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Laowa KX800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash review

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Laowa / Venus Optics KX800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash Kit

Flexible twin macro flash review



Keith looks at a relatively inexpensive twin flash unit for macro and product photography.

The KX800 unit is unusual in twin flashes in that the flash heads are mounted on stiff flexible supports. A powerful LED focus assist lamp is provided via a central flexible ‘stalk’.

Our unit was kindly lent to us by UK Digital – details on the Laowalens.co.uk site

kx800 flash

Macro flash

I’ve used the (rather more expensive) Canon dedicated MT-24EX twin macro flash for some time, which has a dedicated attachment disk that fits on to the front of lenses such as my TS-E90mm and MP-E 65mm.

It works well, but to get the flash heads away from the lens I use clamps with flexible flash attachments on them. Great if I’m setting up a studio shot for focus stacking, but much less practical for general use, such as photographing small parts of machinery in situ.

What do you get

The flash attaches via a normal hot shoe connector and is entirely manual in its setup

detail of a lavender flowerSpecifications

Venus Optics KX800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash Kit

  • Circuit Design – Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor(IGBT)
  • Guide No. – 58 (in meter), 190 (in feet)
  • Horizontal Rotation Angle – 0~270 degrees
  • Power Supply – 4x AA size batteries
  • Battery life – 100~1500 times(Alkaline cell used)
  • Recycling time – appr. 2~5s(Alkaline cell u
  • Colour Temperature – 5600k
  • Flash time – 1/200s ~1/20000s
  • Flash Control – 8 levels of output adjustment per flash unit
    (1/128~1/1)
  • External connection – Hot shoe, PC port
  • Compatible with – Canon, Nikon, Sony A, Pentax (Selected Sony E mount cameras require an adapter)

Using the KX800

The KX800 is shown here on my Canon 100D

kx800 on canon 100D

Note the red plastic plate – there is nothing behind this, it isn’t a light or sensor. The name on the case is KuangRen – I don’t know what the significance of this is.

The LCD on the back shows relative flash power and the intensity of the focus light.

In this case both left and right flashes will fire at minimum power – the assist lamp is off.

The assist lamp is quite powerful. Here at less than 1/3rd power, lighting the mode dial of the camera.

Note how the flash is now split, with the left light at 4 stops brighter than the right. You can also set a flash to be off.

The supports for the flash heads are quite flexible, but be careful not to rotate them too far from their initial positions. Such use might not cause immediate failure, but twisting the wires inside too much won’t do the unit much good.

There are side connections for flash control and external power.

Diffusers

flash diffuser softboxesThe Laowa web site shows small ‘softbox’ diffusers as an optional accessory for the KX800, but we were unable to test them at this time.

During Karen’s testing of the flash for her jewellery work she found that a small piece of cloth attached to the flash head with an elastic band added just that extra bit of diffusion to soften shadows.

UPDATE – after testing, we purchased a KX800 for Karen’s work, and were able to get the softbox units.

They are light and work very well, giving a much softer light. They attach to the flash heads with Velcro and a thick rubber band. They pack flat when not in use. The assembly needs a few moments thought as to getting best fit, but they are a useful accessory.

Here are the diffusers fitted to the flash.

flash diffuser softboxes fitted to kx800

Shooting products

Karen also uses the Northlight kit for her UK jewellery business and took the chance to try the KX800 instead of her usual setup, using the Canon MT-24EX.

For some simple test shots, she needed a collection of beads for some background images.

The setup, in her office, uses a simple sheet of white plastic clamped to the front of a desk.

The two flash heads are set to different power levels. The focus lamp is being used to add extra ‘sparkle’. The amount depends on its placement and exposure, hence the darkened surroundings (darker than it shows in the photos).

This section of a bridal tiara [aka Alice Band] shows reflections of the lights in the pearls – both heads are covered with diffusing cloth, just enough to smooth the reflected highlights.

Note the darker shadow to the left of the tiarra – this shows that the left flash head was set to a slightly lower power.

Once she has taken some shots with the diffusers fitted, I’ll add an another example shot.

Outdoors

I know a lot of people like using macro for insects and flowers and will want to see how the flash works in that area.

Much like my professional macro work (small engineering samples and components) I know this takes a lot of practice to get right, so I’m not going to try and produce stunning bug photos…

For a lens I’m using my TS-E90mm lens with a 26mm extension tube. This gives a useful magnification on the 100D and keeps the subject at 4-6 inches from the front of the lens.

Here’s the camera, sitting on top of the Canon PRO-2000 printer I’m currently testing.

kx800 flash on 100D with ts-e90

When working outdoors you need to decide how much part natural lighting is going to play in your photo.

With a small aperture, the lights are easily powerful enough to render the background dark, in bright sunlight.

The problem is likely to come from the flash sync shutter speed limit of your camera.

With the 100D I can set it at 1/160 and still get even illumination from the flash. So for a setting of 100ISO I’m needing f/11 or f/16 for the daylight not to over expose the image.

Now, since I’m using an extension tube, the effective aperture is smaller than indicated anyway, which helps if I want a darker background.

The upshot of this is that if you want to shoot flash outdoors on many cameras, with just the light of the flash (for dark background or motion freezing), you may need an ND (neutral density) filter. This allows you to use wider apertures, which will also reduce the softening effects of diffraction. The KX800 is powerful enough to handle several stops of ND filter in this case.

If you’re not familiar with some of the uses of ND filters, see my review of a variable ND filter from MPB.

A simple example shows a flower head on a lavender plant, in bright sunlight.

One shot is at f/11 and the other at f/9. The flash is set at a higher power for the f/11 shot. Both are at 1/160.

lavender flower head lit mainly by flash

At f/9, the shadows from the sunlight are more obvious, and the background is brighter and slightly softer.

lavender flower head lit with flash and daylight

It’s up to you to decide how best to match flash and available light, but the point is that the KX800 has the flexibility and power to cover what you need.

Conclusions

Buying the Flash

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying a lens, or any other items at all, via our links with Amazon or others.

Buy your KX800 at B&H | Amazon US

The KX800 looks a little ungainly at first, but is actually rather robustly put together. The stalks supporting the flash heads are stiff enough to stay put once moved. At nearly half a metre long they give a good range of creative lighting options, including back lighting for close-up items.

Do be careful though not to rotate the heads too far (beyond 180 degrees I’d say) from their original positions. The wires connecting the heads to the body will fail if overly stressed. This doesn’t seem a problem in normal use, but very much a bit of kit to be kept away from (small) prying hands.

At less than full power, the flash recycled fast enough to hardly notice a delay. Indeed the power of the unit was such that I very rarely had it set at full power.

The focus lamp is surprisingly bright and can be used to give extra light at low flash power levels (the extra blue/white sparkle made a difference to some of Karen’s jewellery shots.

A distinctly useful bit of kit and priced low enough to encourage experimentation in macro work.

Our test unit was supplied by UK Digital – details on the Laowalens.co.uk site

Summary

A dual head flash with independently adjustable heads on stiff but flexible stalks. Variable flash power and an independent adjustable LED focus assist lamp.

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