It’s barely been a year since Pixel surprised me with the news of a new speedlite with their logo on it and the evolution of that first model is already in my curious little hands for testing. And evolved it has, in almost every aspect.
Here’s the short version of this review: it’s really good and unbeatable for the price.
Get one of these and you’ve got power, consistent exposure, ease of use and every feature you can think of. Get a King trigger and you’ll be the flash master on a minimal budget. Skip the trigger and get a second unit, and then you can really have some fun and get creative. And you’ll still spend less than a main brand’s full-featured flash unit.
The Pixel Mago was not without it’s quirks, but the manufacturer has demonstrated the ability to bring a successful product to the market, and i can tell that they’re here to stay.
This review is based on a beta Canon version running firmware F1S 001 during a couple of weeks of testing in my normal photography requirements, around the house and with the girls out in the park.
Features are similar to the Mago, with the welcome addition of the radio triggering ability:
GN of 60 (ISO 100 at 200 mm)
- Bounce and swivel (-7 to 90 and 180 left and right)
- HSS up to 1/8000s (tested to work with the King Pro TTL triggers)
- PC Sync Port & external battery pack connection (for the upcoming TD-381 power pack)
- Wireless (2.4Ghz radio AND optical) master and slave, HSS with an equipped master/slave
- micro USB socket for firmware upgrades
- A water and dust resistant hot shoe cover
- “Multi dot matrix” temperature control, a system that monitors overheating on the main tube, LED lamp, and batteries.
- Wide zoom range 20-200mm
- Battery level indicator
- 180 full discharges and 2.5s recharging time, a 20% improvement over Mago
The X800C comes in a colorful box, wrapped in its soft case, inside an air padded bag. The package contains a plastic diffuser and a flash stand, each in it’s own separate box, The a flash stand also has a slot for Sony’s old shoe type.
The build quality is slightly improved over the Mago, mainly noticeable on the quality of the plastic. The head has enough resistance to be positioned (by feel) precisely without too much effort and concentration. Buttons have good feedback, the rubber covers are easy to move aside and be closed firmly in place. There’s a micro USB port for firmware updates. Nothing loose or flimsy about it anywhere, it looks and feels ready for battle.
I liked the Mago a lot, the best thing about it was the ease of use. All the features were 2 clicks away and status is visible on the display via the dedicated icons. Fortunately, the X800C retains that functionality and seamlessly integrates the radio triggering abilities.
The Mago was a large and heavy unit, weighing 452 grams (16 oz, 1 lb) without batteries. Compared to some of its competitors, the Nissin Di866 Mark II weighs 380 grams (13 oz), The Canon 600EX is 425 grams (15 oz) and the Godox Ving 860C weight 420 grams (14.8 oz) and 540 grams (19 oz) with it’s Li-Ion battery inserted.
The X800 is smaller than the Mago, weighing 408.7 grams (14.42 oz). That puts it among the smaller ones in this category.
The hot shoe locking mechanism is smooth and keeps the flash firmly in place. The rubber protector is a welcome feature, seen only on the high end Canons and on the Phottix Mitros, together with the locking mechanism feels and looks remarkably similar to the Canon build. On top of the older 5D it was just a little loose, but on top of the Rebel it didn’t move at all.
The battery compartment door is spring loaded and will open and close with an effortless finger slide (regardless if there are any batteries inserted or not) and will stay secure in place.
One of the most important features on a flash is the feel and operation of the head for tilting and turn it. You need to push a button on the side of the head of the X800 to start moving it to a different position. It offers good resistance.
I personally prefer not to have to push any buttons to move the head, but many photographers prefers to have it lock into place once the desired position is reached, so it can’t be moved by accident. This feature was added with the X800C, the Mago had a free moving head.
The back panel has a similar layout to the Canon 600EX, with a mode button to the left and 4 buttons under the display which change their function as it appears on the display just above them, depending on which mode/setting is selected. The buttons have good feedback and are not very soft. The ON/OFF/LOCKED switch takes almost no effort to operate, i’d rather have it a little harder to operate. The selector wheel is easy to turn with the tip of the finger and you can feel the clicks very clearly, audio confirmation is available with every click as well.
Ready light is red, charging light is green, as is with all chinese flashes. I don’t get that, but you get used to it.
The display is larger than the Mago’s, high res and very clear, all of the flash settings and functions are visible all the time, I like that a lot. I also like that you don’t need to dive into the menus to changes features such as audio confirmation and sleep timer, you just click the FUNC button and cycle through this settings, to change them using the selector wheel.
It takes around 5 minutes to find your way around the flash settings and how to work them without a manual. A lot of thought was put into the design, functionality and user friendly experience. This is definitely one of the strong points of the X800.
There is no weird “Custom functions” Menu like with most flashes, you can change features like audio warning, AF assist, display backlight off timer and sleep timer just by circling through the FUNC menu on the right side of the screen, via a long press of the SYNC+FN button, which will take you to the last changed setting. Simple and the setting is always visible.
A short press of the SYNC+FN button will circle through the sync options (rear curtain, HSS and first curtain).
FEC and FEB are very easy to set up, press the “+/-” button once for FEC and use the selector wheel to change it (then either go on shooting or press “OK” to set. A second press of “+/-” will take you to FEB which is set in the same manner. What i couldn’t figure out was how to change the order of the bracketing, which seems to be under-metered-over.
A long press on the left *RMOT will turn on the wireless commander capability and the related menu will light up on the left side. Now a short press on the same button will circle through the various options (Radio/Optical mode, Group settings and ratios and Channels). Individual settings are accessed by pressing the -/+ button and then changed with the selector dial. The last setting on this menu is switching the master flash light on or off.
A second long press on the left button will switch the unit to Slave mode.
First up is the radio mode, and then the wireless optical menu which says “MODE NORM” and the FUNC button on the right now shows MODE+FN. This button will now circle through brand-specific optical mode to the SLAVE S1/S2 modes (dumb optical/pre-flash ignore slave modes) and the +/- button will allow you to set power in thirds of a stop, down to 1/128 power. At the next startup it will remember which mode you were in when you shut it down. Awesome!
Very simple to operate, the radio/optical triggering options are very straight forward and if you are familiar with Canon’s wireless set up, it is as easy as working a Canon camera wireless menu. Upon switching to slave mode, the sleep timer defaults to one 1h time with no possibility to change it.
The X800 has full compatibility with the 600D which i used for some of the testing, you can change all the wireless settings from the camera menu as well as from the flash menu.
The battery indicator is a great thing to have. it takes up to 15 secs to show up (when batt are low) after you turn the flash on and it seems to be reasonably accurate.
TTL exposures under tungsten lighting in my living room are great and fairly consistent. Straight on or bounced around, the pictures look great without needing any compensation.
Lots of power is available. Recycling is FAST (2.5s for a full power discharge) and beats the other high end flashes I use, except of course the Godox V850/V860 (which has a Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack) but comes pretty close. This is a fantastic achievement, considering that it works on regular AA batteries.
During normal use (which for me is running after my girls around the house and snapping away), it was a joy to use and after a very short while shooting with it, i noticed that it keeps up with me and i don’t need to worry about it.
The ready beeps were very reassuring both on my on camera unit and the radio triggered slave flash. Not even one misfire while triggered via the built-in 2.4GHz radio system. Pixel advertises 50m range, i didn’t get a chance yet to put that to the test.
In summary, after having used both the Mago and the X800, i feel that Pixel went a long way to improve an already very attractive unit and incorporate all the modern features that the market demands:
- fast recycling
- ease of use
- lighting system integration, flexibility and expansion. Use the Pixel radio system or your brand’s wireless optical controls, or the plain S1/S2 modes.
- built-in, reliable radio triggering
- consistent exposure
If you would like to purchase, i suggest going factory direct via an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org. This way you make sure you will get the best warranty support.