Flashes: to clone, or not to clone?

I received the following question via email:

I have been following your posts since the Spring Camera show in Toronto. I have loved all of your tips and comments.

I would like to know your opinion on a 3rd party flash or your general opinion on 3rd party flashes. I am thinking of getting the Opteka EF-600 DG Super EO-TTL II for just over $100 the reviews are good and the promotional information says it works with other canon flashes if I wish to get brand name in the future and use this one as a slave. This will be my first flash for a Canon Rebel XT. I was also thinking of getting Opteka FL-50AF E-TTL II but with it only being able to tilt I do not think it will suit my needs as I learn to do more with flash.

I would like to know if it is better to save the money and go for the cheaper version or bite the bullet and go for the canon brand.

Oh yeah, I like this question. It is the kind of question we all struggle with.

I agree you need a flash that swivels and turns. A 430EX, 580EX, or a clone of either of those, in other words.

I have worked a little with some of the clone flashes, though not that very one, and here is my take on this:


  • Much cheaper. Much!


  • Not guaranteed to be as compatible in every situation (complex TTL).
  • Quality control and warranties may or may not be as good, so there is some uncertainty.
  • The interface is sometimes simpler (which is not always a bad thing!)
  • Not all features may be supported (eg high-speed flash, auto flash head zoom: I have seen some clones that did not support these).
  • If you have a problem, Canon will not help, and nor in all likelihood will the maker of the third-party flash.

Bear in mind that of you use flashes in manual mode (which often enough you will, once you master flash), then it makes no difference what flash you have, since you will not use TTL at all in that situation.

Knowing all this, I would say: (drum roll):

  • Make sure you have one flash that is made by Canon. If flash is important to you, that should be your first flash; if not, and you are experimenting, then it can be your second or third flash, whenever you get around to this.
  • Other flashes, try the clones.
  • Particularly if you shoot manual flash, and have many flashes, equip yourself with clones.

So in your case: “it depends”. If you want to be sure, get the 430EX. If you want to play, then by all means start with a clone and once you are happy, add a canon and make the clone your second flash.

Do make sure the offer is genuine, and do try the flash in the store to make sure you are happy. Take a few test shots. Opteka and Nissin (and various such OEM labels)  are “off brands”; Metz is a good brand. Off brands do not have to be bad, but they are not necessarily good either.

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