Make the Move from HDR to Off-Camera Flash… Without Breaking the Bank

March 8th, 2018

Carmen in Spain asks:

I want to move from HDR to off-camera flash. With a tight budget and so many options out there, how can I make sure I buy the right gear on the first try?

I’m not going to bore you with my lifelong history of gear buying failures but the most epic one came when I was moving from HDR to off-camera flash. I had no idea what I was doing and decided that if I was going to fail at OCF, it wouldn’t be because of my equipment. I took a leap of faith and bought the best gear I could afford at the time:

5 Nikon SB-700 Speedlights (approx. $550 each)
5 Flexx TT5 (approx. $225 each)
Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 (approx. $200)
Pocket Wizard AC3 Zone Controller (approx. $100)
+Each light/receiver pair required six AA batteries.

Although this gear worked really well, it took a beating and eventually needed upgrading. The thought of spending all that money again was agonizing. The tipping point was when my bookkeeper informed me that we spent almost $2000 in a single year on AA batteries alone! I needed another option. I did some research, talked to some peers, and eventually found what I was looking for:

Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 TTL Speedlight with built in receiver ($179 on Adorama)

R2 Pro N Transmitter ($69 on Adorama)
+A rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

At this price, I could replace almost all five Nikon speedlights for the same price as one of my original Nikon/Pocket Wizard pairs.

I ordered one Flashpoint to try and I noticed right away that:

  • The Flashpoint was more powerful than my Nikon flashes.
  • The Flashpoint never misfired, while my pocket wizards would misfire if they were held too close to the transmitter.
  • I could shoot 5-7 homes on a single charge.

Sold! I ordered four more Flashpoints and have been using them ever since.

So to answer your question, I believe the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 TTL Speedlight and R2 Pro N Transmitter are the perfect options for any shooter using small off-camera flash.

What off-camera gear does the PFRE community recommend?


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16 Responses to “Make the Move from HDR to Off-Camera Flash… Without Breaking the Bank”

  • Think simple. You don’t need or want TTL for RE photography as you do not want the camera or the flashes making decisions about your exposure. The same base flash and controller that Larry recommends in a non-TTL version will save you money and be easier to operate. If you do other sorts of photography where TTL can be useful, get at least the TTL version controller to start, but for RE, you only need the manual flashes.

    A single flash is better than nothing, but if you can start with 2 or 3, that’s even better. Flashes get knocked over and broken all of the time, so having at least one spare is a good idea. No matter how many you get, you will always find yourself needing one more. The Lithium batteries for the Flashpoint/Godox are so expensive that it’s worth buying another flash to have that spare battery. You will also want a stand for each light and a couple of “feet” that let you stand up the flash on a convenient surface such as inside a shower or on the upper shelf of a walk-in closet. Reserve some budget for tutorials. Scott Hargis has a couple, one he did independently and a series on Thomas Grubba has one on For very advanced real estate photography, check out Mike Kelley’s videos “Where Art Meets Architecture” on

    The basics are easy to understand and improving is a matter of getting out and making pictures until you have a very good idea in advance about which flash placements and power levels are going to give you the best images. You can still shoot brackets so you come back with images you know you can process and give to clients until you are confident in your ability to use flash. Small rooms with one flash are the easiest to start with. A small bedroom or bathroom can be finished in camera in no more than 3 frames. The more images you do, the fewer tries you will need to get the best exposure.

  • I’d agree that Flashpoint products are a great way to start off-camera flash. Their power levels and consistency are terrific and the battery life is incredible … up to 650 flash pops at full-power on a single battery charge! Would agree with @KenBrown re: his point about not really needing TTL flashes for RE work. The ‘Manual’ version of Zoom Li-on flash mentioned in the post sells for $139 at Adorama. The same flash is also sold under the Godox brand at B&H (i.e., Godox VING V850II Li-Ion Flash.)

    If you’re looking to save even more money as you’re starting out, then you can look at a company called Yong Nuo. The YN560-IV flashes are only $69 each at B&H and the associated trigger (YN560-TX II) sells for $37. They’re not as powerful as the Flashpoint/Godox flashes and you’re going to have to re-charge your batteries before every shoot, but they’re quite reliable and they perform well, with great value for money.

  • I’m wondering what remote shutter release you use with these Flashpoint speedlights. The Yungnuo 560-IV lights I use have a master controller that sits on the camera to control the speedlights and a remote shutter release that will trip the camera and fire the lights without ever touching the camera. The problem with the Yungnuo speedlights is they eat batteries like they are Christmas cookies. They also seem to use battery power when they are off because I can have semi fresh batteries installed when I turn them off and when I turn them back on to use them they are almost dead. Having lights with Lithium-ion batteries would be a great advantage.

  • I shoot a hybrid HDR/Flash setup, and I have used the Nicefoto strobes for years. 680 watts, long battery life, and I’ve had these things riding in a 120 degree car, sitting in a snowbank, I’ve dropped them…and they just keep working. They are around $450 right now.

  • +1 to Tony’s suggestion of the Yongnuo YN560 IV flashes, especially for a beginner just starting with off-camera flash. Despite their sometimes spotty reputation, I have had great luck with mine. Sure, after a couple of years a flash occasionally stops working, but…. they’re $69. Buy the Eneloop rechargeable batteries (recently discussed here). Part of my nightly routine is simply throwing my batteries on the charger. No big deal. I suggest to get into off-camera flash on a lean budget with the Yongnuo’s, get your flash game going strong, take better shots, get better clients and then upgrade your flash setup when you become an off-camera flash rockstar.

  • While I have four Yongnuo Speedlights and love them, it might be wise to consider the manual only Flashpoint Zoom R2, also known as the Godox TT600.

    These have basically the same functions as the Li-On R2 listed here, but they are manual only. So basically, a Yongnuo YN560 III / IV. The reason you might consider it is because they integrate into the Flashpoint / Godox line, meaning you buy the trigger, and if you need bigger lights later on (such as the AD200, AD600) they will work seamlessly with your speedlights.

  • I started the same with the SB Nikons and Poverty Wizards…then switched to Sony which PW didn’t support and still doesn’t. While Godox, Flashpoint, Nissan and others have released new models, at the time, Yongnuo was the only game in town and today is the least expensive option for manual flashes. I knew I didn’t need TTL as shot the Nikons in manual and the only requirement was on camera adjustment as I was spoiled by the AC3. The 560TX solved that issue and paired with the YN560IV. Ironically, Yongnuo didn’t make a Sony version, but with manual operation the only critical issue is the firing pin, and the Nikon version works fine. Also got the older RF603II transmitter to use my Nikon flashes, however the 560TX only sends triggering information – not power levels – to the RF603 so had to manually adjust the Nikon’s power level where placed. Typically they were used as an additional supplemental lighting in an adjacent room and furthest from the camera. Resolved that for $69, buying another YN560-IV and have been ebaying my Nikon and PW to purchase other gear. Looking at some strobes which are manual, and the RF603 could be used as a trigger. Only concern I have of some relatively inexpensive Flashpoint strobes is the battery is inside the strobe which would make very top-heavy on stand increasing risk of balance/tip-over which has happened with speedlights when the tripod leg isn’t facing forward as repositioned supporting modifier. Like those with separate lower battery pack which almost acts like a sandbag.

    Disadvantages? AA batteries – use Entelopes and charge in the evening. While I have extra batteries, never had to use them with up to 3 shoots per day. Also, haven’t had them overheat like my Nikon SB900 did. Some people have reported them losing power over time. Possibly, and didn’t think of it until other people mentioned it – so very subtle. Apparently the newer competitors don’t and about the only reason would switch. At $69, they are throwaways. While usually survive a lightstand tip-over, did destroy one. Forget repair…at $69 just buy another one.

  • I use a single YN-560IV and two remote triggers. While the Yongnuo is a battery monster (it eats 4 AAs really quickly if you use it at full power too much, and the flash unit gets hot), the trigger’s AAAs can last months if you remember to turn them off after each shoot. I haven’t yet moved to rechargeable battery packs yet, though this will be my next purchase probably. I’ve had the single flash for almost two years and it’s been great aside from the quick battery depletion under certain circumstances. It was my first flash.

    Eventually one or two AD200s will be in my bag and I’ve heard great things about them, but until then the YN-560IV is a great, cheap way to get used to and learn flash.

  • I’ve got 8 Yongnuos though I rarely use more than 3 on a shoot. One sits on a stand it came with for door balancing etc, and several others attach to old tripods I’ve bought from Goodwill for under $10. All perfectly reliable and super-cheap. They’re well over a year old now, get used 6 days a week, for at least 2 shoots a day (incl ~10,000 sq ft homes, and even bigger commercial spaces). There’s probably a reason I’d want to spend more on lighting for RE but I can’t think of one.

  • +1 to the Flashpoint R2’s Manual flashes from Adorama. I bought a six-pack of these two years ago and haven’t looked back. These replaced my Yongnuos that were fine but a little quirky at times. I also replaced my AlienBees B1600 with a Flashpoint Xplor 600 Manual version ($549) for when I need more power in large spaces. It is also battery powered so no more extension cords on set or in my bag. Its also equipped with the built -in radio receivers in the R2 system. All in, it was just over $1100 for a seven light kit. I probably only really need 4 speed lights so I could have kept it under $1k really. I have bought 8 AA’s in two years (for the transmitter). I love that.

  • I recently wrote an in-depth article on the Godox flash ecosystem that was picked up by both PetaPixel ad DIY Photography. IMHO its the most complete and most cost-effective flash ecosystem. Why do I think this: Because as you get more into OCF {off camera flash} and away from HDR, and as you grow your business the Godox system makes it stupid simple to add speedlights and more powerful flashes from their lineup to your existing gear arsenal. Take a look at the article and feel free to get in touch with me if I can offer you any help or insights into your purchasing decision. I think this info will allow you to make the right purchase once and move on from there to build a reliable and powerful lighting kit.

  • I started using off camera flash 8 months ago and haven’t looked back. the quality of my work has grown a lot, my creativity is fueled, works been more fun and my clients are happier for it. I shoot with a $175 yungnuo 560 iv setup with 2 flashes and transmitter. I hope to get 4 or 6 more flashes eventually to save time on room relationship photos.

  • Marc makes a great point about the Godox/Flashpoint products. Being able to add more powerful flashes/strobes that work with the same remote is a huge advantage and why I’ll be moving from my current Yongnuo set up later this year. A 300Ws to 600Ws strobe that is RF603 remote compatible is something that Yongnuo is sadly lacking in their line up.

  • Whole heartedly agree about Godox/Flashpoint. I started a couple years back by selling a couple Canon Speedlights and grabbing some Li-ON Flashpoint speed lights along with an AD360. Now my setup consists of four V850’s a 360, and AD200 and an AD600.

  • More flashes usually means more time in a home. You can get the work done with a single flash. Personally, I use a streaklight 360. Wear the battery on my hip and can walk around anywhere and position light at any angle with my arm. I use a pair of the Yongnuo RE-603 wireless receivers. Maybe around $300 total for flash/receivers.

  • We own several Canon 430 flashes. They are around $250-$300. If you drop one, Canon charges just over $100 to fix it. (Which I think is entirely reasonable). I have tried the Yongnuo and was disappointed in the power output. You should definitely buy some rechargeable batteries. I swear by Panasonic Eneloop’s. They are the very best and will save you a fortune. You can trigger them in all kinds of ways. Pocket Wizards are very nice in my experience. They should all be controlled manually. You will get used to setting them up with experience. Best of luck. Dave in Tucson.

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