Initial Thoughts on Godox Flash Systems for Working Professionals, Pt. 1
For this review, I tested six Godox flash units, all on loan from B&H. While most know me as a Profoto photographer, this is not a sponsored article, nor is any of the information in this article otherwise biased or paid for. I’m going to give you my real-world take on my experience with the Godox flash system, which includes why I want to give it one more shot.
As you will read, I wasn’t able to get the radio system to work consistently. It would be unfair for me to post a complete review given the set that I received. It would also be unfair to ignore my experience. Therefore, let this article be Part I of my initial thoughts on Godox Flash systems. Stay tuned for Part II once I receive a new test kit.
The Lighting Gear Tested
- 2x Godox AD200 TTL Pocket Flash
- 2x Godox V860IIC TTL Li-Ion Flash
- 2x Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash
- 1x Godox XProC TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
I Wanted To Love Godox
I’m going to say from the top that I really wanted to love Godox. It is not because I’ve any desire to switch from Profoto; I’m very happy with my Profoto gear. As an educator, I desperately wanted to love Godox. I need a reliable solution that I can wholeheartedly recommend to photographers who aren’t yet able to invest in the Profoto ecosystem. I wanted an intermediary step, and even though my experience wasn’t ideal, I still believe Godox (and other similar Chinese made flashes) is that step.
Why Godox/Chinese Flashes Should Be Feared
There used to be a lot of arguments against cheap Chinese made flashes like Godox, Flashpoint, YongNuo, etc. Their build quality was bad. Their color temperature and power output varied, especially when batteries lost power. They’d overheat during regular use, or just stop working altogether. Early wireless radio systems were inconsistent and couldn’t be relied upon.
However, most of these issues have been or are being resolved. In the last five years, these flashes have made incredible strides in each of these areas to the point where today, most photographers will not be in situations where they will notice the difference between an inexpensive versus brand name flash. The key here is “most photographers.” Fractionally small variances in color temperature and power will indeed still matter to commercial and editorial photographers; however, in the world of portrait and wedding photography, most photographers will not see a difference in “light quality” that would justify the difference in price.
These inexpensive flashes are pushing major brands to up their game. It forces the major brands back to innovation in order to differentiate their product. In short, it forces them to create value in an industry that has been overpriced and with consumers that have been overcharged for years.
My Past Experience With “Cheap” Flashes
Over the past five years, I’ve had several opportunities to test a number of Chinese-branded flashes, such as Yongnuo, Flashpoint, Godox, and other inexpensive flash units. However, I’ve always found their reliability lacking. A few years back I tried using Yongnuo Speedlites. I found myself taking multiple spares to each shoot simply because it was common for a flash to stop working.
There were also significant inconsistencies with the flash’s power and color temperature. Bulbs and the entire units would overheat and burn out with typical mid-day use. Li-Ion battery packs would expand and become unusable over time. Flashes and batteries would arrive DOA. Worst of all, they would constantly misfire, making it difficult to land the perfect shot and expression without overshooting. In close distances (20-30 feet) they would fire consistently enough. But, at 30-100+ feet they’d consistently misfire. This meant that basically anytime I was shooting an environmental portrait or dance floor image, I was struggling.
But that was then. This is now.
Today, I have a lot of friends and associate shooters in our studio who use Godox and swear by them. They swear by their consistency, the way that they work, and how they constantly fire without misfires, so I was really excited to give it another shot.
Build Quality, First Impression
When it comes to build quality, these flashes are built significantly better than what I remember from three to four years ago. The Godox XProC Remote still feels a bit light and cheap in its design, but the flashes themselves are significantly more solid. In addition, the poorly designed menu systems that plagued older designs have been solved. The Godox menu system is very simple to use. As shown below, we can turn on a flash, and adjust power settings by (1) pressing desired group button, then (2) cycling mode from off to TTL to Manual, then (3) turning the dial as desired.
This means that turning on and adjusting a flash can be done with four total button presses. The efficiency of menu operations may not sound important. However, when shooting fast-paced events using multiple flash groups, a simpler and more intuitive menu system means fewer moments missed. The menu system and design probably rival anything outside of Profoto, which has set the bar at 1-2 clicks to toggle power and adjust flash settings. But, outside of that single comparison, Godox has created an intuitive menu design that will allow most users to completely skip having to read the manual. This includes its superiority over the menu system in the Canon 600EX II-RT. Overall, these new Godox units are well built and very easy to navigate, adjust, and control.
In The Studio Vs. In The Field
After receiving the Godox flash units from B&H, I tested them in the studio and they performed very well. In fact, they were fantastic! When shooting regular portraits from a 10-20 foot distance, everything worked fine, but then I took them out into the field to shoot two separate weddings.
When testing new gear, I always bring backups. In this case, I had my Profoto gear along for the ride. Within the first few shots, I saw the flashes immediately misfiring. The setup was quite simple. A flash behind the couple, shooting from about 20 feet away. The couple was placed in a dark area within the frame. We aimed to rim light them to make them pop out from the scene.
Here’s the final image we were aiming to create.
Unfortunately, it took several misfires to get to the final image with the correct expression and lighting. You can see what it looks like when the flash doesn’t properly trigger below.
There were no unusual circumstances that might have negatively impacted the flash unit’s performance, yet I experienced approximately 50% misfires. However, this wasn’t a big deal. I was working in close proximity to the couple, and a few extra shots didn’t matter too much because we were about to have a break in our day. I could have used that time to test and switch back to my Profoto gear if needed.
During the break, I wanted to test the units a bit further before trying to push their capabilities during the various wedding events and portraits that were about to take place. I had my assistant mount two AD200s with different colored gels so that I could see if one unit was firing more than another. I was using the Canon 5D Mark IV with the Godox XProC Remote on camera. Looking at the animated GIF below, you can see how the flashes begin misfiring as I step back, then begin firing again as I move forward. None of the images were altered or removed from this sequence.
As we stepped back to about 50 feet, we could see the flash on the right begin to misfire. “Not a big deal, probably just interference,” I thought. Albert and I selected an obscure set of channels and tested the same setup again. This time, I wanted to increase the distance and also move over water (which is known to interfere with radio signals). After moving away and diagonally to the other side of the fountain, here’s the result:
You can see from the GIF above, once we are across the water and about 100 feet away, the flashes stop firing almost completely.
You might be asking why we would we test this near water. Everyone knows that water interferes with radio signals. The reason is simple. We are constantly shooting near water. On top of that, our bodies are mostly water. Being separated by 100 bodies on a dance floor creates a significant challenge for a radio system to compete against. These are situations that we are constantly facing at virtually every wedding we shoot.
No matter, maybe it was just these particular AD200s that were causing issues. Albert and I went back to the case and pulled out the Godox V860IIC TTL Li-Ion flashes as well as the AA variant to mount onto our stands and test again. This time, we used both the remote and another flash to test the wireless transmission. The results were the same as you can see below.
As we stepped further back, the misfires increased.
I was terrified by the results. I immediately went back to my Profoto A1 system for the remainder of the wedding to avoid risking any potential misfires. Later in the evening, I asked the couple and their entire family to come to stand in front of the fountain to watch the fireworks. I couldn’t imagine the stress I would feel trying to capture the image below while stressing about potential misfires. To me, those days died with the end of Pocket Wizards and their horribly finicky cables. There’s just no chance I’m going back to that time where I am constantly in fear of missing a shot like the one below due to my flashes not firing.
What Did It All Mean?
I approached my second shooter, Brandon, who loves his Godox flash systems, and I asked about the consistency he’s experienced with the system. Brandon explained that while he does experience misfires, it seems to be nothing like what he was seeing in my flashes. I thought it was odd as well, considering I had never really heard anyone online talking about these flashes misfiring. To me, one in every ten misfires is worth talking about. Five in ten misfires can make your job impossible.
As I mentioned earlier, these units were delivered brand new from B&H. Maybe this particular venue was to blame. Maybe it was just that wedding. I don’t know. So, I took it out one more time. We were in San Jose preparing our lights to shoot an indoor ceremony. I decided to give the flashes another shot. Unfortunately, I got the same exact results. I tested different channels, units on camera, off-camera, I simply couldn’t get the flashes to fire consistently. Once again, I switched immediately back to my Profoto A1s.
The True Cost Of Gear
For a lot of photographers, this may not be a big deal. Most portrait photographers work in close quarters when lighting. They are in that sweet spot between 20-30 feet. Most photographers are working in-studio or on-location where they’ve plenty of time to troubleshoot gear or swap a flash if needed. For these photographers and situations, you may never even notice your gear misfiring. When there is an issue, swapping a flash or taking a minute to troubleshoot isn’t a big deal.
For me and the Master/Associate Photographers at Lin and Jirsa Photography, even one out of ten misfires is significant and worth noting. The reason is how it creates opportunities for missed moments and inefficiency in our post-production workflow.
Let me give you an example. Getting the perfect expression and movement in a dress during a dance floor twist is difficult in and of itself. When a flash is misfiring, there’s a high likelihood that the right shot isn’t lit up.
Take a look at the image below.
Capturing this image with the perfect expression and pull on the dress took nearly 30 shots as you can see below.
How frustrating and time-consuming would it be to see that image, only to realize that it wasn’t properly lit due to a flash misfire. When this entire sequence was captured in less than a minute during a high-pressure window of five minutes inside the ballroom, even occasional misfires are a big deal. The images above were lit consistently without a single misfire coming from my Profoto A1s to camera left.
Similarly, when my couple session time has been trimmed from 60 minutes down to 10, every minute counts. The image below was the last shot from a 10-minute couple session before the grand entrance. It was set up and captured during the last minute while the planner was saying, “Okay, Pye, time to head back.”
In these moments, every minute wasted fiddling with gear is 1-5 additional photos that could have been delivered.
On top of that, what about the culling and post-production nightmare it creates from having to cull additional images. How about the time it takes to fix and composite images when the flash didn’t fire at the right moment?
These are all the points that we summarized in our previous article on 10 Ways to Light and Shoot the Same Scene.
In that shoot, we had a once-in-a-lifetime moment to capture an image that I’d never seen before at a location I’ve photographed many times. From 500+ feet away, my Profoto B2 was firing consistently with each and every shot.
Can you imagine the feeling you’d have walking away missing a moment due to your gear? Can you imagine what your clients might say?
This is the cost of misfires and unreliable gear.
I’m not satisfied with my current conclusion, so I’m going to ask for your help. I’m going to request a new kit to test one more time. This time, if I can get the radio system to work consistently, I will proceed to do detailed testing on light output, recycle time, light quality/shape, etc.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your honest and open experiences with Godox and similar flash systems below. If it was a good experience, share it. If it was negative, please share it as well. I’d love to start an honest conversation void of “fanboy/girl” bias.
For me, I love what Godox is offering on paper. But I can’t wholeheartedly stand behind it with a glaring issue in the radio system reliability. Even if I did receive bad units, what does that say about their quality control? How is it possible to receive multiple faulty units in an order of six units consisting of three different models. I still have not had the experience I would need to comfortably recommend these flashes as a solution for working professionals. However, I will update these thoughts once I’ve tested another set.
No lighting system is perfect. Each will have their strengths and drawbacks. Profoto lighting systems have been the most consistent and reliable over time, bar none. For this reason, I used them even before our studio joined the “Legends of Light” ambassador program. However, their primary drawback is that the gear comes at a significant price. For those that are more established in their careers, that price might be an easy pill to swallow to enjoy the reliability and simplicity Profoto gear provides. For others, the price is just too far out of reach and a stepping stone is necessary.
Regardless, lighting equipment, like our cameras, are all simply a tool. Pick the best tools you can afford. Some tools will make your life easier as a photographer. However, none of them will create better imagery in and of themselves. That part is up to you, as is the rest of this article and discussion.
Please, post your experiences and thoughts below, and please, please, please, keep it civil.