What YongNuo Doesn't Yet Understand

Earlier this week, Chinese manufacturer YongNuo announced a new flash: the YN-565EX.

It's got full manual mode, a built-in slave, a PC jack, a modeling light -- and is compatible with both Nikon and Canon's proprietary light-based TTL triggering systems.

It may well be a great flash -- or not. And which one is anyone's guess because as of 2011 YongNuo's manufacturing and distribution system is sufficiently unpredictable to make product quality control and customer service near impossible.

Which is a shame, really, considering how well they could be doing…

To explain what I mean by that, let's start by looking at how a a manufacturing-to-retain ecosystem should work.

Generally, a manufacturer designs a product, fronts some R&D and then makes a few thousand copies of it. They sell it to distributors at a reasonable profit, who in turn wholesale it to retailers who sell it to you. All along the way, the price goes up.

Unpleasant tho this may sound, it is necessary. The manufacturers need to make a decent profit to survive to create the next generation of product. The distributors get the product out all over the world in sufficient diversity to ensure availability and fair pricing. That takes resources, and they need a profit, too.

And the retailers are at the front lines in this food chain, selling to you and at the same time standing behind the product in terms of returns, etc.

In some cases, manufacturers will also sell their products directly. But to preserve the profitability for the distributor/retailer system, any direct seller worth his or her salt will not undercut the end retailer when pricing their direct sales.

The Real Problem

Many Far East flash manufacturers, who actually have the ability to create a pretty good product at an amazing price, do not understand this. They will frequently sell direct to the public at only a 2-3% profit margin on top of the actual manufacturing costs. It's a cultural/ecosystem thing. Price is really important. But quality and service are important, too. And it is nearly impossible to have all three.

Obviously, no retailer can compete with OEM at 2-3% margins. Some will order the flashes and build in a small margin for themselves in hopes that people will buy from a more convenient source. But there is nowhere near the margin to stand behind the products, let alone test them thoroughly.

And since the whole system is built on as little margin as possible, quality control at the manufacturer is not what it could or should be, thus compounding the problem.

Who is left holding the bag? Often it is the buyer, with a higher-than-necessary failure rate and poor return options. So every time you roll the dice buying direct from YongNuo, you may well have to send it all they way back to China if things do not work out well. Which is slow and expensive.

Trust me, I want to believe. But I have rolled the dice and lost -- every time. And this is such a shame, because if the manufacturers would not compete with their own retailers, it would be better for everyone.

Retailers would have enough margin to stand behind the products. Distributors would have enough margin to make them widely available on a geographic basis. And manufacturers could, by respecting retail pricing, make a substantial profit on each direct unit sold. That would fold back into more R&D and quality control.

Yes, we would pay more than the current too-good-to-be-true prices for flashes that never live up to their promise. But the manufacturers would be more profitable -- which would drive a positive vicious cycle toward better quality and faster innovation.

And I am just talking about flashes. Remotes are even more of a problem. They have all of the issues of the flash ecosystem, but also suffer from one of the worst pieces of manufacturing logic I have ever encountered: They change the frequency and coding year-to-year specifically to avoid backwards compatibility and to force you to re-buy entire systems rather than expand from year to year.

This makes no sense to someone building a gear bag for the long term.

By contrast, my PocketWizard transmitters can fire receivers that are nearly 20 years old. Which is one reason they hold their value so well. Which makes them a very low economic risk.

Until the new remote manufacturers show more respect for their long-term customer with generation-to-generation backwards compatibility, I would never consider (much less recommend) one of their remotes. It's just silly.

One day (probably soon, given their reputation for efficiency) the Chinese manufacturers will figure out that by respecting both their customers and their sellers' food chain they can completely turn this quality cycle around. And when that happens YongNuo (and many other Chinese photo gear manufacturers) will be a positive force in the industry.


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Blogger Scott Wiggins said...

That looks so much like a cross between a 580EX and an older 550EX it's untrue.

Have to say it's almost like paying a newbie tax, you'll buy one and then end up buying something proprietary.

April 28, 2011 2:20 AM  
Blogger icie said...

I agree regarding quality control and backward compatibility. However, I disagree that having a separate distribution and retail system (I call this the middle-man) means quality is necessarily better.
Or that an accelerated R&D on the part of a Chinese company is a relevant point for people who buy these brands.
I treat YongNuo flashes and Chinese radio triggers as disposable assets. As far as I am concerned, for the price of a single Nikon/Canon/Sony flash, or even an out-of-warranty repair on a "brand" unit, I can get four or five of these (maybe more), which at the end of the day are just there to function as additional light sources if needed.
So if one or two of them die after a year or because of some mishap involving high wind and lightstands, I am not too fussed, having more units in my bag or at home that I can pull out at a moment's notice.
I know you have been burnt a few times by Chinese equipment failing on arrival or being otherwise dodgy, but I will note that I haven't had a DoA on any of the YN-460II's or YN-560's I have ordered to date, and any equipment failure has been solely the result of my own negligence.

April 28, 2011 2:41 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

The key point in this post is the "too-good-to-be-true prices". When something looks too-good-to-be-true then it usually is too-good-to-be-true. Quality costs money. :)

April 28, 2011 2:59 AM  
Blogger JonBradbury said...

If the price difference of the ST-E2 knock offs is anything to go by then I'm guessing if they went through the usual channels they'd be more expensive than the genuine article.

At least on the remotes they're cheap enough to not matter, my current set of 2 transmitters and 4-5 receivers cost me about £100, less than half the price of a single pocket wizard... If was pro then there would be no question use PW's, but for amateurs it keeps them accessible and if have to replace them again in few years it won't be a big hurt.

April 28, 2011 3:52 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

While I admire the chutzpah of diagnosing problems in the world's largest country and soon-to-be largest economy in a short blog post, I think you can hold your breath without too much risk to health.

China's Shanzhai culture and state-endorsed enterprises have allowed it to enter and rapidly dominate several electronics markets (think Lenovo or ZTE). They have an internal market that is several times larger than the US and rapidly growing export markets in most major emerging economies like Brazil. If they want to properly enter the camera and flash market then they'll do it. Easy peasy.

You as a discerning US customer are almost an irrelevance. The US is barely more than a niche market to China. Albeit a prestigious niche.

April 28, 2011 6:35 AM  
Blogger drecart said...

I know that the YN-460 doesn't like swimming in the surf. Bright side? only $50

I'd like a flash that could handle HSS but my budget doesn't stretch that far.

April 28, 2011 7:04 AM  
Blogger GregZ said...

i understand what you say, i've lived 2 years in beijing and i tell you that things are not gonna change..
Look at china GDP of last years and you get the answer, till the gdp stays in these figures, there's no reason for china to change attitude regarding economy, production and foreign trade.

The control quality issue it's not an issue everytime. I've bought a lot of chinese studio strobes and 1 shoemount flash, never had problem with that, really reliable, i repeat it depends on brands like everywhere in the world, there are good brands and not good brands.

So if you find the good one, why not keep buying from china at lowest price? just for Warranty?

(sorry for my poor english)

April 28, 2011 8:24 AM  
Blogger Nine Live Photography said...

Wow, this is even a true statement in my 9-5 industry. I work for a cabling distributor and we constantly face the competition of direct oversea sales. Although this mentality is now spreading to the North American manufacturers are well. We are now facing direct sales at low margins, which are the exact same margins that we are suppose to be getting from them, leaving no room for any kind of markup, let alone a sell price to a reseller to then be sold to the public.

it would be awesome to turn the clocks back and re-set the system so that everyone in the chain can make some money again!

April 28, 2011 8:47 AM  
Blogger Tom Legrady said...

Back in the 50's "Made in Japan" was associated with cheap junk and copies of American designs. As their production base grew and they developed experience, so did quality and originality improve, so that now we look to Sony and Panasonic for top-of-the-line electronics.

The Chinese will be making good stuff in 5 or 10 years. In the meantime you have to be selective about what you buy.

April 28, 2011 9:09 AM  
Blogger Bernhard A S said...

Hey David,

brilliant post. In a broader perspective this is one reason of many why the people who smiply extend past growth rate into the future will be proven wrong. China, India, Russia and Brasil have a number of very specific issues, that will curtail the predicted growth.

And when you compare likes to likes the percieved competitive advantage becomes quite small.

April 28, 2011 9:10 AM  
Blogger Bernhard A S said...

P.S.: On the flip side of the coin we would like to see some more of the intelectual agility in the Canikons of the world, to deliver actually what teh customer wants a bit more faster.

April 28, 2011 9:12 AM  
Blogger Cameron Russell Photography said...

I understand, and for the most part agree, with what you're saying. For what its worth I bought a Yongnuo flash and electronic trigger set last year and I haven't had any problems. I agree that its a game of chance...but I live on the edge...In all seriousness a lot of beginning photographers can't invest in new SBs or PWs...let alone find someone willing to sell their old ones. I guess I'd be willing to pay a little more to invest in the future of Chinese brands but until then Im rolling the dice and reading all the DIY forums I can get my hands on.

April 28, 2011 9:16 AM  
Blogger Scott Martin said...

I've had such a nightmare trying to return faulty YongNuo products again and again that I simply can't recommend them to anyone. David, you're totally right. YongNuo in particular has a history of making unreliable products and doesn't have a good system in place for support and returns. You've hit the nail on the head - thanks.

April 28, 2011 9:26 AM  
Blogger adam said...

I can't say enough about how strongly I agree with this, Dave. I for one have never understood the cost of basic manual triggers, and am always looking for cheaper alternatives. Thusly, I actually switched to using almost primarily yongnuo triggers last year. Outside of some bad channel switches, they've been nothing but reliable, but I can't help but feel that I'd gladly pay twice (yes twice) the cost if they were better documented and more readily available via mainstream retailers. I meant, at $160 for six units, the risk is fairly low. I still get the feeling I'll be replacing the whole lot at some point, but if they last two years and still stay at that price, I suppose they did the job?

April 28, 2011 9:45 AM  
Blogger Jason Herrick said...

Beautifully said. I couldn't agree more! Thanks for sharing.

April 28, 2011 9:47 AM  
Blogger Dashney said...

If it has complicated electronics, then go for the real deal. If it's a diffuser, or an adapter or something for your light stand, then by all means use China. The prices 'real' manufacturers charge for very simple pieces of aluminum are insane. I'm in Canada, where body prices are cheap, lenses are decentish, but accessories are absolutely out of this world expensive. $28 for a speedlight diffuser? I'll get mine for $2, thanks. I'm down with rewarding the companies that front the R&D money for high tech stuff, but for something that you can make in a highschool shop class? Fuhgedaboudid!

April 28, 2011 9:49 AM  
Blogger nexus- said...

It is not so much that you need a complex distribution chain to ensure quality, Yong Nuo actually do not seem to undercut their ebay retailers as well. Tomtop for example sell YN flashes for less than the price you will find in the official YN ebay store.

It is just a simple realization that eventually people will start deserting the YN brand if QC does not improve and the profits of newbies buying in droves will eventually evaporate (of course, it will never disappear as cheap flashes are so tempting!)

It doesn't matter if they don't have regional distributors (couple of B&M stores stock them in Australia though) but they need to raise their prices and QC accordingly or risk cheapening their brand name which is very damaging in the long run.

April 28, 2011 10:30 AM  
Blogger Setcamper said...

I guess I count myself very lucky my YN560 and set of RF-602's have always worked fine, no problems. But like you say, it's a gamble.

I'm getting ready to add to my collection/upgrade, and given Paul Buff's reputation I'm thinking my money should stay in the US.

April 28, 2011 10:32 AM  
Blogger SJCT said...

I would agree, somewhat. I like the comment that Dashney made, ie; if it has complicated electronics, go for the real thing. If it's a diffuser or light stand, go for the product straight from China.

April 28, 2011 10:46 AM  
Blogger Kurt Jürgen Lindner said...

I understand the reaction to the Chinese business model (it's an issue all other strong economies have had with them for a loong time), and I doo love the Blog and much of what you have to say, however- I totally disagree with sticking up overcharging to maintain a certain profit margin for the end retailer. What about Adorama and B&H? They're prices are well below my local camera stores, and no one complains about buying from them even though they're undercutting every other Mom & Pop camera shop.

The biggest issue I've evar had with my Cactuses is a week hotshoe connection, never a failure among 6 receivers. I'll try their small flashes.

April 28, 2011 11:39 AM  
Blogger Matthew Gauthier said...

I have purchased to YN-460II's and have been pleased with both - no problems and they are about 6 months old. I do use a 580 and 430 as the main units but just can’t justify spending that amount on accent lighting. My thought is - worst case scenario should they die, I order new ones and I have still spent way less $$. I didn’t find the build quality to be a problem or unacceptable considering the amount of $$ paid.

Bottom line – you pay for what you get. And I find what I get to be a great deal. I find many things to be far too expensive in NA for the what the product actually is – umbrellas, stands, soft boxes etc.

I assume they jack the prices here as they assume people who buy this equipment are charging their clients bug bucks anyways.

April 28, 2011 1:23 PM  
Blogger FZ said...

I'm a journo in the American moto market and we see the same thing happening with motorcycles. Best idea, it you HAVE to buy the cheaper option is to buy two! Be your own supply chain for parts. Then, you might as well have bought the brand name stuff.

As for changing, thats like asking the US not to fight in wars, they live for the bottom line and were they to charge higher prices for direct sales, they'd just produce more units (making more profit) and forgo further R&D. They're gunna change it next year anyway, why 'fix' a problem they don't see.

April 28, 2011 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jason Doiy said...

Just to play the devil's advocate here. If the Chinese were operating on the same playing field they wouldn't be able to compete. They are filling a low-price niche that only exists because they direct sell and avoid the middle-man. If their business model won't last it won't last. Only time will tell.

April 28, 2011 2:45 PM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

From an environmental impact perspective, you're right on the mark. Please don't make crappy stuff. I don't want to give you my money so that I can put your crappy stuff in my landfill. I'd much rather have something that is a better ROI for both my dollar for for mother earth's sake.

April 28, 2011 3:50 PM  
Blogger Mic Ty said...

If chinese manufacturers are selling cheap products with limited long-term prospects (due to lack of QC or by design) it's because there is a demand for it. It's not because of ignorance.

April 28, 2011 4:42 PM  
Blogger ethervibes said...


Thanks for your take on it.

Can't wait to get hold of one. Any guess on the price?. I really don't need TTL or HSS. All I need is the ability to remotely adjust the power manually.

I use both 560 and 460 in addition to SB600. I use all of them on the YN remote triggers. I have been lucky. They haven't failed me once. But I hate having to run between them to adjust the zoom and power.


April 28, 2011 4:59 PM  
Blogger NYSTAN said...

What China does understand is that consumers will buy the cheap knockoffs. I have enough fully priced Canon gear that is now obsolete to be enticed to buy some of this inferior junk. You get what you pay for and as consumers, we get an awful lot of built in obsolescence no matter how much we pay or from whom. I don't think this is so black and white. Anyone want to buy my EOS 2x lens extender. Cost a bucket and doesn't do squat with the 5D mk 2.

April 28, 2011 5:34 PM  
Blogger Nicolas Favro said...

David, I totally agree with you.
One year ago, I bought 2 pcs of YN560 from Gadget-Infinity.
When I received it, they worked fine.
A month later, one YN560 just refused to work, and the seller didn't want to refund me, as the waranty at Gadget-Infinity lasts just 1 month... !
I loled at it, as it's "just" 60$ lost, but I'll never buy again stuff from China.
Over =)

April 28, 2011 6:52 PM  
Blogger Russ Heller said...

i have never used their flashes, but yongnuo makes a fantastic off-camera shoe cord, easily as good as canon's but significantly longer and much cheaper. an i have had great luck with chinese ebay lens hoods and other overpriced, low-tech accessories.

April 28, 2011 7:56 PM  
Blogger Houston Photographer Calvin Pennick JR said...

I have rolled the dice a couple times myself and been burned. Sometimes it better to pay a little more now because when you by cheap you just waste money.

April 28, 2011 8:25 PM  
Blogger DanielSting said...

I'm in Chile, and as hard to recognize as it is, sometimes we have no choice. Say an SB-700 costs $320 i the US, shipping it here costs about $480, so...

Also, just trying to be helpful: I think a positive vicious cycle is actually called a "virtuous" cycle.


April 28, 2011 8:25 PM  
Blogger Between Planets said...

Although I understand your viewpoint David, I don't fully agree with it. I have been a keen amateur for about 30 years now but have recently split my output between pre-Strobist and post-Strobist. In short, the quality of my work has been totally transformed since I discovered Strobist.com 12-18 months ago. And all of this was made possible by the cheap chinese triggers and flashes that I discovered in your blog! There was no way I could have afforded it any other way. And judging by comments I have read on your other posts over the years, it would appear that this could apply to a sizeable proportion of your loyal readership too.
That's not to say that I might not invest in the named brands in the future, but the low price point of these cheap chinese products was an enabler in my case. I guess all I'm saying is that there is definitely a niche for them.

April 28, 2011 8:35 PM  
Blogger Andrew Strauss said...

I have paid close attention to Yong Nuo for a good while now. I think they make products with great features at a very reasonable price, but have ignored some critical items. I would gladly pay double what Yong Nuo currently charges for the same products, if they would improve quality and warranty service. I think they could increase their pricing model to account for these changes, yet still dominate the low-price sector. Making products that regularly fail pisses off users, gives yourself a bad name / reputation, and doesn't pay off in the long run when you factor in the cost of warranty service / shipping.

The whole making the next generation of triggers not compatible with the previous generation thing is an example of closed minded simple thinking. Pocket Wizard has done a great job of illustrating that you don't have to force users to upgrade by making their older triggers non-compatible. New innovative features (transceivers, TTL, etc.), a high standard for quality, long term reliability and customer service is what allows PW to have the long term success that they have seen in this industry. Considering how expensive their product is, it really goes to show that this philosophy works.

I want to see Yong Nuo succeed, but don't think they will be around long term if they keep ignoring Q/C, compatibility, convenient warranty service, and the real world needs of their customers.

April 28, 2011 9:03 PM  
Blogger Guy Montag said...

Ok, you're making several leaps of logic that aren't supportable.

One - distributors and retailers contribute anything to the quality control side of things - they don't.

Two - the increased cost they bring to the table is a good thing - it's not.

Three - respect for a bad way of doing things is something worth having.

1. Quality control is something that happens long before distribution, let alone retailing. If the value of a 50% markup is worth 'word of mouth about a bad product', you're paying a lot for something that costs next to nothing. A product will have good / bad QC regardless of anything that happens after it goes out the door.

The information about what brands have good / bad QC is something the internet is good at providing for much, much less than the cost of a distribution / retail system.

2. Being charged more is a privilege. Well, if that's true, I have a $2,000 SB-800 I'd like to sell you. One of the things the rise of direct sales has revealed is the extent to which the consumer is being fleeced by distribution and retailing. That $25 HDMI cable at Best Buy didn't cost them $25 - more like $2.50, if that. But they're the only game in town when it comes to the supply of HDMI cables in many places. Paying insane markup is not a good thing.

3. Respect for a bad way of doing things is a funny thing to have. Respect doesn't light photos, or contribute to the photographer's bottom line. However, misplaced respect will put that distributor / retailer's kid through school at Harvard where the rest of his contemporaries are going to state school. You do not owe it to anyone to respect something that is harmful to you in the long run. Conflating respect with tithing at B&H is not a move worth making.

April 28, 2011 10:15 PM  
Blogger bT said...

I have a Yongnuo flash, which broke down after a single use. On the other end I'm quite happy with my wireless remote of the same brand.

April 28, 2011 11:05 PM  
Blogger chotaURL.com said...

They will frequently sell direct to the public at only a 2-3% profit margin on top of the actual manufacturing costs.

If these manufacturers you're complaining about introduced decent QE and added it to their manufacturing costs, then took the same 2-3% (or a little more), we don't need this old model of manufacturer-to-distributor-to-retailer-consumer where the consumer needlessly ends up paying for the existence of distributors and retailers. If products are good, and affordable, word-of-mouth publicity (in this day and age through various 'net gatherings) will send consumers to the manufacturer's web stores. There won't be a need for b&m stores and pushy sales people.

Consumers do not need to pay for distributors'/retailers' existence. Let's think differently, shall we? Unless, of course, we want to pay more just because we can. (As luck would have it, a lot of us can't.)

Also, if it wasn't for strobist.com, lot of us wouldn't have had a need for inexpensive remote triggers/flashes!!!

April 28, 2011 11:09 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Maybe you've had bad luck when testing Yongnuo products. I've never had a failure on any shoot with the following: two Yongnuo YN460II, one YN468, four RF602 receivers and two RF602 triggers.

Yongnuo are now big enough to be selling in parallel with other makes at your local photography equipment store or directly via a USA warehouse. Why aren't they, who knows? If Yongnuo had warranty support in the USA they would be the Alien Bees of small portable flashes.

Nikon and Canon warranties aren't exactly long, one year normally. You could say I rolled the dice with one of my Canon 40Ds which failed just outside of warranty with a bad shutter, mirror box and mirror after only taking 7,000 shots. The repair centre admitted that Canon had improved manufacturing on the faulty parts but I still had to pay in full for the repair. I love Canon but their attitude really sucked.

April 28, 2011 11:29 PM  
Blogger DPOAB said...

@Sam - Sorry but as big as the Chinese economy is, its still roughly 1/3 of the US economy. Almost half of the GDP of the WORLD is from the US and EU. Use the more relevant numbers - Per Capita GDP - and its an even bigger gap - $7000 vs $47000US/EU $32,000.

I took the plunge with some YN560s and so far so good. YN-04II triggers not so much. Part of that is the older 43?mhz design. I plan to move to CyberCommanders some day but my next round will be Cactus v5 because of cost. Until my sales can support better equipment, I have to do whats best for my bottom line.

So far the "Buy cheep, buy twice" adage is holding true for me. I replaced my $10 lens filters once I could tell they were contributing to missed shots. I am slowly replacing my stands for ones that dont bend when held too tight. On the other hand the power and price of the YN560s is letting me hold off buying lights until I can save some Alien Bees.

I have given up on B&M for most of my non-tiem sensitive purchases. Amazon gets most of my money because of great prices AND great service. Im willing to spend for service but finding a B&M camera shop that cares about Pentax shooters is like looking for a unicorn. If the middle man doesnt care about me, why should I care about him.

April 28, 2011 11:36 PM  
OpenID kurtwerks said...

I think you're spot on. Good; cheap; fast; pick any two.

In other news, TFB San Jose was awesome and it was great to see you in action and meet you.


April 29, 2011 1:10 AM  
Blogger gretsch said...

Dave - couldn't agree more. It is rolling a dice. That said, I rolled the RF602 dice a couple of years back, and haven't yet had a missed sync. Seriously, not one. I've shot up to 100m from my strobes and in all sorts of conditions. Seem to remember your PWs don't like silos... ;)

Maybe I'm just lucky (this time) but for £30 I got 1 sender and 3 receivers, which kinda kicks the PW price (which is your point).

But then all my Strobes are Nikon as I don't trust the Chinese brands! :p

April 29, 2011 10:35 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I am just gonna take your first one, becuase it stopped me. You said:

"Ok, you're making several leaps of logic that aren't supportable.

One - distributors and retailers contribute anything to the quality control side of things - they don't."


Actually, they can and do. MPEX, for example, hand tests every single LP160 that comes into the store. They do this to ensure that a working flash goes out to every single customer.

Are there sometimes downstream problems? Sure. But the fact that every unit is tested does the following:

1. It weeds out any bad apples (DOA's)
2. It reduces the bad experience at the customer levels
3. It gives the manufacturer the kind of external feedback they would have gotten *in-house* had they themselves been working at sustainable margins.
4. Obviously, this kind of testing would not be possible if MPEX had to compete with a manufacturer selling in competition at OEM prices +2-3%.

I am not saying this is an invalid way of doing business. I am saying that the low prices / poor QC essentially turns it into a customer lottery.

The last time I reviewed a YongNuo flash, I actually reported on the problems with mine and sent it back. I got to witness the screwed up system first-hand, and publicly.

Still, I get emails/comments/threads from people who asked me why I "recommended" it. They have a high failure rate -- with an expensive and lengthy return process.

You want to roll those dice, fine. All I am saying is that I am not going to waste space on every new dice roll that comes off the line on this site.


Trust me, there are sites that report on every new feature from every new flash (including, near weekly, companies you have never heard of) that comes out of China.

For those people who expect this site to do that, this is a pretty detailed explanation of why it won't.

April 29, 2011 11:59 AM  
Blogger William Ting said...

I'm an American Chinese and have worked for a Taiwanese company with factories in China.

The truth of the matter is that there is a culture immaturity as the middle class is still growing in China. Similar to India, most factory workers (and this permeates to a lot of Chinese management) are very short sighted. They only care about that day or week's wages. If they lose their job, they move on to the next factory that's always hiring. One day making handbags, next day making flashes, it doesn't really matter to them.

To be honest, it's hard to say that American consumers respect quality either and instead chase the lowest price. Just look at the market cap of Wal-mart and the poor quality of merchandise they sell that inevitably ends up in landfills as things break quickly and people simply rebuy.

April 29, 2011 1:26 PM  
Blogger chotaURL.com said...

Actually, they can and do. MPEX, for example, hand tests every single LP160 that comes into the store. They do this to ensure that a working flash goes out to every single customer.
1. It weeds out any bad apples (DOA's)

Other than DOA, MPEX's testing of every single unit does not guarantee the unit won't fail after a day/week/month or two.

I bought stuff from China through eBay or other web stores (after hearing about them here) and so far I got more working units than failed ones. Maybe I got lucky...or maybe the QC issues aren't as bad as some of us think they are. Either ways I got to scratch my itch without wasting my hard-earned money on name-brands. If there was a no name-brand camera from China comparable to my Nikon D300s and at 1/5th the price of D300s or less, would I give it a try? Sure...if it comes recommended on this website or another.

April 29, 2011 1:57 PM  
Blogger Ian W said...

Interesting post.

I bought a couple of NISSIN Canon-compatible flashes last year from Amazon. Testing showed they didn't work quite correctly: close, but not quite.

NISSIN asked me to return them to their main national distributor who, in turn, told me to take a running jump unless I had bought it directly from them.

Then NISSIN asked me to return them to China. Sorry, no. Back to Amazon as faulty, replaced with Canon's own.

Not quite the same story as that with YN, but from the same mold. I'll still buy stuff from China but no longer high tech stuff. They're good for ettl cables though: I can usually get those working myself.

April 29, 2011 2:05 PM  
Blogger Ian W said...

Interesting post.

I bought a couple of NISSIN Canon-compatible flashes last year from Amazon. Testing showed they didn't work quite correctly: close, but not quite.

NISSIN asked me to return them to their main national distributor who, in turn, told me to take a running jump unless I had bought it directly from them.

Then NISSIN asked me to return them to China. Sorry, no. Back to Amazon as faulty, replaced with Canon's own.

Not quite the same story as that with YN, but from the same mold. I'll still buy stuff from China but no longer high tech stuff. They're good for ettl cables though: I can usually get those working myself.

April 29, 2011 2:06 PM  
Blogger Lucidity Photo said...

David, you could have made that article quite a bit shorter and saved yourself some time if you just would have said "chinese products suck.I'm not referring to products made in china from a US patent, although those still have issues occasionaly as well, like the SPOT messenger fiasco right now)

Secondly, you are absolutely wrong regarding channel distrubition. That model is dying every day. Look at compaines like foursquare, Honl, etc. You wont find their products at B&H, or Adorama, yet they thrive and make excellent products without being greedy and selling their soul to some scum sucking middleman that gets to put a dollar in his pocket for doing nothing except hooking him up with retailers.

April 29, 2011 2:44 PM  
Blogger Eugene said...

Hmmmm....Honl is being sold at B&H, Adorama, and Calumet Photo.

April 29, 2011 7:29 PM  
Blogger SS Buchanan said...

Ok, I'm not happy because I had a long post that the site just lost. In short, there are a lot of typos in this article, I'm not going to list them again :/

Then I went on to say that the reason this stuff exists is because there is a market for it. The attitude of the Chinese is that if they can make a dollar from each of a hundred people, and they never come back, there will be a hundred more people to make a dollar from.

And the problem is that THE REST OF THE WORLD eats it up. The attitude for a lot of people is "well, yeah, but if I have to buy 5 YNs and they all break, I'm still ahead of buying 1 580EXII".

If people stopped buying a) rubbish, b) rubbish that they didn't need, then the Chinese manufacturing industry would change. And the world resources would be much better off for it!

April 30, 2011 1:54 AM  
Blogger XMan said...

Fantastic article David, thank you. I can attest to the fact that the QUALITY CONTROL AT YONGNUO IS APPALLING !! I have two flash guns - 580 and 430 equivalents that died within 4 MONTHS, and a trigger system that no longer works on 2 channels !! What a joke !

April 30, 2011 3:24 AM  
Blogger gianmarco said...

@ Ian W
First of all Nissin is a Japanese brand they have been producing flashes since the sixties and I doubt they asked you to return them to China
Second If you buy on the grey market you can not expect that the local distributor will fix it for you
I own two Nissin DI866 and I'm very happy with them they are cheap and very reliable maibe you where just unluky!

April 30, 2011 3:28 AM  
Blogger herbert said...

I do not agree with your posting.
Why? Because being cheap is there only way to selling their products.
If e.g. the product costs the same or nearly the same like products from Nikon, Canon, Sony,... noone will buy the slightly cheaper noname product.

April 30, 2011 4:11 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

David, relax, YOU are not the target market. Your xenophobic rant about China shows you have not been there, have no direct experience with the consumer culture in China, and somehow expect something for nothing. Putting your American value system on a culture that is NOT American is simply wrong.

Your example of 2-3% margins sounds like the distorted result of listening to a long chain of mis-information.

A more productive discussion here might be to ask your readers if anyone has experience within that system they can contribute.

April 30, 2011 12:03 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Dan, a word of advice. Don't tell someone to relax if you are about to call them a xenophobe.

Second, I *am* speaking of this from first-hand information. I am more aware of the system over there than you might know. Coincidentally, I have also been an investor in a Chinese subcontract manufacturer for over 20 years now. I am not a xenophobe," nor am I unaware of the various factors at play.

Third, if you had bothered to read thru the comments you would know that Chinese manufacturing companies are free to behave as they wish as far as I am concerned. This is just notice they I will not put them on the same plane as companies who do not treat their customers as lotto contestants. Thus, will I not treat every new "maybe this one will actually work" offering as something of merit.

And finally, I *have* been involved in steps to correct the situation.

In short, maybe next time save the personal attacks for situations in which you have a little more information at hand.

Thanks much,

April 30, 2011 1:25 PM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

This is a defense of sponsor interests; plain and simple. If your readership continue to exhibit their bottom feeding habits your sponsors will no longer have the resources to FUND THIS BLOG.

EXACTLY like all the uber cheap photogs out there that have trashed the market for full time photographers.

This could have actually been a rant about how the cheap photographers flooding the market are ruining the field for those who have to earn a full time living from photography.

When I mentioned this to you before You told me I had to adapt. Now you may have to. Sorry.

April 30, 2011 9:15 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


You somehow think this has to do something with protecting sponsorship and my wanting to steer people to more expensive solutions. That is simply not true.

For example, Orbis Ring Flash Adapter is one of the sponsors of this blog and I am pretty sure this site has more posts on how to make a DIY ring flash adapter than any other site on the planet. I just ran a two-part how-to video a couple weeks ago. If this was a conspiracy to protect sponsors, why would I possibly do that?

Ditto all of the DIY lighting modifier posts I have written that would (in your view) tend to dangerously undercut sponsors like Honl photo and Lumiquest.

I know you do not want to belive this, but I just try to give the best info I can. The site's sponsors both understand and respect that, even if you don't. And if they did not, I would thank them for their support and wish them well rather than simply become a mouthpiece for them.

But they do understand that honesty and editorial independence are better for all -- the blog, the readers and the sponsors -- in the long run.

Hell, California Sunbounce even RUNS THEIR OWN SITE (see, I can yell, too) that gives bargain basement DIY options to their gear. To you, that must be downright suicidal. CSB's Peter Geller does not seem to think so.

The impetus behind this post was as simple as this, which has been previously stated:

Frequently, people ask me why I do not report on the myriad of Chinese flashes that come out -- many from brands that did not exist a month ago (they are name replates of hidden-name OEM companies).

This post was simply an explanation of why I steer away from them. Their pricing and distribution structure simply does not allow good QC and/or follow-up service. It's a QC lottery.

I do not want the responsibility of answering to people after recommending a mystery brand flash that 10,000 people might then buy and maybe it would have a 10-15% failure rate.

So there. Accused and answered. Please do not see this as an invitation to get into some big flame war in this comment thread. I am not gonna.

If you really think I am a tool of the sponsors, why in the world are you reading the site? I wouldn't be.

April 30, 2011 10:48 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Okay, I have answered two nasty, personal attack comments as truthfully as I could here. There is no boogie man. I buy stuff from China all of the time. My favorite site for that is DealExtreme, actually.

I do not hate Chinese people, either, for crying out loud. There is even a Chinese version of this site. In fact, I am looking forward to traveling to China soon for several different meetings.

It's just that I just do not think the ecosystem from the OEM photo gear manufacturers yields very good quality control is all. And if I recommend a flash that turns out to be a POS, I am the one who will hear about it ad infinitum. You do not get the emails -- I do.

So if after reading this you feel the need to get your Orly Taitz on, complete with name calling and accusatory rants, do it with inside words. Because I am not going to moderate any more of these into publication.

April 30, 2011 11:02 PM  
Blogger Gary Wornell said...

I understand your point of view David but here in Finland a 580EX II is over 1000 USD including a 23% Value Added Tax from Rajala Pro - (the B&H of Finland). From EBay I can get a YN560 for 57 USD. So I can by 17 Chinese flashes for the price of 1 Canon 580EX II. If I buy a Canon flash outside Finland (where they can be a lot cheaper), the local retailer will not support a warranty. Added to that the store I buy my Canon equipment from are rude, impersonal and completely disinterested in me - I can feel it when I go there. Pocket wizard is much the same story. When my Yong Nuo wireless transmitter accidentally got broken, it cost me 23 USD to get a new one and an additional receiver. Its a no brainer.

April 30, 2011 11:43 PM  
Blogger Juan said...

David, I agree in 80% on what you said, but I think if the Chinese companies will adopt the traditional distribution model, their profit will be less, a couple of middle man will make the money and we will ended up paying $500 for a small flash that we will use in "manual mode".

I love your blog and I enjoyed very much the Flash Bus when you and Joe came to Portland Oregon.

Thank you!


May 01, 2011 3:56 AM  
Blogger rhys said...

So basically, all that needs to happen, is Yongnuo charge 10% more than they do already to put towards quality control and better product validation. (The last point is something Pocket Wizard 'should' have done with their high ticket Flex system, and maybe also Canon for their suicidal 580exii, even without PW's new system they have a much higher failure rate than the 430exii)

And lastly all they need to do is support ALL retailer's with a better 'credit note' system for faulty items, so all retailers can accept returns locally and then send out replacements promptly.
TBH though this last system already seems to be in place according to some of my friends, one friend simply advised the retailer of the issue with the flash (it wouldn't zoom) and the retailer sent out a replacement strait away without even requesting the old one back.
Now that is service.
Dave I love your stuff here on this site, but not this article, you SHOULD cover the 565 release, and simply WARN of the potential pitfalls that you think potential customers should be aware of.

May 01, 2011 6:10 AM  
Blogger Howard said...

If the American consumer weren't so infatuated with buying goods at the lowest possible price, factory-direct sales wouldn't be much of an issue.

We've almost run ourselves out of the manufacturing business for a variety of reasons, but the consumer's contentment with (and demand for) cheap, disposable crap is near the top of the list.

I have to stop now before I go on a 3 page rant.

May 01, 2011 8:31 AM  
Blogger mdruziak said...

David, I work in the US for a Taiwanese scanner company that has all of our manufacturing done in China.

The problem is QC and really has nothing to do with the distribution system. In my experience Chinese manufacturing is either really good, or really not so good. Unfortunately when it is "really not so good" end of line quality testing seems to be non existent or not take appropriate action when they find a problem.

The manufacturers margin would likely be the same if they sold into the two tier distribution system you describe. Distributors and resellers will not QC products and they shouldn't have to. The only difference with a two tier distribution system would be a higher end user cost and unhappy channel partners if there are many product failures.

May 01, 2011 9:12 AM  
Blogger pasteurella said...

I have limited experience with ordering in China and I have had my reservations, but I did order the YN560 some time ago in HongKong, only to receive it 1 wk later (might have been 10 days). Have not had a hickup at all, still works fine. Having said that, I know of two people that ordered the YN560, got it allright, but have had problems with it.

Anyway, when I wanted a 2nd flash, I did not push my luck and got the LP160

May 01, 2011 10:18 AM  
Blogger DPOAB said...

Hmmm...I feel the need to speak up for the middle man having been one in a previous life. To a certain extent, commerce depends on the middle man. The middle man shares risk with the producer. The middle man buys the product to resell. That returns capital to the producer to reinvest in their business and means the producer doesn't have to pay for inventory storage. The sales channel allows producers to maintain production when sales are slow and ramp up production before shortages occur. Imagine how hard it would be if we bought everything directly? It might sound nice but in the end it would cost just in a different way.

May 01, 2011 10:27 AM  
Blogger Mark n Manna said...

Paraphrasing from Zack Arias " If you're on a tight budget, get some cheap Chinese triggers. If you're a pro,and it matters if your flashes fire every time, get Pocket Wizards."

May 01, 2011 5:21 PM  
Blogger rhys said...

ZA is out of date, these days if you want your flash to pop every time, then you don't get pocket wizards, at least the flex TT5's.
Even the new 2.4ghz triggers from Phottix etc, have better range/reliability than the older pocket wizards.
It's about time pocket wizard supported some modern radio frequencies.
Oh by the way, I currently use FlexTT5's for my triggering, but I'm limited pretty much to 430exii's or 550ex's if I don't want to have to buy and fit extra gizmo's to a product that should work right out the box, and that's ignoring the fact that if you pair a flexTT5 up with a 580exii you better have warranty on the 580exii because it stands a good chance of blowing up.
Maybe Mr Hobby can do an article about this fiasco affecting pocket wizard, and how product validation failed to detect what are essentially basic wide spread issues that should never have been present in the final trigger designs.
It's kind of what you expect to get from a cheap Chinese knock-off's isn't it? except these sub-par products cost a fortune.

May 01, 2011 9:12 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Yongnuo have an old school Chinese business philosopy. However don't tar all Chinese manufacturers with the same brush, there are several others who do see the bigger picture...

May 01, 2011 9:27 PM  
Blogger rhys said...

Yongnuo, is actually quickly gaining steam, does LPA (pocket wizard) also use the old Chinese philosophy to business?

May 02, 2011 5:57 AM  
Blogger Kumpu said...

@Gary Wornell
Where did you actually get that prize? Rajala sells 580exII@ 499EUR which is _way_ less than 1000USD, even with VAT.

I've used Yongnuo triggers for quite a while, trigger+4 receivers cost less than 100EUR and haven't let me down so far. I think that it's matter of luck if one gets good or bad for China. In comparsion, local technical magazine TM took scooter made in china to test for 1 summer in idea to show that china makes only crap. So far it's been running 4 summers now and still going strong.

May 02, 2011 6:07 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

I think your point is well taken David.

If you took a 50,000' view of manufacturing as it has moved through Asia you could probably say much of the same about all of it.

Over time of course, things change as improvements are made and people pickup skills.

Will it be better this year or next? Maybe, maybe not but it will get better with time-the question is how much.

Thanks for a thoughtful insight. I enjoyed reading it.

May 02, 2011 12:49 PM  
Blogger photoguy35 said...

Your so right about cheap products from China. It is amazing that they can produce such cheap knock offs. And then expect us to buy the products as if there quality is the same as the name brands. They cut corners the best they can. By the expense of the employees and the environment. But the can turn it all around and be legitimate. Ok gota go....

May 02, 2011 5:24 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

My angle in the matter is ecofriendly and backward compatibility. Not a ecogeek but think about it, every time one of this products fail means electronic world waste. That`s not all, you need a new one, that means more wasted resources in crappy product and production. Think about it you may be paying les now, but in the long run that is going to but lot more. That's chinese thinking, history show us that. I`m afraid that what happened to them in the past goes worlwide this time. From my point of view they don't represent a sustainable way of living. I want products made to last as much as posible according to the technology of our times.

May 02, 2011 5:57 PM  
Blogger Alan K. Hudson said...

I'd love to see YongNuo charge 5-10% more if that allowed for improved QC and customer service.

I bought two YN-560's to use through an Amazon seller. I figured if they go belly up within a few months, I can replace them in warranty. And I could afford to replace them. And it gave me more than 1 light to work with.

Meanwhile, the SB-700 which I love was given as a gift. I won't be able to afford another for at least a year or two. But I'd technically be rolling the dice with it too since the warranty is only a year.

As a buyer, there are ways to protect myself when buying cheap Chinese goods which I always use. And I am grateful for cheap knockoffs because I am now able to utilize lighting setups that I wouldn't be able to afford for several years if I was limited to Nikon or even LumoPro flashes.

May 02, 2011 10:57 PM  
Blogger Zach said...

I have a couple of YN-568s that I got recently. I bought them because they were cheap and I found a distributor in NJ who could ship them quickly... I ordered those flashes + a remote and some optical slaves for my camera. The remote didn't work, they took it back and asked no questions asked and shipped me a brand new one. I think if you work with an American distributor to buy your Chinese crap, you'll have a much better experience.

May 02, 2011 11:46 PM  
Blogger Tom Legrady said...

I was supposed to be in Grand Rapids, MI for the tour, but unfortunately on April 2, I was taking photographs in a "wild" park, the Elora Gorge, in Ontario. I was getting some great photos of the spring melt, vestiges of ice and snow on the gorge walls, when I slipped on a rock, went sliding toward the river, and fell four feet onto my back. Did you know such a short fall can break your shoulder-blade and just about every rib in the vicinity, as well as destroy your spleen?

Two weeks in hospital made me very grateful for Canadian medical insurance, not to mention the STD from work. It's been another two weeks recovering at home ... i can now do most things.

But I missed out on the bus tour! I wanted to show you my "What would David Hobby do?" t shirt. You'll just have to arrange a repeat performance. When are you coming to Toronto?

By the way, check out http://picasaweb.google.com/legrady/SpringMeltEloraGorge . I call it "photos to die for".


May 03, 2011 8:25 AM  
Blogger Paul Bennett said...

current too-good-to-be-true prices for flashes that never live up to their promise

You'll have to admit that the above is sweeping and incorrect. A quick tag search should prove my point.

Furthermore consider what you suggest; you'd deny many people a price point at which to join in the Strobist fun, hardly seems like a good suggestion to me?

I also read that the 603's were delayed because of quality control checking, that may be worth investigating? (Source: YN Flickr group).

I've read in the comments that you intended the post to be an explanation of why chinese products such as the 565 wouldn't get a look in on Strobist, it didn't read like that to me.

May 03, 2011 11:38 AM  
Blogger allenlux said...

David, I thought your original post was absolutely right, but I've been baffled by some of the comments which imply that Chinese manufacturers can't produce good quality technical products. Surely people can read the "made in China" labels which appear on brand name cameras, lenses, laptops, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, hard disk drives... Chinese manufacturers supply most of the best high-tech gadgets in the world. As you say, I think the small companies making flash gear could do just as well if they sorted out their selling and support arrangements in Europe and the USA.

May 03, 2011 4:36 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

as a hobbyist, 70 dollars to blow out my seamless white background, add a fill or highlight seems too good to pass down - ive spent more on sushi dinners and bad rounds of golf.

I just went w/ b&h and grabbed a 60" westcott umbrella and a SB700 to go with my SB600 - Why - the headache factor, and if I were paying my mortgage, it would be a no brainer - I went through the tripod hell of buying cheap and paying the n00b cost. Now I KNOW I'll get a warranty, TTL, seamless working w/ Nikon CLS, and go all manual if I want.

I think that the yonguo flash problem is more complicated than your perception of the distribution channel. QC on an existing product would be trivial - its simply not in their current go to market strategy.

May 03, 2011 8:06 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Although I mostly agree with what you wrote, I would like to add that a key point is the value added by the various middlemen. Cutting out middlemen that don't add value makes a lot of sense to me.

May 03, 2011 9:47 PM  
OpenID milk78 said...

Actually 499EUR plus tax is not far off from the 1000USD that he claimed.
499EUR is equal to around 740USD - Add 23% VAT and you have a final price of 910USD - Not far of the 1000USD mentioned.

It's the same in my country and many other non-US countries - The prices of the Nikon and Canon flashes are a LOT higher than what you pay in the US.
Often the price of the Nikon or Canon top model flash is close to what i can buy a Elinchrome or Profoto monohead for, which is ridiculous for a small battery powered flashgun.

May 04, 2011 5:25 PM  
Blogger Ian Worthington said...


For clarification here is the
wording from the email from NISSIN:

We would like to help you to do the repair, but you have to send it back to
our service centre in HK
And both coming and going way freight will be at your cost.

HK. China. And I bought these through Amazon, hardly a gray market importer. Add on the shipping to and from China and the price advantage rapidly disappears. So they got returned to Amazon as defective and replaced with Canon units.

I'm pleased your units worked. I thought mine did too until I started testing some of the more esoteric functions. Two out of two not working didn't strike me as likely to be a random manufacturing defect that wasn't caught by QC.


May 05, 2011 11:05 AM  
Blogger Kei said...

Sorry David - but i'm going to have disagree with your logic here. Paul C Buff is a perfect example of how factory direct in this industry can and does work. Domestically they don't go through distributors or retailers and have excellent products and customer service and pricing. I'm sure that his manufacturing produces a failure rate - every manufacturer does. The main difference is that he created a company that cultivates a relationship with their customers and basically they care.

The statement "Retailers... stand behind the products" really? Almost every retailer out there wants you to buy an extended warranty or pushes any return back to the manufacturer irrespective of what the defect is.

I would agree though that showing respect for the customer is the right direction to go in.

May 07, 2011 12:09 AM  
Blogger mmuetstege said...

"By contrast, my PocketWizard transmitters can fire receivers that are nearly 20 years old. Which is one reason they hold their value so well. Which makes them a very low economic risk."
I think that's also a problem. Pocketwizard would be so mutch better running on the 2.4GHz than the old 433Mhz but no, it must be compatible with the old stuff.
I hope that the chinese manufactures wake up companies like PW to improve there products en leave the backwards compatibility with the old systems ore make a smart ajuistment to connect old PW with a cable to a new system on the better frequency 2.4Ghz.

Greatings Michael

May 07, 2011 7:53 PM  
Blogger phrend said...


If I've understood what you've written correctly, you seem to be stating that:

(1) Products purchased directly from Chinese manufacturers have poorer quality control and customer service than products that are purchased from a retailer (that got the product from a distributer, that got the product from a Chinese manufacturer).
I don't see the how the product's quality control would be affected by the distribution channel? I would agree that most customers would feel more comfortable dealing with a brick-and-mortar retailer for returns, but when compared to an online retailer like Amazon, the longer shipping transit time is the only built-in difference.

(2) Chinese products that are manufactured by one company and distributed by another will be more universally available to customers, and will be priced more fairly, than a Chinese product sold direct by the manufacturer.
Products sold at ubiquitous stores in America like Best Buy, WalMart, etc. are more immediately available than products that are sold direct from any manufacturer (Chinese or otherwise), but Chinese manufacturers can ship anywhere in the World, so I don't understand that part of your argument? I'm also not clear how the addition of distributers and retailers to the sales chain makes the price of the product any better for the customer?

(3) Chinese products that are manufactured by one company, distributed by another, and retailed by yet another, come with better return support, and possibly better customer support in general, than a Chinese product sold direct by the manufacturer.
This is similar to point #1 above. Again, I don't see Chinese manufacturers that sell direct to customers as having any built-in disadvantage that an online retailer like Amazon doesn't also have to deal with, apart from the longer shipping transit time.

If Chinese manufacturers that sell direct to customers sold their products for a price that gave them a higher profit margin, would that nullify most of your arguments?

I'd be interested to hear how you'd compare an American company like Paul C. Buff's (with it's AlienBees product line) with the Chinese manufacturers that you spoke about in your piece? (Are the issues you raise specific to Chinese manufacturers, or do they apply to all Nations?)

Thanks in advance!

May 14, 2011 6:41 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I do not think the QC is a China-centric issue. It more comes from the fact that many of the Chinese companies are geared to make a product as cheaply as possible. No problem with that -- it is a market segment. It is only when coupled with other problems downstream that it becomes a major issue.

As for the distribution channel affecting QC, that absolutely can happen. If there is enough margin to warrant the time and expense involved, either distributors or retailers (or both) can provide a QC backstop in the case where an OEM is dropping the ball.

You can pretty much eliminate the DOA problems by testing each unit in house. This can and does happen at the retail level. But it cannot happen if you are competing against the product's own OEM, who is selling the items at a 2-3% profit margin. And if the OEM is not providing good QC at the same time, then no one else in the chain can afford to do it either. And the end customer is left holding the bag.

I think the Paul Buff comparison is an interesting one. He works in a similar way to the Chinese OEMs, but at the same time bends over backwards to provide ridiculously good warranty support. (They can afford it because they are not working at such thin margins.)

Buff has a long-term approach and it works well for him. He dominates the lower price point market for big lights. He also has a long-term approach to customer support and repair. His is a very atypical model to the standard distribution chain and shows that it can work -- and very well. Price can be a major consideration, but it cannot be the only consideration all down the line.

The "emerging" Chinese manufacturers could very easily let the market sort out the QC issues if they would only choose not to compete with their own distributors and/or retailers at razor-thin profit margins.

I have a unique position in that I am on a first-name basis with multiple people all along that food chain -- OEMs, distributors, retailers and end customers. And trust me, no one *wants* to pay more margin for a product. But the fact is, if an OEM is going to release products that do not have great QC, someone else is gonna have to both test the items and absorb the bad ones or customers are gonna get burned.

And as a retailer, if you as an OEM send me a product that I can only charge a tiny margin on (because you are competing directly with me -- at tiny margins) and the failure rate even begins to approach the profit margin rate, it is simply not sustainable. And it falls apart at the end of the line -- with a substandard product in the hands of the end user.

I think it is great that Chinese companies are trying to bring dow the cost of photo gear. But you cannot make every single decision on a cheapest cost basis and expect to be sustainable. You cannot make the cheapest possible product, save money on QC (thereby letting higher failure rates out the door), compete with your own distribution chain at very low margins (so they cannot do the QC you should have done and return the duds) without a too-high percentage of customers getting burned.

Simply put, if no one in the product chain is willing (or able) to pay for QC, then the end user is left holding the bag. And yeah, it is a valid business model. But I just do not feel right about amplifying those products to a broad readership here. There are other sites for that.

With that, I am closing the comments to this post. I do not have the time to engage in what is becoming a lengthy and repetitive discussion. If you want to continue it, take it to the Flickr groups.


May 14, 2011 3:29 PM  

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