AA batteries. Why are we still working with them? Personally I hate them, but yet we keep sticking with them because it is a standard.
You cannot say “speedlight” without mentioning AA batteries. For a photographer, the process of putting four batteries in the charger, then in the flash, screwing up because you messed up the polarity then reinserting them takes a lot of time (not to mention the frustration if you are in a hurry) and besides being a universal standard there are no advantages of them. NiMH is an outdated technology — something which camera manufacturers understand, with camera bodies having made the switch a long time ago. Yet flashes seem to still stick with it. I would say it is high time for a new standard!
Fortunately for us, there is one brand that shared my thinking, which is Godox. A few months ago Godox announced the Ving V850, a lithium ion-powered remote-adjustable manual flash. This is quite a mouthful, especially if you consider that all of this only costs you 119 dollars.
I would almost like to dub it the “revolution” for speedlights, but before assigning this mighty title it might be better experience it first-hand. Maybe there is a reason why all the other brands have kept away from this, for me, magical technology of lithium ion batteries. Godox directly honored our request for a review sample and during this review I will tell you how they managed to fulfil my high expectations. Not an easy task, so keep reading to find out!
First impressions and features
The first time you will see the Ving you won’t be directly amazed by what an amazing flash it is. It looks rather plain, similar to a lot of other speedlights on the market already. Only when you look at the battery hinge you can tell that there is something different with this flash: a slightly bigger battery door, which, when opened, reveals a rather big compartment where the lithium ion battery lives.
The three-cell (11.1 volt) battery is rated 2000 mAh, giving a capacity of 22.2 Wh. Compare this with a set of four Eneloops of 2300 mAh, which are together only 11 Wh. It’s not just the capacity that changed, but also the peak currents. Due to the lower internal resistance of lithium ion, they are able to handle much higher currents, resulting in a lower recycle time between flashes.
Enough about the battery; all that power has to go somewhere. The flash itself is very similar to other high-end manual flashes. The exterior looks quite similar, but not identical, to say the Yongnuo YN-565EX II, a design common to many other speedlights. As a result, many existing light modifiers that are designed for speedlights will fit flawlessly.
In the box of the Godox Ving V850 you can find all the usual accessories for speedlights, and some extras which are specific to the lithium ion battery. A soft pouch and flash stand are included in the kit, but also a battery and a charger. No Stofen-style diffuser comes in the kit, but I assume there are many cheap aftermarket alternatives available due to the standard size of the flash head.
The implementation of lithium ion technology made the HV port on the flash reluctant, but the rest of the features that are available on most manual flashes are on the V850 as well. There is a 2.5 mm sync port (why no 3.5mm though?), a flip-out diffuser, bounce card, high-speed sync and some others.
Most noticeable is the socket where you can plug in the FT-16s Godox triggering system for remote power adjustments. The receiver of the FT-16s is fed by the lithium ion battery of the flash, so no more need of changing receiver batteries. There is an auto focus assist on the flash, but it needs to be manually activated; not something to rely on but in an emergency it could help you out.
If somebody told me this flash was branded Nikon I would have believed them without hesitation. The build quality is very high; nothing on the flash feels or sounds cheap. With the Ving, Godox have maintained the high standard of build first introduced with the Witstro series. The metal-hinged and reinforced battery door maintains the high quality, and even though the door is relatively large due to the bigger battery, it feels sturdy. The build quality is very high, and although I have tried to look for them, I did not manage to find flaws in the design. The design used is a proven one and Godox simply stuck to it.
The charger that comes in the kit matches the style of the rest of the flash. It features multiple LEDs showing both the charging status and how much charging is left to be done. The only thing which is slightly annoying is that the charger has a very high pitch whining when the battery finished charging; not a severe problem but indicates that the charger uses lower quality capacitors. Besides this I was also surprised to find out that connecting your battery to the charger, but not connecting the charger to the outlet discharges your battery. Removing the battery is required otherwise you will end up with an empty battery.
The interface of the flash is done in a similar style to the Godox Witstro AD360, but the backlight of the flash is now only on for a limited time (10 seconds), unlike the Witstro which can’t be turned off. The liquid crystal display has a sufficient level of contrast to make it clear to read in sunny conditions and the backlight makes sure you are not left in the dark.
On the back of the flash several buttons and a wheel can be found, which are used to change the modes. A nice touch is the sliding power switch, which I prefer over the long-press power buttons found on some other products.
Similarly to the Witstro and a lot of other manual flashes there are two slave modes, a stroboscopic mode and the one that is the most interesting: the manual mode. The power in the manual mode can be adjusted from 1/1 to 1/128 rotating the wheel located on the back. All the other buttons have clear labels on them, and two options (custom settings and HSS) have to be accessed by holding buttons down.
In a way you should not be too bothered about the screen, if you have the FT-16s wireless trigger with remote power adjustment you will be adjusting the power with the remote and not looking at the flash itself. I can certainly recommend picking up a FT-16s with the V850 as the general shooting experience is much better.
The Godox Ving V850 might pack a mighty power source, but how does this translate into actual light coming out of the flash? When compared to other high-end flashguns in the market, such as the ones from Canon or Nikon, the Ving does not disappoint. The power between the SB-900 and the V850 is nearly identical, with the latter possibly having the edge.
While the light spread is pretty nice and even at 24 mm, zooming the flash to 105 mm does make it a little bit more uneven, similar to a lot of other flashes that are currently out there. In practice you should notice it that much, especially due to the fact that manual speedlights are often used off-camera and behind a diffusion cloth, removing the problem all together.
When comparing the specs from the V850 and, say, the Nikon SB-900, we see a much longer flash duration on the V850, almost 3 times as long. When using this flash with a maximum shutter speed of 1/250s, a flash synchronization time of a lot of cameras, should we really care about the 1/300 flash duration at full power? My tests show that both my SB-900 and the V850 lose approximately 1/3 of a stop of power by going from 1/160 to 1/250. As long you are not planning to shoot with leaf shutters you should have no problems. The advantage of the slightly longer flash duration is that HSS should be more efficient, resulting in more power during HSS, if the timings are right.
I have used the V850 in combination with Godox other popular flash the Witstro AD360, that I reviewed on LightingRumours previously. In a way, this flash is made to be used together with the Witstro. Use the Witstro for those big power hungry light modifiers and use the Ving for everything else, such as fill and rim lights. Pair this with a FT-16s trigger and you will wonder why you ever used anything else.
The thermal resistance of the V850 is noteworthy. After 20 full power flashes the flash goes into slow recycle mode, which means that the flash will take 15 seconds to recycle. This happens only if you fire the flash the instant it finishes recycling. At 1/2 +2/3 power it requires 30 flashes and by decreasing the power the likelihood of entering slow recycle mode decreases as well. I have used the Ving on multiple occasions at 1/1 power repeatedly, but it never happened to me that the flash entered the slow recycle mode. Little breaks to talk to your model or by looking at your LCD screen give the flash enough time to rest and never enter the slow recycle mode.
Godox does claim a battery life of 650 full power flashes and my predictions seem quite accurate. I have used the Ving during an entire shoot (250 images), usually on 1/1 or ½ power and the battery level indicator on the display was still showing 3/3 battery bars.
A short test with the Pixel King Pro trigger did show me that the HSS does work but I am very disappointed there is still no trigger similar to the FT-16 that does provide HSS. In the end I didn’t use HSS because usually I do not really need it and also because it can be quite a nuisance to use multiple trigger systems at the same time. I really do hope that Godox will come up with a solution rather soon.
Usually during the usage parts of my review I try to mention the strengths and weaknesses of the product which is being reviewed, but I can assure you that the strengths of the Godox greatly outweigh the weaknesses, because there are little to none of the latter. The only thing is that the FT-16s receiver is not built-in, but this can be easily stuck on it and forgotten due to the low profile.
While the lithium ion battery does provide some unique features to the V850, such as the speedy recycle time, without it Godox would have still made one heck of a flash. I cannot do anything but say that I am extremely impressed how well Godox managed to make the ultimate manual power flash. Yes, in my opinion this is the best manual speedlight that is currently available.
Some can question why one would switch to uncommon lithium ion batteries, because AA batteries are available everywhere. Well, do realize that it would take 12 AA batteries to match the performance of the V850, requiring extra bulky setup with an external battery pack. The price of an additional spare lithium ion battery is less than 12 AA batteries, so I really would not understand why one would prefer AA.
There are some little, little flaws in the flash, that could have been resolved to make the general shooting experience even better. For example, the self-draining battery charger is really annoying and should not have been made like this. I also think that the next version of the Ving should include an internal trigger but I can understand as well that this would increase the price of the device, making it less attractive for people who would not want to use a FT-16s. My last remark is regarding the memory of the flash. While the flash does remember the power and the zoom settings, it does not remember the audio settings when switched off and on. Every time it has to be manually switched on, I really question why that they left this out of the memory. All in all, no really big issues, the flash comes close to perfection.
Would I recommend you buying one? If you have read any other part of my review you know the answer to this. At this price point I cannot praise Godox enough for making such an amazing flash. Godox does not pay me for saying this, but my opinion is that Godox made the new standard for manual speedlights. Other manufacturers will follow with the trend of lithium ion technology in speedlights. If you already own a AD180 or AD360 the Ving is the perfect addition to your kit, in my opinion a must for this price. The Ving V850 is cheap and perfect, what do you want more? Buy it already! Or two!