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Yongnuo Digital Speedlite YN560-II

Copyright 2014, 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published: 2014.01.04, Updated: 2015.03.06


All images in this entry are Copyright 2014 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.



Yongnuo YN560-II

Introduction


Buying the Yongnuo YN560-II was a gamble — I’ve read the same reviews as everyone else. Yongnuo has a reputation for producing really cheap flashes, and sometimes you get what you pay for. But I had some Christmas money, so this flash only cost me half price. I figured it was a gamble worth taking.

For me, it paid off. In my first few days of testing, the YN560-II was well worth the money, and it had me itching for more. Not long after, I bought another one, which was perfect, unlike the really good first one. The first one apparently suffered from a few glitches.


Why?


There’s no question why I chose this flash. The very low price combined with Yongnuo’s slowly increasing reputation as a decent manufacturer made for a deal difficult to pass up. To my knowledge, it’s the least-expensive fully manual, powerful flash available from a company that’s not a complete rip-off machine.

As for why I bought another manual flash at all, that’s relatively easy too. For years, I’ve been migrating to off-camera flash. There are two main categories of off-camera flash users: (1) those who use brand-specific ETTL setups, and (2) those who want exact and specific control of each flash unit. Until this purchase, I had only one manual flash, the LumoPro LP160. My Canon and ProMaster flashguns are just as powerful but (basically) uncontrollable in their output.

Why didn’t I buy the mkIII version (see my later review of it)? It was only $15 more, but included features that I don’t need or want, such as a built-in radio trigger receiver. If I’d already been using Yongnuo radio triggers, that might have appealed to me, but I’m using Cactus triggers. Also, the mkIII’s menu system seemed more needlessly complex.


Worst Things First



Logo on front of flash
The first YN560-II I received was from an early batch and had a few issues that later batches didn’t have. I’ve indicated the difference below.

Low-Battery Indicator Is Unhelpful


This one is true of both models I own. The low-battery indicator, an icon on the LCD screen, is supposed to warn the user that the batteries are low. For me, it only shows up when the flash won’t fire anymore because the batteries are too low. There’s no point in having the indicator if it doesn’t warn me ahead of time.

• Poorly Translated User Manual


One irritating (yet humorous) thing about the YN560-II (both of mine) is the user manual. I think we’ve all heard of Chinglish; whoever translated the YN560-II user manual must have been trying for that on purpose. Here are just a few samples:
“Please place the batteries and the parts which can be swallowed mistakenly away from children. Contact a doctor immediately when it occurs.”
As opposed to the parts that can be swallowed intentionally? And once the batteries are safe from my children, I should contact a doctor? There are more:
“To avoid possible safety accident, do not use the flash light on the people who need a high degree of attention.”
I have no idea what that was supposed to mean. Is it referring to the mentally challenged? Here’s another:
“Note: the sound can be closed.”
But my favorite part of the manual was this line:
“You can understand the function of each button by pressing them and observing the displayed content.”
In other words: You don’t need no stinking manual. Just push the buttons and see what happens.

• Flash & Batteries Got Hot — Fast (First unit only)


My first YN560-II had this issue; the second model did not. Any time the flash was turned on, it started to get warm, just a bit. If I actually fired the flash, the body (especially at the tilt/swivel joint) got very hot. After three or four flashes in succession — less than a minute apart — then it was too hot to touch. An example: during a family portrait session, I used this as my fourth flash. It was set at 1/4 power. After less than 20 flashes over the course of 15 minutes, it turned itself off. The casing of the flash was too hot to touch; I was barely able to get the batteries out; they were also too hot to touch. The second YN560-II was also used on this shoot and didn’t get hot at all. The third unit, purchased a year later, did not have this issue either.

• Short Battery Life (First unit only)


Like my first complaint, this one is limited to the first model I received. The second YN560-II — from a newer batch — didn’t have this problem at all. The battery life was surprisingly short, getting 50 pops or less from a fully-charged set of Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries. My second model performed much better, getting 100-200 flashes (just like my LP160 and LP180), depending on power settings. The third unit was also fine.


Comes With...


Inside the box, besides the user manual and the flashgun itself, was a plastic stand (with female 1/4”-20 thread on bottom) and a nylon pouch. The pouch has little-to-no padding and no belt loop. So it would only offer minimal protection (from scratches, I guess?) and is only for storage.


Contents of box



Build, Quality & Size


After reading dozens of reviews about the cheap plastic that Yongnuo products are made from, I half-expected the casing to be cracked right out of the box. But my Yongnuo YN560-II (all three units) feels solidly built. Nothing was loose or wiggly. The casing didn’t feel thin or bendy to me. The hot foot (simple single pin) is metal (see image); the locking wheel is firm. The control buttons are resistant without being difficult to press. The swivel/bounce head requires a little more pressure than I expected; it tilts and twists with robust clicks.

In all, I was impressed by the construction of this flash. To my untrained eye, it seems on par with my Canon 420EX Speedlite or ProMaster 5550DX Digital flash, while not quite as muscular as the LumoPro LP160, but much more solid than my Vivitar Auto30D.


The back and front of the Yongnuo YN560-II


I was also surprised at its weight. Holding it, I thought it felt lighter than my LP160 or Canon 420EX, but it’s actaully heavier. The specs in the manual say it’s 350 grams, which is exactly what it weighed on my kitchen scale. The LP160 is 320g (315g in specs), 420EX is 300g, and my ProMaster is 250g (212g in specs).

It’s slightly longer than the LP160 and nearly an inch longer than my Canon or ProMaster units. It’s as wide as the LumoPro (wider than the others) and slightly deeper.


Comparison of LumoPro LP160 and Yongnuo YN560-II


It’s the only flash I’ve ever seen where the battery compartment door is on the right (see image). All others are on the left.


Power Settings



1/128 power, plus 1/3-stop
Using the left/right control buttons on the back of the YN560-II, you can set the power all the way from 1/1 (full power) to 1/128, for seven full stops of power adjustments (eight total settings). Using the up/down buttons, you can fine-tune the power at 1/3-stops and 1/2-stops.

This makes it notably more versatile than my LP160, which only goes down to 1/64, and only goes in full stops, and even slightly better than my LP180, which cannot change power in full stops.

The YN560-II remembers your settings, even if you remove and replace the batteries.


Full Power


This flash claimed to have a guide number of 190.3 when zoomed to 105mm, which would make it half a stop brighter than my LP160 and 1.7 stops brighter than my LP180. In other words, it should be the brightest flash I own. It is, without question. In fact, it’s actually about two times as bright as the LP180, as demonstrated in the following non-scientific test.

In a direct comparison, I put my YN560-II and LP180 each 152.4 cm (60 inches) from the dark red curtains in my office. Each was zoomed to 105mm and pointed directly at the curtains. At the same power setting (see image), the Yongnuo was indeed quite a bit brighter than the LP180. In the following image, the YN560-II is set to 1/16 power, while the LP180 is set to 1/8 power:


YN560-II (left) at 1/16 power versus LumoPro LP180 (right) at 1/8 power



Triggering Options


Meant to be used as an off-camera flash, the YN560-II has several triggering options, including the single-pin hot foot (works on any standard hot shoe), the optical slave, and a female PC sync jack. (That’s one less than the LP160/LP180, which also have 3.5mm miniphone sockets.)


3-Minute Auto Shutoff


If left idle for three minutes, the YN560-II will enter “dormancy mode” (hibernation). That requires a physical button press to get it going again. You can turn off the power-saving mode (press and hold the musical note button), in which case the flash will stay alert for 30 minutes. There is no option to leave the flash on permanently.

If you ask me, three minutes is too short, but it’s better than the 90 seconds offered by my Canon flash. (The LP160 stays on for 30 minutes by default.)


Two-Hand Operation


It requires two hands to tilt/swivel the head of this flash, because of the stiffness of the joints. They might get looser with more use. At least they don’t have a locking mechanism like the Canon.


Built-In Bounce Card



Bounce card and diffusion panel
(Copyright 2014 by Wil C. Fry.)
The YN560-II is the first flash I owned with a built-in bounce card and diffusion panel (see image at right). They both pull out of the slot together, but either can be pushed back in separately.

I initially did’t experiment with either, but midway through 2014 I used the YN560-II at my son’s baptism and reception, with the bounce card pulled out, with great results. The bounce card is (according to the manual) good for creating catch lights in subjects’ eyes. I found it threw forward enough fill light to be noticeable. The diffusion panel widens and softens the flash beam.


Conclusion


My initial conclusion was that this is a flash I “can live with”, but once I learned that the quick battery drain and heat problem only affected my first unit, I quickly became a fan of the YN560-II. I do love my old LP160 and I like the LP180, but they don't stand up to the Yongnuo.

More than once now, it’s been the only flash I brought with me on outings and trips.

After a year with this flash — especially the second copy — and even after getting the LumoPro LP180, the YN560-II is not only my “best flash for the money”, it’s my best flash period. Only the lack of a 1/8” miniphone jack has been irritating. (To be honest, I haven’t been affected by the lack of a working low-battery icon; I just fire until the flash runs out of power.)

For a while, the only thing that prevented me from adding a third YN560-II was the first copy and the problems it had. Now I’ve learned those issues were limited to earlier batches of Yongnuos. B&H has added Yongnuos to its renowned catalog. And I ordered a third.


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