Friday, February 14, 2014

Godox Ving V850 and the Godox AD-360 Barebulb Flash (Cheetah Lights) - Initial Impression

My first day with the V850s

I must admit when I first started out with photography, I was afraid of flash because a) it really seemed complicated to use b) the first speedlight I had was confusing as heck to operate and c) I didn't have a grasp of the exposure triangle.  I think the biggest deterrent for me was the fact that my first flash, an all manual Sunpak auto 422 Thyristor, had all these sliders that made no sense to me.  The unit was not user friendly.   Fast forward several years, I opted to get the Olympus fl-600r for its TTL (through the lens) metering. For those who are not aware, it's like setting your flash to auto mode where the flash determines the output strength through a pre-flash and/or from the camera's metering system.  As I have mentioned in my previous post, I obsess over understanding how to use things manually and having something other than my brain determine the settings bugged me beyond all recognition.   So you guessed it, I shot adjusting the power myself.  After spending a couple of years with the flash, I can say that it is a great tool with some shortcomings. See below for a list of my personal pros and cons of the Olympus fl-600r:

1. Compact - a great complement to my OMD E-M5 and currently the E-M1
2. Has TTL and TTL-FP mode (essentially high speed sync)
3. Built very well and feels like a quality product
4. Great Slave mode for studio work (Still has TTL mode when set off by another flash)
5. Ability to control the power from the camera
6. Syncs perfectly with the E-M1 at 1/250th of a second in manaul mode and 1/200th of a second in TTL

1. Optical Slave does not work well in bright sunny days
2. Abysmal recharge rate from half to full power.  This gets worse as the battery start to drain
3. True guide number in the mid 30s at ISO 100.
4. Takes AA batteries.  OH How I HATE AA BATTERIES 

From Left to Right - The Godox AD-360, Godox Ving V850,
Olympus fl-600r and my first flash, the Sunpak auto 422 Thyristor

For the longest time, I was set on upgrading/supplementing my lighting equipment with strobes from Paul C Buff (the Einsteins). But something kept me from pulling the trigger.  Being that I am primarily an on-site shooter and hardly ever do studio work, I couldn't justify spending the $1,000+ to get the strobe, vagabond battery and commander trigger/receiver.  The price and lack of portability didn't sit well with me, so I continued to search for alternatives strobes.   

A closer look at the V850s and the fl-600r
Notice the small receiver to the left of the V850s.

I deferred to photography forums and sought the advice of wedding photographers because portability was key to them (and me). There was quite the buzz around these Chinese made, all manual barebulb flashes and speedlights from Godox (re-badged by several companies like Cheetah Stand, Neewer, and even Adorama).  Let's start with the Godox Ving V850 speedlights. I purchased my pair from, one of, if not, the only US distributor of these Godox lights. I heard nothing but wonderful things about this flash because of the lithium-ion battery that powers this thing.  Let's let that sink in for a bit, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that is capable of popping over 600 shots before needing to be recharged. If that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will.  What I love about having this battery is also having an extremely fast recharge rate.  My un-scientific tests show a recharge rate of a little under 2 seconds at full power.  As a comparison to the Olympus fl-600r, I would count anywhere from 4 to 8 seconds with non-rechargeable AA energizer batteries depending on the amount of juice in it. These Cheetah lights are impressively fast, especially under 1/2 power where it recharges instantly.  With a guide number in the high 50s at ISO 100, this is a power upgrade of significant proportions.  

Shot with 2 V850s, one in a softbox

Shot with 2 V850s with no modifiers

When I decided to opt out of Einsteins, I even considered getting the 320w/s (watt/seconds) AlienBees from Paul C Buff to save some money. Again, I wanted to be a nimble photographer and this wouldn't help in that department.  Enter the Cheetah CL-360 (or the Godox Witstro AD-360) barebulb units.  Despite it's naming scheme, it does not have a rating of 360w/s, rather 300w/s.  Unlike the V850s, the power does not come from a small lithium-ion battery but a separate battery pack, the PB960.  Although the battery is tiny, it packs a punch and can pop the AD-360 approximately 400 times at full power per Godox.  I have yet to test its capabilities to overpower the sun, but user reviews have claimed it's possible.  I will put it through its paces later this weekend and report my findings.   However, my initial impressions during an in-home use with a softbox is very good.  What makes barebulb units appealing to most event photographers is its ability to disperse light evenly when mounted in a light modifiers.  My tests show an even spread with little to no hot spots.  

Nice even spread of light with the CL

Where the V850 and AD-360 shine  is its ability to be fired by a relatively inexpensive 16 channel radio transmitter.  All you need to do is place a USB receiver on the AD-360  or a proprietary 4 pin receiver on the Vings and you have endless off camera lighting possibilities (it gets its power directly from the PB960 power pack/lithium-ion battery respectively).  The perks don't end there. You can adjust the power of each individual flash from the transmitter.  That is simply amazing from such an inexpensive unit. Normally, I would have to walk to the light stand, lower it, rip into a softbox, adjust the power, raise the light stand, walk back to my position and recompose my shot (just to give you perspective). With this set, not only does my efficiency rise, I also don't lose the attention of my model(s).  From the 200+ shots I have taken, I haven't had a single misfire.  WOW! I am extremely happy I didn't purchase a pocket wizard.

So what do I like about these units so far:

1. Value to Power/Usability ratio is extremely high
2. No more AA batteries 
3. Expected long-term cost savings from having rechargeable power sources
4. Seamless integration between the Speedlights and Barebulb Flash
5. Powerful, yet portable units
6. Build on both units, especially the AD-360s.  It's sturdy as heck
7. Built in stroboscopic or repeater mode - I can't wait to use this
8. It syncs perfectly at 1/320 of a second with the OMD E-M1.  I could get away with 1/400 of a second with some post cropping
9. Can be used with any camera because of it's single pin mount
10. You can control up to 16 different lights each with independent control.
11 . See closing notes

How these units can be improved:

1. CellsII trigger for high speed sync that is compatible with mirrorless cameras (only available for Canon and soon Nikon)
2. An integrated receiver would be a huge plus.  Not really a con.
3. I am all in with these units.  The transmitter and receiver currently do not work with any other equipment besides Godox strobes/lights.  I wouldn't be surprised if they find a way to at least fire other non-Godox lights with the same or upgraded transmitter.  
4. See closing notes

As you can see, I have very little to complain about these lights.  In fact, I haven't been this excited about a piece of photographic gear since the the release of the OMD.  Besides the aforementioned pros, I think what attracted me most about these units is its user friendly, no-frills interface.  In fact, I would use these lights as tools to teach budding new photographers entering the strobist world the basic concepts of lighting.  It's just that easy. My only reservation about these lights is its longevity.  Godox is relatively new to the industry and their products haven't stood the test of time...yet.  The saving grace in this department is Cheetah Stand.  Edward Tang, the brains behind Cheetah Stand, has a reputation of having phenomenal customer service and resides within the United States. As the primary US distributor, it gives me comfort there is someone here who backs the product and provides Disney level services. Expect another post regarding these lights after I've had some field time with it, but for now I like them A LOT.

So say we all,

See more sample photos below, straight out of the camera.  All test shots taken with the AD-360 in a softbox with grid and a v850 with different colored gels pointed at a beige wall directly behind Heather.  All shot in raw and converted to JPEG in Lightroom 5. She's going to kill me for posting this =).  For additional samples please see my other posts here: A Weekend with the Cheetah Lights, Which is Which? Full Frame vs. Micro Four Thirds and Friday Night Lights at Paradiso Crossfit


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