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05-14-2015, 09:49 PM - 1 Like   #1
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Venus Optics KX-800

I am by no means a technical expert when it comes to using flash equipment but I figured I'd give somewhat of a review of my likes and dislikes of this flash after using it for just a week. I have shot macro heavily for the last six years but still do not consider myself to be overly qualified to give a professional review of this product so take that for what it is worth. I may attempt to add a better review under the third party flash section in the future.

After reading glowing reviews of the Venus Optics 60mm macro lens, I figured I'd buy and try out their twin arm flash.

I initially freaked out a bit after receiving it due to how cheap and light it felt. Also freaked a bit in seeing that the flash unit said KR-800 rather than the KX-800 I ordered. I guess Venus Optics immediately beefed up the articulating arms after launch but have yet to change the model naming on the box or on the unit itself. So I am guessing that I am using the KX but am not entirely sure at the moment.

When first moving the flash arms the plastic on plastic articulating joints from the base of the unit on up to the flash heads would squeak with a sound that makes you wonder, "is this going to loosen up? How much do I want it to loosen up? Am I going to have another problem with keeping my lighting where I want it or am I going to fight sagging arms in the future? What kind of cheap plastic was used to make this?" Rather than pay to send it back, I decided to give it a try while being gentle in manipulating it.

The flash was fairly easy to figure out. Normally I would read the instructions that came with a newly purchased product but the instruction booklet that arrived with this flash was entirely in Chinese.

Having fought flash bracket articulating arms in the past when using the overpriced, Novoflex Flash Bracket with Two 19.5" Flexible Arms which I couldn't hardly adjust nor keep in place, I was wondering if I just dumped another 280 bucks into macro lighting gear which was going to be buried in the back of my closet along side my Pentax AF160FC Auto Macro Ring Flash and some broken Wimberley articulating flash bracket arms.

I noticed that the top of the flash unit that the modeling light and flash arms are attached to is capable of swiveling 180 degrees in either direction. Maybe further but do not want to try it and have no need to swivel it at all.

First outing was night time with pentax K5IIs body, 100mm Pentax WR Macro lens, with raynox DCR250 and raynox MSN505 diopters.

After the first few shots using it, I decided to diffuse the flash heads down more by taping some tracing paper over them. Then ran out into the dark to snap some shots of some orb weaver spiders out on their webs. The modeling light was a very nice feature. The articulation was smooth on it making me immediately wish that Venus would have used the same material on the flash arms as what was used on the modeling light. I do not know the exact name of that material but would compare it to the metal articulating material you'd find on many clip on lamps. Adjusting the brightness of the light was a breeze and I hardly ever had to take it beyond its lowest setting due to it having the reach to extend over the 100mm while it was fully extended to 1:1. I also didn't want to crank the modeling light up since I haven't diffused the lighting on it as of yet.

I was easily able to see my subject while being less than an inch away.

Adjusting the flash arms required care but I was able to achieve a wide range of movement and distance in front of and behind my subject. Luckily the flash heads hardly weigh anything so on the the plus side, the arms do not seem to have to hold up much weight. I didn't have a problem with the arms sagging or falling down though a couple of the segmented plastic joints near the flash itself feel loose in comparison to most of the other overly creeky sounding ones.

Flash brightness adjustments between left and right was as easy to manipulate as it looks in the pictures on their website. Due to how far these arms can reach out past/over/under my lenses, I hardly ever felt a need to bring the brightness beyond the third or fourth mark. These settings resulted in excellent lighting and extremely quick recycle speeds. What felt like 1/2 second . I have not tested how long it would take to run through a set of fully charged Eneloop AA batteries yet but I have shot for three to four hours and hundreds of shots per outing without having to change out so far.

Other things I should note.

Be gentle with loading and unloading the batteries. The sliding plastic outside cover requires that you press down the batteries (which are resting on fairly high tension springs) while sliding and locking the cover into place. I can see this so easily breaking if someone is being overly aggressive.

Also the arms are not something I trust in being able to fully collapse down into wedging it into ones camera bag. I'd make room for it. I am currently keeping it in a second bag by itself with the arms loosely bent over towards the front of the base of the unit.

I seriously hope this lasts for at least a few years because it is so nice to actually achieve brilliant lighting in and around leaves or branches in which my insect subjects often lurk around. I primarily prefer to snap 1X-5X without use of a tripod. It is the lightest flash setup I have used and has now replaced my previous preferred Metz 58 AF-2 mounted via Wimberley duel jointed articulating flash arm.

I'm glad I bought it though I am hoping they do more to increase the durability of this product. The performance of this flash is as advertised.

Here is some sample shots.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/76357727@N08/17661853862/in/dateposted-public/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/76357727@N08/17477960649/in/dateposted-public/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/76357727@N08/17477914139/in/dateposted-public/

I would have uploaded some samples but apparently I ran out of room to upload on this site.

I hope some of this information helps in determining whether or not this is the right flash unit for you.

---------- Post added 05-15-15 at 12:13 AM ----------

I should have added that I am more easily able to achieve desired lighting with the lowest ISO values of 80-160 while stopping down to F18-F32 using the pentax 100mm DFA WR macro lens with raynox attachments. Though I do not normally go to F32 due to diffraction. I can quickly adjust the position of the flash arms to move or eliminate certain undesirable flash hot spots.

Even though the arms currently hold their desired position the flash heads will wobble back and forth like they are on stiff springs when moving the camera but the bonus of having the lighting where I want it and as close as I need it is allowing for faster shutter speeds without inducing any additional image blur.

Since there is not a high speed sync flash option that I am aware of on this product, 1/160 sec is about the max shutter I have been able to run. That is plenty fast for me when snapping hand-held.

I am not concerned with the lack of PTL since I have always primarily manually adjusted the brightness values of previous flash units.


Last edited by Phosphene; 05-14-2015 at 10:33 PM.
05-14-2015, 11:54 PM   #2
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Just for reference, here's the product page for the abovementioned flash:

Flexible Macro Twin Flash KX800 | Venus Optics - Specialist in Macro Photography
05-15-2015, 12:39 AM   #3
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Thanks for the review. I've been mucking about (that's about the right description for the level of seriousness applied to date) with macro flash lighting looking for a cheapish set up utilising two flashes to provide off axis primary lighting plus secondary shadow infill from the other side. Have a cheap bracket with a ring around the lens that two flashes mount to, and the whole contraption I mount to a tripod. My problem is my two flashes are too big and heavy and load the bracket up excessively. Main flash is a Pentax 540 which I trigger wirelessly from the camera while second is an old Achiever from my Pentax ME Super days triggered from one of those cheap Seagull optical triggers (the Seagull works ok in low light but goes missing in action in bright light, so a better trigger solution is needed). A couple of cheap mini-soft boxes off Ebay attached to the flashes softens the lighting.

With macro, agree that manual power settings can be the way to go - you are working under controlled conditions, manual flash outcomes are repeatable in effect and don't need a lot of guessing or fiddling with power settings once familiar with the rig's behaviour.

Hard to find a compact flash with power control when firing in manual mode though, which is perhaps what the Venus rig brings as its main benefit. I note that Metz has just released a Metz 26 AF-1 compact flash targeted at mirrorless camera systems (but does have a Pentax P-TTL compatible model available I think) which looks like it could be a candidate for a macro rig while also having the versatility to also use in PTTL mode in other situations. I will be looking further at this flash.

Update: see later post for further comments on the 26 AF-1.

While not quite a true macro shot, this is an early experiment with my initial (overly heavy) set up. Taken with K3 and FA77 outdoors in early evening ambient lighting.

Name:  Dahlia 1200px.jpg
Views: 1657
Size:  168.2 KB

Lots of detail in the original high res image which unfortunately is noticeably lost down res-ing for the web. Provides enough promise to keep going when I find some quiet time to experiment further. Good thing is I've cobbled my macro lighting together for only $50 bucks or so (already owning the two flashes) so not a lot of coin should I wish to further modify (or dump) later for a better setup.

Last edited by southlander; 05-23-2015 at 03:49 AM. Reason: Update info.
05-15-2015, 02:30 PM   #4
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I guess there is no easy way to know if you have a KX or a KR model. The photos on the website show it is a KR-800. And who knows if they superficially look the same. Is the pictured one a KX-800 still labeled as KR-800 or is it a KR-800

If the arms are made of the material I think they are (and I don't know the name of) they should probably wear very well. They probably are more likely to split or crack before wearing loose.

BTW the website says the head swivels 270.

Thanks for the informal review. That is an interesting unit - certainly bizarre looking to say the least.

05-15-2015, 10:28 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Not a Number Quote
I guess there is no easy way to know if you have a KX or a KR model. The photos on the website show it is a KR-800. And who knows if they superficially look the same. Is the pictured one a KX-800 still labeled as KR-800 or is it a KR-800

If the arms are made of the material I think they are (and I don't know the name of) they should probably wear very well. They probably are more likely to split or crack before wearing loose.

BTW the website says the head swivels 270.

Thanks for the informal review. That is an interesting unit - certainly bizarre looking to say the least.
Well that is comforting to hear. Remember, I am comparing such a thing to what has mostly been pentax equipment throughout the years so I tend to expect that type of rugged durability but to expect that type of build quality for under 300 bucks for such a specialized piece of equipment would probably require an additional 200-250 bucks more than what I paid.

I can not figure out why the head would need to swivel at all. As long as those arms extend swiveling it any degree would be putting your light blasting the opposite direction the camera lens is facing. Those arms really extend way above the camera and lens in instances one might require it to do so. The swiveling feature on what is already a highly manipulative flash arms just seems pointless. Just curious as to why they did that even though having that option will not affect how I plan to keep using it since I will just leave it facing front.

Still though, digging on what it can do and I am not looking at certain shot opportunities with the thought of, "Ahhh screw attempting that one, I would never get the light exactly where I need it." Normally nailing the lighting early on.

I shouldn't have people not buying it due to thinking my description of this product as sounding like it is made of glass and will crumble if touched.

I am just glad I got a chance to support this fledgling company that is producing new and interesting gear that specializes in my favorite form of photography at an affordable cost. I am looking forward to seeing how well they do with their upcoming 15mm F4 macro lens. And I am hoping they support Pentax with a K mount version of these Vari-length Auto extention tubes like this. X-Pro Vari-Length Auto Extension Tube (Nikon) | Venus Optics - Specialist in Macro Photography

I will say that I am growing more attached to it with each use. Very easy to use.

I do not have any problems with the bizarre look to it. Those that have their face pressed up to a camera while their camera is being pressed up to a leaf or a twig with some small critter on it are normally going to get some strange looks from people passing by wondering, "What is he taking a picture of?" I have had some people look closely at it when I am carrying it to and from the areas where I have been shooting.

Wish they would have put a diffusion flap on the flash heads. I immediately made this flash look ghetto with tracing paper taped over the flash heads. I'd like to have the option of an easily removable diffuser since I think it could seriously work well for doing more than just macro work. It seems to have quite a bit of portrait potential as well though I'd be more prone to use one of my other external flashes for such work. My attempts at using it for portrait with the Pentax 35mm limited macro have made for some surprisingly great results.

Last edited by Phosphene; 05-15-2015 at 11:04 PM.
05-15-2015, 11:11 PM   #6
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I don't mind the bizarre look at all. It reminds me of the "plastic educator" from the 1950's movie "Forbidden Planet":



This company is worth supporting. The vari-length extension tubes would be great for Pentax. I guess the problem at the moment is the aperture lever. I noticed on their FAQ page one of the questions concerned the aperture lever for K-mount. They said they would consider it for future design.

Perhaps you should pass on you suggestion for diffusors for the flash heads. Snap on caps wouldn't be too difficult to fabricate with thermo-vacuforming.

If it were in my budget, I would order the 60mm lens now.
05-23-2015, 03:47 AM   #7
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Further to my post above, I looked at the manual for the Metz 26 AF-1 flash. The 'manual' flash control is via the camera flash menus not via the flash's own switches. So no manual control off camera except if a Pentax pttl flash extension lead was used to connect the flash to the camera. Bummer.
05-24-2016, 05:25 PM   #8
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Thomas Shahan reviews the KX-800


05-24-2016, 07:55 PM   #9
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I'm still using this flash and still appreciate what it can do. Though on the K3II I have had an issue with it working its way loose out of the hotshoe when carrying it. It just barely fits that camera btw. I have dropped it once because of this causing the battery door to become hard to keep latched. Also one of the joints of an arm popped out during that drop. Luckily the wires were not damaged so I just popped it back in.

---------- Post added 05-24-16 at 08:56 PM ----------

I really wish the arms were removable. Like via a screw on coax connector possibly at the base where it connects to the body of the flash. This would make storage of this flash so much easier.
05-25-2016, 12:01 PM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Phosphene Quote
I really wish the arms were removable. Like via a screw on coax connector possibly at the base where it connects to the body of the flash. This would make storage of this flash so much easier.
Very good suggestion for a modification. You should pass this on to the Laowa/Venus people.

Could even be a DIY project.
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