I’m not going to spend too much time on describing things like functions and build quality. Instead I want to give an overview of my impressions and stress one point in particular.
The manual version V850 and V850II do all the standard manual speedlite things. The Canon, Nikon and Sony dedicated V860 units do Canon, Nikon and Sony specific fancy stuff that I don’t care about. You might though, so head here to Flash Havoc to get the lowdown.
These units seem to be built with about the same degree of robustness as other brands I’m familiar with or have handled. They feel maybe not quite as solid or tough as the similar products from Lumopro, but that may just be the impression that the more militaristic / ballistic / full of little angels Lumopro design elements give. Admittedly I tend to be quite careful with my gear, but I have had no trouble nor any concerns with these flash units in terms of their durability.
It is sometimes held that cheaper and / or smaller lighting units, such as speedlite / hotshot flashes in general, are not quite as colour consistent or output consistent on a per unit basis as more sophisticated and more expensive lighting solutions.* Sometimes, it is claimed, they can vary quite a lot during a session or even from one firing to the next. I lack both the equipment and the inclination to test such things, but Flash Havoc and others have noted that the V850 / V860 series speedlites are comparable to similar products from other top end manufacturers. The same also seems to hold true for other parameters, such as evenness of spread and falloff, etc. The original Flash Havoc review deals with these points quite thoroughly and reports very favourably here.
All of the above is just a long winded way of saying I’m totally happy with performance, have had no issues with performance in any way at all and I’m not aware of any major current issues either. Some reviews and commentators note that as Godox rolls things out quite quickly in an ever evolving kind of manner, there are occasionally a few glitches with early production units for new lines of products, etc. They also note these problems are usually resolved fairly quickly. There have been hardware issues in the past, for example, with batteries, but as far as I know, everything is fine as of right now. Mac users do have to jump through a few hoops for software updates however.
Currently, Godox version II models, including the V850II / V860II, have built in 2.4 GHz radio receivers. For older V850 / V860 series speedlites, you can add the plug-in XTR16s 2.4 GHz receiver** and use a corresponding transmitter – XT16 / XT32 / X1T.*** I have the plain Jane manual XT16 to fire my XTR16s equipped V850 flashes. Um, works fine.
It’s essentially intuitive. You just make sure the little channel slider switches on each XTR16(s) and the XT16 transmitter are all set to the same pattern and are thus all on the same frequency (doesn’t really matter which channel you use, but if you are at an event with other photographers or picking up interference for some other reason, then you can move to a different channel). Then, each flash’s XTR16(s) gets set to a letter or number on its dial. If two or more flashes are set to the same letter/number they from a group and will be adjusted together. As the name implies, you can have up to 16 groups. Then on the XT16 transmitter, you select the number on its dial that corresponds with the flash or group you want to control, and use the + / – arrow buttons to change the power settings in ⅓ steps for that flash or group of flashes. Looks confusing, but really it is easy. For the version II speedlites and the XT32 / X1T LCD screen equipped transmitters, you essentially do the same (& a lot more for the TTL versions) on screen.
So, that brings me to the important bit, or at least, the bit I feel is important: the battery.
Currently and as far as I’m aware, the latest and the legacy models of the V850 / V860 range are the only speedlites / hotshot flashes to use propriety single unit rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries. As Flash Havoc notes, the VB18 battery provides “a massive 650 full power pops!” The full power recycle time is impressive too, at 1.5 seconds.
Most speedlites / hotshot flashes are powered by 4 AA sized batteries. The single 2000mAh, 11.1V battery gives the equivalent of 12 AA batteries. Again as Flash Havoc notes, not only is this like having an external power pack actually built in to the flash, it is also a huge cost saving, as you get a charger and the equivalent of 12 AA rechargeable batteries included in the already low cost.
How long does the battery power the flash for in the real world? Bloody forever, that’s how long. The last portrait session I did at my home studio, I was running a butterflied soft box setup with one powered by a V850 and the other by a Lumopro LP180. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact details now, but both flashes were set the same, at around ½ power. By the time I went through two sets of good quality and freshly charged Eneloop batteries in the Lumopro (i.e. 8 batteries worth), the battery level indicator was still showing two out of three bars on the V850!
The batteries also seem to hold their charge really well. At one stage I pulled a V850 that I hadn’t used for around a month out from the bottom of my bag and it was still showing a full change and preformed just as long as a recently charged one.
When I got my first V850 I was just testing the waters, so didn’t get a spare battery at the time. Glad I didn’t, as I’ve never ever run out of juice, and for my typical needs, I doubt I ever will. Maybe for others who cover long time periods, like wedding or event photographers, spare sets might be advisable. My typical portrait sessions run from around two to four hours, and the only time I’ve ended up working in the last bar of the indicator is when I’ve done two sessions with no recharge in between.
So, there we have it. Compatible output (as in, can be paired at same settings with other high quality brands). Comparable general performance and reliability with other similar class but much more expensive products. Outstanding, basically entry level price. Truly phenomenal battery performance. Built in radio control functionality. Expanding integration with other Godox products. Works.
Hope this was of some help.
* different people claim different things and the two common but contrasting views I’ve come across are a) that colour output is often or usually inconsistent in both cheap lighting solutions and speedlites / hotshot flashes in general, and b) that with lower power units like speedlites / hotshot flashes, this isn’t usually a problem. Me, I don’t actually know.
** for the earlier versions of the Wistro bare bulb flash units that lack the built in receiver, you use the plug-in XTR16 receiver (i.e. the model with no “s” in its name)
*** all the different options and possibilities are a bit of a mine field, and I’m trying to be brief here. The XT16 provides only manual power control, the XT32 provides only manual power control and additionally HSS for Canon / Nikon / Sony V860 units. For TTL with the V860 units you need the appropriate X1T versions and, if using a first generation V860, an X1R – i.e. receiver unit.