One of the key ingredients in photography is light. In macro it’s of prime importance. The light is going to shape your subject and create those stunning images.
Macro photography poses its own light challenges. The biggest is how you are going to push the light ahead and near the lens. When the flash unit sits on the hot shoe, it is pointing straight ahead. As you point near the subject, the light travels straight and not down. This causes loss of light on the actual subject. To overcome this difficulty, there are many DIY diffusers that cater to improper lighting. At times one flash is simply not enough.
To push light there are some options.
- Build a diffuser, such that it pushes the light near the lens.
- Attach a bracket and fix the flash on it. The flash itself is now near the lens and a diffuser can be attached to it.
- Buy or a build a twin flash system.
I was using point 2 for a long time. From making diffusers, my motive shifted to push the light source itself-forward. I came across a flash bracket that exactly did that. Custom brackets have a bracket named “CB-mini RC”. It’s a single aluminium cut flash bracket. It’s available at http://www.custombrackets.com/cb-mini-rc.html
Here is the setup of it.
This setup worked well for me for years. The only major problem was that it put lot of weight upfront. I had to find alternatives.
Traditionally canon has the MT-24ex and Nikon has the R1C1 twin flash systems. Both are extremely costly for the hobbyist macro photog. Fortunately Venus optics has their twin flash for consideration. It’s the Venus KX-800.
This flash system suited my needs and budget. It retails for $280 and has those tentacle bendable arms. This meant I had opportunities to position my flash on the fly. Ordered one and waited eagerly.
If you don’t have much time and want the short answer, it is bright and a versatile product. Onwards with the long review.
Being a third party flash system, I thought it will have some design issues but to my surprise it’s solidly built. For this price point you will not get a proper built twin flash system. The plastic is hard and enforced. Imagine a Yongnuo 460MK II and the tentacles on top of it. It is built like a tank. I have dropped my flash system a few times and nothing happened. That has gained trust about its build quality. (Not dropping it frequently. I will touch base with this specific issue in a bit.) The flash is easy to use. The latest design has a LCD screen. The one I have has bars in 8 levels. On the top you have the individual flash unit intensity controllers. Next is the pilot button. The remote control style 5 way controls is essentially to control which flash unit will fire. To the right is the simple on-off button. The unit has the flexible arms built in and the wiring goes inside them. Everything is internally connected to the flash units. This makes it a nice sealed unit. Not heavy rain proof but I have used it in drizzles and it survived. The flexible arms are made of good quality and bend with some force applied. After you position the flash units to your liking, they stay where they are and do not move whatever you do. This is a big plus point for this flash. The earlier units did have arms loose issue, which they resolved in the second version of the unit. The flash heads themselves are built within the budget and serve their purpose well. The LED assist light is one of the best features of this flash. The assist light also sits on its own flexible arm. This one is sort of those table lamps one. The light also sits once positioned and does not move even during random movements.
First some specifications. Direct from the website.
- GN 190 (in feet at ISO 100), GN 58 in meter
- Rapid Recycle Time (Appr. 2-5 seconds)
- 48cm long dual flexible arms
- Independent Output Control
- LED focus assist light
- Light Weight (Weigh 1 pound)
- Compatible with Canon/ Nikon / Sony A /Pentax Camera.
The flash is bright enough to blind your eyes at full power. The power is divided into 8 levels from 1/128 to 1/1. That’s approx. 1/20000th second to 1/200th second flash output. I have to yet use the flash at 1/128. My usage is between 1/32 and 1/2 power. With proper diffusion it gives me adequate light to lighten the subject and avoid harsh shadows. The LED light is extremely useful for spotting things. It is bright enough at 1/4th power. Beyond that it starts to leak into the shots. The flash units can be controlled individually and can be shut individually. This means you can shut off the left side and have the right side fire at only 1/4th power. This is really useful when there is enough natural light and you only want a fill in. The recycle time between flashes is fast enough on eneloops. It uses standard 4xAA batteries. The second version of the flash has addressed the loose arms issue and made it tough. You have to apply considerable force to change the position of the flash head. Just keep in mind not to apply too much pressure when moving the arm. At low flash intensity, the flash will not make a beep noise. It will beep on high intensity recycle cycles. If the battery is running low, the led at the back will start to blink red/blue and alternate beeps will happen.
You get enough distance to position the units as you want. This is a big plus point. Your lighting options open up. Imagine you can keep one light at front and bring the second light from behind the subject to give a spotlight effect.
The major problem that I have faced is the hot shoe lock screw. It’s a normal screw which in this flash’s case is not tight at all. If you think you have fastened the flash to the hot shoe, you have to check twice. I have the setup fall multiple times as it was not securely placed on the hot shoe. This also poses a big risk on the camera hot shoe itself. Shooting at odd angles can rip the metal part off the camera and damage the unit. Many photographers who used the flash said that a click lock will be beneficial to this flash.
The other issue is the weight distribution. After the flash units are extended to the front, it tilts your setup to a certain extent. To this if you attach heavy diffusers; it is further going to put tension on the setup as a whole and your hands. I will suggest choosing diffusers which are light weight.
- A versatile unit. For this price point, you will not find another flash system for now.
- The LED unit is extremely useful for focusing and spotting insects.
- The arms are sturdy enough and stay after they are positioned.
- The hot shoe lock needs major revamp.
I will put as a must buy for serious macro hobbyists who do not wish to purchase a MT-24ex.
Post in the comments if you have any questions.