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It hasn’t even been a year since I was one of 20 lucky previewers/reviewers for Pixels then new flash the Mago. (Please feel free to read the review here). Seemingly impressed with the candid honesty of the review Pixel has requested that I also preview not one but two of their new X800C flashes. Unlike the last product review, Pixel has stated that the products sent out are in early test phase and wanted the authors to be thorough in our test but understanding that certain issues still need to be hammered out. With that honesty up front I still plan on beating the living hell out of these flashes and comparing it to what I remember of the old Mago (which unfortunately was lost in transit while being shipped).
Something that immediately stood out about these new units is their compatibility with Pixels own wireless flash system. “Cool!” you might say, but unfortunately we are asked not to try that out just yet and just try out the flash. In my opinion Pixel may have been overzealous in their haste to get us these flashes when wireless flash and potentially radio wireless TTL could be such a HUGE factor. While I’m slightly disappointed at that, there is without doubt a plethora of other fine testing, insight, and various other things that can be done with 2 flashes at the same time (said in the exact voice of Peter’s neighbor from Office Space).
So what’s going to be covered in this preview? Well without a doubt there has been notable build differences that Pixel has integrated compared to the Pixel Mago reviewed a few months ago.. Also something that will be really fun is showing how much you can actually do with 2 capable flashes during a shoot. The Pixel Mago proved to be a winner as a flash, but one light could be a little boring sometimes, so what does 2 bring to the table? I assume the x800c will be as equally affordable as the Mago was, so this preview will showcase what you can do with 2 powerful flash units for the price of less than 1 (I assume so) of your manufacturers own consumer level flash. Lastly we are going to talk about general real world usage of the X800C. I’ve personally never been a fan of lab type testing of equipment, I want the dirty in the field reports when murphy’s law takes place and the proverbial shit hits the fan. How does the x800c handle the day to day beatings it will go through in a photographers bag.
The Pixel X800C – Build Quality, Interface and More
My immediately reaction when unpacking the Pixel X800c is how nicely it’s packaged. The box is your standard flash box size but everything comes packaged really well and in it’s own compartment. Something I’m extremely grateful to see is pixel has very much upgraded the quality of the flash case that the x800c comes with. The case for the Pixel Mago was absolutely terrible compared to the quality of that flash, while the case for the x800c has nice quality and knitting and seems a lot more robust.
The build quality of the x800c easily compares to the Mago in many ways, which means it’s really nice for the price you are paying. There’s a good weight to the unit along with no give in any seams that makes it feel cheap to the touch. The size isn’t imposing and it’s actually quite comfortable to use and if memory serves me right is a lot smaller than the Pixel Mago. The flash design is definitely more inspired by current flashes such as the 600ex-RT over the old 550ex, a noticeable difference being the subtle curves and design of the head.
The interface of the x800c is very easy and intuitive to use. Like the Mago it has very easy to understand icons that inform the user of current custom functions, while the flash power, mode, and more is displayed in medium sized easy to read letters. There is a nice roll wheel to speed through settings, 4 action buttons, 1 mode button, and 1 flash fire button that quickly gets things done.
Something sadly missing from the x800c that I loved on the Pixel Mago was the front LED lights. They actually proved more useful than one would expect and it would be a welcome addition to the x800c if it was affordable.
All in all I’m both impressed by the x800c knowing that it’s not an OEM flash, but also not astounded as I was expecting this to be the natural evolution of Pixels quality for their flashes. Those who do buy this flash will not find much fault in the construction quality and build of the flash.
Full Disclosure: While on the last day of testing I did drop the flash a significant height on to an asphalt surface, and now the flash registers a Motor problem. I do not believe this to be a fault from manufacturing at all but will say that the flash doesn’t show much sign of physical stress on the outside chassis. I find it really cool that the flash even gives a warning that the motor of the unit is bad, most flashes I’ve used in the past just don’t even acknowledge anything is wrong.
Pixel x800c HSS Performance
Something I like to test with most E-TTL flashes is the HSS performance of the unit. I absolutely adore high powered strobes but being limited to 1/160~1/200 a second really prevents me from using anything wider than f5.6~f8.0 during daylight feels restrictive creatively. HSS allows me to shoot 1/2000th at 1.4 and abuse some of my lenses such as the Canon 50 1.2L, and 35 1.4L.
What I’m excited about is if the price of the x800c is under $80~$90 they have brought a very usable HSS enabled flash to the public. The results I got during the shoot were very respectable. Erin, an amazing Belly Dancer local to Atlanta, was the model and posed for me at Lake lanier. My girlfriend Rachel was light assistant and we went with a basic bare bulb one light look shooting 1/500~1/3200th iso 50 at 1.2~2.0. The x800c was able to put out consistent light albeit a little slow on the recharge sometimes depending on how much power was needed.
When it came to testing the x800c’s implementation of HSS I was left with a very favorable impression. So thumbs up there.
Pixel X800C – Real world usage – Event Photography
An event photographer heavily relies on being able to get consistent results from their flash as they are forced to create their little “Bubbles of light” as they walk around the event. Having consistently working TTL, an easy to use interface, and also reliable and consistent refresh is paramount to having a successful flash units.
I’m not going to to beat around the bush here guys. The x800c completely rocked the event I was shooting at. Not only was it consistent in it’s TTL output, it also was extremely quick and easy to micro adjust the settings both via camera flash control and on the unit itself. The use of the flash was extremely seamless and resulted in many successful shots despite constant environmental differences at the venue I was at.
There wasn’t anything radical that stood out about the x800c while using it for events, and this is where I truly believe it shines brightly. By just working and being easy to use I was able organically work without interuption at the end of the night I was completely satisfied with the results I got from the x800c.
On that note there is other flashes that have better power solutions. The x800c isn’t the highest GN flash, and it does take a battery pack, but with the advent of more and more Lithium Ion battery pack based flashes coming out, the 4 double A battery solution will definitely be something that will handicap some heavy flash users.
Does a cheap sub $100 flash actually do anything for my photography?
A light is a light, it’s as simple as that. A light that you can control the output is even better. As long as you can manipulate size of the light source, the intensity and the direction it’s coming from you can really control the quality and feel of the light hitting your subject. The Pixel x800c gives you a stunning amount of control in a small package, and can give you some amazing results. What I enjoy about the x800c in this situation is it gives the photographer a capable automatic and manual flash that will allow for a massive amount of lighting creativity.
Lighting is the most important thing to a photographer. Something I tell my photography students is Lighting is a language. We take for granted that we can communicate via our respective languages to one another, and we handle it on a subconscious level, yet without those words and more there wouldn’t be a way to communicate to one another our intent and purpose. Lighting is exactly that for our photos, it’s what creates the mood and the story of the image. Having a good flash is like having the ability to create more beautiful and elegant writing.
Below are example images of what can be achieved using just 1 simple flash and a bare minimum of equipment.
Is two flashes better than one?
Something that’s extremely awesome about the Pixel speedlights I’ve had the pleasure of testing is their affordability. The Mago’s price at $100 was EXTREMELY low for something that provided the feature set in the flash, and the x800c I hope will prove no different. So why is it such a great factor? Well quite simply you can get more flashes! One light provides a great quality to the photos, but there is something to be said about how more commercial and image can appear when there are more than just one light. Being able to introduce more and more capable flashes at very cheap introduction price is something I both love and envy for newer photographers now. It was only about 6 years ago that having 2 flashes meant spending over $500, where you can spend $150 now and get over twice the capabilities.
With Pixel putting wireless triggering and receiving in these flashes they are even that much more useful to photographers. I didn’t get to test this feature as much, but from what I did use the results were as expected and fully acceptable.
Impressions of this preview unit
For a preview unit the x800c impressed me on many levels. I have a feeling that Pixel is going to go for an extremely competitive price on it and if my gut feeling is right that this flash is going to be sub $100 than I’m extremely excited both the value and opportunities a flash like this will offer fellow photographers. The x800c provided not only did it’s just the whole month of me testing it, but also consistently held up (until of course I dropped one). When looking at flash units I try to envision the target market for the unit and how well the flash goes after that market. With the x800c I believe Pixel has introduced a unit that provides a lot of the basics as expected from a flash but also some luxuries that make it that much more valuable.
My negatives, which aren’t many, aren’t just towards the x800c itself but more towards flashes in it’s general market right now. We take so much more photos now as digital photographers that the battery tech in double A’s just seem dated. It’s going to be a long long time until double A’s are phased out (if ever) and so this is a bitter pill I’m comfortable swallowing. Lastly another negative would simply be the exclusion of the led from the Pixel Mago. It proved very useful and it was disappointing to see it not available for this flash.
Pixel did their homework on this flash and I think this unit is going to get a good amount of 3.5~4 star reviews on sites like Amazon. It’s nothing world changing or must have, but for good practical photographers looking for value along with performance I’m sure this flash will be within their decision pool.
Gallery of photos taken with the x800c