YN-460 Speedlite Review



Yongnuo is one of the new kids in the off-camera flash world. Those of you who have known me for some time know that I prefer to work with natural light, but lately I've found myself working with flashes for indoor and outdoor shoots. I've never been a huge fan of flash photography, nor have I been against it; it just wasn't my thing.

This past year, however, I thought I'd try my hand at it. Looking around I was dismayed at the lack of cheap flashes on the market. I remember coming across Nikon sb-24/25 strobes for under $60 at the beginning of the digital revolution (about a decade ago). Consider yourself fortunate if you come across lower prices than $100 for a fully functional Nikon flash in this day and age. If you need low power flashes (i.e., in the 1/64th-1/128th range), then look to paying closer to $150 for a used flash. And forget about warranty on anything older than the sb-400/600 flashes. With the older Nikon speedlights, you're on your own (and replacement parts aren't easy or cheap to find). From my understanding many of these older Nikon flashes are on their last legs. Electronics lose half their life-span with temperature extremes (i.e. too many pops at full power), as discussed by Rudy (an electronics designer) in this thread.

After realizing that I joined the off-camera flash game a little late, I poked around the Strobist group on Flickr to see what else I could use. I won't link to their Flickr page, because it's not always workplace friendly. Look it up on your own time outside of work. In the strobist discussions I found a wealth of information regarding flashes, but what ultimately convinced me to try the new kid on the block (Yongnuo) was the comparison review at Hobby's Strobist blog: Manual Flashes. There are basically three options if you want to buy a new (not used) fully manual flash: the Lumopro LP120, the Vivitar 285HV (now labeled Catcus), and the YN-460 (and its many versions). 

I was very tempted to click "buy" on the LP120s (because there are four ways to hook it up off camera), but I figured I'd give the cheaper Yongnuo flashes a try, as flash photography is still something I'm learning, and I wasn't prepared to shell out over $200 for my first set of flashes.  

Without further ado, here is my two cents' worth about these flashes:

They work and they work fairly well. While they are not as powerful as the older Nikon and Canon flashes they have enough power if you’re not in need of the blinding light produced by something like the sb-28; recently, the YN460 MKII has been shown by various sources to be as powerful as the SB-600/430EX flashes.

I have seldom gone beyond the 1/4 to 1/16th power range indoors with my yn-460s. Outdoors I have used them on 1/2 to 1/1 without any problems. I mostly work with fast glass (f2.8 and below) so I have very little need for the insane GNs you can get out of some of the older speedlights. For my needs they work very well. However, you may find your needs will require more power, and if that’s the case then these flashes aren’t for you.

If you’re worried about long term quality, then again I say, "These flashes are definitely not for you". They are cheap, and for a reason. While they look and feel solid, they do have one flaw and that’s the mushy buttons. The peg beneath the rubber buttons is small, probably too small, so that after some intense usage they begin to slip and not make contact with the PCB, resulting in a flash that sometimes turns on or refuses to do so. I managed to pry open the back of mine and modify the peg by gluing some aluminum foil to increase the contact area of the peg. It works and my flash that was giving problems (I had to dig my nail in to get it to turn on) now works as good as new.

Now before I scare you away from these flashes, know that I have taken mine apart and put them back together and they’re working as good as new (sad thing is I glued them back together, so I can't take them apart again). The video that’s floating around the internet about these flashes coming broken out of the box is controversial, as some people believe the OP posted that he had taken his apart and it failed to work properly when he put it back together, but then later he removed his posting. Mine came to me fine, and worked great even after I took them apart.

My experience with these flashes has been decent--not great, but decent--and I have had no problems with mine, except for those stupid mushy buttons and I popped mine about 100 times to see how durable they are. After about 100 pops I stopped because it smelled like something was burning. After letting it cool down, it still worked--and it still works. I think the YN-462 with its dial is probably more durable and more reliable than the YN-460 and its mushy buttons, but there is no way to tell what power you’ve set on the YN-462 (Kurbster’s scale is one option, but it’ll get worn out quickly). That’s the downside to the “downgraded” version of this flash.

If Yongnuo had added a power scale or kept the LED lights, kept the price low, and added a pc-sync or a 3.5mm jack, these would be killer flashes.  

Here are some pictures of my successful attempt to repair the mushy buttons with the narrow pegs and this link will show you a second way to repair these. I really wish Yongnuo had used wider pegs beneath those rubber buttons. Better yet they should've used the dial present in the YN-462 and kept the lights or at least added a power scale. In any case, it was a good learning experience. And rather than grumble and complain as so many seem to do about this flash, I've tried to see what I could do to either repair or enhance this flash. So far the mods and hacks I've seen are real impressive, but none so impressive as this one: the KL-462, capable of mounting just about any strobist accessory you can throw at it. 


Anyway, I’ve digressed. Below I’ve listed the pros and cons as well as my conclusions:   

Pros:

  • Cheap (they're $40US with free shipping)
  • Relatively well built
  • Reasonable recycle time on everything except 1/1 power
  • Includes a diffuser, a bounce card, and a wide-angle adapter
  • Also comes with a flash stand and a "velvet" bag
  • Built in optical slave (it's in the head)
  • Head swivels and rotates
  • Power reaches down to 1/64th
  • Takes 4 AA batteries
  • Slave mode and pre-flash ignore mode
  • Can be hacked/modified fairly easily
  • Easy to understand out of the box

Cons:

  • Mushy buttons (and can stop working due to small peg--can be repaired)
  • No PC sync (a mini plug can be added via a mod)
  • No possibility for a battery pack (unless you DIY like this guy or like this massive mod
  • Optical slave limits accessories you can place on flash (due to it being located in the head--can be hacked/modded as this fellow did)
  • Actual GN is 24, not 33 as listed in the manual (the verdict is still out on this one)***
  • Engrish manual sometimes makes no sense; just ignore it...why don’t they just contract a competent editor?

*** While the verdict is out, I can say that it is not as poweful as the SB-600. I had a chance to do a visual test with my friend's sb-600 and my yn-460 and his flash was brighter. How much brighter? To my eyes the difference was noticeable, but not huge. When I get my flash meter I'll do a better test of their power differences.

Conclusion:

 If you're just learning about off camera flash, or you’re a student on a tight budget, then the YN-460 flash is the way to get your feet wet in the off-camera flash world without breaking the bank. If you love to do hacks, mods, or DIY projects, then these are the flashes to play around with as the warranty is useless because the cost to ship one to get it repaired by Yongnuo is the same price as buying a new one.

 If you already consider yourself a "strobist" and you're looking for something that will give you years of usage and reliability, stick to the Nikon/Canon flashes or the newer LP120s. While not disposable, the YN-460’s are not professional quality flashes, but certainly good enough to enter the off-camera flash world without breaking the bank, or worrying about whether this will be the day that your sb24/25/26/28/dx speedlights will finally stop working, and worrying about how much more money you have to spend to either repair them or replace them from the ever shrinking availability of used Nikon and Canon flashes.

Recommendations to Yongnuo:

 If Youngnuo ever reads this, pay close attention because these recommendations are for a flash that would sell more units than you can shake a TTL stick at:

  • Real GN of 40 @ 35mm @ ISO 100 @ 3ft (1m).
  • Full manual control
  • PC sync port or 3.5mm port
  • Manual zoom head
  • Power dial with either a scale etched on the back or led lights (who cares about fine tuning the power in 1/7th increments--that just takes more time from actually taking a picture)
  • Keep the body and tilt-swivel function the same
  • Add a port for an external battery pack (it’s not hard…this fellow's DIY project proved that)
  • Sell them for $75US (half the price of an LP120 with shipping)

 And you have yourself a winner.

 That’s it. That would make these flashes the bomb, and certainly compete with the LP120s, the Vivitar 285s (now the Cactus 285), and even the older and current flashes from Nikon. Why do companies do what marketing directors think is best, and not what their customers actually want? They would make a huge profit if they ever made this flash. Am I going to wait for it? No. But if they come out with such a flash before I find some reasonably priced Nikon speedlights, I may consider buying it. In the meantime I’ll keep playing around and learning with these YN-460 flashes.