Monday, September 10, 2012

Yongnuo YN-560EX (EX600) Review

This is a follow up to my preliminary review of the Yongnuo YN-560EX.  For convenience, I'm going to incorporate the information on the previous review in this one, so this will be the main resource page for the 560EX.

The YN-560EX (formerly EX600) is a manual flash but can act as a wireless TTL slave via Canon or Nikon's wireless flash commanders (yes it is cross-compatible with Canon and Nikon).  I was excited about this model because it's only $109.99, less than the YN-565EX (which has wireless TTL as well as on-camera TTL and costs around $160 for the Nikon version).  It is one of the cheapest wireless TTL flashes available.  (At the end of this article I will post other wireless TTL alternatives.)

The YN-560EX should not be mistaken with its similarly-named predecessors, the YN-560 (a purely manual flash) and the YN-560II (an updated version of the YN-560, also purely manual).  The 560EX was previously known as the EX600 but its name was finalized as the 560EX.

Here's a brief comparison with the other current flashes in Yongnuo's lineup:

  • YN-560 - Manual only flash.  Simple interface.   Compatible with external power pack.
  • YN-560II - Manual only flash.  LCD interface.   Compatible with external power pack.
  • YN-465 - TTL flash (Canon or Nikon version available).  No optical slave, no zoom.
  • YN-467 - TTL flash  (Canon or Nikon version available) with built-in optical slave and zoom.
  • YN-467II - update of YN-467.  Adds metal foot, PC port and improved buttons and battery compartment.
  • YN-468 - Similar to YN-467 but adds stroboscopic mode and LCD display.
  • YN-468II - update of YN-468.   Adds metal foot, PC port and improved buttons and battery compartment.
  • YN-460RX and TX - manual flash with Yongnuo's built-in radio-based wireless TTL system.
  • YN-560EX (formerly EX600) - When mounted on-camera, it is a manual only flash.  However, as a wireless flash it is capable of TTL with either a Canon or Nikon commander.
  • YN-565EX - When mounted on-camera, it is a TTL flash (Nikon or Canon but not both).  Like the 560EX, it is capable of TTL as a wireless flash with either a Canon or Nikon commander.  Compatible with external power pack.

I ordered my 560EX on eBay from seller thephotogadget.  Three days after I ordered it, it was shipped out from Shanghai, then I received it just 10 days later.  It arrived in a package with bubble wrap around the 560EX's box.

The box contained the flash itself, a ballistic nylon case, a flash stand, an instruction manual in Chinese and English, and a brochure describing Yongnuo's flashes.  The case is handsome and includes a pocket for the included flash stand.  However, the material is thinner than similar cases for the Nikon SB-800 or SB-600.  The velcro is also kind of weak.  If held upside down and shaken, the case could open and your flash could drop.

The flash stand accommodates the standard ISO foot and has a receptacle for a locking pin.  There is a 1/4-20 socket at the bottom for mounting on a tripod or light stand.  However the socket is plastic.

The 560EX seems to take its design cues from Canon's 580EX, although it's not likely one will be confused with the other. 
Optical sensor on top; ready light indicator on the bottom
The front of the flash has a large red window.  In Canon and Nikon flashes, this red window is used for AF assist.  In the 560EX, the red window covers a "ready lamp" that pulses to indicate the flash is ready when it is being used as a slave.  Above the red window is an opaque cover that houses the 560EX's optical sensor for the wireless slave function.

At the back of the flash, there is a large LCD panel, unlike the YN-560 which had a simple panel with LED lights.
560EX and 560 comparison of interfaces and head rotation
In terms of size, the 560EX is about the same size as the YN-560.
Nikon SB-800, YN-560EX, YN-560
Nikon SB-800, YN-560EX, YN-560

The 560EX build quality seems about the same as the YN-560, but the LCD screen makes it look more polished.  The buttons are also different from the YN-560 and are hard plastic instead of squishy rubber, another improvement.  The hotshoe is mostly metal but the middle is plastic.  It is probably plastic to avoid activating the TTL contacts of a hotshoe.  There is a collar around the foot, and when the collar is rotated, it brings down the locking pin.  The 560EX doesn't look cheap at all.

On one side of the flash is the battery compartment with a spring-loaded battery cover with a hinge, so it will never get lost.  The battery chamber has a clear label to show the polarity of the batteries.  The other side of the flash has a rubber-covered port that covers a 2.5mm (not 3.5mm) miniplug sync port.  There is no port for an external battery.

Spring-loaded battery cover
The 560EX's head rotates 180 degrees in both directions, and has a vertical bounce angle of -7 degrees to 90 degrees.  The head has a built-in diffuser and catchlight reflector.  When the diffuser is pulled out, the zoom does not change.

By default, turning the flash on or off requires the power button to be held down for about 4 or 5 seconds while the LCD shows some simple animation.  If the power button is released before that time, it won't work.  Fortunately there is an option for 'quick startup/shutdown'.  If that option is activated, then pressing the power button immediately turns the flash on or off.
The 560EX has a simple and intuitive interface:
From L to R: Optical slave mode (S2 looks similar), Manual on-camera mode, Stroboscopic mode, Wireless Nikon mode (Wireless Canon mode looks similar)
The first button is for the backlight and sound.  Pressing the button activates the backlight.  If it is held down, then the sound will toggle on or off.

The second button is the mode, which cycles from Slave 1 (simple manual optical slave) --> Slave 2 (optical slave with delay) --> on-camera manual flash --> stroboscopic mode --> Canon wireless --> Nikon wireless --> Slave 1.

In Slave 1, Slave 2, manual flash, and stroboscopic modes, you can select the power level and the zoom.  To select the power level, you press the directional pad.  Pressing left or right adjusts the power down or up by a full stop.  Pressing up or down adjusts the power up or down in increments.  By default the increments are 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7.  There is an option to change the increments as discussed below.  In stroboscopic mode, you can only adjust power in full stops (incremental power changes are not available).

To change the zoom, you just press the zoom button which cycles from 24mm --> 28mm --> 35mm --> 50mm --> 70mm --> 80mm --> 105mm --> 24mm.

In stroboscopic mode, you specify the number of times the 560EX will flash and the frequency of the flashes.  The number of flashes is anywhere from 0 to 70 (however from 20 to 50 times, the number changes by 5, and from 50 to 70 times the number changes by 10).  The maximum number depends on the power level selected.  At 1/4 power, the maximum number of flashes is 3.  At 1/128 power, the maximum is 70.  Adjusting the power level upward automatically decreases the number of flashes to the maximum.  The frequency is anywhere from 1 to 100 hertz (cycles per second).  The frequency is not affected by power level.  As with the number of flashes, the number changes by 5 above 20hz, and changes by 10 above 50hz).

In the Canon and Nikon wireless modes, you can change the channel (1 to 4) by pressing the channel button, and/or group (A, B or C) by pressing both mode and channel at the same time, as clearly labeled by the buttons.  This simple interface is a huge improvement over the YN-565EX which was much less intuitive.  As with the other modes, you can also change the zoom.  Changing the power level or flash exposure mode (TTL or manual) is of course done through the commander.

There is a pilot light / test button left of the directional pad.  It glows green when the flash is recycling and then red when the flash is ready.  You can press the button to fire a test.

As mentioned, the flash has some options available.  Holding down the zoom button activates the options menu.  Pressing up and down cycles through the 5 available options, while pressing left or right cycles between the parameters for each option, and pressing the middle button on the directional pad exits the option menu:
Options mode.  Maximum vertical (bounce) angle also shown.
1. Power saving in non-slave mode ("SE Sd").  It will show 2 numbers.  The first number is the number of minutes before the flash enters a standby mode.  At "--" the flash doesn't standby.  The second number is the number of minutes before the flash automatically shuts down.  Available choices are: (3 30, 15 60, 30 120, -- 120).

2. Power saving in slave mode ("Sd").  30 mins or 60 mins.

3. Power level increments ("Inc"). 0.3 stops, 0.5 stops, or 0.3/0.5/0.7.

4. Backlight time ("lcd").  7, 15, or 30 seconds.

5. Quick startup or shutdown ("qu"). On or off.

Power (Guide Number)

To test the 'real' guide number of the 560EX, I attached it to a lightstand, outdoors, away from a bounce surface.  I positioned the flashmeter (a Paul Buff CyberCommander) on an identical lightstand, and used a tape measure to position the flash 10 feet away from the flashmeter.  I triggered the 560EX by mounting it to an RF-603 trigger which was in turn connected to a Paul Buff CSRB+ receiver.  I used the flashmeter function of the CyberCommander at ISO 100, 1/250 sync. I took 3 measurements each at 35mm and 105mm zoom, waiting 30 seconds between firing.  I converted the f-stop to guide number using the information here.  For comparison, I did the same to an SB-800.

YN-560EX Results

test1: f/8 1/10 = GN of 82.8 feet
test2: f/8 0/10 = GN of 80 feet
test3: f/8 0/10 = GN of 80 feet
average GN = 80.93 feet = 24.67 meters.
test1: f/8 9/10  = GN of 109 feet
test2: f/11 0/10 = GN of 110 feet
test3: f/11 0/10 = GN of 110 feet
average GN = 109.67 feet = 33.43 meters.

Nikon SB-800 Results

test1: f/8 3/10 = GN of 88.8 feet
test2: f/8 2/10 = GN of 85.7 feet
test3: f/8 3/10 = GN of 88.8 feet
average GN = 87.77 feet = 26.75 meters.  At 35mm, the SB-800 is 2/10ths of a stop more powerful than the 560EX.
test1: f/11 2/10 = GN of 121 feet
test2: f/11 2/10 = GN of 121 feet
test3: f/11 2/10 = GN of 121 feet
average GN = 121 feet = 36.88 meters.  At 105mm, the SB-800 is about 3/10ths of a stop more powerful than the 560EX.

Note: publishes an extensive power comparison here.  To compare the data above with the power index: add 1 stop (I asked why they add 1 stop but I didn't get a reply).

Flash duration
Used an LX5 (which has a digital shutter therefore unlimited sync).  Killed ambient by setting exposure at ISO 80, f/8.  Started with a shutter speed of 1/125, then fired full power at progressively higher shutter speeds (allowing 30 secs recycle time) until there is noticeable drop in output.
Result: no reduction in flash exposure observed at speeds up to 1/640.  At 1/800 there was a slight reduction in flash exposure.  The flash duration at full power is therefore between 1/640 to 1/800.

Max Wireless sync speed
- S1: 1/8000 tested ok on Nikon D70 (manual external flash attached).
- S2: 1/2000 tested ok on Lumix LX5 (popup flash was on TTL mode).  Could not test higher speeds.
- Nikon wireless mode:
1/500 tested ok on D70.
1/250 tested ok on Fuji S5
1/200 tested ok on D90.
The 560EX wireless mode works at all Non-HSS shutter speeds tested, up to 1/500.

TTL comparison with SB-800.
-3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3 FEC

Recycling speed
Test: connected flash to camera, fired full power
Counted amount of time it took to fire 10 shots.  Got the average time.
Result: 25.6 seconds to fire 10 shots.  Average recycling speed: 2.6 seconds.  Please note that this needs to factor in my reaction time, which at 1:30am is not really very good.

Wireless compatibility:
The list below shows the commanders I tested.  For each commander, it shows the groups tested, channels tested, whether TTL worked (+1, 0 and -1 FEC), and whether wireless manual worked (tested 1/64, 1/16 and 1/4).

  • D90 popup.  A ok. B not ok. / Channel 1-4 ok. / TTL ok / Manual ok.
  • SB-800 on D90.  A,B,C ok. / 1-4 ok / TTL ok / Manual ok.
  • Fuji S5 popup.  A,B ok. / 1-4 ok / TTL ok / Manual ok.
  • D70 popup. A ok / 3 ok / TTL ok / Manual ok.

Wireless Accessories:
SG-3IR: tested ok with Nikon D70, Nikon D90, Fuji S5.
Aokatec AK-TTL wireless radio trigger: see Aokatec review.

Other flashes you may want to check out:

  • Yongnuo YN-565.  Same wireless capabilities as 560EX but in addition has TTL when mounted on-camera.
  • Oloong SP-660.  Same wireless capabilities as 560EX.
  • Oloong SP-690 II.  Claims to have both master and slave wireless modes.

Nissin and Metz also produce flashes with wireless capabilities, but for me the price difference between their flash and Nikon's flashes is not that significant.