I’m a bit of a control freak. I’m a huge fan of strobes. When nature doesn’t provide, then I’m gonna pull out the strobes and make it happen. Now, the big studio strobes are all well and good, but they’ve got big price tags, and they’re heavy and cumbersome. David Hobby has built a career out of telling everyone how awesome the smaller hotshoe flashes are, and the man is right. Tiny strobes are a fantastic way to get the job done. But there’s a million of them, which ones are you going to buy?
It used to be that used strobes were much cheaper than they are now. I’m a Nikon guy, so I’ve been partial to the SB-26 and SB-28. The built-in optical slave function has helped me out in the past, and if you don’t have radio triggers yet, they’d a fantastic place to start, if you were dead-set on having Nikon gear on your Nikon camera. As it is, they’re still a bit expensive used.
I picked up that Sunpak 333 for 1500 yen years ago, and it was a phenomenal purchase. It’s been a trooper. It’s completely limited at what it does, but inside those limitations, it’s a trooper. It’s not as powerful as some other strobes; it doesn’t have as much power adjustablity. It’s light, though, and simple, and the adjustment slider is tactile, so you can fumble with it in the dark, or more commonly, when you’ve got it stuck somewhere up high and can’t see the back of it.
I’ve had a couple of the Vivitar 285HVs as well, but they get a massive raspberry from Strobist.com, and I am wont to agree with that sentiment. I’d pass on them.
I did own a SB-600 for a number of years. It was a fantastic strobe, and held up to mad abuse. It survived a couple drop tests, and a lot of work. When it eventually gave up the ghost, I wasn’t disappointed in it. It gave me 8 years of hard use. I’ve played with the SB-800 and SB-900 as well, but if you’re looking at bang-for-the-buck, the answer is clear.
Since I first became aware of them 8 years ago, YongNuo has gone from sketchy Chinese character to a pillar of the community for beginning strobe photographers. Last year I bought a YN-565EX, and two YN-650IIs. The YN-560II is dirt cheap, comes in Nikon or Canon flavors, and has a built-in optical slave. When you’re shooting manual(and I maintain that that’s the way to do it, 90% of the time), there is no better cheap strobe out there. I picked up the YN-565EX for that 10% of the time that I want to use the Nikon CLS system. When I’m running and gunning, particularly with the Big Bounce, the YN-565EX gives me the same infrared communication and TTL automation that my SB-600 had before it bit the bullet. If I was scraping together my hard-earned pennies to buy some more hotshoe strobes, I wouldn’t think twice about it. The YongNuos are the way to go.