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Sorry for the delay all! And the winner of the MAGO speedlight is Cornelio Ocampo! Please email me your ship to address to email@example.com
Help support this blog and future reviews, purchase the Mago Flash here using our referral link, thank you! : Pixel Mago on Amazon
Back in April while browsing Lightingrumours.com I stumbled upon a post about how Pixel was looking for Beta Testers/Reviewers for their new budget oriented Mago Speedlite for Canon. I really wasn’t expecting to be selected as it was limited to 20 reviewers to be selected from a pool of probably hundreds, but lo and behold I get contacted by Pixel just a few days after putting the submission in and made the cut! So as promised to them here’s the review of their Mago Speedlite.
This review/testing isn’t going to be one of those “Take it out of the box, snap a few photos of a bookshelf, give my opinion, and write a review” type pieces. The plan is breaking this thing Ivan Drago from Rocky IV style. I’m aiming to put this flash to the distance and limits in various shooting environments and give an honest assessment to how it works. As much as the idea of being kumbaya and making Pixel happy by doing a nice review may help get me on their good side, that isn’t my style. If the Mago annoys me, I’m writing about it, if I love something about it…writing about it. As a note though this is a new product, and also this is a beta test. So if there is any faults found Pixel will be noted and there’s a good chance it will be corrected during the course of the product existing.
(update 08.08.2014 – The reviews are trickling in and Pixel is taking all the reviewers suggestions to heart and actually will be making hardware modifications to their Mago. That’s awesome guys, it takes a bit of work to do that and they are.)
Who the heck is giving this review
Hey there, my names Trent. For anyone who needs photographer qualifications or to know a little bit about me here’s the quick and easy.
Quick Bio : Portrait photographer based out of Atlanta, GA. Focusing on Portraiture, Weddings, Corporate events and also photography education. I run a photography social group called “Meet and Shoot (http://www.masatl.com) in Atlanta that host classes, workshops and massive photoshoots with models and all that jazz. I shoot Canon and currently use a Canon 5d Mark III and a Canon 6D with a plethora of lenses and lights.
While photography is amazing and wonderful I rather just teach it and enjoy watching people learn. Particularly love teaching lighting to people in a way that they can see the potential of their own personal style expand. I love my personal work but it isn’t anything special compared to others out there, just enough to make me happy.
For anyone who loves Street Fighter, I relate to Ryu a lot. Good enough to hold my own, good enough to get by, but still walking this earth and learning more and looking for the next good fight (photoshoot).
Without further ado, here’s the review.
About the Flash
The Sales Pitch – Why the Mago Speedlite
In a Speed Light world full of a crazy amount of options, some of you maybe wondering what warrants your attention from the Mago Speedlite. Mostly with some heavy hitting sub $125 flashes like the Yong Nuo YN Flash series and the newly anticipated Neewer TT850’s (Godox also) creating a lot of lip licking and praise. To be honest I’m wondering what makes the Mago stand out also because there really wasn’t any sales propaganda that was sent out to us for this review. After a little bit of research, here’s some quick things that was unique about this flash that might get your attention.
Pixel has setup this pretty detailed page about what you will get from the Mago Flash : Click Here.
The Flash Unit out of the box
Out of the box what you get with the Mago is standard fare compared to other comparably value cost flash units from Yong Nuo and Neewer. You get a carrying case, a diffuser cap, and a flash stand. The quality of the carrying case isn’t that high. It’s functional and it works, but it feels pretty flimsy and prone to fraying and breaking apart. Recently I’ve purchased some Neewer tt850 flash units which don’t cost much more and the stitch quality of the Neewer carrying case is leagues better. To many this won’t matter, but the small things do add up and this quality difference is noticeable. For the sake of another opinion I handed the 2 different flash carrying cases to a friend visiting and she said the Pixel case felt like one of those school bags you buy to use for a week while you look for a replacement that works better, it just didn’t seem built to last. While the competitors flash case felt like there was more robust stitching and quality.
The flash stand (SF-18) you receive with the flash is pretty solid for it’s all plastic build. It looks like the old Cingular Cellular logo back in the day. The neat thing is it looks like it’s meant to hold an IR based E-TTL wireless solution from Pixel. I don’t use any of Pixel’s wireless trigger systems so can’t really say if the extra portion is meant for that.
The flash unit itself is pretty nicely built. The plastic doesn’t feel as robust as the Canon 600ex-RT and of slightly less quality than the Neewer tt-850. The Mago had a feel of a more hollower plastic compared to a denser (though not heavier) feel of the Neewer and the 600ex-RT. The size and look of the Mago looks like it was very much influenced by the classic Canon 550ex (yes that old behemoth). The flash head on the Mago is massive and squarish in shape and the unit itself is pretty large in size. It’s an odd to look at as the top portion screams designed in the 90’s, while the bottom portion has a more modern late 2000’s feel (and an odd hybrid of the 600ex-RT with the Nikon Sb-910).
Testing the seams on the flash there is no creaking while applying pressure looking for gaps in the seams, and the unit felt sturdy and tight. There is NO button to activate the rotation of the flash head and there is a nice range of movement including a full 180 degree turn in both directions of the flash head (though you cannot go past 180 degrees). Unfortunately since there is no button lock mechanism, using a heavier modifier like a Gary Fong Lightsphere may cause the unit to collapse down if you attempt to shoot at 45 degree angles, mostly as the unit gets older.
What’s extremely impressive about the flash though is finally there’s a third party flash that doesn’t use the standard screw mount to tighten the flash and has gone to the easy switch mechanism that comes standard on the Canon 600ex-RT, 580 ex II, and 430ex II. While Canon isn’t the first to have this quick click system (I believe the Nikon Sb-600 or 800 was), I was getting pretty tired of over tightening and dealing with the screw based mount system. A quick google search shows that the Phottix Mitros does have a similar locking mechanism, but its also $300. While it doesn’t pitch weather sealing as one of it’s selling points it’s interesting to note that the Mago does have the rubber seal that Canon weather sealed units have over its metal hotshoe.
The LCD interface of the unit is pretty informative and the icon designs are easy to read and pretty WYSIWYG. Navigating the interface is pretty intuitive and simple with the most things labelled to do exactly what they want. I totally pulled a dude move and didn’t read the instruction manual and just used the flash, and was pretty thrown off on how to turn on the LED’s for a few minutes. After a little bit of fiddling around I found out if you hold down FUNC on the right it cycles the first button to either be wireless function set or LED on/off. I wish the LED button had its own toggle switch as it could be a quick and useful feature you want to instantly turn on without having to worry about being under the wrong menu. Otherwise if you toggle the flash to wireless set (as shown above) you have to take multiple steps to turn the LED on.
Its pretty cool there’s a battery power indicator on the flash. Is it accurate? Don’t know just yet, but it’s always useful to have one.
One of the selling points on the flash is the inclusion of 2 2 watt LED lamps for focus assist, and also video work. Outside of the annoying multi step process to enabled the LED’s if you are accidently under the wireless control menu, the LED’s are quick to turn on and have that annoying LED condensed brightness (as in it’s annoyingly bright at the source). Real world brightness is actually pretty bright and was almost about 2 to 3 times brighter than what my Samsung Note III LCD brightness puts out. Something to note though, and this seems really silly…but yay for this addition for the fact that you now have a built in flashlight in your camera bag at all times. If you remember to use it this can be so helpful in situations you may need a flashlight in an emergency such as camping, urban exploring, and more. A light is a light, and bravo to Pixel for this addition. When the LED was turned on it looks like it’s either on or off, there is no way to adjust the intensity of the light.
Trent’s after usage Input – While at first I wasn’t expecting much from the LED’s, I’ve come to find the LED’s were a massively helpful contribution to the shooting experience with the Mago flash unit. To the point that I wish my current flashes have this option. Bravo once again for pixel for this great addition.
Recently I added 6 Neewer tt850 flash units because of their integration of Lithium Ion battery packs, a first when it comes to small flash units. The convenience of the battery pack can’t be understated and its been hard going back (I actually will be selling my 600ex-RT because double A’s are tiring. Unfortunately the Mago speedlight is a Double A based speedlight, taking 4 of them to power the flash. To get the optimum results from this review, and to give the best batteries possible I will be using Sanyo Eneloop XX which have been voted some of the best batteries you can use for flashes by a ton of people.
All in all the flash was pretty easy to jump into out of the box, and pretty intuitive to use. Navigation is extremely simple and the build quality is pretty decent. Compared to competitors the build quality doesn’t stand out as exceptional, but it doesn’t feel too cheap. While there seems to be some small corners that Pixel skipped in an attempt to save some money (the feel of the plastic, the quality of the accessories) there are some stand out things like the lock mechanism, the interface, and the solidness of the seams that make it feel like they put a bit of an effort into the Mago. I was particularly enthusiastic about how easy the interface was to use, and how informative the icons and data was. Also the LED initially didn’t win me over, but after thinking that this flash could be seen as a competitor to the Canon 320ex but provides twice the power (64 gn compared to 32gn) along with both having LED illumination for video at over a potentially half the cost, the Mago seemed like a no-brainer. Further testing is required, but initially there’s a lot of good vibes coming off the flash.
This concludes the initial impressions of the flash unit. This is a live blog review so there is more updates coming out soon. For those interested here’s some of the things to expect coming up.
As mentioned initially, the goal of this review is the Ivan Drago of testing. I want to put it to the test and beat it down. Is this flash Rocky? Or is it Clubber Lange and mean up front but eventually puts up less fight than Glass Joe from punch out? Continue reading to find out.
Day 1 – General Usage
The first test for the Mago will be general real world usage of the flash unit. I met up with a close friend Marissa,who rocks as a professional model in the Atlanta area. Marissa wanted to try out a shoot were she was dressed up inspired by Pocahontas. The purpose of this is general usage with flash and using it completely barebones. The flash was placed on a basic umbrella holder barebulb with a sync cord going straight to the camera. This emulates getting it right out of the box and connecting it for off camera flash with limited equipment cost. Initial shots were taken inside the Atlanta office.
The flash as expected worked pretty well. It didn’t miss a beat firing from 1/1 to 1/16th power. Changing the power on the flash does require the press of a button before moving the wheel, which is different than the Neewer tt850 (which changes at the spin of the back wheel). The flash quality seemed consistent and nice, and the flash was pretty easy to deal with. Nothing noteworthy where it makes it any different from any other flash except for one crazy cool factor….you can turn on the LED as a modeling light while using the flash…It didn’t really hit how amazing this was until I shot Marissa in a completely dark room with only the LED’s as a modeling light.
After a few shots inside,we jumped in the car and drove down to the local hiking path to take a few shots outside. The area we ended up being in had about 100% humidity and the temperature was pretty high (upper 80’s Fahrenheit). While not the worst conditions you could put a flash in, it was a nice start to see if the Mago could keep up with my photography pace. I ended up using a 36″ Smith Victor Umbrella with the unit to test out how it would respond to these conditions.
The flash actually had some surprising results. First of all it didn’t skip a beat the whole time. There was no overheating even when I popped 6~7 pops at full power. There was no build issues or missed flashes. Also it’s possible the Pixel was very conservative with their estimate of 4 seconds for full refresh for recycle as this flash was able to get back to full power within 2~2.5 seconds even in the less than ideal weather conditions.
Here’s a few more examples from the quick shoot with Marissa. Please read the captions for further information.
Performance note : After about 60-70 full power flashes, the battery meter shows half full.
Day 1 Usage Conclusions
Day 2 – Extreme weather conditions
Day 2 of testing the Mago was a little bit like day 1. This time the beautiful Delanie Frances of Luna Lanie cosplay. Our idea today was to shoot a few cosplay photos of her dressed up as Baby Doll from Sucker Punch and also of her Heartseeker Ashe costume from League of Legends. We were planning to shoot both in studio and in the woods. There was a couple neat unique things we did today including
One of the first things was bringing Delanie outside and using the same setup I used yesterday with Marissa. Shooting with a Canon 6D outside and a Canon 135 F2 at 2.0, the Mago provided a great key light for the scene. Nothing new to report except that it worked well. The Mago at 1/32nd power provided all the lighting I need to shoot the 6d at Iso 50, 1/160, at F2.
Afterwards we went inside and I used the Mago at full power along with two 600 watt Norman ML600’s. The Normans were at about half power with 2 strip boxes while the Mago had the Smith Victor umbrella and was used as the key light. The results were as expected and the Mago was able to provide quality lighting while keeping up at a good pace without ever overheating.
Extreme weather conditions expanded
Yesterday the Mago did a pretty good job shooting in a humid hot environment. Today we went into the dense woods by the Chattahoochee river that was incredibly humid and extremely hot. Not only that but half way into the photo shoot it started raining and as promised I went ahead and shot with it in the rain. The Mago got wet and it kept shooting like a boss and didn’t miss a beat. Pixel I’m sorry if this was a no no, but your flash worked in the rain. That was cool. In the woods we shot some more Baby Doll and also revisited her heartseeker Ashe cosplay from League of Legends.
Performance notes – Despite being completely drenched, the flash did not stop working.
Day 2 Usage Conclusions
Day 3 – The Mago in a critical situation
Day 3 brings one of my most favorite days testing out the Mago. So the flash has proven to hold it’s own, and hasn’t missed a beat yet. It’s worked in heavy humidity, high heat, and also a downpour of rain. How about lets test it out during something absolutely critical. Lets test it during a surprise wedding proposal. The quick story is a client contacted me a few weeks ago and he wanted to propose to his girlfriend. The idea was during one of my photo shoots inspired by Hamlets Ophelia that James (the Client) will propose to Michelle. The time came for it this morning and the Mago was going to be the main light source for the whole event.
Sidenote – The Ophelia shoot is a project in 2014 where I shoot everyday Atlanta women as Hamlets Ophelia. The concept is to take a simple outfit, a flower crown and bring the subject to a natural location and shoot. To see the Ophelia Inspired Set, go here – Ophelia Light and Dark 2014
The main reason for this test wasn’t to see if the Mago could flash once or twice, but how would it handle repeated firings in the same difficult environments as before (albeit no rain this time). Quite frankly the flash handled it beautifully. Out of a sequence of over 86 shots in less than a few minutes the flash didn’t miss one click and always illuminated the scene. While it was at 1/8th and refreshing fairly quickly, I give it credit for working in the horrendous environment and after being rained on yesterday. Nice big thumbs up from me. Well done Mago.
I was extremely impressed by how the Mago performed. Michelle and James, thank you so much for trusting me to be a part of your amazing event. What a stunning and beautiful event and it was an absolute joy to be a part of.
After the excitement of their proposal it was time to take photos of the stunning Sophia and her sister Hope. We went to Lake Lanier to do another Ophelia inspired shoot where the main trial this time was placing the flash in precarious positions and using it once again at various levels of power. The biggest note to make is even at full 1:1 power after being rained on the day before the flash still worked perfectly and without a hitch. I’m really impressed by the little guy. Also my nephew is interning with me during the summer, doing 2 weeks of hard photography learning. I’m proud of the my nephew. Here’s him holding the lights for me and understanding lighting positioning.
Here’s a few sample images from the shoot, with wides showing the light position but also the photographic results. Please read the captions for more details.
Day 4 – ETTL and at a wedding
So before talking about the wedding that was shot today, it’s time to note something extremely odd and probably not related to the flash. For the last few days I’ve paired the flash with Sanyo Eneloop XX’s without a problem. This morning when I tried to charge the batteries in the Lacie charger there was 2 dead battery warnings(shows up null). This happens when the cells can’t be recharged anymore. Pretty disturbing because these batteries are pretty new and that sucks. Going to try to refresh them and hopefully that will fix it. Will keep you guys updated.
Update – After letting them sit for a day, I was able to refresh and recharge the 2 dead batteries. I actually don’t think this is a problem with the Mago flash, but just a fluke.
Today was a fun day testing the Mago. Where the engagement shoot is a critically important photoshoot, the real test for the Mago was today during a wedding. The wedding allowed me to try out Pixels implementation of ETTL and also see how the camera performed during an extremely strenuous event. Also I get to compare the Mago to my current favorite flash the Godox Ving 860c (yes the Godox is better than the 600ex-RT IMHO).
The last few days of testing before this pretty much used the Mago in manual mode, and it performed admirably. But the Mago does actually do automatic ETTL and as a wedding shooter TTL can help so much.
The ETTL system in the Mago looks to be completely based of the Canon system, probably reversed engineered. You can control the settings of the flash with most any recent Canon cameras with a hot shoe. The Mago also supports High Speed Sync, and second curtain sync. Using the Mago was pretty much similar to using any Canon flash.
During the getting ready photos the flash worked great, but there was sometimes the flash didn’t go off. There were 2 things I noticed that may have caused this. The flash doesn’t really create a firm seal on my 6D and has a bit of movement on the hotshoe. In comparison the 600ex-RT and the Godox v860c both fit better. There really isn’t any reason why the flash shouldn’t of fit fine as it’s been handled nicely.
Also once in a while the flash seemed to not fire after making either an exposure compensation change on camera or on flash. This didn’t happen 100% of the time, but during the wedding there was roughly 8~9 no fires, and 2 or 3 times it happened after I adjusted the exposure compensation. When the flash did fire though the exposures were nice and consistent and the results were very similar as to what the 600ex-RT and the Godox v860c produced. I was extremely impressed by how the Mago did via E-TTL and liked how easy it was to manipulate to achieve more accurate results.
Now for some bad news. After being spoiled by the Godox v860c’s Li-ion battery pack, it was disheartening to see how fast the battery on the Mago was going through. Mind you the 600ex-RT last about the same length through a wedding as the Mago seemed to last, but the Godox destroys them both. By a little bit after the ceremony, the flash was already on 1 bar of power (out of 4). The Godox during same usage would possibly be at 3 out of 4, but I’ve seen it 4 out of 4 still after that time. I’ve just being really spoiled by the battery pack in the Godox flash.
The Mago kept churning, and despite having a few no flashes did a really admirable job, it’s just disheartening to see how fast the battery seemed to drain. Another negative about the flash is the weight. The flash is notably top heavy, and bulky. Maybe I’m getting old (hell, I am old) but the flash felt a bit heavier than the others I’ve used.
Performance Notes – Some misfires that were replicable with adjusting exposure compensation. Also misfires because the hotshoe wasn’t 100% a tight fit on the camera. Some misfires just happened for no reason, but about 3 out of 400 shots.
In conclusion for using the Pixel Mago for weddings is this :
Day 5 – ETTL direct comparison with the Mago vs. the Godox v860c. Also using the LED as a modeling light at night.
My dear friend Elizabeth (Jonahmodels) met up today and modeled for me. To further try out the automatic ETTL settings I did a direct comparison of the Mago vs. the Godox v860c. Elizabeth posed in the same spot and I shot 4 shots with each flash, and choose the median of each one. The picture above shows the results of the Mago on the left, and the Godox V860c on the right. This image is a direct flash pointing at Elizabeth.
After directly pointing the flash to Elizabeth, the next step was bouncing it off the ceiling at a slight angle. The exposure compensation was cranked to +2 on both flash and the results are shown above. As with the direct flash above there were several shots taken and the average is shown above.
The results are varied, and it’s odd, but after shooting years with Ettl this is to be expected. This test only quickly shows the ETTL in one given area, and results can vary. So take the results with a grain of salt.
Afterwards I brought Elizabeth outside. Here’s a quick photo of Elizabeth outside the office with the canon 135F2 at 2.0 shooting ETTL mode. It exposed pretty well. (I’m not a fan of direct flash)
Using the LED as a modelling light
So tonight Elizabeth and I tried something really cool, we used the LED’s as modeling lights on the flash. It worked amazing! Yes Nikon people you do have a AF illumination on the camera, but the Mago LEDs actually emulate the effects you will receive with the modifiers and it’s pretty damn cool. Really awesome to be honest to see what you are expecting while shooting at night. The LEDs were SUPER helpful to acquire focus and also just add ambiance to the scene. I would love to have all my flashes have LED’s on them. If pixel could implement a wireless control trigger that turns on and off the led, it would superior.
Here’s a gallery of photos taken with the Mago with the LED as a modeling light. Talk about an awesome addition.
A little extra – Using the flash to emulate the sun.
This is a bit of extra for people who aren’t familiar with what little flash units are capable of. Here is the Mago being used at 1/4th power to emulate natural sunlight on Elizabeth. All I did was face the flash towards the empty side of the room and let it do it’s job. Something that’s been really fun is showcasing just how much you can do with one flash unit.
Day 6 – HSS (High Speed Sync) testing and general shooting
One of the things we haven’t really tested out on the flash yet is Pixels implementation of HSS. Unfortunately I don’t have a really long E-TTL cord nor could I find my old ST-E2 from back in the day so I was limited to testing the HSS via on board flash. The results ,while visually unspectacular because of how flat the light was, worked pretty well. The ability to shoot at 200mm zoom on the flash really helped a lot. Here’s one example of using HSS below with a shutter speed for 1/1250. Today’s model was the amazing Kim Page who has done several shoots with me before. I absolutely adore this lady and today it was an absolute joy to be around her. Oh name drop time, but this lady is also the daughter of a VERY famous wrestler. She’s proud of it!
HSS seemed to work nicely and hopefully I can find the wireless triggers to do something a little more impressive than the straight from camera flat flash look (I despite it if you can’t tell). I will say this at the price range of the Mago and with the guide number of 65, it’s pretty damn nice having that power and HSS. HSS because of how it functions really dramatically reduces flash power, and the Mago was able to supply a rich amount of light. The implementation of HSS worked well for me and I enjoyed it.
Outside of HSS shooting today was a day of just general shooting with Kim using exclusively the Mago inside and outside. I wanted to show some more results you can get with it and also using it for various different looks and techniques. Kim also became part of the Ophelia shoot today and also general in studio shooting. The Mago has been a constant performer for general shooting and hasn’t really had any major hiccups yet. Overall I give it a thumbs up as a stand alone flash capable of producing consistent and great results.
After almost a week of constantly using the Mago, I’m really excited about the product. It’s worked perfectly even 4 days after being rained on. It’s constantly put out consistent light over and over. Check out soon for my conclusion comments. There’s only 1 or 2 days left to write, and the conclusion!
Day 7 – Comparing it to competitors
Here’s a link to amazon where you can purchase this flash : Pixel Mago on Amazon
Today’s installment keeps it simple. After using it for over 10 days now real world usage, I feel we can give a more honest assessment about how the Mago performs and how it compares to other competitor flashes. This section will compare build, interface, usage, and more with a few other flashes I actually own. Also doing a few test to see how the flashes compare to each other results wise.
In this comparison we are going to compare these four flashes. Prices are from August 2014, info pulled from Amazon.
Immediately there’s a price differential between the flashes above, with the Canon being more than all the other 3 flashes combined. For those who aren’t familiar with guide number, it’s pretty much the power output estimate of the flash. The higher the guide number, the brighter the full power output.
We are going to break it down into a few simple categories, and rank the flashes in that category. Finally at the end write a pro/con summery of each flash.
Surprisingly the build quality of each of the flashes isn’t far off, mostly for the price differential between each unit. Of all the units the Yong-Nuo 565 feels the cheapest with the buttons being a little tougher and not having a wheel on the back (cross hair joy stick instead). The buttons on the 600ex-RT do give a slightly better response when you press them, but this is being extremely critical. Of all the units the power button on either the 600ex-RT or the Godox is better. One of the things I absolutely love that Canon did is made Lock the middle option on their on button. On the Pixel it’s the very last option and the pixel on/off dial is extremely tough and annoying to turn off and on. The godox has a simple slide up/down switch that’s super easy to hit, but also pretty easy to activate your bag on accident. The yong-nuo has the most painful switch only for the fact there’s “Load time”, you hold the power button down and it eventually turns on after a few seconds.
As mentioned above the Pixel and the Canon are the only ones that have the switching mechanism to lock down the hot shoe. After 2 weeks of use though the Pixel’s locking mechanism doesn’t fit as tightly as it once did, while the Canon has been fine even after over a year of owning it.
All in all if I had winner on build it would be the 600ex only for small little things. The 600ex has a button to engage flash movement while the others are tension based. The 600ex has little rubber sides and stuff that are just accents….is it worth $400+ more…oh hell no, but it is a little better built. The Godox is the second after the 2 with its more simple build it feels more robust than the YN and the Pixel Mago, but the mago was pretty much right by it. The YN565 felt like something was slightly off with its build compared to the others.
Ranking : 600ex, Godox v860c, Pixel Mago, YN565ex
Each flash unit has a pretty intuitive LCD interface. The godox and YN565 uses a less buttons in the back to control the user interface while the 600ex and Pixel has almost the exact layout except the Canon has the button for it’s wireless system and the pixel has an extra interface button. Concerning the graphic user interface, while the data display is smaller I give the advantage to Pixel here. Not only is there a lot of menu options, but when programming and changing small menu options the Pixel is the only one that actually has a graphic icon showing what you are doing. Normally low resolution icons can be pretty good or bad, depending how they are designed, and pixel did an extremely good job at making sure they are legible. The 600ex isn’t a slacker either when it comes to custom function interface and back lcd. It has a graphic menu (which reminds me of the Commodore 64) which actually explains what the custom functions do. On the bottom of the barrel comes the Godox and the YN, where if you try to change any custom functions it says CF00-000 …yeah good luck with that if you don’t’ have a manual figuring out what is what. The back menu of the pixel is average in size, where the yn565 is minimal and the 600ex and the Godox fairly large and informative. During general usage it’s a lot easier to see and navigate the Godox and 600ex, followed by the Pixel and lastly the yn565.
Pixel really did a quality job designing their interface for the Mago. Canon also stepped up their game with the 600ex, where it was a lot worst back in the old 580ex days. Something cool is the Godox does have a mini usb input, so there is possibility of a firmware update in the future for better menus.
Ease of use is also a critical part of the interface, and the Pixel really shines here. The whole menu system was extremely intuitive and navigation was quick and easy. Right after it the Canon and Godox were super easy to use because of the large lcd interface, and pretty nicely designed if more text based interface. While the YN doesn’t score high its not because it’s really bad (mostly compared to the old 560’s), it just doesn’t shine compared to the three competitors.
Ranking : Pixel Mago tied with Canon 600ex (slight edge to pixel), Godox v860C, YN565
It wasn’t long ago the winner of value was easily anything from Yong Nuo. While it’s obvious they completely stole the design of the 580ex II to make their mold for the YN-56x series, they delivered reasonable build, great results, at a quarter of the price. Yong Nuo products only got better as time passed and it was understandable that 2~3 years ago the Yn-560x series was selling like hot cakes. Sadly all kingdoms fall and it’s finally reached that point. The winner of value? Easily the Godox v860c. Yes it’s $179 when the other two cheaper ones are almost half the price or less, but the Lithium Ion battery you receive with the v860c is just that good. For those who don’t know the Godox comes with a battery pack, and a charger. That battery pack isn’t just 4 double a’s, its actually a battery pack of badassdom that allows you 4x the battery charge and over a 200% speed increase. Pretty much it has the ability to put out like a teenage boy, but actually last as long as a man in a Danielle Steele novel. Where all the flashes (save the 600ex-rt) create tremendous value because they offer outstanding results for an extremely reasonable price, the long term value of the Godox v860c’s battery and capabilities cannot be understated compared to the others. It’s just that good.
So lets take the battery out of the equation, and just compare the unit’s themselves. Easily the Pixel Mago is a surefire value winner. The capabilities of the flash, what you get with it, and the absolutely steal of a price makes it a no brainer when it comes to the four of them. The extras like the LED, diffusion plate, and various other internal features make the value of the Mago supersede the others who offer only part of the same features. The ultimate value is when a company finally combines the Battery pack along with the optional LED and more.
So you might be wondering why the 600ex-rt wasn’t mentioned. In the reality of it all you are paying for an AMG Mercedes when it comes to buying the 600ex-RT where the other flashes are a Camry, Accord, and an Altima. They are all cars, but the 600ex-RT is a league of it’s own. The flash as a basic unit is amazing, but is it worth 4x~5x the price? Only if you are going to heavily invest into Canon’s INCREDIBLE RT system. They knocked it out of the park like a Mike Trout home run with the design of the RT system, but unfortunately decided to charge Yankee season tickets prices for you to play with it. Where the other flashes will let you jump in at sub $500 for two flashes and a way to trigger them, the Canon system will be roughly about $1500. Value? Canon scoffs at the idea….you are paying for the name, and the experience…deal with it. It’s the Mid Range Leica of value, and they aren’t going to really help you save a few dollars here and there. But outside of expensiveness, you do get a hell of a lot with the Canon system so please don’t see this as me saying the system is bad, but for a good majority of people it’s overpriced and not needed.
The YN-565EX is sadly yesterdays news. If you can get a used one for $50, that’s completely worth it, but if someone wants more, you are better off buying a Mago.
Ranking : Godox v860c, Pixel Mago, YN-565EX, Canon 600ex-rt
The small little things
There’s the selling bullet points that companies point out, and then there’s the small little things you actually notice over time as you use equipment. Of all the flashes the one that I’ve put through the field of battle the most has been the 600ex-RT, and in the end it has come out incredibly strong, tough, and reliable. There was slight cosmetic damage on it from the 30+ weddings it has been through the last year, and various other challenges. In comparison the Godox hasn’t been used as long but already the wide angle diffusion panel has more play on it than I’m comfortable with, and the flash will occasionally go to 14mm zoom on the sensor because of how loose the panel is. While mostly an inconvenience, it does reflect on the total build quality. The Pixel mago already has shown some changes as I’ve put it through this ordeal. The hotshoe doesn’t mount as tightly as the Canon, despite only having it for less than 2 weeks. Maybe I’m spoiled by the complete build quality of the Canon, or the psychosomatic nature of trying to find something wrong with a device that’s 1/5th the price, but it is worth mentioning. The YN565ex I will be honest here guys, mine died, for no reason at all. It boots up, and it doesn’t flash and complains that it doesn’t work. That’s no beuno. The technology and build in the 600ex-rt is incredible, but not everyone needs it nor many can afford it. Mostly if you think that the 600ex-RT is over 75% the cost of your average starting Canon digital SLR. That’s incredibly expensive. The 430ex-II at $299 does offer a respite, but that comes from using a weaker flash that’s capable of less. Where as all the other flashes here have a generous guide number of at least 58, the 430ex is only 43. One of the factors to consider is theses flashes get to 43 equivalent power almost twice as fast as the 430ex, and here you are paying $299 for a unit (over 3x the cost of a Mago) and you are getting Chevy Cobalt performance for the price of decked out Camero (in equivalent).
Something I found was one of those really stand out small things was the LED on the Mago. Yes it’s not powerful, yes it’s kinda bright (all LED’s are), and yes you won’t use it all the time, but when you do it’s sooooooo nice. I actually found myself really yearning for it on my other flashes. Sometimes we convince ourselves we really don’t need something cause we’ve never had it before….but sometimes after using something for a while and then not having it, you end up missing it (anyone remember when we didn’t have mouse wheels?). The LED feature is one of those things where in the future because of my shooting style I will ABSOLUTELY adore having it on all my flashes, even to the point that they design somehow the LED’s being inside the flash head itself. It was that cool of a feature of have and when you guys experience it in real life you can really see where the benefits are.
It has to be pointed out again, the small little thing on the Godox v860c is that incredible battery pack. So incredible that we’ve already sold all of our flashes at the event company and gone completely with these units. It’s so easy, and revolutionary to use a battery pack that it’s hard to go back. Double A’s suck. They suck more than the Jacksonville Jaguars. You have to deal with 4 crappy little batteries that don’t put out much power, and sometimes even the more expensive ones have problems. If one has a problem you are in trouble, and there’s 4 of them. So pretty much you have 4 times the risk of something going bad when it comes to rechargeable batteries. Godox only charges $30 for a spare battery pack, and it’s the equivalent of like 20 double A’s…what an incredible value and deal. Guys, I love they battery pack….so much. You have to experience it.
Ranking : Godox, Pixel, Canon (Tied), YN565ex
So it comes to the conclusion for this section and this is a Mago review so lets talk about how it compared to the other flashes. Quite frankly guys, it held it’s own. At the paltry price of $90-95 it was able to put out consistent results that the Godox, and Canon gave out. These are units 2x to 5x it’s cost. When I first got the flash to review there was a resounding meh from me. Oh here’s another flash in a large field of competitors, and it doesn’t have a battery pack like the Godox. I’ll be nice and give it a review, try to beat the S#it out of it, and be completely honest about it. The Mago really won me over when compared to the other competitors. It’s price is extremely eye opening mostly for the options you get. The interface is beautiful and well done, and the LED’s were an incredible addition. The flash didn’t fail me, and while I know some of them out there will have issues this one worked like a champ. All those factors combined makes the Pixel easily better than average and in some cases a clear choice among it’s peer.
More will be written on the total conclusion of the of this piece, but I will go ahead and make this statement. If I only had $100, the Mago is easily the right choice. If I had $200, the Godox is better in the long run. If I had more money than a rap artist who successfully gave his mix tape to the right people, than the 600ex-RT is the best approach.
Day 8 – A little more HSS to the mix, this is the last visual test and finally the conclusion after a little extra testing
We’ve reached close to the end guys, this is the penultimate day before the conclusion will be written early next week (it’s a busy weekend this weekend). Ms. Elizabeth once again agreed to jump in front of the camera to try a little HSS testing with the Mago straight off the camera hotshoe. Why this way? Because it shows results you can get with what you have after you immediately buy the flash. Yes a nice camera was used, and also a nice lens, but anyone can easily get close to duplicating these results using a Canon 50 1.8 and a rebel (though they have to step back further). The camera combo and lens combo ranged from a Canon 6d paired with a 50 1.2L, 35 1.4L, or a Tamron 24-70 2.8VC. All pictures were shot at 1/500 to 1/1250 shutter speeds using iso ranging from 50 to 400. The Window light was super strong but very one sided on Elizabeth and the flash made a distinct impression (as seen above).
This implementation of HSS isn’t the best way to show HSS as stopping motion at high speeds, but it does show you that you can shoot outside in bright light with this flash at low isos and also very fast apertures. Sometimes we want to get the background lit correctly when it’s a lot brighter, while shooting full open at 1.8~2.8, but also illuminate our subject when the sync speed is over 1/160+. This HSS implementation shows that.
So here’s a few more photos that will talk a little bit more about the HSS on the Pixel Mago.
HSS is what’s consider more advance usage of a flash, but it’s good to know that anyone who buys the Mago can rest assured knowing that the HSS implementation provided by Pixel does its job. Once again the flash was always on the camera when these were shot, and there was no off camera flash being used, just bouncing flash and using it as a large light source. Being able to get great flash power at 1.4 outside and shooting 1/2000th of a second…that’s a win right there. Color me impressed!
The last day – Its comes down to this
And we have reached the end of this amazingly fun road trip with the Pixel Mago. I have to admit in many cases the Mago was pretty impressive. The photography situations it was placed it delivered good results, but also most importantly consistent results. Even after being drenched in rain within 2 days of being used, the flash kept going and going towards the end with really no major faults during use. Yes there was a few small bumps and bruises, but those you would expect to occur with any flash used like this one was (which wasn’t exactly being babied). Before I write a full heartfelt conclusion, I wanted to write about a few key items in detail that should help influence people’s purchasing decision.
Battery Life – Despite the energy meter showing the flash depleting power, there was actually no days during this test that the flash completely ran out of power except during the wedding. During general usage outside I was able to get a lot of flashes at various power level. The Mago’s battery consumption I would say is close to that of the 600ex-RT. You will go through double A’s, but it’s doesn’t suck down battery power at a crazy level. During the review the batteries were charged to capacity, but double A rechargeable are also a little tricky sometimes, and a unconditioned cell could give sub par results. In this case it’s important to note the Mago wasn’t a battery draining monster, but it also wasn’t energy conservative. The Mago was a good mid line, which is nice considering it’s stats.
Build Quality – When China fist started making knock off products in the photography industry several years ago it really was hit or miss. As time has passed the quality has gone up considerably (though still not on par with OEM products). Initially I was concerned about the Mago because the accessories that came with it, the boxing, and even the flash itself screamed cut backs and budgets, but the unit I received held up and did it’s part. It is important to note though during an assembly line process that there could be those lemons out there, so during this review I consistently check on the build quality of the flash, the nooks and crannies, and so forth. I can say the flash is built well now, but I am slightly concerned over time that it may not hold up that well in comparison to a 600ex-rt or an OEM flash. There was those small little things you can feel while using where it felt like something may loosen over time, or one small mishap like a drop can cause issues. With this flash and it’s cost it delivers amazing results, but if you are the type of person who purchases to have a working product for 5 years and you don’t want to mess with what’s new…go ahead and buy a 600ex-RT or a high end flash like a Mecablitz. If you want something that works really well now, is built pretty okay, but you may have replace it in 2~3 years, go ahead and save money and get this flash. The build quality won’t disappoint you.
Practical real world usage – If there was anything I was hoping for in this review, it was the fact that you the readers can see realistic real world application of the flash. The Mago really held up well to the diverse amount of photography before it and was able to do it’s job in both a casual and professional atmosphere. The cheap price of the unit really allows a professional photographer the luxury of redundancy because all things have the option of failing, and having 2~3 Mago’s spare can help any faults. The cheap cost of the unit allows your new photographer the option of having a very capable flash at an extremely affordable price. The extra options such as the LED, wireless, hss, and all the small little things make it that much more of a value to the end user during practical usage. Photography is all about lighting and how we capture it,and the Mago provides the opportunity to add quality light in at a very reasonable price.
Which leads to this guys, the final conclusion.
I would recommend this product. But I wouldn’t buy it for myself. The Mago was EXTREMELY impressive, and at it’s price of $90-95 online an absolute steal. It wasn’t exactly about what it was great at during this review, but how much it didn’t fail that made it such a value to me. The Mago really was impressive and didn’t have any glaring shortcomings that prevented it from performing, and was consistently able to provide brilliant lighting.
So why wouldn’t I buy it? Simply put….battery technology. We are on the cusp of a new revolution when it comes to portable flashes and batteries. It’s been a long time coming, but mark my words guys that battery packs will soon start becoming more popular in these flash units. I absolutely adore my battery pack based flash units because of the small little things such as ease of replacing the battery (4 separate batteries sometimes fall wrong at weddings, and you have to look to see if they are facing the right polarity), the fact that each battery last 250% longer, and also the performance benefits of speed and power. These are all things that are extremely hard to give up, even if it means now having some of the really neat features the Mago has.
None the less it is $90 more to get the the Godox V860c, and that’s a lot of money. If I only had $100 would I get the Mago? ABSO F’ing Lutly. All things in consideration Pixel has made an incredible flash at an incredible price, and if it wasn’t for Godox/Neewer coming out with such an awesome battery pack based flash, I would easily told everyone to go ahead and grab a Mago to try out if you didn’t want to spend an astronomical amount of money on Canon/Nikon flashes.
Thank you everyone for reading this, and also big big big thank you for all of those who helped out. Really big thank you to all the models and talent who were a part of this. Also thank you to Pixel for letting me review their product.
Here’s a link to amazon where you can purchase this flash : Pixel Mago on Amazon
Got an email from Pixel and they were absolutely floored by the detail given to their product in this review. I had a proud moment when they said in the email that I was one of their best beta testers they’ve ever had. Being that the goal of this review was to break it and also not give any bias towards the product, it’s really cool to see a company not shy away from people who want to be honest about their product. They even mentioned in the email that they have brought the flash back to the drawing board to make hardware level changes after reading the reviews done by the 20 chosen participants.
I was one of several people selected to review this product. Interested in learning what the other reviewers think of it? I tried to find as many as possible to link here, please enjoy.