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My review of the Venus KX-800 macro flash
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anvancy



Joined: 05 Dec 2009
Posts: 351
Location: India

PostPosted: Tue Jul 26, 2016 5:20 am    Post subject: My review of the Venus KX-800 macro flash Reply with quote



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.

http://www.venuslens.net/product/macro-twin-flash-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.

Design:





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.





Technical:

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.





In conclusion,

The Pros:

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 Cons:

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.

Do let me know if you have questions.

Thanks for reading.

Anvancy
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Lou Jost



Joined: 04 Sep 2015
Posts: 2705
Location: Ecuador

PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 7:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for this very nice, informative review! Interesting and useful product, even in the studio.
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lolhonk



Joined: 11 Jan 2015
Posts: 39

PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2016 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi,

and i will warning you again in this thread. I have tested 2 of the older models of this flashs and they were garbage after 1-2 macro session because after that they didnt let adjust the power level of the flash anymore, they fired with 1/1 each time. I was lucky and they sent me a replacment. This was the new model with stronger arms (in my opinion way to strong) and LCD-display. This flash still works, but i didnt test it very often so far.

Please have this in mind before you made your purchase decision. I plan to test it within my next macro sessions and will give a report.

how long have you used the flash already?
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mikeatnip



Joined: 20 Jul 2014
Posts: 71
Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2016 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just ordered one of these a couple of days ago, so it was interesting to find this review. I also used a home-made swinging bracket that I could twist to various positions. It worked well, but lacked two light sources, and was just a bit awkward to walk around with. Hoping this unit will do the trick.
Thanks for the review.
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anvancy



Joined: 05 Dec 2009
Posts: 351
Location: India

PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2016 11:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Lou Jost. let me know if you need any further info.

@lolhonk: I read your review too. for me the major drawback is the hotshoe screw. it is extremely filmsy and falls off. the flash has fallen off i think 2-3 times because of that design.
I am using the flash for the past 6 months. my unit has the strong arms minus the LCD. they are sturdy, the light controls are there and stick to it. For the price range the unit is good and versatile. What i observed was that the light is powerful enough for hobbyist macro needs. the LED modelling light is a huge plus for the MPE. I am going to test it in my upcoming macro trip. Ill update this thread on its usage there.

@mikeatnip:good to hear. You will benefit from this unit. its not too heavy and is versatile enough for normal usage. For normal macro people like me with basic gear,its a fine addition. I think you will receive the LCD model now. Just keep in mind to be gentle on the battery door. The door will be in your hand if you apply too much pressure. it can be attached back so its not much of an issue. Also I am using eneloop pros with this. with the LED light at stage 2-3 its giving me enough juice.

Here is how the setup looks with the canon 100mm.




Any questions for the flash, happy to help.

Thanks
Anvancy
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mikeatnip



Joined: 20 Jul 2014
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Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2016 11:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would be interested in more details on those diffusers. Looks intriguing.
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anvancy



Joined: 05 Dec 2009
Posts: 351
Location: India

PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2016 10:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

mikeatnip wrote:
I would be interested in more details on those diffusers. Looks intriguing.


those are simple disposable food parcel trays that I get at my local plastic shop. They are lightweight and adds little more weight to the entire setup. Since it is hard plastic, its sturdy enough in the field. Inside i have attached normal aluminum foil to bounce the light inside On the lid i have attached an opaque cutout from a plastic water jerry can and topped it with printing paper.

In my latest use, I found that printing paper is too thick and is eating light. I have to increase to 1/4 of the flash power. If I remove the printing paper i can use at 1/16 to 1/8 depending on my aperture. I am going to replace it wiht either foam or tracing paper.

Thanks
Anvancy
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mikeatnip



Joined: 20 Jul 2014
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2016 6:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought that is what they looked like. I noticed the shape of the flash head would make some conventional diffusers hard to attach, so that is why I asked.
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anvancy



Joined: 05 Dec 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2016 11:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am keeping a watch on the MT-24ex diffusers. But yes, the flash head design is in a way unique. did your flash arrive?
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mikeatnip



Joined: 20 Jul 2014
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Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Got it today. Took it for a little walk in the woods, mostly shooting lichens and fungi. Below are a few examples.
I like it, and it functions well except the LED focusing assist light seemed weak, but I put some batteries in that may not have had full charge. Because of having to go through an adapter from Sony proprietary flash I don't get a bright viewfinder like as if I turn on the in-camera flash or a regular flash.
But compared to my old setup, this is a lot easier to handle.
I had a little Vello brand diffuser that looks like a hood on a sweatshirt that I used for a diffuser on one of the flashheads. Not the best, but useful until I come up with something better.
The first is uncropped, the other two are crops.
(Check out those long antennae!)


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ChrisR
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Joined: 14 Mar 2009
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The convex reverse side of black shiny buttons are good, for assessing diffusers!

How easy is it to store/carry this thing in a camera bag? It looks like it needs its own Think
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mikeatnip



Joined: 20 Jul 2014
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 1:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ChrisR wrote:
How easy is it to store/carry this thing in a camera bag? It looks like it needs its own Think

Good question! Very Happy It does go in, but definitely a space eater.

Here is my original setup, with some closeup of the modifications I made and the swivel points. I can swing this to about any position (and it extends as well) to put light in from about any direction. But it is bulky and hard to balance the camera and manual focus ... and only has one light source. So I think this new one is a step up in terms of practical use.


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anvancy



Joined: 05 Dec 2009
Posts: 351
Location: India

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2016 7:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good to know that you received your unit.
Yes.maybe you can check again with fresh batteries for the LED light. I observed that after 1/4 it starts to bleed in the shot. If it doesnt in your case even at full power, then dont know what can be the case.
the old setup looks heavy.certainly agree that your current setup will be easy on the hands.
If you are not using the sony flash,you can definitely fold the arms till they touch the main head.it will be more easy to carry.

@Chris: the flash does take considerable space in the bag. The best way it can be folded is something like in my setup shot. But yes,it will need its own bag if the existing camera bag is small. I have one of those lowepro laptop bags. the flash sits nicely in the laptop section.
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lolhonk



Joined: 11 Jan 2015
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2016 10:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Today during a macro workshop my 4 flash (!) of this kind of flashs is broken. One one the arm elements is broken. I was very carefully with the flash and this is a material/production problem definitely. I got that flash in december 15 as a replacement of my other broken flash....

yeah of course it works great so far, but the build quality seems very poor. I wish they use other materials for the flash arms maybe the same as for the LED-light-arm?!

I will report what the "manufacturer" venuslens are answer me.

best,
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anvancy



Joined: 05 Dec 2009
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 16, 2016 9:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

that's sad to hear.
My latest update after doing a macro trip. Went to an evergreen forest where the rainfall is around 120 inches per rainy season. The flash survived under heavy rain(below an umbrella). The rains were from all sides.The unit fired 100% after the rains stopped and the flash was dried.
I checked multiple tests to ensure its fine and dried the unit thoroughly upon my return.

Anvancy
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