Our resident Flash Expert Adam Bronkhorst is rather set his ways so when he said that he had gone all out on a new Off Camera Flash System, we couldn't believe our ears. Then when he said that it turns out that the whole three head system was less than the cost of a standard single flash gun we told him he was crazy. So we asked him to write a review for us...
OK I’ll admit it. I’m stuck in my ways…...I don’t like change…..if it ain’t broke, don’t change it.
That’s always been my thoughts on my kit. If it’s working fine and I’m happy with the results, why do I need to upgrade?
When I started doing Off-Camera Flash. Tony Blair was still Prime Minister…. well only just.
And back then, there was only one way of doing it. You used your camera manufacturer’s flash and you either spent £15 on cheap eBay triggers, that lets face it were pretty useless or you spent a fortune on Pocket Wizards Plus II’s (at this point Pocket Wizard hadn’t cottoned onto the fact that people were using their triggers for Off-Camera flash, so hadn’t developed their Mini TTL & TT1 system). So that's what I did, I went down the Pocket Wizard route and ended up with three Nikon Flashes. That was back in 2007 and I’ve been using pretty much the same system since then…..so that’s seven years. If it ain’t broke…. don’t fix it.
Sure it’s a bit like Trigger’s broom from Only Fools and Horses. It’s exactly the same system, but the flashes have been changed a few times (SB 600’s and lots of SB 800’s and a SB 910) and I’ve tried out different Pocket Wizard triggers. (Lots of Plus IIs, Mini TT1 & Plus X). Oh and a few Godox battery packs.
So this is my current set up: SB800, Plus II, Godox Battery Pack and a couple of cables.
Essentially that system has stayed the same for the last seven years, but very slowly, the technology has changed. First other brands of triggers came onto the market. At first these weren’t as good as Pocket Wizards. And every professional photographer used Pocket Wizards. Then slowly the other brands triggers started to improve and get better with each generation. Then they caught up and were offering the same reliability that Pocket Wizard offer, but for a much cheaper price.
A little while later these other brands started to offer flash guns as well. It used to be the only people making flashes were either your cameras manufacturer or a company called Metz. Then over the years I started to see other brands come into the market. They didn’t seem to be that good at the time, but then I noticed a big change when I saw these flashes looking very similar to Canon’s flashes.
So how do I know all of this?
Well since 2008 I’ve been teaching people all about On and Off Camera flash. I’ve had several hundred people do my workshops over the years and I can almost guarantee that I’ve seen most of what is out there as people come on the workshops with new kit. And I can definitely say that I’ve seen improvements over the years in the other brands’ triggers and flashes that people have turned up with. So much so that it’s got me intrigued to see what is actually out there and possibly question if I should update my system; which lets face it hasn’t change much since the SB 800 was new in 2003. So much so, that I’ve only gone and spent my own money on a brand new system that so far I’m pretty much impressed with.
A new wind is gonna come.
The big jump for me came when I realised that I could eliminate the weak links in my own system. What really annoyed me, were the cables that I needed to use and the bulk of kit that I needed to carry.
I’m all for making life easier for us photographers and anything that means I have to carry less or get less stressed as something isn’t going right, like a cable popping out, getting lost or breaking is all good in my book.
So when I saw that there are a few flashes on the market which have built in triggers, that was a turning point for me. So I believe that Yongnuo (who have been making good flashes based on Canons 508EX for a couple of years), Phottix (who’s triggers I’d been hearing good things about), Cactus and Godox (who make my battery packs) all have a flash system that have built-in triggers.
However for me, the main reason that I decide to change was when I heard that Godox have made a flash that takes a different type of battery (warning it gets a big geeky at this point).
Almost every other flash on the marketplace right now takes normal standard AA batteries. There are two main reasons that I use a great big cumbersome external battery pack on my Off Camera flashes, is that A. I like to leave them switched on and B. I like them to recycle quickly. If you’re using just AAs sometimes the flashes can go to sleep or power down and also the recycle time is awful. Well not awful but an external battery pack will increase that time by about four times.
So what’s so special about the new Godox flashes?
What made me pull the trigger on this new system was that these flashes use a Lithium Ion battery. What the hell is that you may ask….and I know I did. Well it’s the same kind of battery that you have in your camera. So essentially it lasts a hell of a lot longer than AAs and can recycle much quicker, like a battery pack. In fact Godox say that it’s like having a built in battery pack into your flash. And that ladies and gentlemen was what convinced me to put my hand in my pocket and try them out.
The fact that I can have a built-in (well almost….more on that in a bit) trigger and a battery that performs like a battery pack, means that I can eliminate all the things that I didn’t like about my current system.
So this is the new set-up that I’ve ended up with: 3x Godox Ving 850 with the FT-16s trigger and receivers.
Putting it to use.
The day after getting the flashes in the post, I had a full day of shooting for a magazine. In fact it was pretty full on. I managed to do nine different shoots in nine different locations all in one day and used the flashes (most with a three flash set-up) for eight of them. And I can report that they didn’t really miss a beat.
When the flashes arrived I was really impressed with the quality of them. They seem to be reasonably well built. The buttons all feel solid and the flash head moves round with a satisfying feel.
I went with the V850 versions which are just fully Manual flashes. Godox do a TTL version of these flashes the V860, however as I only use Manual mode Off-Camera, I didn’t need to spend the extra money on them.
I really like the simplicity of these flashes. I love the fact that I can just turn up the power without having to press another button first like on some other flashes. It just cuts down on time when you’re shooting and you’d be surprised how frustrating it is if you have to do that. But thankfully you don’t with these flashes.
The battery seems to work really well and recycle times are very quick when I did a non scientific test against a Nikon and a Canon flash at the same time. So that it’s pretty comparable to an external battery. I haven’t charged them properly yet, so I can’t comment on durability. They came fully charged out the box, but the chargers look really great and the battery is a solid chunk of a thing without making the flashes too heavy. I did purchase a spare, as I always like to have an extra battery in my bag just in case.
So all in all the flashes get a thumbs up!
And the trigger system although not ideal, as the receivers aren’t really built in to the flashgun, but they clip into the side (I may have to do a velcro hack at some point to make them more secure). Seems to be really good. I haven’t tested the distance or anything yet, but they fired when I needed them to and I can’t really ask for more than that.
You get a small receiver thingy that clips into the side of the flash and a transmitter which you put in your camera's hot shoe and looks a bit like a Pocket Wizard Plus II. What I really liked about the transmitter is that it has a digital display and the ability to change the power remotely of flashes. This was another big selling point to me.
So the idea is that in my three flash setup, I can set each flash to a different group and from the trigger on my camera I can independently change the power of each flash without having to touch it. I’ve had a quick go with this on the shoots and it really was much more convenient, if not a little fiddly at first, while I get used to doing it. I’m sure that will improve as I get used to doing this though.
I think I’ve read something about these triggers not working on the same frequency as Pocket Wizards and working on a different one that may not be as good. But that's a bit too technical and geeky for me. So if you want to look into that you can. But honestly, I can’t be bothered.
So what’s all this gonna cost me?
Well I know this all sounds almost too good to be true.
A decent quality flash, built in triggering system, a super long life battery, fast recycling times, the ability to alter the power of the flashes without moving them, no external wires, less to carry and so on.
So whats the catch? You may be asking…..what limb do I need to sell in order to be able to afford these all singing all dancing flashes?
Well here is the best part. I paid well under £300.
And that's not per flash. That’s for three flashes, three receivers and the transmitter!!!!!!
Yes you did read that correctly. It cost me less than the price of one Nikon or Canon flash on it’s own.
They don't seem to have a UK distributor so I did some shopping around on eBay and Amazon but I made sure that I got them from UK suppliers. They arrived within a few working days and in total only cost me under £300!!!!!!!
I purchased three Godox VING V850 Speedlites, one Godox FT-16 Wireless Controller Remote Flash Trigger for Godox AD180 Speedlite (this comes with one receiver) plus two further Godox FTR-16 Wireless Control receivers. These work with both Canon and Nikon.
Of course, you might only want one or two or decide that the TTL version the v860 is for a is a better all round flash for you but for me, the three heads give the most creative possibilities.
I can’t speak for the longevity of these, but at that price I just don’t care. Each flash was around £73 and if I need to replace the transmitter it’ll cost me under £25. And this is a transmitter that has more functionality than a Pocket Wizard that cost five times as much!
It begs the question, how come other equipment is so expensive?
So all in all this review has been a lot more in depth than I thought it was gonna be, but my initial reactions have been pretty good to this new system. Technology really has advance in leaps and bounds since I was last in the market.
I think they are that good that I’ll now be recommending these to the people on my workshops, who are always asking me what triggers or flashes to get. (oh and I am in no way shape or form affiliated with the company that makes, supplies or sells these…...although if they do want to sponsor me I’m not adverse to that).
Adam will be getting his flash on at Farm Week in February with workshops on both On and Off Camera Flash, Advanced Flash and Commercial photography.