Macro photographers tend to struggle with two crucial variables when lighting their subjects. First, high-magnification macro photography usually involves apertures between f/16 and f/32. To use an aperture this small, you need a high-powered flash — especially if you want to use a diffuser. The second major issue is that many macro photographers work with just one on-camera flash, meaning that the lighting can appear flat and dull, even when diffused. So, when Venus Optics announced their alien-looking KX800 dual flash, I was excited to see that they had put considerable effort into solving these two major problems.
The KX800 claims to be the brightest dual flash on the market, period. With a guide number of 190 feet (58 meters) at ISO 100, it handily lives up to this claim. The brightness of the KX800 certainly helps with macro photography, making it easier to diffuse the flash and still keep your ISO down to reasonable levels.
The main claim to fame of the KX800 is not its brightness, though — the KX800’s best feature is its ability to position the flash heads so flexibly. The KX800 features two flashes (on the left and right sides) and one LED light (in the middle). Each of these lights is on its own flexible arm, making it possible to position them however you want. As far as I have seen, no other product on the market affords users this much flexibility for lighting a macro photo. Plus, when you consider that the KX800 costs just $279, far less than any other dual macro flashes, it seems like Venus Optics has created a winner.
Table of Contents
- Guide Number: 190 feet (58 meters) at ISO 100
- Flash Time: 1/20000 to 1/200 second
- Output Settings: Eight power levels (1/1 to 1/128)
- Recycling time: 2-5 seconds
- Shots per charge: 100 to 1500, depending upon the power setting
- Flash color temperature: 5600 K
- Battery type: Four AA batteries
- Exposure modes: Manual only; each flash can be controlled independently
The KX800 has three arms: two flashes, and one LED light in the middle. These three flexible arms give you a lot of leeway with your lighting setups, which very few macro flashes can do.
Parts of the design feel a bit flimsy, but this isn’t much different from Nikon’s own (and far more expensive) R1C1 kit. The flash arms themselves feel acceptably made, but the larger mechanism that attaches to the camera feels like it is constructed more cheaply. For example, the red light to show the power setting will bleed over to the other squares, as shown below.
To attach the flash to the camera hot shoe, you spin a plastic screw on the KX800 until the flash is locked in place. However, this mechanism is not perfect. When the screw is tightened a normal amount, the flash can still be removed from the camera without too much force. However, if you tighten the screw too much, it becomes unreasonably difficult to unscrew again. I wish that the KX800 used a locking switch (like most Nikon flashes), although I’d imagine that such a mechanism would be more expensive.
The last issue is that, on occasion, my KX800 would choose not to fire, even with a full battery. I soon realized that this was because the flash had slipped slightly out of the camera’s hot shoe — something that I couldn’t fix by tightening the plastic screw, since I was worried that I then wouldn’t be able to unscrew it! This problem didn’t happen much, but I had to be aware of the issue whenever I repositioned the flash arms.
On the positive side, the flash arms themselves are constructed quite well, and (importantly) they stay locked in place without drooping. If the flashes slipped from the position I wanted, the entire system would be all but useless for me. Luckily, the KX800’s flash arms are extremely nice — easy to adjust, yet also quite strong.
Ultimately, any design-related issues with the KX800 are not fatal. The build quality is actually quite acceptable, especially considering that the KX800 is such a revolutionary product. It may look a bit alien, and its construction certainly could be improved, but I believe that it is still the most practical macro lighting solution available today.
The KX800 is easy to operate, and quite intuitive. To turn on and then change the brightness of each flash, just press the – or + buttons on the side you want to change. To turn off the left or right flashes, press the left or right buttons on the control pad. To turn on and change the brightness of the LED light, press the up and down buttons on the control pad. Finally, the “pilot” button will fire a test shot at low power. I still don’t know what the center button does, although the flash beeps if you hold it down long enough.
I have been extremely happy to see that, even at just 1/32 power (my go-to without a diffuser), the KX800 is bright enough that I can shoot a 1:1 macro photo at ISO 100 and f/16 without underexposure.
Note that the KX800 is a manual-only flash. I was initially a bit worried about the lack of a TTL (automatic) mode, but honestly it has never been an issue in practice. I have yet to see a flash setting that exposes one subject well, yet vastly over/underexposes another. Although a TTL mode would be nice, I am perfectly content without one on the KX800.
In using the KX800, my goal has been to find the most natural-looking ways to position the flash that I can. Although I am sure that better setups exist, I have come up with one in particular that works quite well for me. I set up the flashes (at equal power) as follows: I will put one flash low, in front of, and to the right of my subject. The other flash is the opposite — above, behind, and to the left of the subject. I make sure to line up the flashes so that their light intersects diagonally with the subject. This setup gives a wonderfully three-dimensional feel to the subject, which looks both natural and dramatic.
If you want to diffuse your macro flash, you will find the extreme brightness of the KX800 to be very useful. By pointing both (diffused) flashes at your subject from above and in front, you can light your image to look quite natural. Note that you’ll need to design your diffusers so that their weight doesn’t drag down the arms of the KX800.
The KX800 is great for experimenting, and some situations may call for completely different lighting setups. Try, for example, using one flash at a lower power than the other, or pointing the flashes in a way that causes dramatic shadows. You can even experiment with different colors by buying gels to put in front of the flashes.
Note that, because the KX800 can be positioned so flexibly, you may need to pay close attention to objects that are in the path of the flashes. This is especially true given that the flashes won’t increase their brightness automatically if something is in the way, since the KX800 has no TTL mode.
If it is dark when you are photographing macro subjects, focusing (already tough for macro photography) becomes even more of an issue. Although I do not use it much, the LED light on the KX800 is invaluable when I am photographing bugs around sunrise or sunset. I set the LED at a low brightness (to save battery power), then position it directly above the spot where I have set my focus. Even at a moderate brightness level, this LED light is overpowered by the brightness of the flashes themselves, so it has little bearing on the quality of light in the final image.
Finally, the recycle times of the KX800 are wonderful. At the same brightness as my SB-600, the KX-800 recycles about twice as fast. Plus, I get a few hundred shots on the KX800 before it dies, which is impressive considering its output. I’m not sure how Venus Optics managed to make the KX800 so powerful, but I am thoroughly impressed.
The KX800 certainly lives up to its reputation as a game-changing flash. No, it is not constructed perfectly, but that is forgivable because it shines in every other way. The KX800 is the brightest, most flexible, and least expensive dual flash on the macro photography market. More than any other flash I have ever used (which includes the SB-600, a ring flash, and the R1C1), the KX800 makes it easy to take macro photos that are well-lit and natural in appearance.
To purchase the KX800 for $279, please visit Venus Optics. (Note that, at the moment, shipping KX800 flashes will be labeled as KR800 instead — this is normal, and your product will still have the stronger arms of the KX800.)
- Build Quality
- Ease of Use
- Speed and Performance
Photography Life Overall Rating
Hi Spencer. Looking at the dates on this thread I seem to have come late to the micro flash party. I’m hopefully about to plann a trip to Florida later this year with the Bugshot team and looking at their website the KX800 seems to be quite common. I was wondering if there are any updated versions/models of the one you reviewed in this article that I should consider. Thanks
hi spencer just starting to get into macro and have been following your extremley
good tutorials, and am trying to perfect the flash side so have bought the kuangren kx 800 twin macro works very well in normal mode but when in live mode flash does not fire is this normal or have a got a faulty flash
If you’re in live view using silent shutter flash won’t work.
Will this flash work on a Fujifilm X-T2? Thid would work great with the new 80mm macro!
Yes, to my knowledge it will work just as well as normal with the X-T2!
Hi Spencer, I am a bit confused with the model from this manufacturer. I reviewed from Aliexpress and found that model but the model from that website showed K-808, Brand name is KaKas while flash model from Laowa website is KX-800, Brand name is KuangRen. The seller confirmed that they were the same model and same manufacturer. It means we might find copied product in the market, please recheck from Laowa and kindly clarify.
Venus Optics has been busy designing an interesting line of manual lenses. For example, this 15mm f/4 Wide Angle 1:1 Macro Lens:
They also have a 105mm f/2 that seems to rival Nikon’s legendary 105mm f/2 DC. They are soon coming out with a 12mm f/2.8 lens as well. It would be great to see someone at Photography Life review those lenses.
Good point. Those would be very interesting to review — I’ll keep them in mind for future articles.
Hi. I just got my KR-800 from Aliexpress, it was on sale (november 11th) for 103 EUR! Just started playing with it, the arms seem flimsy, but hold the position. The red cover in front is fake (probably factory re-used some other flash housing), there are no sensors behind it. I solved the center button mistery by translating the several lines of chinese manual – single press enables/disables sound, when the flash is charged. Still don;t know what holding the button does, it just turns on the blue LED.
There are two connectors behind the rubber cover on the side, does anybody know what they are for?
Great review Spencer. I did want to ask if the arms are long enough to pull off some backlighting in your macro photos? I am going to Costa Rica in a month and thought of getting this for the macro work. I did want to try to create some dramatic backlit photos that usually require an off camera flash being placed behind, so I wanted to ask if this can be done with this the the Venus macro flash?
All the best, Dvir
The answer is yes, it can be done, but it depends upon your macro lens. The shorter the focal length of your macro lens, the easier it is (with 60mm being ideal for this purpose). At 105mm, it still is possible, but you must be focused about as closely as the lens allows. With a 150mm, 180mm, or 200mm macro lens, your subject simply is too far away for the arms to backlight.
Thank you for the reply!
I actually just got one and one of the arms was broken right out of the box, so I am getting a replacement I think. From what you say, I use the 100/2.8 L from canon, I am wondering if I won’t be better served by an off camera flash, though then you would still want something to fill in some light from the front. I do not think any other aspect of photography has given me as much fits as choosing a macro flash.
It can be hard to choose a macro flash! I’m sorry to hear that one of the arms was broken on your KX-800. What subjects are you shooting? An off-camera flash is definitely the best, but it’s impossible to use with insects or other moving subjects (unless you get a friend to hold the flash for you). If you shoot from a tripod, though, and your subject is still, I definitely recommend something off-camera.
Has anyone used this with focus stacking? I just got one and when trying it with stacking it seems that the exposure fluctuates light/dark in every other photo. Anyone else having this issue? Not sure if there’s something I’m missing. Also, the LED light dims at times, which I know it isn’t a fatal feature, just that it can be kind of annoying.
I haven’t used it specifically with focus stacking, but I have noticed some photo-to-photo variation in flash output. I think it is because the flash still allows you to fire when it hasn’t fully recharged, and I don’t believe that anything is wrong with your KX-800.
I haven’t noticed an LED issue, though I do not use the light all that often.
I have the same flash unit and also have the same issues with it moving and losing its contact, I have also had it fall off on a number of occassions. But in saying this I am happy with the flash output and have managed some great shots with it and the 60mm from Venus.
Here is a recent one on my Flickr – www.flickr.com/photo…307724514/
That’s such a cool photo, Scott! Thanks for sharing.
The KX800 is mechanically mediocre, but I still use mine all the time. I’m willing to deal with connection problems, since it’s a good product in every other way!
The KX 800 flash might be value for money , but the service from Venus Optics sucks . Borders on the fraudulent with the experience that I have had recently with them .
I ordered and paid for the KX 800 flash and other items and asked them to deliver the parcel to an address where I was going to be for 4 weeks. They told me it would be delivered in 2 weeks . Three and a half weeks later I contacted them to find out when I was to receive the flash . They replied by saying their staff forgot to send it to me .!
I can only hope they return my money.
Thanks for sharing your experience — that sounds extremely frustrating. I haven’t dealt with them much, but I certainly hope that they will return your money.