The marketplace for battery-powered, high-intensity photography flashes is becoming increasingly competitive. Mcoplus has joined the fray as a newcomer with its MT-300 Flash Cube, also known as the Shanny VN300.
The MT-300 Flash Cube has got a lot to prove, going up against the well-established Godox Witstro series (and its myriad rebrands) and the more recent SMDV BRiHT-360, as well as competing with more conventional speedlights and battery-powered monolights. Mcoplus bills the MT-300 as an “all-in-one outdoor flash”.
It lies somewhere between a conventional flashgun (the kind that fits on your camera) and a professional studio lamp. It’s a powerful unit, with an energy rating of 300J, or five times more than a typical shoe-mount flash, but it is—unusually—powered by six AA batteries and is relatively small and light, so you can take it anywhere.
What’s in the box
On paper, the MT-300/VN-300 has a feature list that makes it look like an ultra-portable, budget version of something like a Godox AD600 or a Profoto B1. Radio control, TTL and high-speed sync (for Canon and Nikon) are built-in and you have the choice of AC or DC power. Other standard features include manual power control, an LED modelling lamp, optical slave and strobscopic mode.
Mcoplus kindly sent us a couple of sample kits, each of which came in a rather nice padded case with the following.
- Mcoplus MT-300 (Shanny VN-300) head, with protective cap
- Standard reflector
- Umbrella/stand bracket
- AC adapter and cable
- Radio trigger for Canon (SN-E3-RF)
- Radio trigger for Nikon (SN910TX)
The external power socket on the MT-300 is the same type as used by Canon CP-E4 Speedlite battery packs. Mcoplus themselves suggest using the MT-300 with a Godox Propac PB960. I happen to have one of these, and with a Cx cable got it working like a charm. As with speedlight battery packs, the external power source speeds up recycling times, lengthens battery capacity and helps reduce heat build-up, but you still need AAs in the flash for it to work.
With the included umbrella bracket you can use the flash with umbrellas and brolly boxes. The accessory mount is non-standard so currently only works with the included reflector (which is not an umbrella reflector as it is too big and blocks the shaft).
Running on just AAs, the MT-300 can take a good 3–5 seconds or more to recharge from a full-power flash. It will also run them down pretty quickly. The flash, rated 300Ws, is bright enough to illuminate a softbox and give you a range of apertures to work with, but unless you are very patient it is clear you are expected to use it with an external power source: either the mains, using the included adapter, or a high-voltage battery pack like the PB960. Using either, recycling takes less than a second at full power, and instantaneous at lower settings.
Can you ‘beat the sun’ with this thing? Well, no, not really, but you wouldn’t really expect to do so with only 300Ws. That said, it gives you a decent amount of light for filling in shadows, and allows you to use umbrellas or other accessories to fill in shadows or to light a subject in the shade. In the studio, the small size and light weight of the head might be suitable for use on a boom arm or on a tall light stand.
I didn’t really have any problems with misfires and TTL exposures were as accurate as you might expect (for better or for worse). The radio triggers worked well over the short ranges I used them, but try as I might there was no way of tricking them into working with Micro Four Thirds cameras: you’ll need a Canon or Nikon hotshoe, so if you want to use the MT-300 in manual mode with another system you need to bring your own triggers.
On a Canon EOS DSLR I had no trouble with high-speed sync up to 1/4000 second, though by 1/8000 second it looked like we were missing a good portion of the flash output. This is on par with other systems I have used. Manual power mode also worked quite well: useful for eking out the maximum number of photons at full power.
What I like
On the back of the MT-300 is a large screen with a clear display, which is more or less replicated on the SN910TX controller. There isn’t a Canon version of this remote, but you can use the more basic E-TTL trigger on your camera hotshoe and adjust settings with the Nikon controller in your hand. While not immediately intuitive, the user interface is not the worst I have used. I did make a habit of accidentally changing wireless channels when reaching for the test button, though.
The flash itself is small, light and looks fairly smart, especially with its padded case. Compatibility with ubiquitous AA and relatively-common PB960 batteries means less of a foray into an unknown system.
In theory, the idea of the MT-300 has a lot of merit.
What I don’t like
There is theory and then there is practice.
While relying on AAs might seem like a good solution—robust to the disappearance of any proprietary battery suppliers—I don’t really like the way Mcoplus/Shanny have implemented this in the MT-300. I make it no secret that I am not a big fan of AA batteries, though they have their place. For a professional photographer shooting on location, I imagine AAs would be a nice fallback to have, should mains and other battery packs unexpectedly fail.
However, with the Flash Cube you don’t really get a choice in the matter. You always need six AAs charged to use this flash, even if the only purpose they serve is to power the screen. This is in addition to charging your external battery pack or finding a source of mains power. If AA power was just an option, rather than mandatory, it would be a nice feature rather than an annoying hindrance.
Whereas the Profoto, Godox and others launched their battery flashes with a full range of accessories (or compatibility with existing ones), Mcoplus haven’t quite provided the access to a wider ecosystem. The accessory mount around the flash tube is proprietary: smaller than Bowens S-mount and larger than the ‘bare-bulb’ mount used by Quantum, Godox or Sunpak. This wouldn’t be such a problem, except no accessories are yet available for it (other than the reflector that comes in the box) and there are no adapters to other standards. I tried putting the Mcoplus MT-300 in a Godox S-type bracket but the head is too big to fit.
Not the end of the world, surely? Until an S-type adapter and some accessories arrive (Mcoplus/Shanny tell me these are in development) we can use umbrellas and other umbrella-style light-shaping tools. I did have some success with this: using standard lighting umbrellas and a square brolly-box. But even this doesn’t work perfectly.
Firstly, the umbrella bracket does not pivot independently of the mounting screw, and isn’t calibrated, so tightly fastened will point an umbrella off to one side rather than aligning with the front of the flash head. You have to choose between an insecure mount or a poorly orientated light modifier, or else risk forcing it.
That problem might easily be resolved with a replacement bracket. What’s less forgivable is the second umbrella woe: a fundamental, ridiculous design flaw in the MT-300 itself. The external power socket (which as mentioned above, you should be using at all times) is positioned in the centre, directly behind the umbrella mount. This means your power cable blocks the umbrella shaft!
I can just about hold my brolly box in the centimetre or two of remaining space, but what a silly problem to have. Did nobody in the design team even try to use the prototype before approving production?
The Mcoplus MT-300 / Shanny VN300 is a collection of nice ideas for a portable, budget-friendly flash unit, which have been rushed out the door with perhaps not enough thought given to the design or a wider ecosystem.
The manufacturer would do well to follow the example of the Godox Wistro series, which has a better thought-out design and was offered with a range of accessories and adapters on launch.
This is still a very usable product, but for it to be worth your money depends on what accessories are available for it in the coming months. Wait for the Bowens S-fit adapter!
The Mcoplus MT-300 is available now.
Thanks to Mcoplus for providing samples for this review.