Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Yongnuo Family Review: YN560-II, YN560-III & RF-603

Yongnuo Family

Writing this post required strong will power, I don't know why, but this is one of the more "daunting" posts I've written. So please forgive my delay, normal service will be resumed next week, or the week after.

Today I will give you a glimpse of my Yongnuo flashes and triggers. This won't be a detailed technical review describing every function and button, there are better reviews out there, instead, this will be a more "functional" review, with lots of product pictures. Ready? Let's go.

When I sold my Canon gear, I had three Canon flashes, a 600EX-RT, a 580EX II and a 580EX (I also used to have a 430EX, but I replaced it), all three flashes were TTL capable, and quite powerful. But the matter of fact is that I rarely used more than one flash in TTL mode, unlike Joe McNally for example, so whenever I used more than one flash in a fixed light setup, I used them in manual mode for control and consistency. That's why I sold all of my Canon flashes along with my Canon gear, and invested in a much cheaper alternative, that is as powerful as the Canon flagship.

I bought an Olympus FL600R TTL flash for my EM-5 to use it for bounce flash on camera (if you want examples, just search this site for "bounce flash") and it can also be triggered wirelessly using the EM-5 flash as well. The Olympus flash works ok (will review it next), but it is not very powerful, so for light setups, I needed more powerful manual flashes that are easy to operate and can be triggered optically as well.

Enter the Yongnuo flashes, a Chinese brand that was getting a lot of positive reviews on the internet. At $60 for a powerful YN560-II flash, you get the following features:

  • Large, clear backlit LCD with very easy to use buttons.
  • Optical trigger (two modes S1 & S2, to compensate for TTL pre-flashes).
  • Quick recharge time using Eneloop batteries.
  • Zoom head (goes to 105mm).
  • A bounce card and a wide angle diffuser.
  • Swivel (180 degrees to one side, 90 degrees to the other side) and tilt head.
  • Multi mode (known in Canon as Stroboscopic mode), it also means this flash can fire very quickly when the power is low, I was able to shoot them at 9 fps as shown here.
  • 1/3 stop or full stop power increments.
  • Sound indicator & flash ready LED.
  • Power saving mode.
  • Battery indicator.
  • Overheating protection (although it can still melt my Lastolite gel holder).
  • PC Sync & external battery pack ports.
  • Metal foot (although the connection to the body itself is plastic).
  • Comes with a nice casing (not Canon nice, but close).
I didn't see a reason not to buy just one, but two flashes. This way, I had a total of three flashes that would be suitable for most of my lighting needs. Now I needed a reliable way to radio trigger all of them. But before that, here are some detail shots of the flash:

Comes with a flash stand

See the degrees on the tilt head?

Padded carrying case, not nice as the Canon one though

Pocket for the flash stand

Bounce card and wide-angle diffuser

Direct, simple to use buttons, each button does one thing only

Sensor for optical triggering

Fake button, head is moved directly without pressing a button, it is firm enough to stay in position, even carrying the Lumiquest SBIII

Metal foot with a single pin

Old fashioned lock, but for the price, I don't mind

Molten gel holder, I was not careful and I was pumping full power pops in daylight


I found out about the Yongnuo RF-603 radio wireless triggers from Mic, they received great reviews, they looked really good, and they were cheap. A pair costs $32 at Amazon, you get two transcievers, i.e. each one of them can work either as a receiver or a transmitter, so by buying two pairs, I have four triggers, where anyone of them can work a transmitter, and the other three would work as receivers, that way I can trigger all three of my flashes. They also featured sync ports and remote shutter release.

Let me tell you about this bit for a second. As if these triggers were not good enough for the money, they are also able to remotely trigger you camera's shutter. When you buy one, you will find specific models for Canon and Nikon (not for Olympus, but check how to modify them to work for Olympus here and here), they ship with a release cable that connects to your camera's release port, that way you can remotely focus (half-press, just like the ahutter button) and trigger your camera, not only that, but you can also trigger the flashes while triggering your cameras.

Imagine this scenario, you are shooting architecture, and the camera is fixed on a tripod, you want to move about with a flash in your hand and light paint the walls and the areas in your scene, then combine these images later. Easy, just connect a transceiver to your camera, install another one to your flash, and off you go, each time you trigger the transceiver on your flash, the flash will fire, and the camera's shutter will be released at the same time. How cool is that? You can also use it to capture action from difficult places like I did with my fisheye lens here, the triggers were shooting at 9 fps without a hitch.

That said, I have two gripes only with this trigger, but they are easily solved:

  1. The on/off button placement, if you forget to turn the trigger on before installing the flash, you won't be able to reach the button, and you'll have to remove the flash to turn it on.
  2. The metal shoe of the trigger doesn't have a locking mechanism, so when you mount the trigger (and the flash) on a light stand, you will have to buy a cold shoe with some locking mechanism. Not a critical issue, and the cold shoes are not expensive, but it would be nice to have some sort of lock.
UPDATE: It seems I am getting old, just after I finished writing this post, I discovered that Yongnuo has released an updated version of the trigger, solving most of the issues with the previous version. It's called RF-603 II, and it's already available on Amazon for the same prices, $32 for a pair. That is great news for anyone looking to buy their triggers. I will certainly be updating mine in the near future. You can read about them here.

Here are some close-ups of the triggers:

Two indicator lights (one for power, one for radio connectivity), and a two-stage release button

Lacking a locking mechanism

Sync port

Connection for the supplied release cable

Switches to set the channel, it uses two AAA batteries


Why not? I needed a fourth powerful flash for more complicated light setups, and since the first two ones and the triggers have been working perfectly well, I decided to get another one, but this time I chose the YN560-III which has been released after I bought my first two.

The Yongnuo 560-III is exactly the same as the 560-II except that it has a built-in wireless radio receiver, and it can be triggered using Yongnuo wireless triggers like the RF-603 shown above, and it only costs $13 more, fair enough. What's more, Yongnuo says that a future wireless trigger with an LCD will even be able to control the flash power remotely (UPDATE: It is here, and I got one).

Here is a pictorial comparison between both flash versions. Beyond a few cosmetic changes in the LCD to host the channel selector, some changes in the button functions to support the wireless modes, they are practically identical (although the newer version starts up and shuts down a bit quicker).

Side by side

A closer look, on the right you can press two buttons to do a different function

Same metal/plastic foot

Slightly different LCD backlight


I'd recommend these flashes to any one who's starting out with manual flash, and wants a powerful, reliable flash, with a very easy to use interface. For just the price of the Canon 600EX-RT, you can get a pair of RF-603 triggers (or wait for the new ones with remote power control), and nine (NINE!!!) YN560-III flashes, however, realistically, you can do a lot with two or three of these flashes.

With all of the above said, take in mind that I am not a working photographer who puts these flashes through hundreds of pops everyday, so in that sense I can't comment on the reliability. However, I use them a lot (at full power, too) and for lots of purposes, and they never failed me once, despite each one of them producing a different sound when zooming the flash head.

As a side note, I bought a couple of Opteka cheap, but generic and very good grids to cover my lighting needs (shown below), I won't be reviewing them, but they work as advertised without a lot of fuss. If you want a more sophisticated grid, take a look at my Rogue grid review.


Here's the setup I used to take the product shots for this post, I used the Olympus FL600R in manual mode, fired through the diffuser part of a 5-in-1 reflector kit, with a white piece of cardboard as fill on the other side. The background was a white sheet of paper.

All of these pictures were taken with the EM-5 and the 45 f/1.8 lens at f/4 or f/5.6. For the close-up shots, I used a new close-up filter kit mounted to the same lens, it is a great and a very cheap way to get macro capabilities out of your existing lenses. I will be reviewing it soon.