Godox AD200 Review

Squamish MMA fighter Jamey-Lyn Horth. Photographed with the Godox AD200
A portrait of Squamish MMA fighter Jamey-Lyn Horth shot for the Squamish Chief newspaper. I shot this about a day after I first got the Godox AD200. I decided I was going to see what it could do, so I set the power down to 1/16 sec and set the motor drive on my camera to 9 fps to get Jamey-Lyn at full peak action. This is about midway through a 10 shot burst and it’s still giving me the required power, which is really impressive. It also froze her in mid-air (and she was really moving), again, really impressive.

Introduction
For those not familiar with my work, I’m a professional photographer based in Whistler BC, Canada, but working extensively throughout the Vancouver and Squamish area. I started as a newspaper photographer at 16, and since 1991, I’ve been a full time professional photographer. I don’t have any other sources of income, my wife doesn’t have a high paying job, and I don’t have a trust fund or anything like that.

I’ve been using Nikon equipment throughout my career and have a box of Nikon flash equipment in my studio. I would say that easily two thirds of my work involves some kind of off-camera flash. While I’ve had an extensive Alien Bee lighting kit for the last ten years, most of my off-camera lighting work is done with (at least until the Godox came along) Nikon speed lights like the SB-910. The SB-910 is an excellent flash unit, powerful enough for most things and extremely rugged, however, it’s not quite powerful enough to overcome full daylight, especially when mounted in a soft box, which is a major drawback. It also doesn’t have a radio control trigger.  The SU-800 trigger, which I’ve been using for more than 10 years, works through infrared light pulses, which means that it has to be line of sight (like your TV remote control).  For some unknown reason, Nikon has only ever put the receiving sensor on one side of the flash, which means if you want to move the flash from camera left to camera right, you need to take it off the stand and rotate the base 180 degrees.  That gets frustrating really quickly. Recently Nikon came out with new flash with built in radio compatibility, but in order to use it, instead of just making a universal digital trigger like the SU-800, you need to have a camera in the current product cycle (Nikon D5, D850, Z6 & Z7). I’m not buying an $8,000 D5 just to get radio flash control, so I started looking around for a new flash system, which brought me to the Godox AD-200.

Teppan Village head chef Kyoko Nakano prepares a flaming onion and steak & prawns entrees. Photographed with the Godox AD200
Teppan Village head chef Kyoko Nakano prepares some flaming onion and steak & prawns entrees. This was a shoot I did for the dining section of the Whistler magazine. I had a Godox AD200 in a medium 32″x24″softbox off to camera right, and a Nikon SB-910 off to the left with the RT-1R receiver unit to act as a kicker light. We almost burned the place down when one of these flaming shots got out of control.

I had a Chinese made slave explode in my face during a wedding once, and since then I’ve been wary of brands like Godox. However, I have a few friends who swear by Godox products and highly recommended the Godox AD200.

I picked up an Godox AD200, along with the X-Pro trigger, an S-mount flash clamp, high quality Bowens mount speedring for mounting softboxes (spend the money on a good one. I ordered a cheap version from eBay in the first week of December and as of January 22nd, it still hasn’t arrived), and a 7″ Bowens mount reflector. They make a smaller 5″ reflector that doesn’t need the Bowens mount, but I had a set of 7″ grid spots that fit the reflector. All of that came to $550 CAN, or about $250 CAN less than the Nikon SB-5000 flash by itself. The most common comparison is to Profoto lights, and they are exponentially more expensive. For example, the 7″ reflector that I ordered for the Godox was $12.99 CAN, while the Profoto equivalent is $379 CAN.

Now that I’ve been using the Godox AD200 for the last month, and it was a busy month, I thought I’d write down my thoughts on it.

A shot from Clair and John's elopement wedding in December. Photographed with the Godox AD200
A shot from Clair and John’s elopement wedding in December. They asked me to step out with them to get some photos while they called their grown children and told them they had just gotten married. I had the Godox AD200 in a small softbox set down to low power to pick up the low winter twilight.

Description
Every time I see the Nikon booth at an event, I always say to them that I love the SB-910, but it needs to be twice as powerful, have a built in radio trigger, and have a dedicated Li-Ion battery instead of the puny AA batteries that run it. They always tell me I’m dreaming, but Godox has gotten all of that into the Godox AD200.

Power lifter Kevin Haberl at the RAW Federation Powerlifting Event at Squamish Barbell gym. Photographed with the Godox AD200
Power lifter Kevin Haberl at the RAW Federation Powerlifting Event at the Squamish Barbell gym, photographed for a story fro the Squamish Chief. The light in there was awful, so I used the AD200 with the 7″ reflector and a grid spot about 40 feet in front of the lifters. I had it turned down to 1/16th power to use the 9 fps setting on the camera. I shot 400 pics in an hour and a half and had no issues with over heating or loss of signal on the trigger.

The Godox AD200 is kind of a unique product, although it liberally borrows from some design aspects of various super high end Profoto flash units. With the bulb head, it’s nearly a foot long and has a noticeable heft. It says you can put it in your pocket, but unless you wear baggy clown pants on a regular basis, that’s probably not going to happen. It does fit nicely into most professional camera bags without any adaptation, which is pretty good. The unit comes with a bare bulb and fresnel head, but I’ve only used it with the bare bulb head so far. If I need a flash with a fresnel head, I have a bunch of Nikon flashes for that. The bare bulb was really the selling point for me. Bare bulbs are much better when mounted in modifiers like softboxes (which I use almost all the time), and it lets me use a larger 24″x32″ box, rather than just a small 12″x16″ box, which is about the largest you can really use with the Nikon. Godox has a new round head flash head that looks suspiciously like the head of a Profoto A1 head, that should be a big improvement over the standard fresnel head.

The first thing I  noticed when I unpacked it was that the AD-200 and X-Pro immediately synced up as soon as I turned them on.  That to me was a huge plus, I’m big on stuff that doesn’t need a day of reading the manual to get it to do anything.  The manual really speaks to the global market of Godox products.  The first section is in Chinese characters instead of English, and the English section has obviously just been fed through Google translate.

Squamish bike racer Jack Burke beside highway 99. Photographed with the Godox AD200

Squamish bike racer Jack Burke beside highway 99. Photographed with the Godox AD200
Squamish bike racer Jack Burke beside Highway 99, photographed for the Squamish Chief. The top shot was with a 12″x16″ softbox, while the lower one was shot with the 7″ reflector. You can see the flash easily balances, even with high speed flash sync on, with the extremely bright sky.

Power
I’d say it’s about two to three stops more powerful than a Nikon SB-910, and up to 1/2 power, the recycle time is pretty much instantaneous. At full power, it’s really quick as well. If you’re going to try and balance it with full daylight, you need all the power the AD200 has.

Whistler family portrait. Photographed with the Godox AD-200
Reece family, from Tennessee, pose beside Fitzsimmons Creek in Whistler. For this shot, I had to balance the very bright light reflecting off the creek in background. I had the AD200 mounted in a 12″x16″ softbox with my assistant hanging it just above camera centre. The flash was turned up to full power to balance the background. The AD200 has just enough power to pull this off, but there is no way you could do this with one of my Nikon flashes.

High Speed Sync
I tried to do some high speed sync work in full daylight with the bicycle racer, but I just ran out of power for that. I have my eye on one of the larger AD600 units, which should be able to handle that much better. I did some high speed sync tests in my studio and figure that at 1/500th, you’re losing about a stop of power over 1/200th, and at 1/1000th, you’re losing three stops of power. Can you balance full light at 1/1000th? Probably not with the softboxes I use, but with a more efficient head, no problem. How often are you balancing full light? Not really that often, and not if you can help it. If you need to shoot at 1/1000th in full light on any kind of regular basis, you’d probably be better off with the larger AD-600 unit.

Driver Jonathan Tippett with Protheis The Anti-Robot, a fighting robot under development in Squamish by Furrion Exo-Bionics. Photographed with the Godox AD200.

Driver Jonathan Tippett with Protheis The Anti-Robot, a fighting robot under development in Squamish by Furrion Exo-Bionics. Photographed with the Godox AD200.

Driver Jonathan Tippett with Protheis The Anti-Robot, a fighting robot under development in Squamish by Furrion Exo-Bionics. Photographed for the Squamish Chief. This crazy thing was about the size of a large elephant, and we were under the roof of a bombed out train workshop. It was raining really hard outside, so we had to stay under the roof. The Ad-200 was in a 24″x32″ softbox off to camera left and it lit the robot nicely. I put one of my SB-910’s turned up to full power synced with X1R tigger to the right behind robot to act as a kicker, but it didn’t really do very much. You can see the little splash of light on the right side of the frame. It gives you a good idea of how powerful the AD200 is.

The Canadian Snowmobile Adventures rustic cabin in the Callaghan Valley, near Whistler. Photographed with the Godox AD200.
The Canadian Snowmobile Adventures rustic cabin in the Callaghan Valley, near Whistler. I was at this cabin, which takes a one hour ride in a snow cat to get to, for a wedding over Christmas. I wanted to get a shot of the cabin, so I packed in a tripod and the Godox flash. For this shot, I used a 30 second exposure. Even with that, since it was a moonless night, I wasn’t getting any light on the front of the cabin. I grabbed the flash that I had for the portraits and fired it off at full power just off from camera right.  It did a beautiful job of lighting the front of the cabin.

Colour and Exposure
In early January, I had a multi-day shoot at a Vancouver college to build an image library and some advertising pieces for their marketing department. We had two days in a row with nearly 1,000 photos per day shot with the Godox and had no serious issues with shifts in colour or exposure. The colour balance on the AD200 sits about 5700K, which matches the Nikon flashes pretty closely.

Ashton College Abbotsford Campus. Photographed with the Godox AD200.

Ashton College Abbotsford Campus. Photographed with the Godox AD200.

Ashton College Abbotsford Campus. Photographed with the Godox AD200.
Some photos from the Abbotsford campus of Ashton College, a local vocational school in the Fraser River, that I did for their marketing department. The top image will end up being used on an advertising piece in the Vancouver Skytrain system, while the middle shot is for the dental assistant school. The lower photo is the lighting set up for the top shot. The Godox AD200 and X-Pro trigger is really well suited for this kind of full day long commercial shoot. We shot here all day with no issues with over heating or running the battery down.

The X-Pro Flash Trigger
The AD-200 is great, but what really makes the system sing is the X-Pro trigger. It’s light years ahead of the Nikon SU-800 trigger I’ve been using for years. It has a big bright LCD screen with enough buttons on it that you never have to go into any of the menu items. All the relevant information is large and easy to read, and you can cycle though the power settings really quickly with the little control wheel. I never use off-camera flash with TTL, as I find it much more accurate to use the flash manually.

I have had some connectivity issues with the X-Pro, but since there’s an active AD-200 Facebook group, I was able to get some advice on the settings which has fixed things up. Changing the range setting from 0-300m to 0-100m helps a lot, and using the 17-32 channels instead of the 1-16 channels are musts as well. I’m not sure what’s up with channels, but with my Pocket Wizard slaves, the 17-32 channels are digital as opposed to analog, so it might be a similar kind of issue with the Godox.  The X-Pro also doesn’t like rechargeable batteries for some reason, so be sure to pick up a big load of high quality Alkaline AA batteries.

A real estate photo. Photographed with the Godox AD200.
Finally some real estate work. This is actually three different photos layered together in Photoshop. The first exposure I had the flash over my should, then I moved it over to light the kitchen, then finally over to the living room by the far window. Then I blended them together using layer asks in Photoshop. That sounds worse than it is, and is actually a pretty common technique for real estate photographers. Being able to adjust the lights via the X-Pro really make these shots a lot easier.

Beefs
The AD200 is great, but it’s not perfect. There are a few issues on it that the guys at Godox should deal with at some point.

First, there’s a huge knob sticking out the side of the bare bulb head, which I guess is to lock in accessories to the head. The problem is the flash doesn’t clear the S-bracket with the knob sticking out of it. I just wrenched it out, but it took some force. Something definitely broke inside of the head, but it doesn’t seem to have affected anything. For the next version, put a flush mounted set-screw in place of the knob.

Speaking of the S-bracket, the screw that secures it to the stud on the lightstand is on the same side as the large tension handle on the pivot. If you have large hands like me, it’s next to impossible to screw it down. I’ve been working with studio lighting for 30 years and that’s the worst set up I’ve ever seen. Luckily, all you need to do to fix it is unscrew the pivot and reverse the bolt so that the handle is on the other side. The S-bracket is made of plastic instead of metal, but seems to be pretty robust so far.

The LED screens on both the AD200 and X-Pro are completely scratched up after only a month of use. I’m seriously thinking of putting some clear packing tape over the LED to protect it. I’ve been using some of the Nikon flashes for years and the displays are totally clear. On the next version, it wouldn’t hurt Godox to replace the displays with some heavy duty gorilla glass instead of the soft plastic screens in use now.

I’ve been less than impressed with the X1R receiver for syncing up my Nikon flashes. I can control them with X-Pro when I’m testing them, but it packs it up whenever I try to do it on a job. Now I just set the flash manually and use the X1R as an old school dumb flash slave. Rather than putz around with mixing Nikon and Godox flashes, I think I’ll just get another AD200 with the round head to use as a second light.