Back in July 2014 I purchased my first Canon Speedlite flashgun. Initially it was just to have an off camera flash for an event I was covering. I also bought the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite transmitter at the same time. Although I didn't need the transmitter for the event, I knew I'd soon want it for my other projects.
Canon Speedlites command a high price and at the time, the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite cost me £469.00 from Wex Photographic. Nearly 8 months on it has only gone down in price by £20.
For the type of work I'm doing at the moment I really need three flashguns (key light, fill light and hair light). To be honest I was a bit loathed forking out another £449 for just one flashgun. By the time I have all three I would have spent nearly £1,400! You might be wondering why I didn't just go buy studio strobe lights where complete kits can be bought for under £400 on Amazon.
I'm sticking with flashguns because of their size, the ease of transporting them and flexibility they provide while shooting on location. The other big factor for me is lack of space. I don't have my own studio yet and therefore have to find and use space where I can. You can imagine the looks I get from my partner when I hijack the living room.
So what alternatives are there to expand your network of Speedlites without spending an offensive amount of money? Well the folks at Yongnuo have brought out a comparable product to equal that of the Canon 600EX-RT. In this review we'll take a look at the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT. At one third of the price you can buy these from Amazon at around £114! Think about it, the price of one Canon flashgun could buy you four by Yongnuo!
In the box...
When you open the box you'll see the carry case in some bubble wrap containing the flashgun. When I lifted it out I could see the instruction manual, flashgun stand and quality control certificate below. At this point I thought the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT felt much lighter than the Canon 600EX-RT, but after checking their weights on kitchen scales it revealed they both weighed the same at around 426g (without batteries).
Before I even bought the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT I had already concluded that the design was a near complete copy of Canon's. Makes sense really given the target market. Yongnuo have even gone as far as to copy the carry case design. Although padded, I don't think the foam is as dense as the Canon's.
At this point I'd say the build quality felt fine and better than I had expected. However some areas do feel cheap and sort of forgotten. As an example the 'SEL/SET' button in the middle of the centre wheel is fixed in place on the Canon, but on the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT it spins around freely (see picture below). It has no impact on it's operation and the button still has a very confirming touch/click but to me it just looks untidy!
Lets turn our attention to the side of the flashgun where the external power socket and bracket mounting holes are located. As with the Canon any holes/ports are sealed with rubber covers. However the covers on the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT don't have a snug fit, something I only noticed because they weren't flush on the unit out of the box. I lifted the covers off and then tried to reseat them. With the Canon I can reseat the covers in one go. With the Yongnuo it took a few goes before I could get something I was nearly satisfied with. However I found the rubber covers just wouldn't stay in place. Perhaps it was just luck of the draw and this is limited to my unit. However something to bare in mind and be aware of. I don't think this will cause any problems long term. If I were heading in to wet/really dusty conditions I'd invest in something to properly protect my flashguns.
The Yongnuo YN600EX-RT like the Canon has a reflection board tucked away at the top of the flash (known as the catch-light panel on the Canon). While the board is pulled out you wont be able to manually set the flash zoom, same as on the Canon.
Turning on the YN600EX-RT it felt a bit like Christmas due to the red, purple and green lights that illuminate briefly. There is around a 2 second delay after switching the device on before it can be used. During this time you see a splash screen showing 'YOUNG NUO'.
The menu navigation I found very similar to that of Canon. At this point I thought I'd try it out on the camera. It slipped on to the camera hot shoe effortlessly. After locking it in to place I found the fit wasn't as tight as that of the Canon 600EX-RT. You can actually wiggle the flashgun slightly which made me feel uneasy as I thought I hadn't secured it properly to the camera. Despite this I didn't experience any problems operating the flash and it fired every time the shutter was triggered.
I linked the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT as a slave to my Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT. Up until now I'd never had more than one flashgun that could hookup to this system. So I had to spend sometime getting familiar with how to get them to talk to one another. While my existing kit was setup to use auto channel, the default on the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT was set to channel 1. Once set to auto it linked to my Speedlite transmitter straight away. In testing I could control both devices from the transmitter mounted on the camera. I also put them in to their own groups so I could control their output independently. In both situations the flashguns appeared to operate as they were supposed to.
For this review I did a quick test shot featuring yours truly, just to compare the two flashguns in operation. I used group A as my key light and B as my fill light. In both shots I simply swapped over the flashguns and their assigned group. For the most part the histogram only showed a slight shift. The picture below shows that the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT appears brighter than the Canon 600EX-RT. This may have something to do with ETTL metering and the slight shifts in the position of the flashguns.
I've also noticed on two occasions the overload protection feature kicked in on the YN600EX-RT. This is shown by a flashing red light and an over heating symbol flashing on the LCD. During today's test shoot it kicked in 'before' I had even started shooting anything, which was a bit concerning. It could be the manifestation of something else so I'll be keeping my eye on this one! To clear the problem I just switched the unit off and on again.
It's early days and I'm yet to put this new flashgun through it's paces. Overall the build quality is good with only a few minor niggles that I've outlined above. At the end of the day when this thing is stuck on a tripod I'm just concerned that it functions when it should and works in harmony with my existing equipment.
I'm quite excited after the initial testing to finally have something that will hopefully serve me well at a fraction of the cost of the Canon 600EX-RT. Don't get me wrong, I do love my Canon 600EX-RT. But when there is something on the market which can ultimately perform just as well it's really a no brainer.
That said I've never heard of the Yongnuo brand until I started looking for alternatives to Canon. I have no prior experience of their products so I can't say for sure if the Yongnuo YN600EX-RT will stand the test of time. And if I do encounter any problems will support from Yongnuo be up to scratch? Coming back to price I'm happy to give this product a go and see where it takes me. The reviews I've seen from other sites so far have been positive. If all goes well I can see myself purchasing a few more YN600EX-RT for my collection.
Do you already own the Yongnuo YP600EX-RT? What's been your experience so far? Leave your feedback in the comments below!