Is Yongnuo An Enabler Or A Copycat?

Jan 28, 2016

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Is Yongnuo An Enabler Or A Copycat?

Jan 28, 2016

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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Two days ago The Hong Kong based gear company Yongnuo announced their next product, the YN360, an LED lit bar of light. While different in form from the Westcott Icelight, some found the comparison unavoidable.

This was not the first time that Yongnuo has products that resemble other products in the market. The YN600EX-RT looks amazingly similar to Canon’s 600EX-RT Speedlite. Yongnuo’s nifty fifty looks very similar to Canon’s at about half the price. This is all not new.

But it does pose a question which I think is best illustrated by quoting two of the comments we got on the YN360 light wand. Is Yongnuo’s story one of enabling photography to the frugal photographer or bluntly copycatting other market innovations cutting down on costs.

I am going to quote the two major comments so we can start a discussion:


Yongnuo’s products put me in such an ethical quandary, on one hand it’s great to have products which are accessibly priced, especially as a photography student. However on the other hand it also kills innovation in the photography business. One of the main reasons why innovative products are expensive is because of the research and development to make them. There is a strong relationship between companies going bankrupt or refusing to innovate and speed at which knock-offs of their products appear. l’m going to stick with DIYing my own take commercial products or I’ll buy the real deal however refuse to support a company which which makes most of their income from stealing designs off others


Yongnuo is a great disruptor in the photographic world… Bringing good products at a realistic price. Thankfully I resisted buying that ridiculously priced ICE Light. Now I can get 10 YN360 wands !!! ??

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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18 responses to “Is Yongnuo An Enabler Or A Copycat?”

  1. Mark Niebauer Avatar
    Mark Niebauer

    I own 5 600 yongnuo flashes and their wireless transmitter. Sold all my canons to buy them. I had to chg my wb but that’s all. They are great value. I think it’s about time somebody challenges Japanese technology. The Japanese are too greedy and arrogant.

  2. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    Bit of both perhaps, as businesses that produces cheaper priced products will always be.
    Honestly, I can understand both arguments. On one hand, it is indeed expensive the process of developing new products, and the costs have to be covered somehow.

    Then again, if a company develops a product and keeps it at a high price forever, even while the components that makes the product are relatively cheap, then things starts becoming cloudier.

    While I can’t say how much Westcott spent to develop their IceWand concept, the basic idea of putting LED lights in a wand-like format shouldn’t be something “proprietary” by any means.

    To classify something as a copycat I think a product must be at least a bit more than a copy of the very basic idea of it.

    Yongnuo, afaik, is not using any proprietary technology, anything specifically designed by Westcott, and I think DIY projects that puts LED lights in a wand-like shape has been around way longer than IceLight. Youngnuo’s wand doesn’t even look that much like an Ice Light.

    If you look at it on a historical perspective, it just follows from lights that used fluorescent tubes into more stable dimmable LED lights.

    Furthermore, Yongnuo is far from being the only one that released such a product other than Westcott, with far bigger more well known companies having their own products looking far more like a real copycat – case in point:

    Polaroid (looks exactly like it) –
    Venturemax (same) –
    Genaray –
    Cineo –

    Not to mention a bunch of crowdfunded projects.

    All of which, btw, looks very similar to… you know, toy light sabers.

    We’re not exactly talking about cold fusion here.
    But both commenters could be right with their own arguments. Personally, I would never be able to purchase a Westcott Ice Light – even knowing that their design is probably superior, with better quality components, and whatnot. It wasn’t even on the radar.
    I’d go for the Youngnuo version though, as I don’t have many DIY skills, and it’d be probably good enough for me. It’d probably be cheaper to get the Yongnuo version than try doing it myself. The result would be far more elegant and contained too.

    You see, risk accessment and the value of design investment is also the company’s own responsibility. I don’t think Westcott is hurting much because they made the product for a certain category of professionals. But if they are hurting because Yongnue made their own version of a LED light wand, it’s pretty fair to say that it’s their own fault for not predicting that such a thing would happen. Chinese companies in general have been clonning LED light products for a very long time now, and a wand shaped light is not an intricate impossible to imagine design.

  3. mike r Avatar
    mike r

    Starting out cheap helps the companies grow as much as it helps their money-strapped customers. There’s no way Sigma could’ve jumped into the market with their Art lenses (and given us a solid alternative to first party lenses) right out the gate. They had to spend years cutting their teeth on cheap, unreliable lenses until they could enough of a market to have the capital to produce quality stuff. Same goes for HTC phones or Vizio televisions.

    Yongnuo has come leaps and bounds in the last few years as far as the quality of their offerings go. Give them another few years and they’ll be right up there with the best of them. And we’d never have had that option if they hadn’t first entered the market with cheap stuff.

  4. Steven Avatar

    I only use Yongnuo flashguns, with the logic being that their output, if not their build quality, is comparable to the equivalent premium branded flashguns at a fraction of the price, often less than 33%; if one gets broken or fails, I can buy three for the price of one premium flash, and I reckon those three will cumulatively last longer.

    If anything they will (eventually) force premium manufacturers to be more competitive and transparent with their pricing. If the only thing I’m getting for my three-rimes-as-much-money is the Canon badge on the front, then I’ll stick with this cheapo one, thanks.

  5. Ahmed Alabdulrahman Avatar
    Ahmed Alabdulrahman

    if you complain about Yongnuo copying westcott then why dont you complain about westcott copying this LED work light and selling it for a ridiculous price? i’m sure it didnt cost them that much in R&D to ask $500 for something that would cost less than $50 to manufacture.

    1. Sean Avatar

      I think $50 is being liberal. Once the injection molds are done (the biggest cost) I bet the components in bulk would put the cost at under $20. Want to stop the copycat? Sell products at a reasonable price. Sure, big name studios and photographers can afford $500. But us barely eeking out a living doing it barely afford the basic equipment.

  6. Rick Avatar

    You only own a design if you’ve got a patent. So if you put substantial funds into development, it’s best you put the time and money into getting the patent. If you don’t, you know up front that it becomes openly available the minute it hits the street.

    As far as Westcott goes, I really doubt their price has anything to do with development cost and is more based on what the market will bear. The Ice Light is not rocket science technology or anything that required years of research and testing.

  7. Esel Avatar

    1: This only seems to come up when a chinese company manufactures a similar-to-something product. Where’s the furor over the endless copying of other things, like a monobloc with a battery (Profoto, Baja, Phottix…who’s the dirty cheater and who’s the aggrieved ‘innovator’ in this?)

    2: I think the example isn’t very illustrative of the argument. Yongnuo is making a similar product for less. But the product isn’t very innovative. Cool, yes. Useful, yes. But there is prior art for putting a light on a stick. So, innovative, not as much.

    3: Copying is a positive force for innovation. And for market segmentation and variety. In and of itself, it doesn’t hurt the economics. EG: Fashion. Every major brand of everything is endlessly copied and ‘ripped-off’. But the ones buying the rip-offs know what they’re buying (and so do everyone else), and they would or could not buy the original anyway. Thus, the ‘innovator’ hasn’t lost a sale that was never coming. And the people who can and do buy the higher-priced item would never think of stooping down to get a copy, and will flaunt the purchase of the higher-priced and higher-status item to show their wealth and fahion sense. And, it forces the the innovators to innovate MORE, lest they get lost in the crowd.

  8. TerraPhoto Avatar

    Having not tested the new Yongnuo against my IceLight, I cannot say this with any certainty, but I can use my experience with similar knockoffs and similar situations to say that not all knockoffs are really comparable to the original. Yes, anyone can attach LED lights to a battery stick, but not everyone can so while maintaining nice even light, a constant, predictable color temperature, and a high CRI number… all in a dimmable light source. My IceLight paid for itself rather quickly after it replaced some cheaper options that didn’t produce the type and quality of light I desired. It is possible that the Yongnuo delivers something close to the quality – they have in the past on other products – but, until I try it or see a reliable test, I assume it falls short in some way; that wouldn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth the money or that it isn’t a great option for many. A rather famous photographer once said about some cheap knockoff lights… sure they aren’t as good as the ones for five times the cost, but I won’t cry if i drop it in the mud either.

    When I look at the Yongnuo, I see some issues with the design… for one the handle is square and will not be comfortable to hold. Another is the batter design: it likely causes a weight imbalance in wand and it appears to be a Sony compatible battery, which from my experience on other products is fine as long as the battery attaches well – I have had products where the battery port is so cheaply done that Sony batteries easily pop out of their own accord.

    As for why the IceLight is so expensive? It is probably a little overpriced, but it is worth more $100.00 in my opinion.

  9. Art Nau Avatar
    Art Nau

    there is nothing revolutionary to the original device and yes “realistic price” is the key word here

  10. mpphoto Avatar

    They’re offering a choice for consumers. We get to weigh the cost, risks, and benefits. I went with Yongnuo RF flash triggers instead of PocketWizard because they were inexpensive and well-designed. One of the receivers was not working properly and I had to get an exchange from B&H. I was willing to put up with questionable reliability and build quality because of the cost savings. The replacement has worked flawlessly. Buying Yongnuo stuff from a reputable seller takes away some of the risk. That being said, I don’t expect any warranty support from Yongnuo. I’m willing to trade customer service and warranty support for a lower cost, to a certain degree.

    Were it not for Yongnuo, I’d still be messing around with Canon’s optical wireless flash system. I will probably buy one of Yongnuo’s LED lights when they become available. The Ice Light is way too expensive for me. Yongnuo is giving me the opportunity to use a similar type of light for a lower cost. For the photography I do, the Yongnuo should be good enough.

  11. Kostas Miaris Avatar
    Kostas Miaris

    Low cost equipment usually cannot be compared with high priced tag equipment and cannot
    offer the same quality regarding aspects like: constant stable performance, endurerance to hard use, battery lifespan and in general trouble free use.

    Low cost equipment however gives the opportunity to photography enthusiasts to use
    equipment that couldn’t afford otherwise and contribute with their unique or not viewpoint to the world of photography.

    Having the opportunity to use low cost equipment against the expensive ones you have the ability to identify and evaluate the real innovators in the market that create equipment which stands out and make the difference.

    Under that skeptic I would definitely state that Yongnuo is an enabler in the world of
    photography in general.

    1. Sotirius Avatar

      i have two YN flashes and both of them are quite unreliable because the struggle giving the same output with every shot, compared to my other nikon branded flashes. however, i have a nikkor 24-70 2.8 and after 2 years the rubbers came loose, so did the rubbers on my d800, and it started missing focus quite often. i could expect a cheap product to malfunction but not top brand…

  12. fj1200 Avatar

    I have a couple of Yongnuo flashes for my 5D II and 7D. They work well, and are pretty solid. I like them and intend to get some of their radio transmitters this year. I also have a Nissin Di866 Pro which I love. For lenses I prefer the real McCoy Canon though.

    The only thing I would probably add in Westcotts defence – and I have no evidence of this so maybe Icelight owners could verify it – is accurate colour. How accurate is the WB, is it a known calibrated value or do you have to do a custom WB before using it? It would be interesting to see one of the many photography review sites doing a full technical and real-world side-by-side comparison. Maybe someone already has…. ?

  13. roberttjohnson Avatar

    Following that one person that was feeling guilty for purchasing Yongnuo product because they were copying Westcott $399 wand light, would that be the same as with every car manufacturer copying Ford’s original idea of building cars? Who created the first PC or Cell Phone? Does Westcott really need to price it’s wand at $399 when it may cost $25 to build? Today one of the hottest markets is photography equipment, Nikon’s SB-5000 $500 flash is overpriced for what it does, when Shanny, Yongnuo, Godox and Pixel also sell flashes that works just as well and in most cases better, after all how long did it take Nikon to release a wireless flash. I say more power to the Yongnuos of the world creating reliable product that I can actually afford.

  14. Fred Smith Avatar
    Fred Smith

    Once the patent issue is overcome, it really doesn’t matter if anyone calls them a “copycat.” If the item is different enough to avoid violating a patent, and if Yongnuo wants to sell it for 4x less than something similar, it is their right to do so.

    There is no law that says the maker of a light modifier, camera, flash, lens or whatever needs to make a profit margin of “x.”

  15.  Avatar

    The nice thing about other people building on your ideas is that it forces you to keep having new ones.

  16. Lok Cheung Avatar
    Lok Cheung

    They are not Hong Kong based. Even the name is Mandarin translated rather than Cantonese.