norman, Dynalite.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Decent arguments, and yes, Canon products are often expensive, but the build quality is often superior. I recently bought the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT II, and it feels like a cheap toy compared to my Speedlite 600EX-RT II - which is also weather sealed. Having reliable equipment is often worth the extra money, but like always, people need to evaluate that themselves and try to balance the expenditures if necessary.

Bill Peppas's picture

I can make you a titanium based body for the Yongnuo.
Will this make it any better ?

I thought we care about performance, quality ( of light, recycling time, battery life, etc ) and not the looks or if they can survive a dive in the river.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Mechanical performance is also part of how any device operates. Both are made of plastics, but I guess Canon also uses metal in key areas - and also higher grade plastics. I do not feel confident that the Yongnuo would survive a fall to the ground, but the Canon would. My old 580EX smashed into asphalt when the stand tipped over - no problem, minor scratches.

I haven't used it long enough to comment on the overall performance and software, but there are features that I like.

Bill Peppas's picture

Got a Nikon SB-910 ( 600EX-RT equiv ) and Yonguos.
Can barely notice any difference between them in my photos ( thus, I bought 3 Yongnuos and only the one SB-910 I bought with the camera ).

The newer Yongnuo's ( 968 ) are said to have better build quality than the previous models.
Mine are all YN-568EX.
Two of those have suffered a great fall in the past.
One fell when a dancer clipped my Manfrotto tripod and sent it sideways, with the flash mounted on top, standing at over 6ft off the wooden dance floor.
Just a scratch on the "lens" of the flash unit.
The other one had a similar fall to the ground ( asphalt ) from approx. 5ft and suffered nothing but a few minor scratches on the side of the body.

Both are serving me just fine like they originally did ;)

Marius Pettersen's picture

That's good. I hope I have the same experience if mine takes a dive too.
I haven't commented on the light quality though - only physical qualities, or lack thereof.
I do not regret the purchase, and I may buy one more, but I do prefer my Profoto D1 and the 600EX-RT II for main lights.

Bill Peppas's picture

It will survive, I'm sure it will.

Generally speaking, I don't feel comfortable with thinking that harm will find its way to any of my equipment.
It's not like the SB-910 is a metal back phone and the Yongnuo or any other brand for that matter a phone with a glass back.

Now that I think about it, there's nothing in my photography gear that I feel like I won't be worried if it suffers a big or small fall.

Derrick Ruf's picture

I hear you about Yongnuo, generally feeling cheaper than Canon products. They do though pack a nice punch for the price. The V860II is much closer in build quality to that of Canon.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Godox speedlights (860, 860II, 850, 685 and AD200) feel much better built than my SB-900 & 910. And they don't overheat and burn like my SB-900.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I have both Canon and Godox speedlights. I love the Godox for their wonful radio range and price, BUT I find the Canons more consistant in how they handle scenes with ETTL. The Godox are more easily confused than the Canons and the same is true when I use FEL.

So although "light is light" to be sure, there is a whole world of compatibilty with the camera body to consider.

For event style work, I tend to use both. A Canon on camera set to ETTL, with a Godox remote underneath to drive remote secondary Godox speedlights which are set to manual. I wish I could drive the on-camera as a Godox, but I found my results were less consistant.

As for build quality, the Godox tt865 that I have is pretty good, but I prefer the better lock on the Canons. If the Canon radio link had better range then maybe I'd stay on-brand throughout.

Derrick Ruf's picture

This is good to know Lee, I tend to keep them in manual so I may have missed this possible weak point.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I found the V860 to be inconsistent when on TTL but the V860II is much better and actually pretty good. The AD200's TTL is excellent. When doing events I prefer to shoot manual most of the times. Even the SB-910 was often fooled by DJ lights and when using off camera strobes the results are never that accurate.

Image below was done with 2 AD200's on TTL. minus one stop or so (can't remember exactly). The thing is, almost all photos came out the same exposure

William Howell's picture

I like this photograph, to me, you’ve accentuated her femininity and poise beautifully.

Paul Smith's picture

One of my favorite features of the Godox X-Pro trigger (the trigger in your photos) is that you can shoot with all or some of your strobes in ITTL mode (Nikon CLS, in my case) and, if you like the results, simply pressing and holding that little TCM button sets your flashes to the "manual" equivalent of the settings the ITTL exposure chose, locking them in for subsequent shots. Tweek the settings of each individual strobe to taste from there. It's a great way to quickly get settings "in the ball park" when time for the shoot is very limited. Plus, TCM works with any brand of strobe that is ITTL/ETTL compatible with your camera. However, the smaller Godox triggers (X1) do not have this (sometimes) useful feature.

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