There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that you had to spend a lot of money to get a powerful, all singing, all dancing external speed light. Yep, if you wanted a speed light with a guide number of more than 50m (@ISO 100, 35mm) that had manual/TTL/HSS/second curtain sync modes you had to be prepared to dig deep and spend large. The top end Canon speed light (600EX) and Nikon speed light (SB900) are still very expensive, even today but there are budget speed lights out there that are just as good.
Over the last few years the Chinese manufacturers have taken the world of flash photography, shaken it by the scruff of the neck and are now giving the big boys (i.e. Canon, Nikon, Olympus) as well as the established third party manufacturers (i.e. Metz, Sigma, Nissin) a hard time.
When the Chinese manufacturers first released their budget speed lights they were, for want of a better word, terrible. The early Chinese speed lights didn’t communicate with the camera as they should, consistently misfired, ate batteries like there was no tomorrow, and were not up to the job. The other thing was they looked cheap and nasty too, which is not good when you’re trying to impress and make a name for yourself as a photographer.
The Chinese manufacturers soon updated the early budget speed lights and the models they sell today are totally different (and I mean totally different) to the first attempt speed lights, and they have improved no end.
The Chinese speed lights are powerful (i.e. have high GNs), have manual mode, full through the lens metering (TTL) mode, High speed sync (HSS) mode, front and rear curtain sync modes and also stroboscopic mode. The speed lights perform every bit as good as the top end Canon, Nikon, Metz, Sigma and Nissin speed lights do. There are some areas where the Chinese speed lights out perform the top end speed lights, and the one that springs to mind is the battery power and life. Some of the Chinese speed lights use a single cell battery that is more powerful and also provides more bursts of light between charges than the 4 x AA batteries the top end speed lights use. Some of these budget speed lights even have an in-built wireless trigger so you can use them for off camera flash photography without having to invest in a load of radio triggers, although you will still have to buy a transmitter to attach to your camera.
The only difference between the top end speed lights and the budget speed lights from the Chinese manufacturers is the build quality. The top end speed lights are super tough, super durable and will deal with any abuse you care to throw at them. The budget speed lights from the Chinese manufacturers are not made from such high grade materials and components and when you compare a budget speed light from a Chinese manufacturer to a top end speed light from Canon or Nikon the difference in build quality is clearly noticeable.
The Canon and Nikon speed lights are bomb proof and they not only feel weighty and well-built but they also look weighty and well-built. The budget speed lights from the Chinese manufacturers don’t look so tough and sturdy, and they aren’t but then when you consider the price differential this is to be expected.
Okay, the budget speed lights from the Chinese manufacturers may not be as tough and sturdy as the top end speed lights but this doesn’t mean they will fall apart after five minutes. All things considered the budget speed lights form the Chinese companies are very well put together and they will provide years of trouble free service, providing you treat them with a little respect of course. I have had my Chinese made budget speed lights (I use the Godox Ving 860) for a few years now and I have had no issues or problems whatsoever.
When you consider you can pick up an all singing all dancing budget speed light form one of the Chinese manufacturers for a fraction of the cost of one of the top end speed lights it is easy to see that if you want to have a go at flash photography on a budget a speed light from on the Chinese manufacturers is the way to go.
When I bought my first budget speed light from a Chinese manufacturer I wasn’t expecting much at all. The only reason I bought one of these budget speed lights was because my Canon 580EX broke and I needed a speed light for an up and coming shoot but I was skint. The only option I had was to buy a cheap and cheerful speed light and use it to generate the money I needed to replace my Canon 580EX. I was so impressed with the Godox V860 I bought I forgot about buying another Canon 580EX and bought three more V860s instead.
Since I discovered how good the budget speed lights from the Chinese companies are I haven’t looked back, and I don’t plan to either.
Godox & Yongnuo – the best budget speed lights
The Godox and the Yongnuo speed lights are pretty much the same and neither one is superior to the other. Both speed lights are full of technology and feature manual mode, TTL mode, HSS etc. and both are priced around the same level.