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Photo Gear Round-Up

New Photo GearPhoto gear tends to arrive at my door faster than I can use it, or even test it.

And that’s not just because I have bad habit of shopping on Amazon after too many beers (although that’s true), but because gear manufacturers are constantly sending me stuff that they want me to review.

I know, it’s a problem many of you would kill to have.  And I’m not complaining.

But it does sometimes become frustrating to look at all the cool toys lying unopened on my camera counter, toys I would like to thoroughly test and review for you, and which I simply don’t have time to mess with.

So, in an effort to clear some things off my “Gear to Review” list, I’m going to give you a quick tour through a bunch of recently arrived stuff that looks useful.

Some of it I’ve tested, some of it I have barely opened.

Some of it I purchased, some of it was sent to me out of the blue by manufacturers.

Many of these items will later become the subject of in-depth reviews, after I’ve had a chance to test them thoroughly in real shooting situations.

For now I’m just going to give you first impressions and quick comments, in case you’re looking for something like this.

The Turfstand
TurfstandLooking strangely like a photographer’s pitchfork, the most dangerous object in my camera kit at the moment is this light stand designed for use on turf, beach sand, or other soft ground.

It’s strong enough to hold a speedlight in a softbox, or a reflector, but not a big studio light.

I’m eager to to test-drive this gizmo, but I’m working on projects at the moment that don’t involve outdoor photography on soft ground.  So it will have to wait.  See the manufacturer’s video for ideas on how to use it.

Status: Untested
First impressions: Clever idea. Looks well built.  Sharp, pointy teeth.
Learn more and buy it here


Phottix  60×60 cm (24-Inch) Softbox for Speedlites
I’ve been wanting to mount one of these small softboxes on a pole (or a Turfstand!) to be carried by an assistant, to provide portable soft light anywhere.  I like Phottix gear in general, so I went with their box, and I’m impressed with the build quality.

Phottix 60x60 Softbox

Most importantly, the mechanism that holds the flash allowed enough degrees of freedom to allow me to fit a radio trigger below the flash and still get it aimed through the hole.  This is difficult with some small softboxes, but on the Phottix it worked great.

Phottix Softbox with Speedlite and Radio Trigger

Phottix Softbox with Speedlite and Radio Trigger

Status: Assembled and home-tested, but not field tested.
First impressions:  Very solid-feeling construction.  Fits with the all-important radio trigger.  No instructions included,  so I had to Google “assemble foldable softbox” to find a video.
Find it on Amazon or at search at the Phottix Store


Fader ND Mark II Variable ND Filter

Fader ND Mark II Variable ND FilterI’ve been needing a variable neutral density filter, especially for shooting DSLR video (although it can be handy for still photography as well).

I already have a high-quality B&W 3-stop ND filter, but the problem is…it’s always 3 stops. The challenge of DSLR video is that your shutter speed is fixed, and if you want to shoot with a wide aperture for shallow depth-of-field, then your aperture is basically fixed.  That leaves you with ND filters as your best way of controlling the light.

For flexibility, a variable ND is best.  The top-of-the-line Singh-Ray Vari-ND costs $340, so I tried the Fader ND Mark II for about $120. So far I’m impressed.  The quality certainly seems good enough for web video.  Whether it’s good enough for your fine art photos is yet to be determined.

Status: Limited Testing (less than 10 hours of use)
First Impressions: Good build quality.  Does the job.  Reasonable price.
Learn more and buy it here (link goes to 77mm, check your lens diameter first)


Yongnuo-YN622C ETTL Wireless Flash Trigger for Canon

Yongnuo YN-622C Wireless TTL Flash Trigger for CanonI’m going to review this trigger in a video more thoroughly very soon because this is an important player in the TTL trigger market.

The big news here is having a full TTL trigger pair for under $100.   That’s way cheaper than the old industry-standard PocketWizards, and also even significantly cheaper than my favorite TTL trigger, the Phottix Odin.   Will the Yongnuo measure up to the Phottix?  Only extensive testing will tell.

Trouble is, I opened my Yongnuo YN-622C box to find that one transceiver simply doesn’t work.  Insert batteries and nothing happens.   So I can’t test it. Waiting for a replacement.   This is the second time I’ve received faulty gear from Yongnuo, and it doesn’t say good things about their quality control.

At this time only a Canon version exists. No reports on whether a Nikon version is coming (but Nikon owners can take satisfaction in owning a better flash system in the first place.)

Status: Untested.
First impressions: Reviews are good. I can’t wait to try the focus-assist light which the Odin lacks.  Quality control sucks. (Update: I just got the dead unit working after a reader commented below about battery contact issues.  Quality control still sucks, but at least I have two working transceivers now).

Learn more and buy it here

UPDATE: I have now reviewed this trigger here.

Yongnuo YN-560 Speedlight Flash for Canon and Nikon

Yongnuo YN-560 Speedlight Flash for Canon and NikonI bought one of these flashes, and based on its performance, I bought 3 more. All four of them combined cost about half of the price of one Canon 580EX II or one Nikon SB-910.

The catch is, this is a manual flash, where you set the power by hand. There is no through-the-lens (TTL) metering. So if you want a flash you can just stick on your camera and fire away, this is not it.

But if you’re like me and you want some inexpensive manual flashes for background lights, or for use with sync-only radio triggers, this flash seems like a great low-budget alternative.  (If you wonder how I use flashes like this, see my off-camera flash portrait photo course).


  • Built-in optical slave (fire the flash without needing more triggers!).
  • Recycle warning beep lets you know when it’s ready to fire (why can’t Canon adopt this Nikon feature?)
  • Low price


  • No TTL metering. Manual power setting only.
  • As with other Yongnuo gear, the reports from the field are that quality control sucks.

Despite the erratic quality, I think these still seem like a bargain, because even if you occasionally get a bad one, the price is so low that they are almost disposable. Buy more than you need and expect some to fail.

Status: Minimal Testing (less than 50 flashes per unit)
First impressions:  Great for off-camera use use.  Shameless rip-off of Canon design.  Ridiculously low price.
Learn more and buy it here 

That’s it for this gear round-up.  Believe it or not I still have a bunch of items sitting on the shelf (some of which I’m not allowed to take about yet, because they are “pre-release”) but I’ll write more about those later.

Happy shooting!

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  1. Jeff Lantz says:

    Always appreciate equipment reviews. especially enjoyed the Wacom review. Looking at several used 5DMark IIs. can’t afford a new MarkIII. these were all used as rentals and have been refurbished. 90 day warranty. prices from
    $560-$1100. any thoughts and recommendations.

  2. Terry Thornton says:

    Wow, Phil — quite an interesting blogpost. You know, I hope I never drink so much beer that I would spend $$ on a Turfstand ; Time to either evaluate my real needs or to join AA. As to Yongnuo gear, I have heard the same negative things, so a ridiculously low price is just temptation to buy a piece of junk. That filter looks interesting, waiting for that test. The Phottix box is promising.

  3. Louis Cardinal says:

    I purchased 4 Yongnuo rf-603c wireless flash remote triggers and unlike the ones on the Steele video courses, this one did not sync faster than 1/160 shutter speed. On the course I think it went as high as 1/250. But for the $20 price per unit it’s still worth it. Also bought a YN460 Yongnuo flash strickly for back lighting. It’s cheaply built but works for what I use it for.

  4. Phil Steele says:

    @Louis, that sync speed is a also function of your camera and flash, not just the triggers. You might get a faster sync with a different camera and flash. But 1/160 is something you can work with. One of my cameras won’t do better than 1/180 while another with the same trigger and same flash does 1/250. Go figure.

  5. Clark Hovland says:

    Thanks for the review Phil! Always love reading about new gear and hopefully adding it to my collection!
    Just wanted to add a note for the Phottix 60×60 cm (24-Inch) Softbox for Speedlites. I actually have a couple of these myself and I also use the photix odin wireless triggers. I hated having to turn my flash head (I’m a Canon 430 EX II guy) 90 degrees to enable the flash to fit in the opening. My simple fix was to buy 2 “L” brackets, a short piece of aluminum and 8 small bolts to create a “C” shaped bracket. I then pulled off the flash mount on the softbox and bolted my new contraption to it and relocated the flash mount to the other end of the “C” bracket. So now my flash hangs upside down and the whole head is able to be inside the softbox so there isn’t any spillage in the back. I’m in afghanistan right now or I’d send you a photo so you can see what it looks like, but I think you and your other readers get the gist of it. Its really sturdy too…was using it outside one day and a strong gust blew my stand over and from a height of 6 feet no damage at all (thank god). All this for about $7 at Lowes.
    Hope this helps out some as well!
    Good shooting!

  6. Phil Steele says:

    Clark, thank for that tip! Send us a photo of it some day.

  7. David says:

    Great stuff.
    I have just tested the Calumet Wireless Flash Trigger – very good and better qual than the Yungo.

  8. Phil Steele says:

    David, that Calumet trigger looks suspiciously like a rebranded Phottix Strato to me. And the Strato is one of my favorite triggers, so that’s a good thing.

  9. Olie Lawson says:

    Interesting reviews, keen to know what you think of the YN-622C as I’ve just bought 3 of them (after watching your excellent videos courtesy of the Digital Photography School specials over Xmas). So far I’ve only got 2 (still waiting on the 3rd) and mine work perfectly thus far. The only odd thing being that they don’t point straight forward in the shoe… AF assist light works great too. I also sold my Canon 320EX flash after watching your review and bought a Yongnuo YN568 HSS flash, which again seems a really good unit. Still have yet to put through its full paces but pleased thus far. Have you got one of those on the test bench yet? Would be good to have your thoughts…

  10. Trevor Yannayon says:

    I have 2 of the Yongnuo YN-560 Speedlights and LOVE them. I use the Phottix Stratto triggers with them and they never fail.

    I currently only have 2 umbrellas for modifiers but for the price I will have to try the Phottix softbox.

    I’ve been asked to shoot some head shots in a couple of weeks and I think a softbox or two wil make that job a little easier. Better order them now so I can get some practice with them.

    Your course “How to Shoot Professional-Looking Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes” has been a huge help to me. I am far from being a professional but by following your instructions it has made it much easier for me to get a great shot the first time.

    Thank you so much for all the great free content here and I can’t say enough that your courses are worth A LOT more than you are asking. Stay Awesome!

  11. Phil Steele says:

    Trevor, thanks for the reports on the gear, and for the kind words!

  12. Striker says:

    Will the Yongnuo YN-560 Speedlight do High Speed sync with Nikon and Pocketwizard Flex TT5? Have both a D800 and D7000. Don’t really care about TTL as I almost always shoot in manual, camera and flash.

  13. Vincent Coen says:

    Re: Yongnuo-YN622C;

    Bought these myself two weeks ago and had a quick play with a 580EX II and a 5D 3.

    So far works well but only done simple testing. Cost in the UK is 56 pounds delivered via Ebay.

  14. Phil Steele says:

    Striker, High Speed Sync is a TTL feature, so I doubt the YN560 can do it, but maybe that TT5 can somehow drive the flash to do it. If you try it and learn the answer, let us all know!

  15. Striker says:

    Yea, just kind of wondering since the pocket wizard forces the flash to think it’s on camera if it would do it, not a deal killer, was just curious. Tried to change the color of light on a fountain in Scottsdale the other day and it took three flashes 2 SB700 and a SB910. In the end I couldn’t do it as I only have 3 flashes and needed them for the model. I think these may be a great cheep alternative even if I had to optically trigger them.

    I may just order one and give it a shot…Thanks

  16. Mark Pashia says:

    Phil, I shoot strictly wildlife and landscape so to date I have never used flash. With the price of Canon’s units, I hesitate to invest for the few occasions that it would help. I am shooting a 7D with usually an EF100-400 f/5.6 lens on it. Once in a while I miss an owl near sunrise or sunset and these are the times that I thought a flash unit and a “better beamer” to push the distance of the flash would be useful. My questions are: Is there another brand of flash that is lower cost but still able to be useful in these cases? What features are a must in my case? Thanks for any advice you can give. Mark.

  17. Richard Battilana says:

    Wacom Bamboo – bought this on your recommendation. Don’t know how I lived without it.

    Got Yonguno 602 flash controller. Transmitter last just a few days. It’s going back to Amazon.

  18. Phil Steele says:

    @Mark Pashia – You might try a cheap flash like the YN560, because I suspect you don’t need TTL anyway at your distance. You probably want a full-power pop. You might do even better getting it off camera with a cheap radio trigger.

  19. Bill Schindel says:

    I got 4 of the YN622C transceivers and 1 of them had same issue yours. Heard of another with this issue and his fix was slightly pulling the spring in the battery case (wasn’t making full contact on the other end). Fixed the issue and they all work as advertised (poor QA for sure). However in my testing with 5D III and and a 580 II and YN568EXII it works TTL, groups, HSync, Manual – and perfectly controlled through the camera. Also the YN568II is a very nice alternative to the 580EXII – and almost 1/3 the price.

  20. Phil Steele says:

    Bill, thanks for this suggestion on the YN622! I just got them out and fussed around with the batteries for a while in the dead transceiver, and sure enough I got it to start up! I can’t seem to make a permanent stretch in the spring (afraid to break it off if I pull any harder) but it seems that I can fiddle and twiddle the batteries into a position that works. Now, if it will just keep making contact during use, I’ll be in business. Yongnuo would be one of the best gear companies in the world if they just charged $5 more per item and spent it on quality control.

  21. James Greenall says:

    Thanks for the post, Phil, it is always helpful to have the opinions of an experienced pro on gear. I have Yongnuo 460, 565EXII speedlights and a pair of RF622 triggers and I have to say they all work like a dream for about the price Of 1 Canon 430 EX II. After next payday I plan to complete the setup with a YN 568 (to give me an HSS option) and another pair of triggers so I am pleased to read of other peoples positive experiences of the 568 above. Finally, I really enjoyed the portraits course and found it both helpful and inspiring. Thank you.

  22. Harry Purves says:

    Hi Phil, I’ve just read your quick blog-spot teaser for your full video reviews of several items in your backlog. I like the quick fire comments and found them very useful.

    The Photix speedlite softbox also has a Chinese counterpart. The variable flash bracket looks identical to the one you have pictured, and the softbox only differs in the logo. The one I was looking at can be found at “” and was about £35 + £20 for the bracket, that’s about $56 + $32. I’m not sure if that’s competitive, you may like to comment Phil.

    I also own 2 YN560 MkII’s for my home & portable studio (and a Nissin i860 too for full ETTL for the studio and events). Unfortunately one YN560 dropped off the brolly bracket the other day an the head rotate joint is wobbly now. I’m sure it will fail altogether soon, so I looked to buy a replacement and found that Yongnuo now produce a YN560 MkIII which includes a 24GHz radio trigger receiver. On checking the price it was only £3 or $5 (approx.) more that the YN560 MkII. The advertising states it is compatible with the RF602 and RF603 triggers which is great for me cos I have 4 RF603’s! This means I can also trigger the camera shutter remotely too!

  23. Alexandre Almeida says:

    Yeah we’ve been missing your video reviews.
    You might want to consider including the YN568 for review. It has not the quality control issues that plagued previous TTL flashes. I’m currently testing it against the YN622.

  24. Kevin Kelly says:


    Bought four of the flashes and triggers. they work great for my night time train photography.

    Can you or any of your readers recommend an external battery pack for the flashes? I’m spending way too much on AA bateries.


  25. the little 24″ softbox is nice on painter’s pole with small flashes, and if you remove the strobe bracket it also fits nicely on alien bees.. I have a couple of these and can stack them on one stand with two AB heads to get the equivalent of a full length soft box… and use them on a boom as softer hair/top light and even as a single, in tight for beauty shots. At just a bit over $30 ea. on Amazon I find these to be excellent value for photogs.

  26. Phil Steele says:

    Thanks, everyone for these great comments. Follow-up questions for a few of you:

    @Harry P. – Thanks for the tips on the YN560 Mk III, which sounds great for those of us with RF602 and RF603 triggers.

    @Alexandra – Thanks for suggesting the YN568 as several others have. Also high on my wish list for testing. Yongnuo is making new gear faster than I can test it!

    @ Kevin K. – One of the items on my shelf that didn’t make it into this round up is an external battery pack Pixel TD-381 battery Power Pack for for Canon. (I’m not sure if you shoot Canon). However if you are using standard AA batteries, you should switch to rechargeable Eneloop batteries! It will save you a ton of money and improve recycle time.

    @ John C. – Any tips on how you mounted the softbox onto the paint pole? Is there a ready-made adapter or did you rig something?

  27. John Whittaker says:

    Hi Phil

    A question re the Phottix 60×60 cm (24-Inch) Softbox for Speedlites.

    I have a Canon 580EX11 flash on a Canon 60D. If I were to use one of these softboxes, could I trigger the flash via the cameras built in flash, or does the softbox shield the flash unit too much for this to work?

    Many thanks, John

  28. Phil Steele says:

    John W. – It depends on the angle and position. You could do it, but you’re restricted to line-of sight communication between the camera and the flash sensor. That’s why radio triggers come in handy.

  29. joe B says:

    I’m surprised that nobody is mentioning the yongnuo 565EX flash. It works on ETTL.It’s a bit more expensive than the 560, but it’s worth it. It doesn’t have the high speed sync mode like the canon 580EX flash.

  30. Richard Ellsworth says:

    I recently got the Yongnuo YN560-II speedlite from amazon for $75. It works much better than I expected. It has no TTL, but works good as a manual flash. In the description at amazon it didn’t say anything about being triggered by the cameras built in flash, but I tried it and it works.


  31. Phil Steele says:

    @Joe B. – The reason I have’t tried the YN-565 flash yet is that reports of its quality are so bad that I decided not to even try it. Sounds like you got a good one. Many people are not so lucky. Also, High Speed Sync is the biggest reason I want TTL functions in a flash, so that single missing feature is a big drawback for me. Seems like new Chinese flashes are coming out every day though, so I expect the pressure on Canon and Nikon flash pricing to just keep growing. Good alternatives are coming out faster than we can keep up with them.

  32. Stan Carter says:

    I’m quite surprised at the amount of negative comment I’ve been reading here regarding the quality of Yongnuo flash equipment.

    I personally own and have used the following Yongnuo gear on a regular basis over the last couple of years and apart from an intermittent fault with one of the RF-602TX transmitters in the very early days, the rest of the equipment has performed flawlessly.

    1 x YN-460 Flash Unit, 2 x YN-460 ii Flash Units, 2 x RF-602TX transmitters, 1 x RF-600TX transmitter (bought with an RT-600 Off-Camera TTL FLASH Cord Trigger set for CANON) and 4 x RF-602RX receivers.

    I’ve been so impressed with this gear, particularly considering the price, that around two months ago I bought four of the new YN-622C E-TTL controllers which I now use in full E-TTL mode, combined with three Canon 430EXii Flash units.

    After getting over some early teething problems, which were caused entirely by not having the receivers set up properly, I’m very happy to report that both the build quality and the performance of these units is excellent.

    For those people genuinely interested in using the YN-622 controller check out this thread at

    To date there are 124 pages in this thread, dedicated to using these new Yongnuo controllers and the general consensus of opinion amongst the various contributors here is that these units are well built and ultra reliable, provided that you power them with alkaline batteries and avoid the use of re-chargeable cells …..keep those for use in the flash units.

  33. Mark says:

    I was turned onto Yongnuo products by Phil and am so grateful he was kind enough to review them for us. Great stuff! I have the five RF-602’s remote triggers and two YN565EX flashes. As good as my Canon flashes and I love the triggers! Thank you Phil!

  34. Jim Kendall says:

    When it comes to having a need to stretch out a battery contact spring in various equipment, try using something thin & flat to insert between the lower-most coils down near the base of the spring. I often use the lever on a pair of nail clippers to make sure I don’t pull the spring away from the base or seat. This will give you some leverage & then you can stretch it fairly easily.

  35. Linda Mandy says:

    Hi Phil, Sorry if you have mentioned this but is this the YN-560 II flash with the digital back or the YN-560. I recently purchased a new YN-560 and It was the II version. Power from the flash I say equals the Canon equilivant, where as the earlier YN-560 flashes I purchased were at least one to two stops less power.

  36. Linda Mandy says:

    Kevin, Phottix make a battery pack, I hang it on my stand and it powers the flashes for many days. Still use AA inside the flash unit.

  37. Zeshan Anjum says:

    @ Linda – from the picture it looks like version 1 of the YN-560. I have two of the newer version 2 and I really love the big digital readout. Very simply to change power settings unlike my 430exII. I can’t believe how cheap they are. I was worried about QC but mine seem to work just fine! I guess I got lucky, eh?
    Phil – those triggers look a lot like Pixel Kings in terms of design!

  38. Phil Steele says:

    @Linda and Zeshan – Yes these are YN-560 version 1. Linda, interesting observation about the II version having more power. Sounds like a real benefit. Zeshan, from reading online reports I decided to try the YN622 rather than the Pixel Kings because I got a better impression of the YN gear from the reviews. If anyone has used both I’d love to hear a first-hand comparison.

  39. Mark K says:


    I’ve been using the Pixel Kings for 5 months now. They are the first triggers I’ve had so can’t really compare them to anything else. I really wanted a set of Odins… I’m still realling from the sticker shock. So far I’ve only used them with a pair of 430ex-ii’s and a single 600ex-rt. I’ve been think about getting a few of the yn-560ii, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    Everything plays nice together. TTL works, but is not something I use a lot. It’s super easy to set all group levels thru the camera menu. I wish it had ratio support, but I’ll live.

    So far the only issue I’ve had was one receiver would not work if set to group C, it worked fine if set to group A or B but not C. This was fixed when I up graded the firmware to v10.30.

    This is one thing I’ve really like about the Pixel’s… the firmware can be updated when needed, which is something that Pixel seems to do regularly. Gives me the impression that they stand behind their product.

  40. Winston says:

    I bought the YN 568 EX flash and it is a fantastic cheap alternative to the Canon 580 EX II.

    The sad things is YongNuo flashes do NOT work with Phottix Odin triggers and receivers.

    I have a Canon 5DMII, Canon 580EXII, YN568, and Canon 420EX.

    So now I am hoping to set things up as follows:

    1. 5DMII mounted with Phottix Odin Transmitter
    2. both Canon flashes mounted on Phottix Odin receivers
    3. YN568 mounted on YN622 receiver
    4. 5DMII fired via tethered YN622 receiver which I will activate via YN622 transmitter.

    Hope this works. It is only the plan.

    Just hoping that YongNuo and Phottix will work together.

    It will be a hoot if both of these rip-off companies refuse to work together in order to protect their “intellectual property” 🙂


  41. Bo says:

    The Phottix Indra 500 (best buy ever) battery pack could be used for the speed-lights and flash ofcourse. It is a 5000 mAh battery and beats everything so far. When used together with high speed setting it tends to drain the battery faster but we are still secured for a day of wedding shooting.

    Yongnuo-YN622 Nikon triggers work like charm without misfiring and in my tests they beat pocket wizard in remote landscape photography. I need to use the Phottix Odin trigger (fantastic but more expensive) with odin receiver TTL trigger which absolutely comes on first place.

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