Yongnuo YN685 Trial By Fire

Yongnuo YN685Yongnuo

Let me first say that this is not my first experience with Yongnuo. I’m glad this is not a video because I have no idea how to pronounce it, and if I did, it would be spoken with a heavy Texas accent for the amusement of my Asian friends.  I’m not sure what year it was, but probably about 2010 or 2011.  I’d heard about a new Hong Kong company making speedlite flashes, based on reverse engineering Canon and Nikon Speedlites.

The only place you could get one back then was Amazon. They were cheap. Usually around $75 USD. The quality (I heard) was hit or miss.  It would either work perfectly when you took it out of the box, or not at all. After reading a good review on Strobist, I decided to buy one.  It worked out of the box, and has been working for the past 6 years. It even survived falling into the San Antonio river during a photo shoot.

I use my manual flashes for my wedding photography.  They work great for formal portraits, group shots, and lighting a dance floor at a reception.  The flashes are activated with wireless triggers. My first set of triggers were Cyber Syncs by Paul C. Buff. They’ve been great, and mostly reliable. It only took two weddings where I lost my confidence in them for me to consider replacing them. I was thinking about a new set of triggers, when I happened to shoot a wedding with my friend (and extremely talented photographer Shelly Beck. Shelly had just bought a pair of Yongnuo YN685 Speedlites that have wireless trigger receivers BUILT-IN! The transmitter is a YN622 that goes in the hot shoe of your camera.


Let me take a moment to rag on Nikon.  I started investing in Nikon lenses a long time ago, and I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Nikon.  I love their camera bodies, with their high ISO, but the Nikon flashes are about 10 years behind everyone else, and they are twice as expensive as everyone else. Canon has a flash with the trigger built-in. (That’s how Yongnuo engineered theirs, by taking apart a Canon and replicating the technology) Nikon has a similar flash in the SB-5000, but it retails for $600 each compared to Yongnuo’s $100 YN685.
Yongnuo transmitter

My Review

I ordered a pair of the Yongnuo 685 Speedlites from B&H Photo Video, and it arrived on Friday evening.  I had a wedding scheduled the next day, so I figured that since I like the live dangerously, I’d used some new un-tested equipment in the chaos that is a wedding. Don’t ever do that kids… It’s just not smart.

I took out my new flashes, put fresh batteries in them, and set up the flashes with the transmitter.  When the time came to press the shutter, both flashes fired perfectly, and I was able to control the output power by dialing it on my transmitter shown here.  It fired the first time, and every time. I was a happy photographer, and my bride will receive some well-lit photographs, and never know about the chaos or technology I was using from my camera to the flashes.  In the end… that’s all that matters, isn’t it?  The finished product. The images. It doesn’t really matter how you got them. But it made me happy that it was easy, and fired every time.

If you are a photographer who uses Off Camera Flash (OCF) and you need to replace some equipment, I highly recommend the little Hong Kong company that is making a big splash in the photography community.

The Manual

I can’t just gush a review with unconditional love without finding at least one con, now can I? The first Yongnuo I purchased came with a little folded piece of paper with Chinese on one side, and VERY broken English on the other. This newest product from Yongnuo has a real little booklet manual. The first part is Chinese, and the second part is in English, and it’s actually much better English, but clearly writing user manuals is not where they focused a lot of time or thought.