I have been playing with off-camera flash for a while now, because I find that it’s far more versatile than on-camera flash. I already have Canon 580EX-series flashes, and wanted two more for almost exclusively off-camera work. So I did some research, and settled on the Yongnuo YN-560-II flash. I ordered two from Amazon, and eagerly awaited their arrival.
(image hotlinked from Yongnuo’s website)
My initial impression of the YN-560-II is of a good solid build quality, a little larger than the 580EX flash. The Omnibounce-style flash diffusers fit just fine over the flash head, and it’s not so much bigger as to be noticeable when mounted on a camera. As with the 580EX, there is a bounce card and a fresnel diffusion screen built into the flash head, which swivels through 360 degrees (one way).
The YN-560-II is a manual-only flash, meaning that it is NOT TTL. All adjustments are done through the flash, and it does not talk to the camera; it has a single pin on the hot shoe, making it compatible with (almost) any camera. More on that later. The buttons on the back of the flash have a good feel and the adjustments are really easy, at 1/3-stop increments from 1/1 to 1/128 power. The zoom head can be controlled with simple pushbuttons from 24mm coverage to 105mm coverage.
The LCD screen on the back is large and easy to read when viewed from behind the flash, but not so good when viewed from an angle such as from below when it’s mounted on a lightstand. Then again, neither is the 580EX, so I’m used to constantly dropping the stand to adjust the flash.
The hot foot is metal, which may or may not be good; I’ve not dropped a camera in a long time, but I have a couple of extra feet for my 580EX in case, and I don’t know what a metal hot foot will to do a hot shoe if it’s dropped. It’s nice to slide onto the camera or onto a radio trigger, though. It feels sturdy.
It also has a PC jack, which is very nice, and a power socket that an external power pack can be plugged into (such as a Quantum Turbo). These features are VERY nice and desirable for me, as I occasionally do use PC cords and a Turbo Compact.
There is a clear red lens on the front of the flash as on the Canon flashes for the focus-assist beam, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to get it to emit a focus-assist beam. In the Quickstart Guide, it is shown as “Optical Control Sensor,” whatever that means.
Apparently the flash can also be controlled as a slave via radio, but I have not experimented with that function, being somewhat of a troglodyte and used to my radio triggers. I’ll play with those functions later.
After a few months of fairly regular use, reliability seems good, and power output approximates that of the 580EX. Recycle time is a little slower with rechargeable AA batteries, but I don’t shoot machine-gun style anyway with them so that’s not relevant. Battery life appears to be a little less than the 580EX, though, so you’ll want to carry more batteries with you than you would normally, until you work out how it works with your shooting style.
My primary concern with this flash is that it’s off-brand Chinese, and support for cheap Chinese stuff tends to be spotty. I shoot a lot, and I have blown up flash tubes, broken feet off flashes, and so on, and I am not confident that I would get anywhere NEAR the level of support from Yongnuo that I get from Canon. Yes, this unit is cheap, so it would cost nearly as much to simply replace it as to have extensive repairs on a Canon flash, but I feel that it would be wasteful to just trash a flash that might need only a minor repair. So I would never consider this unit as a primary flash until I find out whether support is even offered.
Also, I was out shoot with a Canon Elan 7E film body yesterday and put the YN-560-II on the camera and it COMPLETELY locked up the camera. As in the camera would not fire at all — the mirror would click open, and that’s where it would stay until the camera was turned off. Turning the camera back on would reset it, but it would do exactly the same thing each time, not advancing the film. I had just replaced the batteries in the camera grip and thought it was the camera, but when I took the flash off the camera the camera resumed normal operation.
I put the second YN-560-II on the camera and the symptoms were repeated. Putting a 580EX on the camera resulted in perfectly normal operation. Repeating the above with a second Elan 7E body resulted in exactly the same results, so I know for a fact that this flash does NOT like to put on that model of Canon film camera.
Overall I’m quite impressed with this flash unit, and I recommend it to those who want to get a second flash unit or one for off-camera use. However, if you’re a film shooter, PLEASE make sure it works on your camera before you shell out the money.