Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Second Search for Second Flash

Did you notice the slower posting frequency over the last couple of weeks?  That's because we were on a trip overseas.  Anyway we're back and it's time to catch up.

Although I wrote about it facetiously, I really did break my YN-560 during my trip, and I've been wondering what flash to get as a replacement.  I initially considered the radio-TTL flash from Yongnuo, the YN460-RX and YN460-TX but as far as I know there's only a Canon version.  Plus I would almost have to get a whole new radio-TTL flash collection (an untested one at that) to fully utilize the radio TTL function.

So instead, I considered a Nikon SB-700, Yongnuo YN-560, a YN-460 mkII, Lumopro LP160, a Nissin Di622 mkII, and a Nikon SB-600.

The SB-700 would be ideal.  It has all the functions I want, and has an awesome interface.  In fact I had been thinking about getting one before I ruined my YN-560.  But the SB-700 is a little pricey for me right now given that I don't always use a second flash (I use a second flash mostly for portraits and setup shots).  I may get one in the future when I have more funds available.

Among cheaper flashes, I was thinking about Lumopro LP160, another Yongnuo YN-560, a Yongnuo YN-460 mkII, or a Nission Di622 mkII.

I thought about getting a Lumopro LP160, which is supposedly reliable.  It also has all the important features that a budding strobist could want, including both PC sync and a mini-jack sync.  However, it's a bit more than twice the cost of the YN-560.

Since the time I got my Yongnuo YN-560, it has been updated to include a metal foot.  From online discussions, it appears that the new YN-560 is more reliable than the first batch of YN-560s (where most units functioned ok but a fraction of units were lemons).  Best of all, the YN-560 is now available via Amazon, which would make returning or exchanging the unit easier in case of a defect.  In my view therefore, the added risk of the YN-560 compared to an LP160 is acceptable under the circumstances, given the significant price difference.  Plus, the YN-560 has wider power adjustment and faster recycle.

I could go even cheaper with a Yongnuo YN-460 mkII, which costs about 1/3 less than a YN-560.  Moreover, according to speedlights.net tests, its guide number is about the same as that of the YN-560.  However, the YN-460 mkII doesn't have a zoom - it's always at 35mm.  For me, a zoom is almost a must-have feature.  It helps me control what would get lit and what wouldn't, and I can get a higher effective guide number by zooming a flash.  Another important advantage of the YN-560 is that the YN-560 has a useful optical sync.  Having used the YN-560 I would say it is about as reliable/sensitive as that of the SB-800.  These two factors lead me to conclude the YN-560 is the better choice over the YN-460 mkII notwithstanding the higher price.

Finally, there's the Nissin Di622 mkII, which has the following characteristics:
  • COST (around $180 at the time of this writing): More than twice the cost of a YN-560
  • POWER: Per speedlights.net, it has a real-world GN of 37m @ 35mm iso100, vs yn560 and 460mkII (34m)
  • RECYCLE: Slower recycle (~5 secs vs. ~2 secs for YN-560).
  • ADJUSTMENT: 5 stops (up to 1/32), full stops only vs. 8 stops (up to 1/128) for YN-560, not to mention 1/8-stop power adjustments.
  • ZOOM: while the Di622 has auto zoom, unfortunately it has no manual zoom. Doh!  This is a significant issue for me.  With the YN-560 zoomed, I can get a higher effective GN than that of the Di622.
  • FOOT: plastic, vs. the new YN-560's metal foot.
  • SYNC OPTIONS: like the YN-560, it has a dumb optical slave, a digital optical slave (for TTL), and a PC sync.  In addition the Di622 mkII has a minijack sync.  Best of all, the Di622 is a Nikon Advanced Wireless Lighting (AWL)-compatible slave that can be remote controlled by a commander such as the D300's built-in flash!  Note: the Di622 is limited to channel 1, group A only, which means it cannot be controlled by the D70's built-in flash (which is stuck on Channel 3), but I still think this is an incredibly useful feature.

Although the Di622 has some disadvantages compared to the YN-560 (most notably the zoom function and narrower power range), the AWL function of the Di622 makes up for those problems.  When I got the YN-560 I thought I could do without AWL, but using two flashes at the same time made me realize that AWL is even more useful in multi-flash applications.  The AWL compatibility is so important for me that I would be willing to pay the extra cost of the Di622 over the YN-560.

Now, given that I'm willing to pay the extra cost of the Di622 and put up with its issues (no zoom, slower recycle, plastic foot), would I be willing to pay extra for the SB-600?  The SB-600 would cure all those problems and add remote high-speed sync, plus, it can be used in TTL mode with film cameras such as the N90.  However the SB-600 would be about 1 stop weaker in terms of power.  On the whole, I think I would be fine with that.  Besides, I have the D70's ultra-high sync as my secret weapon :) (see the recent post on how high sync speed amplifies effective flash power).  The SB-600 also doesn't have a PC sync port or a minijack.  That seems fine too.  I'm more of an AWL user and I rarely use PC sync.

The key for me is how much extra would I be willing to pay for the SB-600?  Until recently, the SB-600 could be had anywhere for its $220 MSRP or even less on occasion.   Now, the SB-600 is being phased out and is becoming hard to find.  As of the time of this writing, it's selling for $280 at Amazon (plus shipping). Ouch.  Ebay prices are about the same.  Same phenomenon as when the SB-800 got phased out (originally could be had for $329 or less, now selling for a ridiculous $775 at Amazon).

Fortunately, I found the SB-600 available at Best Buy.  I don't usually buy stuff from them (due to price) but they're one of the few places still selling the SB-600 for $220.  I ordered mine online for local pickup - hopefully it's the real deal.  Otherwise, I may have to either save up for the SB-700 or get the Di622.

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Search for a second flash