Is The White Balance Variation Between Different Flash Brands Significant?

December 15th, 2014

speedlightsVic asks the question:

My question is regarding flashes.  I have four flashes, but three different models.  I have a Canon 430EX II, and old Canon 540EZ and two new YN-560 III’s.  I have triggers for everything and they all work well with my camera.  But, I wonder if you have any experience with white balance issues when using different flashes in the same shot?

The answer, I think, depends on how nit picky you want to get. Sure the WB between different flash brands is probably slightly different with different. Technically, WB will also vary with the flash power level too, but I never noticed that. I doubt that any WB differences between flash brands will be a big problem for real estate photography. You could always do a flash test against a white wall to see if you can see any noticeable WB variation between your flashes.
I have a 580-EX and a bunch of YN-560-III, but I’ve never used the 580-EX with YN-560s mainly because they take different triggers. So I’ve never experienced any differences between flashes.

Has anyone experienced WB variations in different brands of small flashes?

Update 12/16/2014: Thanks to Jeff for doing a test to demonstrate! Click on the image for this post above to see Jeff’s test described below in the comments.

Update 12/17/2014:  Scott Hargis made an comment that is important enough to highlight it here: “This is a non-issue unless you’re pointing your flash(es) directly into the room at high power (in which case you have much bigger problems than color). With anything resembling good technique, the flash is picking up more color from the walls, ceiling, umbrella, reflector, and every other object nearby than anything else.”

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9 Responses to “Is The White Balance Variation Between Different Flash Brands Significant?”

  • That was an issue with old studio flash units, as many flash heads had different flash tubes available, but don’t think it applies as much to speed lights.

    I mostly shoot with either a Nikon D-7000, or D-300 and used only Nikon small flash units with pocket wizard triggers.
    When one of my older Nikon flash units died, I replaced it with my more powerful Olympus flash with no issues. I recently purchased the new Sunpack 120J II which is a more professional round tube flash that can be used with bare bulb and many professional reflectors. So far, mixing my Olympus, Sunpack and Nikon flash units, I notice no variations in color temp.

    Nikons have a strange color temp issue. when you connect a Nikon flash unit to the hot shoe, (even if you have the white balance set to daylight) it produces a warm color temp. as soon as you take the flash out of the hot shoe camera, and trigger it with a radio transmitter, the color temp it produces, goes back to the neutral.
    I normally use my very overpriced ($110 when I bought it, but now $35) expodisk 77mm to white balance, especially in mixed lighting, which helps greatly…………sometimes when it works……………..or just custom white balance on a white piece of paper, or gray card which Is much cheaper.

    (If any of you are shooting realtor head shots or any portraits and weddings, the round tube flash units like the sunpack 120J II create great lighting in soft boxes and umbrellas like studio strobes)

  • I just did a quick test this morning since I use a few different brands & models:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_DstKRGn7a8M2FBVmtKNjJ6ak0/view?usp=sharing

    This is an image of four flashes (left to right: YN460-II, YN560-II, LP180, 580EX II). Obviously since they’re all taken at the same exposure they’re firing at different relative power levels. But as you can see, from the cheapest to most expensive they’re fairly consistent in overall WB. The cheapo is a bit warmer, and the wallet killer is a bit cooler, but overall no big deal unless you’re a perfectionist.

    The only thing I’d warn against is that with the cheapos, your color temp WILL vary from unit to unit even if you buy all of the same model. With the more expensive units you tend to get better quality components and therefore more consistent WB among multiple units.

  • Oh, and Larry… if you’re not comfortable with having my Google Drive link up, feel free to grab the image and post it inline if you think it’ll be helpful to other readers.

  • Jeff – Thanks for the test! I’ve just made your example the image for this post. It’s a great example.

  • I use Canon, Youngnou, and Alien Bee flashes and the difference is so little I don’t think I can tell unless I use a gray card and the white balance picker tells me there is a difference.

  • This is a non-issue unless you’re pointing your flash(es) directly into the room at high power (in which case you have much bigger problems than color).
    With anything resembling good technique, the flash is picking up more color from the walls, ceiling, umbrella, reflector, and every other object nearby than anything else.

  • I have noticed that a new speedlight flash will produce a colder light that a worn in one, just wanted to throw that into the mix.

  • Several observations:

    1. The plastic fresnel lenses on speedlites tend to yellow with age and exposure to light.

    2. The color temperature of speedlites tends to get cooler at lower power, whereas most professional strobes tend to get warmer
    at lower power, which could result in wider differences in color temperature if mixing flash types.

    3. Some budget strobes, such as the popular Alien Bees, experience much wider color shifts over their power range than most professional strobes. For example, Alien Bees strobes are known to experience a significant magenta color shift at lower power settings.

    4. Color temperature can shift with the age of the flash tube.

    5. As Scott has already noted (but which I think deserves extra emphasis), bounce surfaces (not only direct ones, but indirect ones as well) and lighting modifiers can have a significant affect on color temperature.

  • Because, as Scott and David both mentioned, the reflecting surfaces that you are using to bounce the flash off of has the most impact on the color balance, I sometimes use a 32″-45″ (one side white and the other silver) round reflector to bounce my main flash off of, to make sure there is a neutral light being thrown into the scene. But most times I do try to balance the shot with a Gray card, white reflector or expodisk. the expodisk is not always as accurate as shooting a bright white surface (like a piece of computer paper from your printer) and the expo disk can be a pain in the butt to use, except for balancing available light.

    If I don’t try to white balance while shooting, sometimes in post you might end up trying to change a pale green, or yellow wall into a white one.

    One of my fellow real estate photographers who shoots only HDR, always shoots a gray card for each room, so he has a neutral image he white balances in post.

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