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flash review: the godox ving v860 ii is a great-value wireless solution

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flash review: the godox ving v860 ii is a great-value wireless solution

  • godox ving v860 ll flash - $199/£161
  • godox ving v860 ll flash kit with x1 transmitter - $245/£199
  • x1 transmitter - $40/£37
  • www.godox.com

i've been a big fan of independent flash brands since i was a teenager. marquee brands’ hotshoe units were always disproportionately expensive, and for a young photographer on a stacking-shelves budget the appeal of cheaper and more powerful models from secondary manufacturers was obvious.

in those days of course flash unit controls were much less complicated, but working with flash was generally much harder than it is today - all we expected back then was a cable socket and a manually variable burst of illumination.

the godox v860 ll is a very well made flash unit that comes equipped with an af assist light on the front, a sync socket for cabled triggering and a usb port for firmware updates.

the head offers full tilt and swivel movements, manual and automatic zoom, a diffuser and a white card reflector for catchlights

flash changed with the advent of aperture priority options, the coming of full ttl metering, optical off-camera communications and then, eventually, radio controls. while in the distant past the independent flash brands were very much following in the footsteps of the big names, now we often see the resourcefulness of some companies putting the sluggish progress of the main brands to shame.

while nikon and canon have held on to their intermittently effective optical flash control systems for far too long, innovative brands such as godox, phottix and others have been making real progress in the field of 2.4ghz radio controls. the big names have been catching up of course, but for those looking for something that doesn’t come with a significant premium for having radio wireless ttl control these companies offer an interesting set of alternatives.

specification

godox v860 ll
compatible canon, nikon, sony
guide no 60m/190ft @ iso 100
flash coverage 20-200mm (14mm with diffuse)
zoom control auto and manual
tilt/swivel -7-90 degrees/180 degrees both l and r
flash duration 1/300-1/20000sec
exposure ttl and manual

flash exp comp

+/- 3 stops
sync mode

high speed (up to 1/8000sec)
first curtain and second curtain

strobe-flash up to 90 bursts at 100hz
wireless functions master, slave, off
slave groups

3 (a, b, c)

transmission range

optical indoors: 39-49ft
optical outdoors: 26-33ft
2.4g radio: 100m/328ft

channels

optical: 4
radio: 32

modelling flash yes, via camera's depth of field button
af assist beam yes. range - centre: 33ft, edge: 16ft
power 11.1v/2000mah li-ion polymer battery
recycle time <1.5 seconds
battery life approx 650 full power flashes
sync triggering hotshoe, 2.5mm port, wireless
color temperature 5600 +/-200k
w x h x d 64x76x190mm/2.5x3x7.5in
weight without battery 430g/15.2oz
weight with battery 540g/19oz

in case you aren’t aware, the attraction of radio over optical controls in flash-to-flash communications is that the signal is more reliable outside on a sunny day and it can pass through walls and other physical barriers. units don’t have to be the same room or very close together, and we don’t have problems of modifiers covering sensors if the flash unit needs to sit inside a softbox or similar. and that is what makes me excited about using these godox ving v860 ll units.

features

the v860 ii is the latest godox offering for canon, nikon and sony users, and it provides ttl metering and off-camera control via a wireless 2.4ghz radio system, as well as the usual optical control system. the unit can operate on the camera's hotshoe as a commander unit for both other godox flashguns and the marque brand’s own radio units, or it can join a network controlled by an ‘official’ flash unit – or indeed by a radio transmitter plugged into the camera.

the output is healthy enough, with an official guide number of 60m/190ft @ iso 100 at 200mm, and we are offered full manual control from full to 1/128th power in 1/3rd ev increments. flash duration figures range from 1/300sec at the more powerful settings to 1/20,000sec for the lighter bursts.

high speed sync allowed me to shoot with shutter speeds well above the standard sync speeds of the nikon d810. the shot on the left was taken at 1/640sec and that on the right at 1/1000sec. despite the short shutter speed and the reduced opportunity for the flash to get its illumination out, the v860 ll was easily able to compete with the bright sunlight - even when hindered by a mini softbox

the flash provides rear curtain sync even if your camera doesn’t, and high speed sync allows the flash units to be used on or off-camera at shutter speeds of up to 1/8000sec. the head has zoom positions to cover the angle of view of lenses from 20mm to 200mm, while a wide angle diffuser provides for focal lengths as short as 14mm. comprehensive swivel and tilt positions help us direct that coverage in practically every direction except directly downwards.

strobing can be arranged at a range of frequencies, intensities and over fixed periods, though the over-heating protection asks that we limit ourselves to 10 sequences before resting. to give you an idea of what the unit is capable of at ¼ power it is possible to choose options between 1 flash per second for 7 seconds and 2 flashes at a rate of 100 flashes per second. at minimum power that changes to 90 bursts at 1 per second, and 40 bursts at 100 per second. in normal shooting though godox says 30 full power or 100 ¼ power flashes can be fired in quick succession before the over-heating protection kicks in and demands a 10 minute break.

one of the interesting elements of the flashgun is its power source. the v860 ii is powered by the sort of rechargeable lithium ion block battery we might expect to see in a large camera. with a 2000mah capacity the battery is claimed to be good for 650 full-power bursts and can be recharged in about two and a half hours. i’m not sure this constitutes a revolution, but it feels like one and is a good deal more convenient and civilized than carrying and burning endless aa cells.

what can be controlled wirelessly?

the v860 ii is very flexible. it's happy to to be used to command a group of connected flash units or to be controlled by another. as a commander it can fire to influence the exposure itself or be used as a pure trigger, with no flash output. godox offers a separate commander/receiver called the x1 that makes a more cost-effective hotshoe commander when no light is required from the camera position.

the system allows three groups of flashes to be controlled at the same time, and users can pick between 32 channels to steer clear of other radio systems in the vicinity. the v860 ii can still be controlled optically across four channels, but when in radio mode it has a range of 100m and works outside even in bright light, as well as when positioned in a different room with a wall between the flash and the controller.

this scene was lit with a pair of v860 ll units - one inside and one outside the house. the main flash unit was fitted into a godox s-type speedlite bracket with a sfuv softbox, and was positioned in the garden to fire through the window on the left of the frame. a second v860 ll was placed camera-right, to light the back of the subject's head through a rogue snoot. the camera's metering was set to matrix, while both heads were set to +1ev via the x1 transmitter on the camera.

i found the flash's color consistent, well balanced and in no need of correction. the cool-day/warm-day effects here were created in post-production.

wireless control extends to manual and ttl control, as well as high speed working and strobotic operation, and a modelling burst is still possible with a press of the camera’s depth-of-field preview button.

handling

the v860 ii has a clear enough screen and lays out its wares in a pretty logical way. once we are familiar with the mostly standard type icons it is easy to see what settings are prevailing at any one time. changing the settings though is less straightforward so a good and thorough read of the instruction manual is recommended. the controls are really not intuitive enough that they can be used with a hazy memory or no previous experience.

with familiarity we can take advantage of a good range of control in the master and slave units. exposure compensation runs only to +/-3ev for in-unit controls and for slaves across the three channels, which some may consider a little short for complex set-ups. on a similar note it isn't possible to control the zoom position on slave units from the master control panel. to be fair this is not a standard feature on this sort of flash unit, but it would be useful.

a nice touch - when in commander mode the rear screen of the v860 ll turns green and when being used as a slave it turns orange. the button arrangement is simple enough - at least once you're used to it and know what the icons mean.

buttons and dials on the rear of the flash are nicely designed and make operation deliberate once you've worked out what each one does, but the controls on the x1 transceiver are a little more fiddly than they need to be and require quite small fingers. the display screen is adequate but a bit small, and on every occasion i used the rear wheel i turned it the wrong way.

the controls on the x1 are small and quite fiddly. they are fine in a relaxed studio environment, but less easy to operate on the go or with gloves on

changing batteries in mid-shoot is fantastically easy and can be achieved in much less than a quarter of the time it takes to change four aa cells – which makes for much more relaxing weddings. and when fumbled these batteries don’t clatter and roll all the way down the church either. i am rather taken with this idea and wonder why we haven’t been using lithium blocks in our flash units for years. i'm told it makes export more difficult, but i'm not sure how much i believe that's the whole reason.

cheap flashguns are all very well but we need something well made and built to last, and these godox units seem to satisfy both requirements. they feel nice to use and have a reassuring solidity about them without being too weighty. they are actually really well made and i can personally vouch for the fact that they can withstand being dropped from about waist height on to pretty hard ground.

performance

i used a pair of these v860 ll units with the x1 transceiver on a nikon d810, and across a couple of weddings and a few portrait shoots they did very well indeed. nikon i suppose must be given credit for the accuracy of the metering, but the godox units worked with the camera seamlessly.

godox's operating range claims seem well-founded and the radio communication does in fact work well through walls and around corners, though in a couple of instances at very close range i managed to find a blind spot when using the x1 hotshoe transmitter. i was quite surprised to encounter this on a number of occasions when holding the gun in my hand while shooting, and also while the gun was mounted on a bracket next to the camera. the blind spot seems to be at 45 degrees forward of the transmitter when the flash is placed directly alongside.

at greater distances, more normal perhaps for off-camera work, the system performed really very well, but the short range reliability became a bit of an issue for me until i got used to it - i often hold a unit in one hand and the camera in the other when working on my own at events.

here is an overhead view of the set-up, with flash a in the softbox and flash b bouncing into the reflector. the godox bag is being used to create a shadow around the base of the bowl. i used an x-rite color checker passport to white balance the rear flash, and found the shift in color from the camera's flash white balance setting was hardly noticeable .
for this shot i used a single flash (a) in a softbox, set to 0ev compensation, positioned behind the subject. here the only light is coming from flash b, positioned forward to the side and bouncing into a gold reflector.
this shot shows the effect of both flashes lighting the scene, with both set to 0ev compensation to create a little more of a three-dimensional feel i increased the power of flash a in the rear to +2ev, and reduced flash b at the front to -1.3ev

at one stage i found the x1 wouldn’t trigger the guns at all, and no matter what i tried i couldn’t make it work. this was extremely frustrating for a long time. i solved the issue by accident when i triggered one v860 ll from the other and then found that suddenly the x1 wanted to work again. i’m not entirely sure what the problem was, but suspect some sort of communication issue that was somehow unblocked when the second flash unit kicked in.

the limitations of the over-heating system will prohibit a few users from being able to make use of these units, but for the vast majority of photographers requiring more than 30 full blast bursts in quick succession is something of a rarity. i certainly can’t complain about recycle times as even at full power the lithium ion battery feeds the flash quickly enough that we can expect a burst every second.

with one flash in another room off the corridor and aimed towards the groom, and another in my hand positioned to bounce from the ceiling, i was able to create some nice lighting effects quickly with this system. the bounced flash was set to -1.3ev so it would just fill the shadows.
the robust metal threads on the supplied feet make the v860 ll units easy to mount on tripods or lighting stands. i used a pair of softboxes to light this shot, one either side of the couple. the small size of the softboxes and the flash heads contributes to the cut-out feeling and illustrates a limitation of hotshoe flashes.

i found the coverage to be even enough at most focal length settings and the output of manual burst to be consistent from shot to shot. the color shifts somewhat between the brightest and the weakest bursts, but not so much that it will be an issue for most non-technical applications.

the flash duration quoted by godox seems to be the total flash duration rather than the effective duration (the time the maximum intensity drops by half) . using a sekonic l-858d meter i measured the total duration at full power to be approx. 1/450sec, and the effective duration to be more like 1/1600sec. the difference will probably not be noticed by most.

shot in bright sunshine at f/5.6 and 1/400sec at iso 100, and the zoom in the 70mm position. the flash was in the hotshoe and was more than powerful enough to reach the subjects in an effective way. i was glad of the long-lasting lithium ion batteries on such a day of full power bursts. the main light here is daylight from a window to camera-right. the walls behind the bride though were rather too dull and shaded, so i placed a single v860 ll behind her to light them up a bit. i left it at 0ev and it did the job nicely.

translating the guide number into real world situations, i found that full power gave me a meter reading of [email protected] 100 with the flash 10 feet away and the zoom head set to 50mm. changing the zoom position to 200mm increased the reading to f/11 ½ in the same situation.

add-ons and accessories

included in the two-flash kit i received were feet/stands with a brass tripod thread in the base, a pair of strap-on diffusers, a set of colored gels and a pouch for each flash.

like many other flash brands, godox offers a range of accessories that help to modify the light from their units. my favorite accessory though is the s-mount adapter that allows the flash to be clamped within an adapter ring for s-mount (bowens) accessories. i tried the v860 ll flashes with big and small softboxes and dishes, as well as the good-sized pop-up softbox that comes with the adapter. as you will know, some speedlight accessories are too big, floppy and cumbersome to use easily, but with its own clamp the s-adapter is excellent and the softbox genuinely useful.

the company also sells an external battery pack for these flash units. the propac lithium power pack pb960 can deliver 1800 full power bursts after a three-hour charge, and can accommodate two flash units at the same time. via adapter cables it can run godox, canon, nikon and/or sony guns.

it is worth noting too that the radio system of the v860 ll flash units is the same as that which controls some of the company's studio flash heads, so you can use a mixture of speedlite and studio style sources together.

conclusion

i have been really very impressed with this system. firstly because these v860 ii units make excellent hotshoe flashguns on their own, and secondly as they provide a comprehensive amount of control and a mostly-reliable wireless radio connection. they perform well when paired with other godox flashes and are equally well behaved within a group of nikon radio units, as well as within a collection of optically controlled flashguns.

i really appreciate the reliability and range of radio controlled flash units, not just in these flashes, and that they can be used in a much wider set of circumstances. i got thoroughly sick of trying to use optical systems outside some years ago, and was frustrated at the chances i was missing out on.

the light in this room was nice and even, but being able to balance a flash unit on a basin in the adjoining bathroom allowed me to quickly add an extra dimension to the bride's face and body with a bit of a broad keyline. knocking 0.7ev off the brightness of a single v860 ll placed wide camera-left was enough to get the balance right for this early evening shot. the flexibility of the system allowed me to work quickly to get a nice result without having to dash to the flash unit to change the power

i really enjoyed having a block battery and not carrying and disposing of aa cells – it just makes life that much more relaxing and enjoyable. and with the 650-burst capacity it makes me wonder why other brands don’t adopt the same idea.

the most surprising thing about these flashguns though is their price, and that when they turn up they don’t feel like or perform like low cost alternatives. they make an astonishingly good purchase, and i highly recommend them.

pros

  • good wireless connection at normal distances
  • very well made
  • great block battery with good life
  • plenty of control on and off the camera
  • powerful enough for most users
  • really good price

cons

  • x1 transceiver could be easier to use
  • radio signal not so reliable when the flash is close to the x1
  • needs more than +/-3ev range of compensation