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.
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.
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.
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.