The flash market used to be rather simple. You go to one company for speedlights, usually your camera manufacturer or a specialist brand like Metz. Then, you go to another company, such as Bowens and Elinchrom, for strobes when you needed more power. The strobe market stayed largely stable, but then Yongnuo came along and upset the speedlight scene quite drastically.
Last night, as I was in bed, browsing Facebook on my iPad, as you do, I ran across a post over on Flash Havoc. Described as “something of an open letter to Yongnuo”, I thought it seemed to hit the mark pretty well on many points. So, here’s some of my own thoughts.
Why I bought into “cheap flash”
My introduction to Yongnuo was the RF-602 radio triggers back in 2009 or so. I’d heard of Yongnuo, but had never used their equipment. I knew they made speedlights and radio triggers, but I assumed that because they were so cheap, they can’t be very good. After all, Yongnuo speedlights seemed to be around £40-60, while my Nikon SB-900s were close to £400 at the time. Surely they wouldn’t even compare at that price? How is that even possible?
I’ve always believed in “you get what you pay for”, but after having spent far too long waiting for PocketWizard to release their Nikon TTL triggers, I took the plunge. I bought a set of Yongnuo RF-602 radio triggers, for those times when Nikon’s optical CLS system just wasn’t going to work. When I’ve got a flash inside a modifier, or around a corner, for example.
For as little as they cost (£28 for a Transmitter/Receiver pair vs £300 each for the PocketWizard equivalents when they came out), they were amazing. They were supposed to be a short term thing until PocketWizard finally gave me what I wanted. 18 months later, I was still waiting, and the RF-602s had worked beautifully this whole time. And I didn’t really need TTL anyway.
Over the next 7 or 8 years, I picked up a bunch more. Now have a handy stock of a dozen receivers and four transmitters (gotta have backups). I also bought a whole bunch of Yongnuo speedlights for those times when I didn’t want to risk my expensive Nikon SB-900s. My shoots are on location in the middle of nowhere, and those times can pop up quite often. So far, I have drowned two Yongnuo YN560-III, a Nikon SB-900, and a Godox AD360II (it was only 2 weeks old).
The YN460 and YN560 ranges of speedlights were cheap enough that if one fell off a cliff, drowned in a river, or met some other untimely demise, it wasn’t a big deal. Yongnuo literally opened the door for making cheap flashes popular. Eventually they even brought out fully compatible replacements for Canon and Nikon’s flagship strobes, at less than a third of the price.
Yongnuo lagging behind
So what happened?
Every day, I see people posting on Facebook or sending me messages and asking me what speedlights I recommend for beginners. Up until two years ago, my answer was always Yongnuo, without fail. I’d ask them what they needed a flash to do, which would determine which models I’d recommend, but the brand was always Yongnuo. They were the least expensive way to get into flash, while still having some kind of reliability.
When asked that same question today, Yongnuo doesn’t even enter my mind.
While they were once the hot favourite for inexpensive flashes, to put it simply, they’ve been dethroned by Godox.
Of course, the basic Yongnuo YN560-IV is as good today as it was when it was first released, and the Yongnuo YN560-TX is a fantastic trigger offering full remote control over them. And if that’s all you will ever need then that’s all well and good. But for the same money, you can pick up a Godox TT600 and XPro transmitter, which also offers full manual remote control and gives High Speed Sync.
High Speed Sync wasn’t that big of a deal a few years ago, but these days everybody wants to at least try it. For me, I was using it even back in 2009, which is why I held onto my SB-900s even after getting Yongnuo speedlights.
Even stepping slightly up the range, Godox easily stand toe-to-toe with Yongnuo on price, yet often beats it on features. Most importantly, though, Godox have a unifying system that encompasses all of their flash gear, even their older generation lights which don’t have built in radio triggers. You can buy external triggers for the older lights that are compatible with the current 2.4Ghz Godox system.
With Yongnuo, there’s essentially at least three completely different systems (not including all the Nikon & Canon stuff they copied). There’s the fully manual dumb systems of the original RF-602 and 603. Then there’s the manual but remote controllable system of the YN560 range. And there’s the TTL & High Speed Sync capable YN-622 system. Different products within each of these three systems only share, at best, some limited compatibility with the others, if any at all.
Unifying the system
Flash Havoc present a rather extensive conceptual solution, with the goal to unify Yongnuo’s speedlight system. It is a rather elegant one, too.
I do agree that Yongnuo absolutely need to do something to organise their speedlight lineup to unite everything under a single banner. Or completely phase out the older systems and introduce something fresh that’s at least somewhat backwards compatible with each of their existing systems until they die off completely.
Their lineup now is just far too fragmented to be able to recommend anything. And this is the main reason why I no longer recommend Yongnuo. After Yongnuo started to release different communication systems for different flashes and triggers, those people I’d recommended Yongnuo to were coming back to me that they bought some other Yongnuo product and it wouldn’t work with what they had. After seeing what they’d now purchased, I was the one who had to tell them it never would.
They simply expected that two pieces of kit from the same manufacturer would talk to each other. It’s a logical assumption to make, as proven by Godox (and Elinchrom, and Profoto, and countless other companies). Their stuff all works together. Sure, you might have to update your old 433Mhz triggers to 2.4Ghz triggers for your first generation lights to work with the new system. But what you don’t have to do is buy a whole new set of lights.
The bigger strobe problem
The other big advantage Godox has over not only Yongnuo, but just about every other flash manufacturer out there, is that the range isn’t limited to speedlights. Oh no, Godox also produce 200Ws, 360Ws and 600Ws bare bulb strobes (or at least strobe-like). And if those aren’t powerful enough, you can pair two AD600 lights together into a single 1200Ws head. And they’re all part of this unified system, too.
Yes, the same trigger controls everything from your speedlights to 1200Ws strobe heads. You can mix and match. Want to put a TTL 600Ws strobe in an octabox as your key but use a couple of manual speedlights as rims? Want to be able to adjust the power of any of them right from your hotshoe? You can do it with Godox. You can even do it with Profoto now, if you’re willing to splash the cash.
Flash Havoc put forward an idea for a 360Ws strobe head, and while it is much smaller than a typical strobe head, I have to say. I like my AD360IIs.
What’s the real difference between Yongnuo and Godox?
Essentially, at least the way I see it, Yongnuo is a “Me too!” company. While Yongnuo have brought one one or two original products, they’ve largely been a copycat company. They produce items designed to replace other specific products. And that’s not just limited to speedlights, either. I’ve been using Yongnuo MC-36R intervalometers the last few years. They’re pretty much a direct copy of the Nikon MC-36, except with the addition of wireless triggering. Price aside, the 2,4Ghz wireless feature of the MC-36R was the main reason I went for it over the original (ya hear that, Nikon?).
Godox, on the other hand, aren’t really trying to copy anybody. Yes, there might be a little artistic license here and there between brands when it comes to design choices. And sure, you know they had to reverse engineer Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic protocols to produce compatible flashes. But, they’re not trying to replace individual products in an existing brand ecosystem. They’re trying to replace the whole ecosystem in a photographer’s kit collection.
And even though the Godox 2.4Ghz wireless system translates to proprietary brand systems, the protocol is their own. They’re not trying to tack onto somebody else’s compatibility chart. You can’t really fire a Godox flash with a Nikon SU-800 (as you can with the Yongnuo YN685), and you can’t directly fire a Canon 600EX-RT II with a Godox XPro either (although you can with the Yongnuo YN-E3-RT).
So I think that’s fundamentally what’s different between the two companies. One is trying to usurp everybody with a whole bunch of cloned compatible products. The other is trying to stand up on their own, and become a complete and competitive system in their own right. Godox also has a global distribution system in place, through companies like Adorama and Pixapro, like virtually nobody else in this industry.
Would I go back?
Even though I was once one of Yongnuo’s loudest advocates, I can’t see myself ever switching back. Even if they released a complete unified system with every flash I could possibly need tomorrow, I’m happy where I’m at, to be frank. Yongnuo should have done what Godox did, only they should’ve done it 5-10 years ago.
I’ve already sold my Nikon speedlights and Bowens strobes to switch to Godox. I still have my Yongnuo YN560-III speedlights – packed in a box because they’re not worth anything on the used market. I’ll likely never need to use them again. Godox gives me pretty much everything I need already, so why would I go through the hassle and expense of switching brands again?
I’ll never say never, but they’ll have to come up with something extremely special to tempt me back.
So why do I care about Yongnuo getting their act together and stepping up to compete?
Because competition is a good thing, and for consumers it’s a fantastic thing. It drives innovation and reduces costs.
Competition from Godox put Bowens out of business. Bowens got complacent and lazy because they were such a big name for such a long time that they thought their seat was secure. Turns out, not so much. We saw that before with Polaroid and Kodak. Other big names are also feeling the pressure from Godox, too.
While nobody ever really considered Yongnuo a serious major player, at least in professional markets, they’ll probably soon be gone, too, if they can’t turn things around. They were once the mainstay of the beginner flash market. The go-to brand for anybody getting into flash for the first time. And it wasn’t that long ago, either.
Sure, the bigger brands will still give Godox some competition, but those big brands that are also truly innovating are aiming at a different market. Broncolor and Profoto looking to pick up customers who just got their entry level DSLR kit for Christmas. Nobody’s going to spend $15K on a light for a camera and lens combo worth $500.
But at that entry level, for those just breaking in, Yongnuo has the potential to give Godox some serious competition. If they wake up. But if Yongnuo die, there won’t really be anybody to keep Godox in check or keep pushing them.
That being said, Godox seem to be doing a pretty good job of pushing themselves, regardless, taking many customers from those higher end brands. And whether you love their ideas or hate them, they certainly are innovating.
The A1 (the Godox one, not the Profoto one) might be seen as a joke by many, but I’ve had one for a week now, and it’s already found its way into a permanent place in my bag for specific tasks. The new XPro trigger contains a TTL to Manual conversion feature only found in higher end lights from Profoto. At what price? It’s less than $200 for an XPro trigger and TT685.
You can read Flash Havoc’s complete post over on their website, and it’s well worth a read.