Pixel X800c speedlight review

Found in: ReviewsSpeedlights
Jun 11 2015

Table of contents

Pixel, a Hong Kong manufacturer of photographic accessories, has recently released its new flagship flashgun – Pixel X800c. The new speedlight is packed with an array of features including ETTL, Manual, and Stroboscopic modes, HSS, second curtain sync, wireless master and slave options, and it even has built-in radio triggering capabilities. In this review, we take a deep dive into how well Pixel X800c performs, what makes it special, and whether or not it is a good buy if you are shopping for a speedlight.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: 4 units Pixel X800c Speedlite: 4 units, inline

Overall Quality and Design

We found that Pixel X800c is very well-built. It feels sturdy and looks like it was made for professional use. It fairs well against the top flashes from Canon and Nikon. The look of the Pixel X800c speedlight is clearly inspired by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite. It's not a bad thing because Pixel seems to be learning from the best. We've been using Pixel X800c for some time now, and it seems pretty impressive, but time will tell if it can withstand some heavy professional use and maybe even survive a few drops.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: front angle view, right Pixel X800c Speedlite: front angle view, left
Pixel X800c Speedlite: front view Pixel X800c Speedlite: back angle view

Pixel X800c is dust- and water-resistant. It has rubber covers and seals on the flash head, external ports, and hot-shoe mount. However, it's not as weatherproof as Canon top flashes, because the battery compartment is not sealed. So, if you have to shoot in challenging weather conditions, it might be a good idea to add some additional protection to the battery compartment door (for example, with a strip of duct tape).

Pixel X800c Speedlite: flash head release button, sealed Pixel X800c Speedlite: external port sealing
Pixel X800c Speedlite: battery compartment door, no weather seal Pixel X800c Speedlite: battery compartment

The Pixel X800c speedlight is quite compact for a high-end flash. It's similar in size to Nissin Di866 II and Canon 580EX II, and noticeably smaller than Canon 600EX-RT or Phottix Mitros.

Pixel X800C vs. Nissin Di866 II vs. Phottix Mitros, flash head tilt Pixel X800C vs. Nissin Di866 II vs. Phottix Mitros, height
Pixel X800C vs. Nissin Di866 II vs. Phottix Mitros, front view Pixel X800C vs. Nissin Di866 II vs. Phottix Mitros, back view

Power and Recycling

Light output and recycling speed are among the key characteristics of any speedlight. Pixel X800c claims to have a Guide Number of 60 (at 200mm, ISO 100), which matches the power of Canon 580EX II and 600EX-RT. There are some differences in the fresnel lens design between the Pixel and Canon units, so the comparison at different zoom settings produced some variations in the light output during our tests. However, we concluded that, in general, Pixel X800c is just as powerful as the Canon high-end flashguns. It was great to see this, because often times third-party speedlight manufacturers tend to slightly overstate the Guide Numbers of their units, but Pixel is fully delivering on the promise.

The speed of recycling is critical to many photographers. A recycling time around 2.5 seconds (at the maximum power) is what you normally get from the top-of-the-line speedlights by Canon and Nikon. We are happy to see that Pixel X800c is capable of the fast recycling, as well. We measured that at full power, X800c recycles (on average) in 2.5 seconds with Eneloop batteries, and 2.8 seconds with Powerex ones. Also, as you would expect from a modern speedlight, Pixel X800c recycles silently (no capacitor whining).

Exposure and Color Temperature

We executed a set of exposure accuracy tests with Pixel X800c on-camera and off-camera in ETTL mode at the sync speed and in HSS mode. By comparing Canon 580EX II and X800c side by side, we saw some differences in the results depending on the scene, camera body, lens, zoom, metering mode, etc. Exposures produced by both, Canon and Pixel, units were not always perfect, but that was expected giving the complexity and variance of the real world situations. In some test scenarios, we preferred the exposure results delivered by X800c, and in some cases, Canon had the edge. Overall, we were quite impressed by the Pixel X800c performance in the exposure tests.

Not only Pixel X800c was exposing the frame with a proper amount of light, but also the exposure was consistent across multiple consecutive shots of the same scene. This can be a challenging test even for Canon, but X800c was on top of its game.

In terms of color consistency, Pixel X800c showed somewhat bigger variance than the Canon units, but it was not really noticeable in real world applications.

Flash Head

The flash head of Pixel X800c rotates 180 degrees clockwise and counterclockwise, and it also tilts from 7 degrees down to 90 degrees up (vertical). This gives you the most flexibility for bouncing the light off of the walls and ceilings. The built-in catchlight card creates even more lighting options.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: catchlight card and wide-angle panel

We must note, however, that the catchlight card design is somewhat flawed. The problem is that when you use the built-in wide-angle panel, it can be hard to put it back into the flash head all the way, and when you use the panel next time, it won't pull the catchlight card out. When we first discovered the issue, we thought it was quite serious, but later on, we realized that you needed to wiggle the wide-angle panel a little bit to get it all the way in. So, the catchlight card is completely useable, but you need to learn how to get it out every time.

The flash zoom is impressive, and it ranges from 20mm to 200mm (and with the mentioned wide-angle panel you can go as wide as 14mm). In our tests, the frame coverage was good with various lenses and zoom positions, and it was on par with many other speedlights we tested.

The zoom motor on Pixel X800c is a bit noisy. It's not bad, but when the flash changes its zoom setting, the motor movement is louder than in the most of the flashes in our stock, including units from Canon, Nikon, Nissin, Phottix, Lumopro, etc. Only the discontinued LumoPro LP160 was louder than X800c, but that older flash is extremely loud :). We don't really care that much about the noise a speedlight makes, but if you often shoot in quiet environment, you may want to make sure the noise level is acceptable to you.

Some flash manufacturers have abandoned the flash head lock to allow quicker adjustments when bouncing the flash light. The drawback, however, is that with some relatively heavy flash diffusers (like, for example, Gary Fong Lightsphere), the flash head cannot stay in place and often times slams down. When designing X800c, Pixel went with having the lock. Thus, you need to push the release button to rotate or tilt.

Controls

Pixel X800c is controlled via a set of buttons and a select dial. Dials are normally found on premium flashes and cameras, while cheaper models use "+" and "-" buttons to make adjustments. Select dials allow faster and more convenient use of a flash, so it's great to see Pixel employing the best ergonomics currently available.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: controls

All buttons on X800c have good tactile feedback, and they are well-sized and well-placed. The main select dial is easy to rotate, and it simply feels right. The only quirk we found was that the main dial always skips the first adjustment. It was kind of annoying at first, but we got used to it after some time. Hopefully, this is something that can be fixed with a firmware update.

In-camera Flash Menus

Using in-camera menus is a popular way to control speedlight mounted onto the camera's hot-shoe. Often times we see third-party speedlights being a bit "relaxed" in supporting in-camera controls. For instance, some features may not work at all or some parameters are not set the way you expect. While testing Pixel X800c with Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark II, and Canon 50D camera bodies, we were happy to see that it properly handled every single in-camera command. The only non-working menus were the Custom Functions: disabling AF-assist, changing FEB sequence, and similar. We rarely use them, but they can be useful at times, so this is another area for future firmware improvements.

Menus and Display

Pixel X800c features a large LCD dot-matrix display with good resolution, contrast, and viewing angles. The backlight is bright, and it illuminates the screen evenly. We like that there is an option to have the backlight to stay on indefinitely, which can be very handy for some applications.

We found that the layout of the elements on the screen is quite intuitive. The menus are probably a tad too busy, but on the other hand, we feel like we can easily see all the info we need. As a side note, we noticed that some of the symbols can be harder to read if your vision is not perfect.

The following images show screen examples for ETTL and Stroboscopic modes.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: ETTL menu example, manual zoom Pixel X800c Speedlite: Stroboscopic mode, auto-zoom

Four buttons located right below the screen are multifunctional and perform different actions depending on what menu you are on. The very left and very right buttons serve dual functions: one action for press and another for press-and-hold. The press-and-hold function is marked with an asterisk (*), which was handy when we were getting used to the interface.

With older flashes and even some modern ones, the remaining charge of the flash batteries is a guess game. With 5-step battery level indicator, Pixel X800c allows you to monitor the state of the batteries and replace them at the most convenient moment during your photo session.

We also want to note that we really like that the flash display shows when the exposure compensation (FEC) is set in-camera rather than on the flash itself, which can be confusing when using some other flashes. With Pixel X800c, it's always clear where the exposure is changed: it shows EVcam for in-camera settings and EVlamp for changes made on the flash itself. On-camera FEC always overrides the in-camera setting, so if you change the flash exposure compensation on the flash, the in-camera setting is ignored.

Wireless Triggering

The Pixel X800c speedlight is fully compatible with the Canon wireless system. It can serve as a master or a slave unit, and it supports all 4 Canon channels. In addition to that, X800c has two "dumb" optical triggering modes, in which it can be triggered by studio strobes and manual flashes (S1 mode), or TTL flashes from other manufacturers (S2 mode). Obviously, in the S1 and S2 slave modes, you have to set the power of the Pixel flash manually.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: optical slave mode, Group B Pixel X800c Speedlite:

One of the greatest things about Pixel X800c is the built-in radio triggering capabilities. The radio communication protocol is Pixel's own, and it is not compatible with Canon 600EX-RT flashes. However, in addition to several Pixel X800c units in your radio setup, you can use any other flash compatible with Pixel King radio triggers for Canon. Pixel King Pro transceiver can be used as a control unit on camera, and Pixel X triggers can be used with slaves. We saw some reports that X800c is also compatible with radio triggers by some other manufacturers, but they are not officially supported. The only radios we tried were PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers, but they were clearly not compatible at all.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: wireless master, ETTL A:B C mode, radio triggering Pixel X800c Speedlite: wireless master, manual A + B, optical triggering

Pixel specifies the radio triggering range to be over 160 feet (50 meters). We tested it in an open park area with multiple Wi-Fi hotspots around (which could potentially create some radio signal interference), and the range was actually well over 300 feet (100 meters). When we placed the slave flash behind a tree (hidden from the master unit), the range was reduced by approximately two times, but it was still very impressive. Also, in case if there is an interference from household devices and such, Pixel X800c offers 15 different radio triggering channels to choose from.

Overheating

The Pixel X800c speedlight features an advanced overheating protection system with sensors for the flash tube and battery compartment. We tested both sensors by changing the flash zoom settings. At 20mm, the flash tube is close to the fresnel lens of the flash head, and the overheating happens over there. At longer zoom settings, the battery compartment sensor is the first one to trigger.

In our tests at 2.5 second intervals and 50mm flash zoom, Pixel X800c was able to produce over 30 full-power pops, after which it showed a warning and stopped firing for 8-10 seconds. After resuming, it continued for another 7-9 shots and paused again, and after bursting 5 more times, it shut down for several minutes.

The flash tube sensor was pausing the flash operation in a similar manner, but we were only getting about 15 pops before the warning mesgnsage.

This behavior is typical for modern speedlights. If you push your flash hard enough, it will almost inevitably overheat. The number of continuous pops we were getting out of the Pixel X800c units was satisfactory. Canon 600EX-RT, for example, can last 2-3 times longer under the same conditions, which is a significant advantage. However, many third-party speedlights (including Nissin, Phottix, LumoPro, and Metz, for example) deliver a similar to Pixel X800c performance in terms of overheating protection. So, Pixel X800c is able to stand up to the competition here. The only speedlight that never overheats is Nissin MG8000 Extreme, which was specifically designed for continuous operation, even when firing off of an external battery pack.

So, unlike some older flashes, Pixel X800c is able to effectively prevent overheat damage to itself. We always recommend avoiding pushing any speedlight to the levels of potential overheating, but it's always good to know that you won't accidentally "fry" your flash if you fire it for too long too fast.

External Power, USB, and PC sync

While Pixel X800c features a socket for connecting to an external battery pack, it is only compatible with Pixel power packs. So, if you already own a standard Canon-type pack, you won't be able to use it with this speedlight, which is kind of a bummer.

The built-in micro-USB port allows easy firmware updates. Since we had a couple of pre-production X800c flashes, we already had a chance to update the firmware when the production version of the flash was released. It was great to see some bugs fixed, and the overall flash performance improved.

The PC-sync port has been the industry standard for manual flash triggering for many years. It has been criticized for not being reliable, and the mini-phone jack has proven itself to be a better solution. So, some speedlights (like LumoPro LP180) feature both ports, and some (like Phottix Mitros) have already abandoned the PC-sync completely. Pixel X800c, however, has only the PC-sync option, which is still a safe bet in today's market.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: external power socket, PC-sync port, micro-USB

AF-assist

AF-assist beam of Pixel X800c is powerful enough to be useful in many situations. The AF-assist pattern, however, may not be equally effective for all focus points of your camera's viewfinder (depending on the lens zoom). In our tests, with the lens zoom set between 17mm and 50mm, AF-assist of X800c was only able to aid near-center focus points. At 105mm, the situation was much better, and almost all 61 focus points of 5D Mark III were working fine with the exception of some points on the very left and the very right. In contrast, our Canon flashes performed well with any lens and any set of focus points. For our applications, however, Pixel's AF-assist is acceptable, because we normally use the center points to focus and then recompose the shot.

Accessories

The Pixel X800c speedlight comes with a diffusion dome, which can be useful for expanding the range of light bouncing techniques, taking ultra-wide shots, and even creating a bare-bulb effect.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: diffusion dome Pixel X800c Speedlite: flash stand

The included flash stand can be used for placing the flash on a table or a light stand (using the thread on the bottom). We like the shape and the size of the Pixel flash stand, but unfortunately, we found that its cold shoe was too thick for X800c to lock. The mounting foot lever simply does not go all the way to the right making it impossible to have the flash securely attached. This makes the flash stand almost completely unusable to us. Of all things, we really don't want to run a chance of dropping the flash on the floor. We will probably still use this stand on occasion, when we can be sure the flash it not going to be moved much.

Finally, the carrying case that comes with Pixel X800c has thick padding and provides good protection. The belt attachment has a nice design touch, which allows the case to be attached perpendicular or parallel to your belt.

Pixel X800c Speedlite: carrying case Pixel X800c Speedlite: carrying case, perpendicular or parallel to belt

Conclusion

The Pixel X800c speedlight is an impressive flashgun, packed with premium features. It delivers a lot of power, accurate exposure, and fast recycling times. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. There are some quirks, like the catchlight card design, select dial skips, and suboptimal AF-assist, but the overall performance is great. We have been using Pixel X800c for a few weeks now. The flash is keeping up with all the tasks we\’re throwing at it, but the time will tell if the quality is good enough to deliver years of reliable service. Pixel X800c is currently priced at around $170 (USD), which is quite aggressive. The Canon 600EX-RT flash unit is still the king of all speedlights made for Canon. However, for the price of one 600EX-RT you can get three X800c flashes, or two of them plus two external battery packs plus a Pixel King Pro transmitter. (Please check the latest prices below.)

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